Thursday, October 12, 2006

What motivates us in our life of faith? Spiritual formation (III)

Temporal vs. eternal perspectives

We need to have a paradigm shift – from treating the eternal as if it were temporal thereby thinking little about it and making no provisions for it. And treating the temporal as if it were eternal and therefore worth all the effort, thoughts and time spent on it.

Embodied spiritual beings, influence of the body

We need to inculcate Godly habits to replace habits of sins that are deeply embedded in our bodies. Habits which had been taken captive by the worldly values and priorities.

But how do we motivate ourselves to want to put off, to put to death the old self and its habits and to put on the new self?

Students need to study – but how do they motivate themselves to actually say no to a host of things they rather do, and instead study?

We know we ought to read our bibles and pray every day. Thankfully some of us do that, but many more don’t.

We know we need to take care of our bodies, to exercise regularly. The benefits are obvious. We are healthier, sleep better, able to cope with stress and so on. Yet many of us still do not exercise.

I have shared about Marva Dawn and how seriously ill she is.

“Shattered foot; broken, then crippled leg; numerous times on crutches or in wheelchairs; loss of hearing in one ear; loss of vision in one eye and then for a while also in the other; cancer and failing kidneys; failure of nerves in legs and intestinal tract; jaw deterioration and demineralisation of upper torso bones; (diabetes) and so forth”.

For Marva Dawn, it is literally a matter of life and death for her to exercise! While most of her body is a mess, the doctors are amazed at how strong her heart and lungs are. Good blood pressure, very low cholesterol. That is due to lifelong daily exercise.

What motivate her to exercise is not so much to have a longer life, but that she may have a more productive life for the Lord. She says, “ I do not know how many years of life I have left, so I have no time to waste”. So she is very disciplined, very focused and therefore at the end of the day, very, very productive.

At the end of the day what motivates us to get up in the morning to do what we have to do? Basically it has to d with needs for :

  • security
  • significance
  • satisfaction.

These are the primary drives that motivates us, that pushes us and drives us. It and of itself they are not wrong. However what is wrong is that we look to the world rather than Christ to meet our needs. What is unhelpful is to be motivated by what the world considers to be important. Rather than what the bible considers as important.

So what would motivate us to put off the old and to put on the new? What would motivate us to live a disciplined, productive, faithful and fruitful life for the Lord?

Classic views

1. Fear of the Lord

Acts 7.32 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

Lk 1.11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.

It was an ordinary day and Jesus was requesting the disciples to do an ordinary thing, something that as fishermen, they had been doing daily, all their lives. Yet at the end, this was the reaction of Simon Peter, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “ O Lord,, please leave me – I’m too much of a sinner to around you.” (Lk 5. 8)

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."

We have domesticated God – we no longer come in fear and trembling before his presence. How many of you expect to hear a specific word from God directed at you alone? Perhaps we who preach and teach the word have also become insipid souls, we have lost the awe that it is God’s word that we are proclaiming.

It would be wise and prudent for us to cultivate a reverential awe and wonder before our almighty God. For this would sent the tone for how we will live our lives. Either in indolent, indulgent self centeredness or one who says,

1. Do not overdraw me, Lord, I shall break , instead we will say

2. I am a bow in your hands, Lord, draw me lest I rot. And finally as we mature and grow in increasing conformity to Christ, we pray:

3. Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares If I break! (quoted by Ernest Boyer, Jr, p 8 Finding God at home )

There a host of scriptural passages relating the fear of God to knowing him, loving him, obeying him and honouring him.

2 Cor 5:10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.

Who should we fear more? Men or God?

Lk 12. 4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Ex 20.20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."

Dt 5.29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

Job 28.28 And he said to man, 'The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.' "

Ps 25.14 he LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.

Proverbs 9.10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Mal 3.16 Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name.

Acts 9.31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord

Phil 2.12 work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Rev 15.4 who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy

The fear of the Lord determines our priorities. It defines our values. There are certain things we do and there are certain we don’t because we fear the Lord.

2. Love and gratitude (I Jn 4.8-10; Rom 5.8)

Eugene Peterson strongly asserts that it is God that has always taken the initiative. Our task is to discern his actions and to keep in step with him.

1 Jn 4. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son[b] into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for[c] our sins.

Rom 5.8 but God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet his enemies in foolish rebellion against his person and purposes

The Christian faith is not about keeping of impersonal rules – return a library book few days after the due dates, or break the speed limit. When we sin we are hurting the one who loves us. We are breaking relationships.

We do what we do because we love God and am grateful for all that He has done for us, grace – undeserved mercy and goodness that the Lord showered on us. The experience of God’s grace needs to be fresh in each generation. Each generation must pass on its unique story of love and grace to the next generation. So that the love and gratitude of each generation is fresh, first hand, not stale, second hand history.

