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Winds of Change

Dr. Alex Tang

 

John was a manager in a large multinational semiconductor manufacturing plant. He lost his job two months ago when the company downsized in response to the United States economic slowdown. He was caught unprepared. He is 46 years old and he expected to be with the company until he retires at 60 years old. His two children are studying in universities overseas and he had just taken out a heavy mortgage for his new house. He knows that at his age, it will be difficult to find a job. What is he going to do?

Mary’s husband, James, died suddenly last week of a heart attack. He was 35 years old and she is 30 years old. They have two little children, Tommy and Jenny, 3 years old and 5 years old respectively. Mary and James have planned their career and family carefully. They aim to have their dream house in another two years. Suddenly Mary is alone. How can she carry on?

Andrew is a successful lawyer. He has a large flourishing law practice. He is well known around town and is regarded as a pillar of society. Yet at 50 years old, he feels tired and hollow. He is thinking of selling his practice. He wants to do volunteer work. He wants to help in a shelter for the homeless. His friends told him that he is crazy to give up all that he has worked so hard for. Andrew is troubled about his decision.

Samuel is a pastor of a medium-sized church in a city. He has been a pastor for 20 years and has seen his congregation grown from 10 to 200. Samuel felt that he has lost his initial enthusiasm for being a pastor. Constant pressure and stress from his flocks is wearing him down. He is thinking of quitting as a pastor and becoming an insurance salesman. His decision sent a shock wave through the Christian community. Is not being a pastor, a lifelong commitment?

Change is a Universal Constant

            We lived in an ever-changing world. The world is changing as we read these lines, whether we like it or not.

Change can be caused by external events. Events over which we have no control. The world is becoming smaller, more connected and interlinked. What happens in one region can have a devastating effect on other regions. A perceived slowdown in the world’s largest economy can cause a middle-aged executive like John to be out of a job. Economic crisis, political upheaval, social unrest, the rise of religious fundamentalism and racial conflicts can affect us in many ways. Change can come suddenly with devastating effect as Mary has found out to her deepest sorrow. 

Change can also come from within as Andrew and Samuel has experienced.  Psychologists have observed that after childhood, we go through three stages of change in adulthood: adolescence to early adulthood; early to mid-adulthood and  mid-adulthood to the senior years.

 From adolescence to early adulthood are the years when we learn to be independent and to discover ourselves. This transition usually occurs around twenty years of age. The question for this period is, “Who am I?” 

The next stage is from early to mid-adulthood. This transition usually occurs around our mid-thirties. It is a busy period in our lives as we build our marriage, has children, develop our careers. The question for this period is, “ Who in the midst of all this, am I?”

The third stage is from mid-adulthood to the senior years. During this period, our bodies begin to need more medical attention and we prepare for retirement. The transition usually occurs in our late fifties. The question becomes, “This is I, what can I leave behind?

Changes in our lives, whether from outside or from inside us are disturbing. Basically, we do not like changes. We like things to be the same and predictable. We like to be in control of our life. But change is inevitable. How then, as Christians do we survive the winds of change? We survive the winds of change through our calling from God.

Calling as a Faith Journey

            God calls people. We read of the calling of Abram to leave his people and journey to Ur, the calling of Moses from a burning bush to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and the calling of Paul on the road to Damascus. This calling of God to us is the demonstration of the love and initiative of God for us. This calling is not to do something or go somewhere. This call is to Someone, God Himself.  Os Guiness, a Fellow in Trinity Forum, an organization for Christian leaders, writes in his book, The Call:  “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service”. There are two components to this call; a general and a specific call.

            God’s general call is for us to accept the gift of salvation through the redemptive death of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a call for us to be Christians. It is a call for us to be a ‘new creation’ and this call shall forever influence the way we look at the world and ourselves. It gives us a new perspective that our time here on earth is but a short aspect of our journey of faith. It assures us that the destination at the journey end’s is real. To be with God in the new heaven and earth. Like many travelers, we are willing to bear the discomforts of travelling because we know the destination is worth the discomforts. God’s general call is for John, Mary, James, Tommy, Jenny, Andrew and Samuel. The comfort for them is that though the winds of change have turned their world upside down, their faith journey continues and their arrival at their destination is confirmed.

            God’s specific call is for us to be like Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that together they should aspire to be spiritually mature or Christ-likeness (Eph 4:13). This call to spiritual maturity (Christ-likeness) is possible because of the Holy Spirit who works in cooperation with us. The Holy Spirit is given to each one of us when we accept the general call of God.

