Be the same person, no matter what

Sitting in my office, I am reminded of a story about Sisoes the Great. Sisoes was an Egyptian monk during the 5th century and a protégé of the Christian monastic movement's father, Anthony the Great. Siseos’ life was marked with prayer, often retreating to the rocky crags and caves that littered the desert. It was those moments with God, that forged within Sisoes a deep and abiding intimacy with Christ and an unshakeable Christian conviction.

Tradition tells us that the aged and dying saint was brought into a disciple’s home to be taken care of. As Sisoes lay on the bed, struggling to breathe and near death, a knock was heard on the door. Perceiving it to be Satan or an evil spirit to tempt him, he sat up in bed and answered, “Sisoes is the same man on the mountain top as he is in bed!” And with that, the unwelcomed guest never returned.

Our lives are filled with ups and downs. We can have seasons when we are on the mountain top--where we are close with God, feeling invigorated and refreshed by the Holy Spirit, and when sin loses all of its allure. Then in a moment, all of it can evaporate into a fading memory, and we are plunged into the darkest valley where the enemy assails us from every side, weakness overtakes us and we are constantly reminded of our fallenness and sin. In the valley, it is easy to succumb to despondency and temptation because of the overwhelming feeling of despair that we have been cut off from God. It is those valley experiences when our spirit is weakened and the flesh—our sinful desire—can manifest strongly, leading us astray and causing us to fall. To put it simply, it is easy to have faith in the mountain top but when you are in the valley, you are just struggling to survive let alone believe.

Much of our lives here are valley experiences. As the Psalmist says, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) and that darkness is pervasive. We experience pain and suffering daily. Life is full of innumerable challenges that we have to deal with. However, we can learn from Sisoes’ example that regardless of the situation, he was the same man, displaying a Christian consistency. Even at his lowest point, his faith remained strong, and was able to push back when the Devil attempted to cause his fall.

How do we get to a place where we remain steadfast even through the dark valleys of our lives? It begins by being devoted to Christ. Devoted, as in, loving Jesus and yearning to be with him, and wanting to see his face. As Christians, we have not attached ourselves to a certain set of theological truths or merely hold to an orthodox confession. We have attached (or united, rather) ourselves to a person named Jesus who possesses the fullness of grace for sinners (John 1:16).

From devotion comes discipline because discipline without devotion can easily degenerate into oppression and drudgery. Christ is not a taskmaster. He is the lover of the soul of whom as Charles Wesley said, “emptied himself of all but love.” Because of that love for sinners, we participate in the Christian faith's practical disciplines: prayers, reading the Scripture, acts of mercy, etc. As Peter said in his second letter to the church in Asia minor, “supplement your faith with virtue…” (2 Peter 1:5). In other words, contribute to your faith by adding to it character, moral excellence, and life disciplined. Much like natural supplements help the body’s overall health and weather times of illness, the spiritual supplements given to us by God are there for us to be spiritually healthy and able to withstand difficult situations.

Like Sisoes, we should all strive to say that we are the same on the mountain as we are at our lowest point.


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