We adults feel that story is for children. But as Eugene Peterson reminds us constantly in his books, “story is the primary way in which the revelation of God is given to us. The Holy Spirit’s literary genre of choice is story. From beginning to end, our scriptures are primarily written in the form of stories. Moses told stories; Jesus told stories; the four Gospel writers present their good news in the form of stories”[1]. We must pass on our stories to the next generation. We need to tell of the love of God to us in the past so that we can live for him in the present and trust God in the future. (see Dt 6 .20 in the future your children will ask you, ‘what is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord God has commanded us to obey?’ v21 then you must tell them…)

Finally love is the greatest motivator to do what we have to do. A mother shared with Teresa, “ some days I just don’t feel like getting up in the morning to go to work. But when I look at my children, I just “do it”. That’s what bankers are discovering : give small loans to mothers to start their business and over 90% of the mothers would end up doing successfully and repaying their loans. The love they have for their family would ensure this. For men, there is no guarantee that they would not use the loans to buy a fancy car, or gamble or drink it away .

Do we love God and have we experienced his kindness and mercy and love?

Kenneth – kidney transplant – love of wife and God!

3. Our identity and worth is in Christ

Attending wedding dinners can be a joyous and wonderful occasion, especially if the bridal couple is close to you and you are seated at a table together with your close friends. However when we are seated among strangers, then we find ourselves (at least some of us) struggling to carry on a conversation with total strangers. Sooner or later, we will ask each other, “what do you do”. It is not surprising therefore that a lot of our sense of worth comes from what we do and from what people think about us.

But as Kenneth Boa rightly pointed out, “who we are in Christ is not shaped by what we do but by what he did on the cross and continues to do in our lives. Our performance does not determine our identity; instead our new identity in Jesus becomes the basis for what we do”[2].

When we realise our identity and our worth is in Christ, we can say with genuine belief and conviction, that “it is good for us to be and to be who we are!”[3] St Clare, a contemporary of St Francis of Assisi had these for her last words, ‘Lord God, blessed be thou for having created me!” She had lived her life with no regret, only praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. What a way to live!

Instead, a lot of us has a great deal of dissatisfaction with ourselves. We are too tall, too short. Our nose is too broad, or too high. Our eyes are the classic Chinese eyes.

If only my parents were not poor and I had opportunities to go to university! If only my parents had the money to send me overseas, I would today have a future and a hope. And so on and so on.

Confident of our self worth, we no longer need to pander to man. No longer need to be popular, to be accepted. We have the courage, the strength, the conviction to do the right thing.

Our three judges – sworn an oath to uphold the constitution. Tremendous pressure have been put on them to consider race, religion, and culture. In such circumstances, knowing who we are helps us greatly in doing the right thing.

Knowing who we are gives us the moral strength to go against our peers. We do not fear being ridiculed, or ostracised or bullied to conform, to follow, to accept values that are against Christ.

4. Purpose– biblically derived purpose

Having a sense of purpose is crucial. It determines whether we want to get up in the morning or not. When there is a loss of purpose in life, people will experience stress, emotional fatigue and finally exhaustion – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Not knowing the true purpose and hope of our life, we become driven rather than called. We feel compelled to do a job for God rather than let God accomplish it through them. We end up relying on our own strength rather than depending on God and resting in him.

The apostle Paul had a well defined sense of purpose that involved a passion for knowing and pleasing Christ and for remaining faithful to his personal calling to evangelism and edification

Phil 3. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

2 Cor 5. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

1 Cor 9.24-26; 24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever

2 Tim 4.7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Kenneth Boa’s advice is sound. He says, “ we cannot lay hold of God’s unique purpose for our lives without spending time with him and inviting him to clarify his purpose for us in his timing and way.

We need to wrestle with the reason for our earthly existence. In SBC, I asked this question, do pastors need to have a clear, specific divine call to be a pastor? Most of the students gave me a resounding yes. Do students also need a clear, specific, divine call to be a lawyer? , dentist? Doctor? Accountant?

No wonder so many in later life are so bored with their work. Staying on only for the perks and living for the weekend, where they can begin to do real ministry for God? Do you mean to say that for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for thirty years, you are not fulfilling God’s purpose in your life? No wonder you are not motivated to live for God in your work, in your office, in your profession.

Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed after the image of Christ. We have to want to be conformed after Christ’s image. The natural inclinations of our body is against it. A serious, daily, unceasing spiritual battle needs to be fought against the flesh. Unless we are pulling together in one direction for the Lord or we allow the world, the flesh and the devil to distract us and to be pulled by multiple desires. In the end, we end up disillusioned, fruitless and purposeless. That is no way to live.

Let us make up our minds to live for God and to encourage ourselves as a community to help one another do just that. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

[1] Peterson, Leap over a wall, p3

[2] Boa, Conformed to Christ, p 144

[3] The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard, p 370

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