Monday, February 6, 2012

D'Artagnan and the Meaning of Devotion

In the classics book club I belong to, we recently read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. The Three Musketeers, as you may know, is a tale of swashbuckling heroes who are such friends that one may gamble with the others' money after squandering his own, who are so brave that they are ready to fight to the death upon so much as an insult to the color of their horses, and who are so devoted as to risk life and limb in service to their lord or mission. Put that way, the story sounds quite interesting. In truth, none of us in the club liked it much.

For me, the biggest take-away from The Three Musketeers was a single word, one I've already used to describe our heroes: devoted. The word was spoken by the main character, D'Artagnan, who ironically is not one of the three musketeers of the book's title. While he pursued his love interest, Madame Bonacieux, with irresistable romantic charm, D'Artagnan told her that he was completely devoted to the Queen of France. He did not mean by this word what we might mistake him to mean.

For many of us, devotion is a sentimental word. It's something lovers have for one another. It's the way Olivia Newton John would describe her "hopelessly devoted" affections for John Travolta after their "summer lovin'." For Christians, devotion is equivalent to a quiet time of Bible reading and prayer, or a 5-10 minute spiritual talk given at an event or gathering. None of these meanings come close to the Biblical sense of the word.

In fact, devotion in the Biblical sense does not always invoke pleasant images. When the Lord led Joshua and the ancient Israelites into the land He had promised to them, they needed to drive out the Canaanites who inhabited that land. The Lord commanded the Israelites to devote the Canaanite people, their wealth, and their possessions to Him. What this devotion meant for Israel was that when God delivered to them the land, they were not to profit from the Canaanites' destruction in the process. They would not plunder or make slaves of their enemies. They would receive only the promised land; all else was devoted to God. What this devotion meant for the Canaanites was total destruction. Every Canaanite who chose to remain in the land and fight Israel was to be destroyed: every man, woman, child, heifer, and goat. Not quite your typical summer romance.

D'Artagnan is closer to Joshua than to Olivia Newton John. Even while he expresses his ardent love for his mistress, he knows that his body and soul belong to his Queen. He would live for Madame, but he would die for her Highness. He was in love with one, but he was devoted to the other.

This begs the question: What does it mean for me to be devoted to God? For starters, it has to mean that I am no longer my own, that I belong to Him - mind, body, and soul. It means that the entirety of my life, the entirety, is for but one purpose: the will and mission and pleasure of God. No longer my will, but His. No longer my goals and plans, but His mission in the world. No longer my pursuit of happiness and pleasure, but the pleasure of my Lord. If He who does not thirst were thirsty, I would cross enemy lines to fill His cup. If the One who loses none sought His missing one, I would circumnavigate the globe to find that man. If the One who journeyed to earth and back again said, "Stay at My feet," I would forsake all adventure.

What is devotion? We see it when a pastor calls for missionaries to be sent from his church to hostile lands knowing well that he may perform their funerals. We see it in a chart-topping musician who spends his life (rather than his money) barefoot on a Navajo reservation, teaching music and the way of Jesus. We see it when, for the healing of nations, the only innocent Man offers His body to the rips and shreds of torture and His soul to the torments and horrors of sin. That. Is. Devotion.

Think of it. Jesus was devoted. Not like a heart throb, but like a Canaanite. Jesus was slain so that we could inherit the promises of God. On the Cross, Jesus was devoted to God for us. And how are we called to live in response to His devotion? Was Jesus devoted only for us to plunder the spoils of earthly riches and pleasures? No. Jesus' command to carry our cross is a call to our own devotion.

This is hard. This is scary. It far easier to "love" God than to be devoted to Him. But Jesus shows us the reality behind Job's ancient faith, "Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him." Jesus shows us that we can devote ourselves to God, whatever that means for us individually, because we can trust Him. As the Psalmist foretold of the resurrected Messiah, "He will not let His holy one see decay." In Jesus, this promise is ours as well. Most of all, we can devote ourselves to God because the One who dwells in us is devoted to God. We need only to open ourselves to the Spirit's work in our lives. This openness means we do not begin devotion by laying down our lives. We begin by laying down our wills.

We surrender. We surrender our desires. We surrender our goals and dreams. We surrender our pleasures.

We go all in. We join D'Artagnan and the Musketeers in their declaration of devotion:

"All for One."

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