The Specific Call to be Spiritually Mature

            There are three dimensions to this call to be spiritually mature, that is to Christ-likeness. The first dimension is to know ourselves. To know who we are and to be true to who we are. To be ourselves is to be fully human. Jesus in his time on earth has demonstrated to us what it is to be fully human. He knew who he is and he is true to himself in every step of his journey here on earth.  Paul wrote “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.’ NIV (Rom 12:3). By sober judgement, Paul meant that we are to know ourselves and be true to ourselves.

            The second dimension of God’s specific call is to know God. These two dimensions are closely interlinked. Unless we know ourselves, we cannot know God. Philip Yancey, the author of  The Jesus I Never Knew, said in a lecture in Singapore recently,

” If you reject Jesus, make sure it is the real Jesus you reject;

If you accept Jesus, make sure it is the real Jesus you accepted.”

What he meant was that often our perception of God comes from our perception of our father or other authority figures in our early lives. A person who has a strict and distant father may perceive a God that is strict and distant. We often make God in our own image. Therefore, we can only begin to know the one true God as we begin to know and understand ourselves.

            The third dimension of God’s specific call is to serve him. This dimension of service is interlinked to the dimensions of knowing ourselves and knowing God. The first two dimensions may make us ‘introvert’ Christians but the third dimension brings us into contact with the rest of God’s creation. We are called to be servants and to serve him along the areas of our giftedness. Paul emphases on our service with our giftedness when he wrote: ” We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” NIV (Rom 12: 6-8)

            Essentially, God has specifically call each one of us to be spiritually mature. To be spiritually mature means to be like Christ: to know and to true to our true selves, to know God and to serve him. This is a process, achievable by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. But it is not an individualistic enterprise. This specific call is to be worked out in the context of a community. A community of others who are similarly called - the church. It is also to be worked out in the marketplace, in the office, in the home, in the school and in the shopping centers.

            And the wonderful thing is as we become more like Jesus, we begin to draw nearer to God. As we begin to drawn near to God, we feel in a deeper way his love for us and we begin to love him more. As we love God more, we begin to love our fellow human more. Imagine a group of people forming a circle. Imagine God in the center of the circle. As we draw near to God in the center, we also draw near to each other, as the circle becomes smaller. Loving others is the natural outcome of loving God.

            John, when he was looking for a job and worrying about the financial security of his family, hung on to the perspective that his current difficulties is part of the process of his specific call to spiritual maturity. He discovered more about himself as he wrestled with his self-identity and came to the realization that he drew a lot of his self-identity and self-significance from his former job. He came to know God in a deeper way when he called to God in his desperation, and experienced faith and God’s providence as answers to his prayers. He retrained as a sales representative for a mutual fund company. John finds he has more time now and happier in his new job. As Parker Palmer writes in Weavings, a magazine of Christian spirituality, “ The truth is that every time a door closes behind us, the rest of the world opens up in front of us. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that is closed, turn round, and see the largeness of life that now lies open to our soul.”

            Mary as she works through her grief and takes on full responsibility for her children discovered that she has great inner strength. In her sorrow she turned to God for help and drink deeply of the comforting waters of the living God. She also knows God better as other Christians and friends rallied to comfort and supports her.

             Andrew, as he struggled with his decision to give up his law practice, became aware of how strong the attraction of material things and comfort is to his soul. How difficult it is to resist the temptations of power, prestige and wealth. He now understands the moral integrity of Jesus as he resisted the three temptations of Satan in the desert. He is happy serving God in the shelter for the homeless.

            Samuel realizes that he can faithfully serve God as an insurance salesman as well as he as a pastor did. That his specific calling did not limit him to one career track. He knows that being a pastor is a demanding job and he now knows that he is suffering from burnout. Samuel came to accept that there are limitations to what he can give. He remembered reading somewhere that a pastor requires the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. He now understands why Jesus takes time out to rest and prayer. Samuel decided to stay on as pastor and to take his weekly Sabbath rest.

Our Calling and the Winds of Change

Imagine us at sea during a storm. The sky is dark and overcast. The sea is rough with winds blowing with gale force. These winds are the winds of change. Changes arise in our external world from economics, politics, religious, social and community disturbances. Change arises in our internal world as we move through transitions in our lives. God’s general call is the boat we are in. The boat that keep us afloat and safe on the dark and stormy sea. God’s specific call is the rudder on the boat. A rudder that steer us through the storm. That guides us in a specific direction in spite of the winds. That steers us to our final destination. That  sees us through the winds of change.

                                                                                                                                             Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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