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A Grain falling into the Earth

I have been talking about our spiritual journey using a model, which was developed by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich. The reason why I am talking about the stages of our faith journey is not to be competitive by judging how far other people have journeyed, but only to use it to find out how far I have come and how I am doing with my spiritual development. The purpose of this reflection is to encourage ourselves to keep moving on in our journey toward deeper spirituality and maturity in faith. I am talking about Stage 5 The Journey Outward.

The Journey Outward

The previous experiences—The Journey Inward and The Wall—are not exciting ones. As explained in the previous sermons, The Journey Inward is “a mode of doubting, questioning, exploring, and sinking in uncertainty,” and The Wall is like a solitary broom tree in the wilderness, where we find ourselves deflated, depressed, and lost, where we could not find any hope toward the future, any cause for his presence, and any meaning for his life:
Now, those who continue through these stages experience healing and growing. To those who do not give up this journey of faith are given these rewards. Here are some words of those who continued through The Journey Inward and The Wall:
“God has given me a life of love. I have peace more of the time. I am happy. Even with my physical pain I feel peace. No need to get rid of it or even to get better. It reminds me of my constant need for God.”
“I know myself; I accept myself; I forgive myself; I love myself because God does.”
“I am weak, unable to do anything on my own. Only through the grace of God am I able to function.”
“God’s grace and love are sufficient.”
I hope and pray that these may be our witnesses as well. There is another reward for those
who successfully came out of The Journey Inward and The Wall. That is a new perspective on life. They realize how meaningful it is to care for not only oneself but also others who are in need—family, friends, and neighbours. The author of the book well explains that:
“This is the outward journey, a venture outside our self-interests to others, based on the growth and peace of mine we have experienced from the inner journey.”
“Once parts of the deep, excruciating inward journey have been experienced, the natural outcome is to venture outside of one’s self-centeredness and back into the active world with a new sense of fulfilment.”
Some aspects of personal life such as looking after oneself and caring for others are an evident sign of the new perspective of those who came out of The Journey Inward and The Wall into The Journey Outward.

Characteristics of Stage 5

Here are characteristics of Stage 5 The Journey Outward.
A Renewed Sense of God’s Acceptance: At this stage we are aware that God loves us in our humanness and that God truly loves us even though we are not perfect, even though we are never fully whole. We feel fully loved and accepted by God and become ready to do God’s will in our lives instead of substituting our own egos for God’s will.
A New Sense of the Horizontal Life: We experience a shift in our focus in life from the vertical relationship with God to the horizontal life with others. It does not mean that we ignore the relationship with God, but get balanced with the vertical and the horizontal, which shapes the cross, with God and with people. We are interested in reaching out to other people from a sense of fullness—from a sense of being loved by God and being asked to love others in return.
Sense of Calling, Vocation, or Ministry: We are sometimes surprised at how simple or mundane our life’s call is, yet how profound it becomes. We realize that God’s purpose corresponds with our own deep longing and purpose that we were not yet aware of, which demands us to give up something that we have been clinging to. This does not meant that coming into stage 5 demands a career change, but it does mean a slow transformation in the way we go about our life’s work. And we have learned how to go about our calling with a patience and freshness, a vital that can only come from God. For instance, without bearing a grudge, we can work with or serve people who in the past have hurt us or cheated us.
Concern and Focus on Others’ Best Interests: We experience the subtle shift in our major concern from ourselves to others. While we are aware of maintaining a healthy self-image and not excluding self, we turn our eyes to others and then to the world. This shift does not come out of a need to take care of others, to change other, to fix others, to live through others, or to negate ourselves. Rather, it comes out of a fullness of God’s love for us and for them. It could mean a nurturing that stretches us beyond our comprehension. At this stage we sacrifice for others by going out of our way to help them, heal them, listen them, live with them, or hold their hands.
A Deep Calm or Stillness: At this point in our journey of faith, we let God be God from the inside out instead of the outside in. We let God direct our lives a calm stillness inside, from a peace of soul and mind. We can be direct and honest, and at the same time, loving and caring. We can be ourselves fully as fragile, spotty, incomplete, and imperfect, yet wise, loved, willing, and called. We often have a quiet, peaceful quality that draws others toward us as a companion or friend.

