Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life is a Journey, but where are we going? Spiritual formation (I)

One of the best metaphor for life as a whole and the spiritual life in particular is that of the journey. Paul’s favourite metaphor was the Way ( Acts 9.2; 19.9,23; 22.4;23.14,22) if we are following Christ, we are pilgrims on our way home, but there are stages along the way and lessons to be learned.

If life is a journey, it is important to know where we are going. The destination is all important. Without knowing the Way, we can be lost, we can wander around and around aimlessly. We prepare carefully for the journey, but we should prepare more carefully for what we are going to do when we ultimately arrive at our destination.

Illustration :

Suppose you decide to move from LA on the west coast to NY on the east coast of the United States, where you have decided to spend the last 30 years of your life. The journey by car to the east takes a week. You carefully planned the journey – pouring over every detail of the journey. Which route to take. You decided to be adventurous, combining the easy national highways with some scenic, the road less travelled routes. You take great pains over what clothing you will wear, what rest stops to use, where you will refuel your car, what motel to stay at, what meals to eat, and where and when to eat them.

In fact at ChicagoMidwest, about half way to NY – you decided to stay at a motel for about 5 days. While there on second day – you decided that you do not like the décor – so went out and bought new lamps, laid new carpet, renovated the bathroom so that you could have a long bath.

Nothing was left to chance on the journey, but upon arrival in NY where you are supposed to spend the last 30 years of your life, you have no idea what to do.

In this analogy the 10 or so days journey from LA to NY represent our earthly sojourn and the 30 year stay in NY our eternal destiny.

It is ludicrous of us to treat with so much care, concern, worry and importance the brief journey from LA to NY, and not do any preparations at all for the 30 year stay subsequently in NY. But that is precisely how many of us live.

In actual fact many of us treat the temporal (this brief earthly life we are living) as if it were eternal and the eternal as if it is temporal – in that we make no provisions and no preparations for the eternal life at all. We spent the bulk of our time worrying, caring, obsessing over the temporal as if this world is all there is.

Many of us make sure we have a passport to heaven. We professed our faith in Jesus and say the ‘sinners’ prayer’. Once assured of passage to heaven however, many of us do not make any preparations for eternal life.

We treat the eternal as if it were temporal and the temporal as if it were eternal.

Take note of this important statement :

Our presuppositions shape our perspective. Our perspective in turn shapes our priorities and our priorities shaped our practice.

Suppose you hold the presupposition that “ this world is all there is. There is no eternal world awaiting us. what you see, is what you get”. No more and no less. When you die, you disappear. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. It is a material version of annihilation. This world, this life is all that there is. You have only one chance to make it in this life.

This presuppositions then shaped our perspective: how we view things, evaluate circumstances, determine how we live.

So we say, if this world is all there is, then I jolly well better make “hay while the sun shines”. I will go all out to make sure I enjoy this world to the maximum.

My priorities are to pursue the good life, to enjoy pleasures, to look out for myself. Good and evil does not in the end matter very much. If I can do evil without being caught and being punished and doing evil rewards me well, then I will do it.

And that is exactly how I will live, how my practice will be.

The temporal value system demands no trust and dependence upon God because it is entirely based on what is seen. Hence our secular culture bombards us with the message, that this life is all that is and therefore our goal in our life is to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. And everything is up to me and my efforts. Nobody is going to help you or be there for you.

Our goals in life:

Security : wealth, power and influence

Work : influential, absorbing and agreeable work bringing great rewards in terms of reputation and wealth.

Family : spouse who loves me and meet all my needs, children who will carry on my good name.

What is the end result of all this? Emptiness, delusion, despair!

You may say to me: these are important issues and considerations. My answer God knows that these are important, but can God be trusted?

Mt 6.25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]?

28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The Christian world view or the eternal value system is In contrast unseen and therefore requires a walk of faith (2 Cor 5.7) 7We live by faith, not by sight. Rom 8 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

What are the goals of this Christian worldview?

  • Knowing God
  • Seeking the approval of God
  • Servanthood
  • Humility
  • Integrity and character

We have hope in a living, gracious, merciful, all powerful God who knows us by name and is for us and not against us. So there is no need to strive, no despair.

Above all, the main goal of this worldview is Christlikeness :

We are to be like Christ! What a challenge. Who among us is equal to that call? Yet we must all rise to that command. (Consider the following verses of scripture: Gal 4. 19 “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”. 2 Cor 3.18 “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. Rom 8.29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”)

Returning to the metaphor of life as a journey. As Christians we are on our Way home –

Ps 23 5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Jn 14.1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going."

The journey to our ultimate home, is not one we embark on alone. Christ is our guide and our shepherd. Boa sums up this view well. He says :”To follow Christ is to move into territory that is unknown to us and to count on his purposeful guidance, his grace, when we go off the path and his presence when we feel alone. It is to learn to respond to God’s providential care in deepening ways and to accept the pilgrim character of earthly existence with its uncertainties, setbacks, disappointments, surprises and joys. It is to remember that we are in the process of gradual conformity to the image of Christ so that we can love and serve others along the way.

Seen in this light, the primary point of this earthly existence is preparation for our eternal citizenship in heaven.

Spiritual formation is the lifelong process of becoming in our character and actions the new creations we already are in Christ ( 2 Cor 5.17); 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! it is the working out of what God has already worked in us ( Phil 2.12-13) 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

However there is warfare between an earthly and demonic wisdom and a heavenly and divine wisdom.

James 3 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Each of us is required to make a choice. Which will we believe? Secondly and more importantly, how consistent is our behaviour with our belief?

What we need is an effective paradigm shift

A paradigm is a way of seeing base on implicit or explicit rules that shape one’s perspective. A paradigm shift takes place when the rules or boundaries change, so that we no longer see things from the same perspective; when the rules change, our way of seeing is altered. The most celebrated example of a paradigm shift is the Copernican revolution in astronomy. Until the time of Copernicus, the reigning paradigm was Ptolemy’s geocentric system; the sun and planets were thought to orbit the earth.

For centuries, astronomers held to this Ptolemaic way of viewing the solar system in spite of the fact that a umber of observations did not fit this model. But instead of questioning the paradigm, astronomers invented complicated theories of epicycles to explain why some planets appeared to stop, go backward for awhile, and then resume their original direction. Copernicus’s breakthrough was the realization that all of these observations make perfect sense by switching from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the sun and the planets – in other words, we do not live in a terrestrial system but a solar system.

What are the logical implications of our Christian world view?

  • life is about God and not about us
  • we were created for relationship with God
  • bible inspired by living God and we would be wise to learn, understand, experience and apply its precepts and principles
  • warfare between the temporal and the Christian worldview

No comments: