Spring 2011 Chapel - February 9
Be Thou My Vision—The Examined Life
Chapel, Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Do you remember when you were a little child and grownups would ask you the “big question”? “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Do you remember some of your answers? It’s not a bad question, it’s just being asked way too early. It’s probably not realistic for a four year old to know what he or she is going to be doing when they’re 43. It’s too early and yet it’s not, it’s an adult’s fumbling attempt to say, “Start dreaming and wondering now. Don’t get trapped with the mundane and the ordinary.” Use your imagination.
Then, for a season, you were left alone, probably until late in elementary school, or early junior high years, and once again, your parents, or in many cases, your first encounter with a ‘guidance counselor’ you were once again asked the same question, but with a little more grown up language, “what career path do you think you might wish to pursue?” And the guidance counselor would pull out a form and say, “Well then Timmy, here are the courses we want you to take if these are your interests, and hopefully your aptitudes.” And somewhere in there you started to realize, the wide-eyed wonder you had over ten years ago when you answered “truck driving ballerina, cowboy nurse”, had some of the excitement and adventure squeezed out of it.
And then the high school years came, and before they even began to come to a close, you were pelted repeatedly with two questions, “where are you going to college?”, and, “what are you going to major in?” The kindergarten question was now a question for a 17 year old.
And now here you are, a number of years later, and I want to take some time this morning and carve out a space for you to reflect, not upon these questions, and what’s behind them. (I’m not even going to mention the fact that the closer you draw to graduation, the more you ask yourself these questions.)
I want to start by inviting you to go back; to a time when you believed you could be something more, something special, something extraordinary. I want us all to take a moment, to step away from assignments and examinations and relationships and responsibilities. I want to encourage you to invite God to meet with you in these next few moments.
Will you join me in welcoming the opportunity to be with God? Let’s draw our attention to God, His presence among us and the things of life that matter most.
THE RHETORIC OF TRANSFORMATION
Have you ever watched a Charlie Brown animated show? The Great Pumpkin or Charlie Brown Christmas? Do you know the sound an adult character makes when speaking on one of those shows? Wah wah, wah wah, wah wahhhh.
That’s the noise we hear when we’ve turned somebody “off”. Children can switch off adults. And believe it or not, parents can tune out their children. Students can turn off their teachers and, truth be told, teachers can turn off their students (particularly when they’re asked the question, “will this be on the final?”).
Today I want to talk about “transformation”, but I fear that word causes us to “switch off”. I think the word and the concept of transformation has been so overused and counterfeited that when we hear the “rhetoric of transformation” we switch off and tune out—wah wah, wah wah, wah wahhhh.
The language of a transformative experience has become the language of marketing and advertising. We are transformed by hair care products, automobiles and energy drinks. So misused are the words revolving around transformation—vision, dreams, aspirations—that we tune out because the words sound fake and phony.
I submit to you that Christians need to reacquire the word ‘transformation’. It’s our word. Better said, it’s God’s word. I want to talk about what it means to sincerely consider the idea of the transformation of the whole person and the vision, intention and means necessary to make such dreams reality.
Let me first say that transformation is not the act of an institution. You can’t come to college, take the NNU transformation pill, passively sit in class, play Halo for four years and exit a different person.
Transformation is personal. It’s relational. Transformation occurs when you become engaged in who you are and what you hope to become. For genuine change to occur in your life you must actively participate. Yes, those of us who work and serve at NNU want to see you grow, but we cannot force transformation upon you. We pledge to stand alongside you, but you have choices to make and actions to take.
This reality applies to your sense of vocational calling and it applies to who you are as you walk with God. Transformation is the sum of countless steps in the right direction, layer upon layer of knowledge and understanding. The act of transformation cannot be accomplished by professorial spoon-feeding. Rather, you must choose to pursue transformation.
To pursue transformation is to pursue God and by His loving grace, to put on the character of Jesus Christ. Listen to Paul’s words about his own pursuit of transformation:
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven. Philippians 3: 12—14
BE THOU MY VISION
The University Hymn
A Prayer of Transformation
This morning I would like to highlight the fact that the NNU University Hymn—Be Thou My Vision—is a prayer; a prayer for transformation. Each time we sing it, we are in effect praying its words. Praying a prayer to be transformed by pursuing a vision of God.
THE REALITY OF TRANSFORMATION
Take a moment and consider this question, “Do you want to become something more than you presently are?” If you do, you want to be transformed. Do you want to become something more, something better, someone whole? The beautiful lyrics of Be Thou My Vision provide us with the proper posture and perspective from which we can seek to be and do more.
THE REALITY OF TRANSFORMATION
I believe real transformation must be rooted in our desire to know the Triune God and to learn to live in His presence and walk in His way. I want to use the first three stanzas of the poem to focus on real transformation, the kind that only comes as we seek to “know God”, to “know ourselves” and to have “no other gods”.
Consider the lyrics of this prayer:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou Art—
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Do we realize to whom this song is sung; to God the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and that this God has taken on flesh in the form of His Son and come and lived among us, and now, with our acceptance of His invitation to become God’s children, God’s Spirit dwells within us? This God, who alone is worthy of our praise, is the God who stands before us in the form of His Son Jesus Christ and says “follow me”. What do you want to be? Look to Him? Is He your vision? Is He Lord of your heart?
Only as we come to know Him can we properly understand His vision of what we are to become, and that which we should pursue. Our tendency is to create God in our image, that’s why the lyrics rebuke that tendency. “Naught be all else to me, save that Thou Art”; that’s another way of saying “as I pursue God don’t allow me to craft god into anything other than God is”. Let’s sing to the one true God. Let’s sing this prayer.
