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Checklist for the New Millennium Revisited.
by Dr Alex Tang
The year AD 2000 was celebrated with great fanfare and celebrations chasing the sunrise around the globe. It was welcomed with great expectations and apprehensions, with great hope and great fear. The Y2K disaster proved to be groundless and civilisation as we know it still exists. Globalization is still proceeding at a rapid rate with the underdeveloped nations being swallowed by the developed nations. The KLSE remains in its doldrums. A neighboring nation erupted in ethnic and religious bloodshed. The Israel-Palestine Peace Accord was brokered and broken. Basically there is not much difference between AD2000 and AD1999. Nothing has changed.
In the Dec 1999, I had written an article “Are you Ready for the New Millennium’ with a checklist for our spiritual growth for the new millennium. At the end of AD2000, I felt it might be a good time to review how far we have gone. In the article, I asked eight questions to help focus on our spiritual journey:
1. Am I becoming who I’m going to be ultimately?
2. Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?
3. Do my family and friends recognise the authenticity of my spirituality?
4. Do I have a quiet heart?
5. Am I following my calling?
6. Is my prayer life improving?
7. Am I spiritually feeding myself on a balanced diet?
8. Am I obedient in my ordinary daily living?
The eight questions are designed to help us to review and assess the progress we are making in our spiritual journey or faith journey. The church has always regarded itself as a pilgrim church. We do not belong to this world but are just passing through. Henri Nouwen describes the Church aptly as “the people of God called out of slavery to freedom, sin to salvation, despair to hope, darkness to light, an existence centered on death to an existence focused on life. When we think of the Church we have to think of a body of people travelling together. We envision women, men and children of all races and societies supporting one another on their long and often tiresome journey home.”
The Apostle Paul likens the spiritual journey as a race. We must discipline our bodies as athletes train theirs and we have to run the course with the aim to finish in victory. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Church Fathers of the fourth century called it a “divine race along the course of virtue, light-footedly leaping and straining constantly for the prize of the heavenly calling”. Using that metaphor, what type of race has your spiritual journey been this year? A sprint? A marathon? An obstacle course? A downhill coast? An uphill climb? All of us who are fellow travelers with you on these spiritual journeys can tell you that there are ups and downs. For every mountaintop experience that we have, there will be many walks through the valley of the shadow of death.
Double Knowledge of God and self
In order to understand why we are on this journey, we must understand the principle of double knowledge (of God and self). In much evangelical thinking, we have split the double knowledge, with emphasis on the knowledge of God and rejecting the knowledge of self – who we are. We tend to associate the knowledge of self with self-help popular psychology and the New Age movement.
As emphasis on knowing self decreases in the teachings of the church, we become very fragmented in our inner life. We find it difficult to be alone with ourselves. We seek distractions all the time to avoid loneliness. We find it difficult to accept that we are emotional beings and do not know hope to cope with our anger, hatred, bitterness and sorrow.
Augustine, writing in his Confessions is well aware of the importance of double knowledge when he writes, “ Let me know Thee, O God, let me know myself.” John Calvin started his great commentary on the Christian faith in his Institutes of the Christian Religion with, “ Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God” and “Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”
It is during our spiritual journey that we acquire more of this double knowledge – that of God and of self. We acquire this knowledge in our daily living, in our bible studies, in our hearing of the Word of God through preaching and lectures, through fellowship, through reading, through praying and through life events. This double knowledge is what theology is all about.
Purpose of the Spiritual Journey
What then is the purpose of our spiritual journey? What is our destination? The destination is that our self becomes Christ-like and that we learn to love God.
The Apostle Paul gave us a glimpse into the destination of this spiritual journey when he writes to the Colossians that all their ministry is to present “everyone perfect in Christ” (Col 1:28 NIV). Eugene Petersen in his modern paraphrase, The Message, writes, “We teach in a profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less.” To be Christ-like is to be fully human. Professor James Houston of Regent College, Vancouver commented in a recent lecture in Singapore that to be a Christian is to be a fully authentic person. A person with a totally moral character. He mentioned that one of the reasons why so many Christians, especially Christian leaders fall into sin is the lack of character.
“I think faster than I speak,
I speak faster than I can act,
I have more acts than I have character for.”
Therefore, one of the goals of our spiritual journey is to be an authentic person. And this implies knowledge of who we are and who we are in relationship to God.
The second goal of our spiritual journey is to love God. If anyone deserves to be called the apostle of love other than St.John, it will be Bernard of Clairvaux. He preached eighty-six sermons on the Song of Solomon as an allegory of divine/human love. Each sermon is based on one word or a verse from the Song. He could not finish the Book because he became ill. That must be a relief to some of his monks! In his book, On the Love of God, Bernard outlines his ‘four degrees of love’.
The First Degree of Love: Love of Self for Self’s Sake.
We love ourselves for our own sake; since we are unspiritual and self-centered, we will not have an interest in anything that does not relate to ourselves. Then we became aware of our limitations and the delusion that we are in control. We begin to seek God for our own sake, which is the second degree.
The Second Degree of Love: Love of God for Self’s Sake.
We love God, but only for our own sake. For what God can do for us. But as we begin to worship and come to God again and again in our bible reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little, God becomes known to us by experience. We enter into a warm relationship with God. We then move into the third degree.
The Third Degree of Love: Love of God for God’s Sake.
Now, we begin to love God for God’s sake. Most of us will remain in this degree for a very long time.
The Fourth Degree of Love: Love of self for God’s Sake.
Bernard felt that rarely would we attain this degree of love, love of self for God’s sake. But when we do, we will experience the joy of the Lord and be forgetful of ourselves in a wonderful way. We are, for these moments, one mind one spirit with God.
Spiritual companions and community of pilgrims
If I am to add another question to the checklist, I shall like to add:
9. Who are your fellow pilgrims and what have you done to encourage each other?
We need each other, especially in the community of faith. Philip Yancey, writing in Christianity Today (April 3, 2000) on the lessons he has learnt from his 50 year old spiritual checkup, notes, ” Like many Protestants, I easily assume the posture of one person alone with God, a stance that more and more I see as unbiblical. The Old Testament tells the story of the people of God; Jesus’ parables unveil the kingdom; the epistles went primarily to communities of faith. We have little guidance on how to live as a follower alone because God never intended it ”.
As group of fellow travelers we need especially are those Christians who are gifted by God to give spiritual direction and those who are spiritual directors. Spiritual direction and spiritual directors are relatively new concepts on our evangelical radar but have a long tradition in the church that dates back two thousand years. Spiritual direction is giving the counsel of God by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual directors are Christians experienced in giving spiritual direction. The basic qualifications are a life lived out in holiness and prayers.
The eight questions are still useful for our spiritual checkup. Compare your answers for December 1999 and your answers now. Are there any differences? How would you improve on your answers? What are the areas of your life that you need the Holy Spirit help you to focus and improve? My prayers go with you as we walk on in our faith journey.
Soli Deo Gloria
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