I was sound asleep when I suddenly felt pain in my chest. It was just for a split second. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It was like somebody gave me a quick strong pinch. Anyway, my wife who is a doctor checked my blood pressure and oxygen level. She said I was okay and told me to relax. But of course I couldn’t; I was worried.
Then this verse just popped into my head: “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)
The realization dawned on me that I’ve been feeling a bit stressed lately and I haven’t been meditating on God’s Word as much as I should because I’ve been spending too much time watching Seth Godin interviews on YouTube and reading books like Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week. The desire for more success and more wealth than what I already have was eroding my sense of peace and contentment. I didn’t want to miss out on all the success and wealth I could have if only I could really grasp and apply what these gurus had to teach!
Then I remembered another verse: “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” (Psalm 119:36) That’s the antidote! There’s more to life than money. Money isn’t everything. After all, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.” True, these may sound like cliches; but in circumstances like mine, they strike me as fresh and meaningful.
Here’s the outline of a talk I gave a talk to the leaders of Ikthus East Bacolod City last 26 January 2019 at Beracha Farms, Alangilan, on How a Christian Leader Sets Priorities.
Here’s the outline/manuscript (please note that the actual talk varies from the manuscript, significantly at times):
It’s possible to go to extremes when it comes to spirituality.
One can become so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. People with this mindset usually divide things into secular and sacred, and consider the former as inferior to the latter. Let’s call this “pie in the sky” spirituality.
On the other hand, some people embrace “worldly spirituality” and fail to discern that some activities, although not be neglected, should not be given more importance than they deserve. For them, everything is sacred as long as it is done for the glory of God. They have a point, but it needs to be qualified, as we will see later.
“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”
But if so, then spirituality must be an engagement with ordinary life, not a withdrawal from it. Merton himself said, “Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time.”
And to think that the most spiritual human of them all spent the greater part of his life being a carpenter rather than a preacher! Hands-on engagement with life rather than abstract contemplation of it – that is spirituality.
“The spiritual life is not, therefore, a life entirely uprooted from man’s human condition and transplanted into the realm of the angels … If we are to become spiritual, we must remain men.”
Spirituality, then, is a form of humanism; an acceptance of one’s humanity, not a denial thereof. After all, we are human beings, not angels. This does not mean that we tolerate the sins done in and through the body; it means that this weak human flesh can be an instrument of righteousness – if we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
The previous post ended on a not so uplifting note. I of course agree with what Owen wrote regarding the mind’s helplessness against the affections. But that is not the last word in our struggle against sin. Here are some positive insights I’ve culled from William Arnot’s Studies in Proverbs:
The best way of moving a young heart is to please it. The surest way of turning a person from one pleasure is to give him a greater pleasure on the opposite side.
In chapter 12 of his book on Spiritual Mindedness John Owen writes, “Without spiritual affections we cannot be spiritually minded.”
He then tells us why this is so. “By nature our affections, all of them, are depraved and corrupted. Nothing in the whole nature of man, no power or faculty of the soul, is fallen under greater disorder and depravation by the entrance of sin than our affections are. In and by them is the heart wholly gone and turned off from God.”
The light that enters the soul through the agency of the divine Spirit is liable to withdraw as a result of our laxity, negligence or perfunctoriness in matters of food or speech. Carelessness over what we eat and an unstable diet, as well as an uncontrolled tongue and unguarded eyes, will naturally drive the light from the soul and plunge us into darkness. And once we are filled with darkness all the beasts in the wild places of our heart and our whelp-like passion-imbued thoughts rove raucously through it, seeking to feed on our impassioned proclivities and to despoil the treasure garnered in us by the Spirit.
– Nikitas Stithatos, On the Inner Nature of Things, 47
There never was a man or woman truly converted, from one end of the world to the other, who did not love the revealed will of God. Just as a child born into the world desires naturally the milk provided for its nourishment, so does a soul ‘born again’ desire the sincere milk of the Word. This is a common mark of all the children of God.
Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling, as by staying within. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.