Written in 2005
FROM MEDITATION TO JESUS?
A colleague of mine who came to Christ from Hinduism made a surprising discovery this month. Though he has been a Christian for over twenty years his family members, who live abroad, had shown no interest in the gospel. But, while visiting them in their adopted nations, he was surprised to find that they, especially two brothers, had suddenly developed a keen interest in the gospel. Both of them had been experiencing stress in their lives, and in a quest for peace they had started to practice Hindu meditation. This had opened them to spiritual things, but it had not satisfied the deep yearnings of their hearts. This led them to becoming open to the gospel of Christ.
This movement towards Christ by two Hindus confirmed some thoughts that have been growing in my mind over the past few years. There is a new interest in spirituality among post-modern and New Age people in the West and adherents of other faiths in the East. Instead of throwing up our hands in despair over this, I believe we should take this as an opportunity to present the glory of Christian spirituality. In our part of the world religious fundamentalism is trying to restore “traditional values” in a rapidly deteriorating culture through force and even violence. Sooner or later people are going to realise that a livelier alternative to enforced morality is needed to satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human soul. Only Christ can meet that need.
It is natural for people to seek spiritual experiences when they realise the emptiness of the materialism that had consumed their lives. But we know that non-biblical spirituality will never fully satisfy the deep yearnings of the soul because only the method prescribed by the Creator of our spiritual natures could truly satisfy that. If they are honest enough to acknowledge that something is missing, we could lead them to the one who “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
But are we ready to reap and to accommodate this ripening harvest? If so, we must demonstrate that we have those things that these people will come in search of. I want to mention four of them.
Peace and Joy. Firstly, they are yearning for peace and joy, and a fulfilled life. The Bible is abundantly clear that this is what Christ came to give us. But sometimes we forget that the way we tap into this great resource of the gospel—the joyous life—is through Christian spirituality. I am convinced that one of the most important keys to experiencing the glory of Christian spirituality is daily, unhurried lingering in the presence of God.
I have been stuck at Deuteronomy 6:1-9 for the past two months as I have not had time to work on my Deuteronomy commentary. But this has given me a good chance to meditate long and hard on this key passage. One thing I am convinced about is that Christians today are more exposed to anti-God ideas than during Moses’ time. Therefore we should be spending much more time with the Lord and his Word than people of Moses’ generation. But the truth is that we are spending very much less time.
Could we not start a campaign to encourage Christians to spend at least an hour with the Lord every day? Certainly, we cannot be legalistic about this. But I see no better way to relish the Saviour and his salvation than spending time alone with him. Then we would go into the world with the peace of having lingered with the eternal God who is our refuge with his everlasting arms underneath us (Deut. 33:27). We would be joyous people.
I believe that the world does not know the joyousness of joy. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, people are substituting all kinds of pleasures for joy. I believe this is because they do not know what a wonderful thing joy is. People are too easily satisfied. They are settling for crumbs from the table when the Lord has prepared a delicious banquet for them. One of our callings in a world that has forgotten the meaning of joy, is to show the world what a wonderful thing it is. For that we must experience joy. Joy comes from experiencing love; and the best way we know to experience love is to linger in the presence of the One we love.
Life-giving Objective Truth. Post-modernism has downplayed the value of objective truth and it frowns upon the idea of absolute truth. This attitude has been part of our eastern cultures for several millennia. When people despair of a subjective spirituality without any firm foundation and look to Christians for an answer, are they going to find us apologising for the Bible, dropping unpleasant parts in it and not really studying the Word individually and in community? If that is the case, we would not be experiencing the life-giving freedom that the truth brings (John 8:32-36), and these people will look elsewhere for an answer.
It is interesting that many people in the West are turning to the Catholic and Orthodox churches and to Islam because these seem to offer a greater stability because of their foundation in their traditions. We have a foundation in “the word of God [which] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). How much stronger and more attractive this is! What a tragedy that the church has ignored its greatest power tool. When people are hungry for meat we are giving them dessert. When they are crying out for bread we are giving them stones! We preachers have our homework to do—to live close to the Word and to the world and out of that to give a life-giving message from the Word to the world.
Personal Morality. Post-modern spirituality does not emphasise the importance of personal morality. Today many prominent western icons are turning to “eastern religions” saying that this gives them a peaceful, non-violent philosophy by which to order their lives. But these same people are indulging in extra-marital sex freely. In the east where there is a strong tradition of moral conservatism in theory, but in practice there is rampant immorality, though it usually does not come to the surface in our shame cultures.
The American Methodist preacher of an earlier generation Henry Clay Morrison has said, “God never fixed me up so that I could not sin; he fixed me up so that I could not sin and enjoy it.” Sooner or later people are going to find that there is a hollow ring to spirituality without morality. When they turn to the church in search of a moral spirituality, are they going to find us committing the same sins and ignoring sin in the church?