Causes of Regression

The developers of this model explain that that it is virtually impossible to become stuck at Stage 5 The Journey Outward and Stage 6 Life of Love. Instead, we can regress and become stuck in an earlier stage. There are two major factors that may cause us to regress.
Seemingly out of Touch with Practical Concerns: At this stage, frequently, we appear to be impractical and out of touch with reality. It is because we do not fit with the realistic expectations of a world that is out to be productive and to win. E.g. When we give money away, we are considered poor managers. When we yield, we are considered non-competitive. When we let go, we are considered weak.
For Christians, being impractical and unrealistic is at times the right thing to be because our focus is not on the prize but on God who is love. Consequently, we may appear less productive and slightly isolated. As a matter of fact, we are quite active, and we have a tendency to do things behind the scenes or on a one-to-one basis.
Apparently Careless about “Important” Things: We may be seen to many people that we are not only uninvolved in the critical issues of faith, church, or community but also unconcerned about them. We appear even not to care about the really important things such as creeds, rules, controversies, new directions, new theologies, new members, education, raising money, music programs, holiday festivals, or saving souls. But that is not true. We are concerned and involved in the critical issues. We do care about important things.
Why do we appear to be uninvolved and unconcerned? Because we find sacredness in secular jobs, meaningfulness in mundane tasks, and surprises in our own backyards. We are the people of faith who find sacredness in secular jobs, meaningfulness in mundane tasks, and surprises in our own backyards. And, at times, we risk misunderstanding, ridicule, danger, and even pain to do what we are called to do.
If we, therefore, do not understand “who I am,” or if we are not fully aware of the circumstances around us, we are in danger to slip back to an earlier stage, being pushed by the way other people see us or by the worldly realistic expectations.

For the sake of Others

Have you ever thought that: what you have is for others and that who you are is for others? There are many words from great Christian leaders that inspire us about who we are and how to live. I have found a common theme among them, which is “For the sake of others.”
Henri Nouwen: “A happy life is a life for others.”
CS Lewis: “Our prayers for others flow more easily than those for ourselves. This shows we are made to live by charity [for others].
Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, “What are you doing for others?”
John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Mother Teresa: “A life not lived for others is not a life.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others.”
Do you find them radical? I don’t think so, because Jesus lived such a life.

A Grain falling into the Earth

Jesus’ life was a life lived for others.
Jesus knew that he had been sent by Father God to live for others, die for others, and come back to life for others.
Jesus did what was supposed to do for others. His life, ministry, death and resurrection were all for the sake of others.
Jesus did all the good he could. By all the means he could. In all the ways he could. In all the places he could. At all the times he could. To all the people he could. As long as ever he could. Jesus still does all the good he can.
Jesus established the Church on the foundation of his life, ministry, death and resurrection.
Therefore, it is right to say that “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others.”
We are the Church. Do we exist for others? Jesus lived a life as a grain of wheat so as to bear much fruit. Do we live a life as a grain of wheat falling into the earth? Jesus says to us, “Follow me.”
While reflecting on these questions, we listen to Panis Angelicus sung by Chloe Agnew. Jesus came down as Heavenly Bread, and He gave us Himself as Bread of life, so that we may join in His life—Life of Eternity.
Heavenly Bread
That becomes the bread for all mankind;
Bread from the angelic host
That is the end of all imaginings;
Oh, miraculous thing!
This body of God will nourish
Even the poorest,
The most humble of servants.
Even the poorest,
The most humble of servants.
Readings: Jeremiah 31:27-34; John 12:20-33. “A Grain falling into the Earth”. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church. 18 March 2018.

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