Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Making Things New Again

John Kapsalis

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When goal goes, meaning goes; when meaning goes, purpose goes; when purpose goes, life goes dead on our hands. Dr. Carl Jung

January is the month that signifies change, hope and a fresh start at life. Maybe you already made a pledge with that New Year's resolution. You know the one. The same one everyone makes every year around this time: this year it's going to be different. We are going to exercise more and go on some fancy diet. We are going to inflate our bank account and climb that proverbial ladder we've been told we must climb. Maybe we'll even read the Bible, go to Church and pray more 'regularly.' Examining and improving our life plan is important. However, the majority of New Year's resolutions last only a few weeks. As resolutions fall apart, the months pass in disappointment and the promises we made become guilt-ridden memories. The words of T. S. Eliot can be haunting: "All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance. All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, but nearer to death no nearer to God. Where is the life we have lost in living?"

We can be so focused on how to extend the years of our life, but care little about a well-spent life. We can waste so much of our life pursuing the comforts of this temporary life, even though like the title of Frank Capra's movie classic implies, You Can't Take It With You. If we are going to resolve ourselves to keep one promise this year, then let it be that we stop wasting our lives. Novelist and poet Annie Dillard once wrote: "How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life." We need to change our focus to the eternal, where God dwells. As we move away from this world and into God's world, the things that matter most to us move as well. We stop living "ash heap lives," as Francis Schaeffer describes, where "we spend most of our time and money for things that will end up in the city dump," and we start spending "[our] time and energy in training [ourselves] for spiritual fitness" (1 Tim 4:7 NLT).

It is so easy to get caught up in a kind of phony Christianity, where we are more concerned about all the exterior forms of religion. Just because we have icons in our homes and cars or wear certain types of clothing or don't go to dances doesn't make us religious. The foundation of a religious life is humility. No, not some sheepish attitude where we try to look lowly and have an "aw shucks" attitude. Anthony Bloom says:

Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don't need. It's there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain...abandoned, surrendered, ready to receive anything from people and anything from God.

Christians are not those who dress themselves up to look and act religious by simply following a man-made list of do's and don'ts. Christianity is more than morality. Our goal as Christians is to become like Christ and united to God. Vladimir Lossky goes so far as to say that "salvation is a negative moment: does it matter being saved from death, from Hell, if it is not to lose oneself in God?" When we let the presence of Christ live in us, our life becomes Christ's life. Our life ceases to be irrelevant, and our actions become more than mere shallow movements of religiosity. Then our Christianity becomes courageous and transforming, contagious and liberating. The goal of our prayer and fasting, of our morality and compassion, and of our worship and redemption is to follow the way of Christ and imitate him in everything we do: "Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived" (1 John 2:6 MSG).

All our spiritual exercises and disciplines are means by which we come to know Jesus Christ. We become intimately acquainted with Jesus by imitating and sharing in his experiences, and by living life as he lived it. St. Augustine describes the Christian life this way:

He is a Christian who shows mercy to all...who sympathizes with the sorrowful and feels the grief of another as his own...whose door is never closed to anyone, whose table is shared by every poor person...who serves God day and night, who meditates upon and considers his precepts ceaselessly... whose conscience is faithful and pure, whose thought is directed to God and whose hope is in Christ.

The main reason we can't keep any of our New Year's resolutions is because we don't make it a habit of doing what we set out to do. When our actions become routine our will power and discipline increase and we stick with it. Unfortunately, we are so conditioned to expect an instant response that we expect to get everything fast and easy. Discipline and effort have been replaced by impatience and comfort. Yet if we want to live holy lives that matter, we need to work at it. This is how the apostle Peter puts it:

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV).

If we want to live like Christ, then we can't live sheltered and secluded lives, hanging around Church with blank stares. Each Sunday the Church celebrates the amazing news of God sharing himself with us, and we need to share ourselves with God and each other. Being a Christian is a way of life. It is life itself. It is about living your life in such a way that you are a fragrance to your surroundings (2 Corinthians 2:15). It means that those who come into contact with you cannot remain the same or indifferent. Is this the impact you have in the world? If not, then pray and fast that you may know Him. "He has showed you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8 NIV).

If you want the kind of godliness Christ has then you need to be awakened from your dull slumber and busy religiosity, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from the inside out. Don't use God as your personal ATM. Thirst to be with Him because that's where life is. Don't complain about God being distant. Search the Scriptures and surrender to Him to experience his nearness. Don't imagine a life free of guilt and disappointment. Make every effort to imitate Christ and live the life He has prepared for you now, because the Kingdom of God is within you.

John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

Posted: 09-Jan-06

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Copyright 2001-2019 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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