GS Letter February 2019
Now it is close to two months after Christmas. A few days ago, I happened to read a poem written by Howard Thurman, which struck me deeply.
When the song of angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flock,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost
to heal the broken
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner
to rebuild the nations
to bring peace among the brothers [and sisters]
to make music in the heart.
It is a noble thing to know and celebrate Christmas with awe and gratitude, but it is a completely different challenge to work out the Christmas message throughout the year. Indeed, though in a different context, Paul also exhorted the Philippians in a similar spirit: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13, ESV). It is essential to believe and receive salvation with wonder and gratefulness, but it is a tall, but equally crucial order to work out our salvation.
Goethe once said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” John Maxwell, who speaks and writes widely on Christian leadership, even believes that “the greatest gap in life is the one between knowing and doing.”
I also observe a similar phenomenon in student work today. Many of our students are more knowledgeable, resourceful, and well-informed about Christian dogma, doctrines, and beliefs. Yet, whether what that they know or believe in is truly reflected or lived out in their life is a big question mark. Sometimes, I echo the thought of James K. A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: “What if spiritual formation wasn’t first and foremost about what we know or believe, but about what we love?” Jesus Himself similarly challenged His disciples “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Therefore, cultivating the love of God among our students is more than just inculcating in them knowledge, but more importantly shaping their desires. I believe this is one key to fill the gap between knowing and doing. In an online interview with The Gospel Coalition in 2010, Smith argues the following:
My argument in ‘Desiring the Kingdom’ is that, in fact, the vast majority of our action and behavior is “driven” by all sorts of unconscious, pre-cognitive “drivers,” so to speak. Those pre-conscious desires are formed in all sorts of ways that are not “intellectual.”
And so, while I might be fueling my mind with a steady diet of Scripture, what I don’t realize that is that all sorts of other cultural practices are actually forming my desire in affective, unconscious ways. Because of the sorts of creatures we are, those pre-conscious desires often win out.
This is why it’s crucial that Christian spiritual formation – and Christian worship – is attentive to a holistic formation of our desire and imagination (emphasis mine).
Before we go further discussing how we can biblically and rightly shape our students’ desire and imagination, let us pause and reflect if the above makes sense. Feel free to comment or suggest. You can send me an email or contact my number.
Meanwhile, let’s live the meaning of Christmas together all year round! Let’s also work out our salvation with fear and trembling! He who works in us will enable us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
In His grace,
FES General Secretary