Monday, 31 December 2007

What I Learnt this Year

One of my favourite Christmas presents this year was an Andachtsbuch (devotional book), written in 1883 by a certain Johannes Paulsen, a Lutheran Pastor who played a role in the pietist revivals. The entry for Dec. 31st containts the following exhortation:

"I beg you, dear Christian, to sit in silence this New Year's Eve and contemplate the [divine] guidance you have received over the previous year."
Well, Ingrid and I actually plan to spend New Year in Berlin, which is hosting the world's biggest street party this year. Luckily, I have already done my contemplating and so am able to share with you some of the truths that have become a reality for me over the past year. Central to the entire experience has indeed been God's guidence and mysterious faithfulness, not just over the past year, but over my entire life (and in particular the last eight years). Here's what I have to offer. I invite contradiction and criticism, but expect a response!

- God is sovereign. It's his world, his plan and his will. He stoops down into our world and works within our categories and traditions, but he isn't bound by these categories and traditions. When he wishes, he hides himself and leaves us dangling (biblical echo: 1 Samuel 4-7).
- God places a high premium on human responsibility. So high it's scary. Part of that responsibility is taking care of the purity of your own heart. The connection between 'inside' and 'outside' is more important than piety and religious posturing. He wants you, he wants genuine, sincere, full-hearted workers and warriors in his kingdom and he's willing to put you through hell to make you realize where your priorities lie (biblical echo: King David's career, the 'deuteronomic' version).
- God, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is a solid rock and eternal foundation, a fortress to those who seek shelter from the storm. But this God is not an abstract principle to be nodded at or an indulgent father to manipulate. He's a man with a plan, and this plan is of eternal significance. This plan is called the Gospel, and those who would find shelter in this safehaven must first be gripped, propelled and infused with this vision. Adoption into God's family means playing according to his agenda, and this agenda determines the nature of the relationship (biblical echo: the Book of Job).
- God's agenda is good, very good. This can seem hard to grasp when the battle is grim (and all too easy to forget) but the end is of a joy that is so substantial that all previous pain evaporates in the presence of tasting what life was meant to be from the very start. The greatest meaning and significance one can receive is participating in this movement, struggle, from falleness to restoration. Hope consists in 'tasting' this reality and realising there is more to come. Motivation for mission consists in wanting others to see this reality and be redeemed by it.
- One practical lesson I've learned is connected to my first point: you can't manufacture spirituality by doing your Bible Study, liturgy, quiet time, meditation or joining a religious organisation. These activities only become truly spiritual when they become places for meeting the God of your salvation, the God of the Gospel. The Gospel is the pre-condition for genuine spirituality, which can only be a response and participation, and not the result. Our work flows out of our vision, and not vice versa.

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