Can you imagine what non-Christians in Asia are thinking when they find out that Christian churches are performing homosexual marriages? I think we evangelicals are unanimous in condemning that. But are we equally unanimous in actively attacking heterosexual sex outside marriage? Statistics seem to suggest that this is not the case.
Authentic Community. Post-modernism has reacted to the individualism of modern day life, and today people are seeking a meaningful community experience. But they will soon find that community without personal accountability does not satisfy the heart. Eastern cultures which traditionally had strong ties binding people together are seeing this aspect disintegrating as western-style individualism is getting more and more popular. In this vacuum the spiritual unity we share in the body of Christ could be a great attraction to our people. When people in the east and the west turn to the church, will they find us exercising true community or will they see us timid when it comes to provoking each other to love and good works (Heb. 10:25)?
Today Christian community life has been invaded by a supermarket mentality. People choose the church they go to and decide whether or not they will join a given small group. People join a group based on their preference not because it is an inevitable aspect of being part of the body of Christ. Paul would have been scandalised! Consequently developing biblical community life has become a huge challenge.
In the Bible we enter into community life by first crucifying the self (See Rom. 12:1-2 and the rest of the chapter). A key aspect of Christian community life is submission to one another (Eph. 5:15-33). We restrict our personal freedoms and submit to the body in our decision making because we have abandoned our radical individualism so as to be vital members of the body of Christ.
I believe that if left to ourselves without the influence of the Word, the Spirit and the body of Christ, we can all move in the direction of condoning sexual sin and adopting a lifestyle of radical individualism. Both these things are severely opposed to Christian ethics. The supermarket mentality of a lot of Christian groups will not encourage true biblical community where people walk in the light so that they can have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). The context of that verse is confession of sin.
With this supermarket mentality one will not face discomfort in community life because of questionable actions. He or she just leaves and joins another group without grappling with the problems. And because people are so prone to leave when there is confrontation of sin, churches are also reluctant to press with this for fear of losing members to the church down the road.
You cannot develop the type of accountability which fosters the confession of sin one to another (James 5:16), through time-restricted small groups. Today people are asked to join a group for six months or a year. That is just not enough time to develop personal accountability. The criterion for joining a group is personal preference and not a theology of the body which says, “I am one in Christ with this person, so now I will practice community with this person” (see Eph. 4:1-14).
I think we must remember that one reason why Muslim (and Buddhist and Hindu) fundamentalists are attacking the west is their belief that the west is polluting their societies. Two of the things they want to avoid being polluted by are the legitimising of sexual immorality in so-called Christian societies and the radical individualism of these societies. Isn’t this interesting? Both sides think they are fighting evil. Note that two recent bombs went off that got a lot of press were at night-clubs in Bali and Beirut. Recently a bomb went off at a beach resort in Egypt where tourists are usually found in various stages of undress. Nightclubs and nude or semi-nude beaches are among the most prominent signs of degradation which poorer nations are having to endure in order to get tourist dollars.
Whatever governments may do, we Christians need to be concentrating on putting our house in order (Isa. 38:1), “for it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). We should also be known to be strongly opposed to the immorality and individualism that is being exported from so-called Christian countries. Like Hudson Taylor who appeared unpatriotic in strongly opposing the opium trade in China, like countless missionaries who joined in the freedom struggles of their adopted nations, we too must be known to oppose all those things that are sent from one country to another which cause moral degradation in those countries.
So we have to get our act together.
- Christians need to go back to unhurried lingering in the presence of God so that peace and joy will be hallmarks of their lives.
- We need to return the Bible to its place of authority not only in our statements of faith but in the day-to-day experiences of living. We must be known as a people who gather around a book and study it in order to practice all it says. We need to give the world a taste of the glory of objective truth.
- We need to be known as people who strongly oppose immorality. There always have been immoral people in the church. The difference today is that immorality is not a big deal. We seem to have lost our moral criteria.
- We need to be known as people who truly practice community. Christian communities should distinguish themselves as places where people love and are committed to each other, where there is accountability and where sacrificial service emanates to the needy outside the church.
- And may all people everywhere—Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers, AIDS patients, rich and poor—recognise Christians as people who are committed to their welfare at personal cost to themselves.
O Lord, as you prepare your harvest for a great ingathering, prepare also the reapers and the barns which are to accommodate that harvest. Our church in Sri Lanka is not ready for this harvest. O Lord send us revival!
 Another major reason for anger is the humiliation of being dominated and subjected to a world economy which is controlled by the west. They are saying that colonial imperialism has given rise to economic imperialism and that they do not want to be ruled by foreign powers again.