THE REALITY OF TRANSFORMATION
Pursuing a life of transformation requires the pursuit of God, but it also requires that we come to know ourselves. Know myself? I know myself. Who knows me better than me? Well, actually God does. And He wants to aid you, to guide you in coming to know the fallen self that you were and to transform you into the real you, the redeemed you, He intends for you to become.
One of the most important facets of this season of your life, is to learn the habits of self-awareness and self-reflection. In this coming of age time, it is imperative that you learn to be aware of both your weaknesses and your strengths. Your acts of self-awareness are required if you intend to participate in the process of God-empowered transformation. Look at these lyrics:
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, Thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling, and I one with Thee.
Ask yourself, are you living your life in such a way that you allow the Wisdom and Word of God to override the glitter of the ways and words of this world? Are you ordering your life along the pathway of transformation that is rooted in seeking His righteousness? Is God providing you a vision of yourself that sees through the false layers to the reality underneath and is it your desire to set that person free? Let’s sing.
THE REALITY OF TRANSFORMATION
No other gods
Not only does true transformation require that we come to know the one true God and to honestly and intimately know ourselves, we must also not yield to the temptation to craft other gods; gods who will give us the things we think the real God isn’t interested in giving us.
Let me remind us of the fundamental things Gene has been sharing with us from Mt. Sinai by way of the chapel pulpit:
I am the Lord your God . . .
You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20: 2, 3
I am the Lord your God . . .
You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .
You shall not worship or serve them; Exodus 20: 2, 4, 5
You see, we must learn that the transformation God has in store for us is not centered in things. The vision God provides invites us to value the things of God, rather than making idols out of the things we are tempted to pursue and acquire. Listen:
Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be. Matthew 6: 19—21
When we sing this prayer we say to God, I am following you and you alone. Not a god of my invention, not a series of things I wish to accumulate, not even my selfish attempts to crown myself god. I seek You and Your ways. You are my treasure, You rule my heart, there is no other. Sing the third verse.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
THE PRACTICE OF TRANSFORMATION
I said earlier that your transformation into the character of Jesus Christ requires your active participation. Across the centuries, Christians have learned habits of heart, mind and body that lead to personal transformation—these practices are spiritual exercises that require discipline and persistence. If you want to be transformed you have to show up for practice. This morning I’d like to introduce you to one such exercise. The Examen.
THE PRACTICE OF TRANSFORMATION
EXAMEN—The Daily Practice of Recognizing
The Holy Spirit’s Presence and Movement
Throughout Your Day
I’m sharing this spiritual practice with you because it’s simple, concise and can be expanded as you master its dimensions. Here I’m indebted to several authors in the Jesuit tradition; specifically I’m drawing from Tim Muldoon’s “Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith”.
3 X 5
Upon rising, After lunch, At close of day
The Examen is a powerful exercise for Christians pursuing transformation. It’s a daily, prayerful inventory of your actions, feelings and relationships. It is the workout room for the practice of transformation. You see, spiritual maturation, i.e., personal transformation, doesn’t occur on the mountain top, it happens in day-to-day living. That’s where we learn to become the new person, the real person God intends for us to be. It is there, with God’s help, that we take off the old and put on the new.
I want to challenge you to participate in this practice of Examen for one week. It requires 5 minutes, 3 times a day, 15 minutes. Upon rising, after lunch, at the close of the day. It allows you to go to God at the start of your day and commit to walk it with Him; it affords you the opportunity to make mid-course assessments and corrections at the half point of the day; and then it provides you the chance for prayerful review and reflection at day’s end. For example, here are some of the questions one can be in dialog with God about at the end of the day:
Thoughts & Questions for Conversations with God in Daily Examen
· What has been the most important thing I’ve done today?
· How have I been an instrument of God’s love toward others?
· Who has shown me God’s love? In what way?
· Have I hurt anyone today?
· Have I treated anyone as a means to an end rather than as a person?
Now I want to take five minutes for Examen right now. I invite you to assume a spirit and posture of openness to God. Go to Him in prayer and allow me to guide your prayer in the following ways:
1. Do you believe that God is at work within you? Ask Him for understanding and awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in your life.
2. Take a moment and give thanks for one thing He’s provided in your life.
3. Now take a moment and pay attention to the feelings and actions in your life of late. “Ask God to help you understand where the feelings/actions come from and what they tell you about your spiritual life.”
4. Now go further, identify one particular feeling/action, allow your awareness of that to lead you into conversation with God. What does it tell you?
Are you angry with God as He’s tried to change you?
Are you pleased that with His grace and help you see a new you in a certain situation?
5. How will this awareness affect your feelings and actions in the future?
6. Close by praying for the ability to discern His direction and presence, and the courage and power to act upon it.
Allow me to pray for you. Almighty God, help us, help these my friends, your children, to learn that true transformation occurs from within, where you reside and where the heart guides. May we return to our youth, and have the faith of a young child, and dream of becoming what you would have us be—remind us that you are taking us somewhere, and developing us into someone beyond what we can ask or imagine. Transform us through our vision of your Son, in our seeking may we find your kingdom, your righteousness, your Lordship. Let us sing.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, Bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington: Whitaker House. 1982.
Lowney, Chris. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World. Chicago: Loyola Press. 2003.
Muldoon, Tim. The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith. Chicago: Loyola Press. 2004.
Wright, N.T. Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Errdmans. 1995.