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Checklist for the New Millennium
By Dr Alex Tang
1999 will be an interesting year. Many people look to the year with hope. They hope the Malaysian and Global economies will improve. They look forward to decreasing inflation, stronger ringgit and better spending power. More jobs and political stability. Others look to the year with uncertainty. This will be the year the Y2K problem manifest itself with possible world-wide economic collapse. This will be also the end of a millennium.
The millennium that is ending has seen tremendous progress in human achievement. Within the 100 years, society has moved from agricultural to industrial to information based. The global village of Mcluhan has become a reality with improvement in telecommunication and the Internet. Men has walked on the moon, cloned an animal and eradicated smallpox. Yet human nature has not changed. There were more wars, more social disruptions, more human cruelties and human-right abuses this millennium than in the previous few.
The Christian church has undergone tremendous changes. Aside from numerical growth, it has also expanded from Europe to the United States and to Asia. There have been numerous revivals and great awakenings, which transformed the lives of many Christians. The work of the Holy Spirit has been emphasised through the Pentecostal Movement, the Charismatic Renewal Movement and recently, the Signs and Wonder Movement.
As Christians, how are we to approach the Millennium? Paul writing to the Roman Christian told them to understand their present time (Rom 13:10). I would like to suggest that we look at our own time. But to understand our own times, we need to understand ourselves. I suggest a checklist for this assessment.
1. Am I becoming who I want to be ultimately?
Everyday I get one-day closer to who I will ultimately be. Am I satisfied with who this person I will be?
We must keep reminding ourselves that we are on a journey. Becoming a Christian does not mean that we have arrived. Being sure of our salvation does not mean we do not need to grow. We must understand our present position in time as part of a whole journey that will end beyond the grave to eternity. And our continual spiritual growth will make us the person we are to be in eternity. Augustine has noted in The City of God, that here on earth Christians travel, “as on a pilgrimage through time looking for the Kingdom of Eternity”. “For those who live life as a journey and see live as a journey,” Os Guiness in his book, The Calling reminds us, ‘ we are all at different stages on the way and none of us alive has yet arrived. Trouble comes when we forget this fact and pretend that life is static and settled, as if everything were a matter of sharp lines, clear boundaries, precise labels. And final assessment”.
We need to persist on this journey towards becoming who we are to be and not stop to rest and to congratulate ourselves. As we look around us, how many of us can finish well? Will we be faithful to the end? We have to keep asking ourselves the same question. Will we finish well?
2. Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?
The Pharisees were religious; Christ is spiritual.
Much tradition is religious; relation in Christ is spiritual.
The difference between religion and spirituality is basically a matter of control. I define religion as an experience I can control, while spirituality is an experience that controls me.
Eugene Peterson, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada has this to say in his book, The Wisdom of Each Other:
“ By religion I mean the efforts that we make to keep things together in somewhat orderly fashion, to maintain some sense of responsibility before God.
By spirituality I mean the work of the Holy Spirit in making Jesus alive in us, inciting us to acts of love and compassion, blessing us with his gifts, bringing us to our knees in repentance and up to our feet in wonder.
Religion is mostly a matter of what we do; spirituality is mostly a matter of what God does.
My own practice has been to keep my involvement in religion to responsible minimum – my participation in spirituality (in the Spirit) extravagantly maximal.”
We need to continually seek the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must seek a real experience of the Spirit in our mind, our soul and our hearts. The Christian journey is a walk with our Lord Jesus Christ, following Him and Him alone. There is a tendency for us to be busy with church, equating church activities with Spiritual activities. Church activities are important, but it is more important to spend time with Christ. We, evangelical Christians have a lot to learn from the Contemplatives like Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton.
3. Does my family and friends recognise the authenticity of my spirituality?
This is the acid test of our spiritual life. They see us whole. I would like to believe- and must believe – that if I am growing spiritually, my family and friends will recognise it. If not there is something wrong. Samuel Hopkins wrote of Jonathan Edwards, a man greatly used by God in the Great Awakening in the United States in 1734 as, “He had a strict and inviolable regard to justice in all his dealing with his neighbours, and was very careful to provide for things honest in the sight of all men; so that scarcely a man had any dealings with him, that was not conscious of his uprightness. He appeared to have a sacred regard to truth in his words, both in promises and narration, agreeable to his resolutions.”
4. Do I have a quiet heart?
Osward Chambers said, “In our Lord’s life there was none of the press and rush of tremendous activity that we regard so highly, and the disciple is to be as his master ".
