Katie Luther’s dying words are said to have been "I shall cling to Christ as a burr clings to a coat." I love this illustration, but it also got me thinking.
When was the last time I really clung to anything? Whether physically or metaphorically, what do I make so important in my life that I’d say I cling to it?
Cling is such an active word. It is more than just holding on to something. It’s more than a clingy girl who won’t let a guy break up with her. Clinging is desperate, urgent, and the importance of it is crushing. It’s all or nothing.
In my season of life, I don’t physically hold on to people often. Little hugs for my parents, friends, and my two-year-old niece, but no life-altering “I-must-hold-on-or-lose-everything” kind of clinging. I have not nervously clung to the hand of a child in a massive crowd. I have not dangled from a mountain, clinging to a ledge or rope or some hand of salvation.
I thank God that I have not had times of clinging for life, or had to watch someone close to me using all of their strength to hold on. But some of you have and you know the feeling of clinging to the last bit of life, connection, or hope.
I live a blessed life with enough to eat, a place to live, and family to love. But many people around the world and even in our own communities only have two choices of what to cling to: God or themselves. When everything is lost or taken from you, you’re at a crossroads in your faith.
In the first chapter of the book of Job, Job suddenly loses everything- family, house, servants, and soon after his health.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:20-21
At first, he has an attitude of humility. God is God and he is not. The Lord is good and has given him blessings for a time, and now has determined it’s time for them to be taken away. But when circumstances get even worse, and life is torture, Job’s perspective goes downhill. He spends most of the rest of the book complaining and battling God. He has honest, gut-wrenching debate. Why would God do this to him? He’s done nothing wrong! He doesn’t deserve this! God is cruel!
Job pushes God away. He clings to his own belief that he is right and God is wrong. His life is broken, and though God is always there reaching out, he can’t bring himself to take his hand until after some serious soul searching.
Finally, in the last chapter of Job, he comes to a Godly wisdom.
Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know…
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42: 1-3,6
Job repents. He’s ashamed that he thought he knew better than God (even when to us, it may look like his anguish is well founded or understandable!). He prays for others. God gives him blessings twice as much as he had before, and I’m sure Job’s faith grew tremendously. He first clung to his own strength, his own perceived goodness and worth, and felt God was being unfair when He took all that Job loved. But God brought him low to restore his life through a new perspective.
I know of other people who have lost much and have clung tighter to God immediately. They knew they needed his strength to hold them up and keep breathing, one day at a time. When you have nothing left, and realize that you can’t save yourself, you cling to the One who will never leave.
Katherina von Bora, aka Katie Luther, lost three children during her life: a miscarriage, an eight-month-old, and a thirteen-year-old. When her husband, Martin Luther died, she was left in poverty, a war broke out, and she had to leave her home. When she could finally return, the land and buildings were destroyed and the animals stolen or killed. But the Lord provided friends who could care for her. When the Black Plague came and forced her to move again, she was in a wagon accident while fleeing, and died a few months later with her hope still in the Lord.
When life is hard we either turn to God in desperate pleas for help or turn away from him in disgust, not believing he’s there or cares.
But what about when life is going well? I still want to cling to Christ like a burr to a coat. I don’t want the devil to pry me away. A burr on its own will be picked up and stuck to whoever passes by first.
When life is going smoothly we tend to rely on ourselves.
We know God is there, and we may throw out a quick “Thanks God!” if we think of it, but it’s not so actively clinging to Christ. I wish I could physically hug God and have something tangible to hold on to. Being alone in our thoughts and beliefs and religion can leave us to question God. We start to tell ourselves that we can’t see him, so maybe he’s not there.
We need to combat the devil as he tries to pull us off that coat.
We stay in community with other Christians to be built up. We get in the Word and prayer and talk with our Father like he is physically in the room with us. We cherish that time of worship like the lifeline it is.
For those that feel comfortable with it, raising hands high in worship or palms open to your side can feel like a beautiful action of reaching out and clinging to God and being open to his blessings. I picture laying down my own pride and feeling God grasp my hands. How I long for the day when that will really happen and I can hug my heavenly Father!
The more we actively cling to Christ the more we remain in line with his will. When we are in constant conversation with Christ, we are more resolute in our beliefs and stand up to injustice and corruption - like Martin Luther did 500 years ago when he pointed out flawed beliefs and practices in the Catholic church. We want to share our knowledge of true freedom through the grace of God alone. We can stand up under trials or be that physical presence others can cling to in their dark times.
We are the Church, and the Church must be active to grow and save souls. If a burr stays on the plant, its seeds won’t spread very far. But if a burr attaches to a passing animal’s fur or a human’s clothes, it gets carried to a new location to spread its seeds.
Cling to that cloth of Christ and go make the burrs multiply.