Over the last few days, we have been talking about the spiritual journey through three aspects of spirituality gleaned from the story of the three wisemen. First, we talked about how they pointed the noses of their camels towards the star of Bethlehem, and how this represents a focus on the teleological view of human existence, how human life should be directed towards a face-to-face encounter with God. We contrasted this with the mechanistic view, which focuses on each person’s right to operate their bodies, their biological machine, as one sees fit. We talked about how the three wisemen went on a journey, and how this journey prepares us for the face-to-face encounter with God; it prepares us for union with God. We talked about God as love, and our union with love as the process of becoming agape. Today, we will talk about what we can learn from the wisemen having packed up their belongings before going on this journey, and how this concept helps us understand the ways in which we become agape.
When we think about preparing for a journey, there is an understanding that one anticipates what is needed for the journey, a packing up of those items, and a leaving behind everything else. Through this lens, we can start to understand how through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we pack up our sinful nature and leave it all behind. In this way, we move from a love tainted by selfishness towards agape. We will now exam a couple of different biblical principles to help us understand how this happens, and one process that we have become aware of through 2000 years of experience.
The first biblical perspective is self-discipline and moderation. When we practice self-discipline, we build habits that help keep us from sinning. When we become strong enough to avoid more and more occasions of sin, we start becoming agape.
The second biblical principle is imitating Christ, and we will discuss two lessons from his life that help us become agape. First, when we examine the life of Jesus, we see how he accepted what happened as the will of the father; he surrendered to the will of the father. In so doing, he accepted even death, death on the cross. In imitation of Christ, we, too, can accept the good and bad that comes our way. The bad may not be from God, but he does use them for his glory and the good of all who believe in him. When we trust him to get us through the dark times, we imitate Christ, and in so doing, we die to our own will.
In addition, we can add things to our life that help us die to self. In some circles, this is understood as self mortification. An example of this is fasting. When we fast, we sit in the discomfort of hunger, we not only learn to be ok with this discomfort, we also die to our selfish desire to relieve this discomfort. I would say that any time we find ourselves with a burning desire to flee or to numb ourselves, we should sit with the discomfort, allow it to curb our selfish desires, and in so doing, grow into agape.
In reflecting on 2000 years of history, we can also see how mental prayer, like meditation, transforms us into the image of God. In mental prayer, we ponder things of God, and by this I mean we allow our minds to mull over the mysteries of God’s revelation. The saints have shown us that practices such as these, open us to the Holy Spirit, who enters in, convicts us of our sins, helps us to repent, and then works with us to heal our brokenness. In fact, the Holy Spirit will start to show us where our actions may not be sinful, per se, but where our drivers, our motivations behind the actions, are tainted with selfish desires. This gives us the opportunity to repent, and with His help, our behaviors are purified.
It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit is the one who drives the process of becoming agape. He is our star of Bethlehem, and he guides us on the way. When we invite him into our acts of self-discipline, he super-naturalizes our efforts. When we invite him in to our effort to die to self, we find ourselves able to go deeper in the process. Finally, I would say that mental prayer without the Holy Spirit is pretty much pointless. God is beyond our comprehension, and without God opening us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life, we will not get very far.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on these three aspects of becoming agape. Does your spiritual life include all three practices? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand more fully how a healthy spiritual life incorporates all three into your life. Ask him to show you how to cooperate with him in all three aspects. Ask him to be your guiding light.