There is an important difference between the fast track and the frantic track. It is not God’s will for us that we be frantic. There are times when in our occupation that we are just overwhelmed by our job.
“ When in trouble, when in doubt,
run in circles, scream and shout.”
Often, we need to hear the command, Psalms 46:10 “ Be still, and know that I am God.” Peace is the evidence of God. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London wrote “ Quietness of heart is not achieved through escapism, optimism or any newly invented technique, but through a relationship with Christ”.
5. Have I defined my Calling?
Do I know what I can do effectively? The need is always bigger than any person can satisfy, so our call is simply to handle the part of the need that is ours to do. You have to know what you are called to do. Are you a pastor? Are you a doctor? What are your gifts? If you are not a pastor, then don’t try to act like a pastor and do his job.
“ Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.”
Os Guiness differentiated in The Call. “ Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him. We can properly therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history”. (italics his)
Defining your unique ministry will enable you to say no. Unless you know the things you are supposed to do, you will end up doing many mediocre things just to please others. Definition and discipline are essential.
6. Is my prayer life improving?
Is our prayer life enjoyable or is it a drag? We are often involved with spontaneous petition prayers. We must also learn from great intercessors of the other forms of prayers. There is richness in praying with the psalms and with the written prayers of two thousand years of Christian devotion. Richard Foster wrote in Prayer Treasury (Includes Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home & Prayers from the Heart),”These prayers come to us from varied cultures and span the centuries, and yet they all speak with the same voice of heartfelt devotion to God. When I pray the prayers that they prayed so long ago, I am somehow drawn into the ‘communion of saints”. I do not know when I am fully a man of prayer, but I can perceive progress if I am making it. Progress, not perfection, is all I can hope for in my spiritual growth. One test of my prayer life is this: Do my decisions have prayer as an integral part, or do I make decisions out of my desires and then immerse them in prayer?
7. Are we having a balanced diet in our spiritual feeding?
Like our physical body, our spiritual body needs a balance diet to grow. Too often we do not feed it a balanced diet and then we wonder why we do not grow. The medical term is ‘failure to thrive’. Each one of us is different, and so are our needs. What works for one may not work for another. But what is common is that we all need to eat. Some of us eat to live, others live to eat. Most of us get our spiritual food from the Sunday sermons and our weekly bible study groups. That is like living on McDonalds fast food. Food are processed and pre-packaged. We need a ten course Chinese dinner!
Firstly, we need to study the bible for ourselves. Scripture said we could only understand the Bible if we have the Holy Spirit to teach us. Paul wrote, “ The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1Cor2: 14). If we have the Holy Spirit, our spiritual eyes are open. We can read and understand the Bible. Then we need to meditate and to apply the Scriptural teachings to our lives.
Secondary, reading commentaries by recognised bible scholars can help us to understand the exegesis of the passage. We do not need to know the original languages of Hebrew and Greek but we will be foolish to discount these bible study aids.
Thirdly, we need to read Christian sermons and writings that deal with theology and Christian living. Not simplistic how-to books but books that will help us to think and to apply Christian principles in our daily living.
Finally, we need to read biographies of Christians and church history. We can learn much from the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. How they faced adversaries and successes. We learn from church history to understand and avoid the various fads and teachings that has appeared and reappeared in the past. Truly as the Teacher wrote,” There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9b)
8. Am I obedience in my daily ordinary daily living?
Eugene Peterson argued in The Wisdom of Each Other, “ The life of Christ emerges from within the actual circumstances of our seemingly very unspiritual lives – the daily stuff of ordinariness and accidents and confusion, good days and bad days, taking the humdrum and the catastrophic both in stride”. Hudson Taylor, a great nineteen-century pioneer missionary to China, used to teach: “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in a little thing is a big thing.” Similarly, Mother Teresa said, “I don’t do big things. I do small things with big love.”
If I do not make all the small decisions according to my belief, how then could I make big decisions. It is in our daily life that we are continually challenged.
Using the Checklist
A checklist is only useful if we use it. I suggest that we take some time alone and work through the list, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us where were are with the list and how to move forward.
The challenge is to continually assess and renew our spiritual growth. It is so easy to be religious; in the Christian circles we easily accept anyone who know the right words and phrases. We can be so caught up in our own religion that we forget being spiritual is what it is all about.
Soli Deo Gloria
"treat, heal, and comfort always"
"spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"
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