As we deepen our spiritual practice, one of the most accurate ways to gauge our progress is to measure our sensitivity to our surroundings. Are we becoming more mindful? Are we able to discern patterns, themes, and the presence of the Divine in ways that we couldn’t before? Are we generally more alert to what is coming in through our senses? Especially, are we better able to see the genuine needs of others and respond in ways that are both effective and empowering? The ways in which we answer these kinds of questions will reveal much in terms of our overall progress on the spiritual journey. Wayne Teasdale, in his book A Monk in the World tells us:
The person with a contemplative attitude, whose life is shaped by its demanding discipline, shows a wonderful sensitivity to everyone and everything. It is a sensitivity born out of an awakened capacity for union with God. Everything, every person and situation, becomes an occasion for communion with the mystery in the silence of the heart. Alert, attentive, receptive and responsive, the contemplative person is awake to the possibility of communion with the source in every action.
Alert – attentive – receptive – responsive – these descriptive terms used by Wayne Teasdale accurately portray the presence of a mindful, spiritually mature human being. In essence, as we mature we are becoming increasingly aware of the ways and wisdom of God. Moreover, we are better able to accept, internalize, and manifest that wisdom in our daily lives. If we are not becoming beings that consistently exhibit these holy characteristics, something is amiss in our spiritual journey and it is important to discover the problem and rectify it.
Among my favorite parts of the Bible are the writings of the big gun prophets – guys like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah. Over the years the scriptures penned by this trio of seers have really grown on me, although I must admit that early on in my walk of faith I didn’t have so much as a clue as to what they were getting at. By the grace of God and the unflagging work of the Holy Spirit I have grown enough spiritually to see just how profound these inspired messengers of God were and also, just how deeply they can speak to me about things of maximum import. Take these words of Jeremiah for example, taken from Chapter 17: 5-10 (NRSV):
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed are those that trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green, and in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind and search the heart.
As we reflect on these powerful words by Jeremiah we soon discover that the great prophet is touching upon a topic that is a central thread in the fabric of biblical wisdom. In these five verses from Jeremiah, as well as in other scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s wisdom in juxtaposition to human wisdom. We see clearly the choice that confronts each of us on a daily basis: Will we build our lives on the basis of God’s wisdom or on the basis of humankind’s wisdom?
Methodist scholar and writer Robert Mulholland, Jr. describes Jeremiah’s message quite cogently:
In a very focused way Jeremiah illuminates a reality that threads its way from Genesis to Revelation. He reveals there are two fundamental ways of being human in the world: trusting in our human resources and abilities or a radical trust in God. You cannot be grasped or sustained in the deeper life in God – being like Jesus – until you are awakened at the deep levels of your being to this essential reality.
We see the same theme carried forward by Paul, especially in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle makes it abundantly clear that no matter how wise and sophisticated worldly wisdom may sound, it pales in comparison to the sacred wisdom of the Creator. In the 19th verse of Chapter One, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” (NLT)
Continuing with this theme, Paul goes on to say that according to the standards of the world, whether Jewish tradition or Greek wisdom, the cross of Christ is seen as foolishness and nonsense. Paul also explains that God, in his infinite wisdom, made sure that humanity would never know him through human wisdom. However, for those who the Spirit has led to that cross, the issue is abundantly clear.
But for those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. Remember dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. (1 Cor. 1: 24-28 NLT)
From a scriptural perspective it should be quite clear that God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom are miles apart in terms of content, character, and quality. Indeed, as Mulholland asserts, we are confronted with a choice of two ways of encountering the world. Do we follow God’s wisdom or the world’s wisdom?
Each of us must choose.
© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved