Thursday, 24 January 2013

A letter to self - our search for wisdom

O God; open our hearts to your word - a word that passes swiftly and faithfully from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the life. Amen

I wonder from ‘where’ you’ve gained the greatest influence in your life? Or perhaps I should first ask ‘who’? Was it from your parents, family, teachers, friends, historical figures, sport or musical icons, ministers or other church members perhaps? Or maybe that influence came from certain books, films, poems, TV programmes, music, tragedies, holidays, the internet, happy times? I could go on. Whatever influences and experiences have shaped us and moulded the way we are, we are and have become the personalities we are, created and loved by God as unique individual human beings.

And have you ever asked yourself questions like ‘What on earth am I here for?’? Who am I? What am I here for? What is the purpose of my life? You may not have answered those questions but hopefully we can begin to dissect a few of these issues from what Paul is saying in his 7-verse section of his letter to the Ephesians (5:15-21). As in the previous sections of Paul’s letter that we’ve been reading, praying about and studying in the last few weeks, they contain God-given God-breathed advice as to how we might live out our lives on this earth.

Giving good advice and listening to good advice are two sides of the priceless ‘wisdom’ coin. The books entitled "Dear Me: A letter to my 16 year old self" are a compilation of letters written by various people to their 16 year old self, (edited by Joseph Galliano). The first ‘Dear Me’ book includes letters from a variety of well-known people including an Archbishop! Another book called ‘What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self’ is a similar collection of letters written by famous women to the women they once were. The letters included in all of these books are filled with advice and insights the writer wish they had had when they were younger.

I wonder, if you sent a letter back through time to your younger self, what your letter would say and what advice you might offer? The ‘Dear Me’ series also has a website. So you can write your letter and submit it for publication too, to share your own wisdom from what you know now with everyone else in the world.

I was particularly struck by Hugh Jackman, an Australian actor who wrote in his ‘Dear Me’ letter ‘Keep writing down one list... and one list only... the 5 things you love to do, and the 5 things you are good at... they will keep changing, but one day they will match up... and there is your path... But even then keep writing your list just to make sure you're still on the right track.’ So that might be another interesting exercise for you to undertake in your spare time.

Here are excerpts from some letters:

"Life itself is a journey. You can draw your own maps." (Brian Keenan)

“Try more things. Cross more lines.” (Breena Clarke)

“Learn how to celebrate.” (Olympia Dukakis)

“You don’t have to be afraid of living alone.” (Eileen Fisher)

 “Don’t be so quick to dismiss another human being.” (Barbara Boxer)

“Laundry will wait very patiently.” (Nora Roberts)

“Your hair matters far, far less than you think” (Lisa Scottoline)

“Speak the truth but ride a fast horse.” (Kitty Kelley)

It’s interesting to hear nuggets of advice from other people. The bible too is full of the wisdom of individuals who have offered their wisdom, based on their life experience, and particularly their relationship with God. Historically, the wisest man who ever lived (besides Jesus) was King Solomon. We can find this documented in the second book of Chronicles. Solomon’s only request to God was that God would grant him wisdom. Solomon could have asked for riches, long life, or victory over his enemies, but he did not ask for any of these things. He said, "Give me an understanding heart to rule Your people, that I may know the difference between good and evil. Help me to judge these great people of Yours."
Solomon’s most famous wisdom was the decision he made one day when two women brought a baby to Solomon. Each woman said the baby was her child. Solomon said, "Cut the baby in half and give half of the baby to each woman." (Of course, he didn't really intend to kill the baby. It was just a test.) "NO!" screamed the real mother, "Give her the baby. Do not kill him." Then Solomon knew who the real mother was because of the way she loved the baby. He gave the baby to its real mother. Of course it’s not always easy for us to make the right decisions in our lives, and to use the wisdom we have or can acquire during our lives.
Our passage begins, in the Amplified Bible translation, ‘Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people),’
I believe life is often best described as a journey and every step worthy of careful consideration. As many of you know I have been involved with Instep who’s slogan is ‘Men Walking Together’ and its name comes from Galatians (5:25) ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’. We’re thinking today about how as humans we rely on our own wisdom, but with God’s wisdom, Christ’s example and the Power of the Holy Spirit we are less likely to stumble as often throughout our life’s journey.
Our passage continues by saying ‘16 Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.’ 17 Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.

Inspirational sayings and quotes have enormous power and impact on us. The words "live, laugh, love" as well as the longer slogan "live well, laugh often, love much" are both extremely popular on a wide variety of items and products. The words are part of a poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley. The words are often linked to 3 biblical verses.

Live Making the best of our lives, our time on earth being a vehicle through which the light of Christ shines is what Christians are called to be. Matthew 5:16 says ‘let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ and part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Laugh “...A time to weep, and a time to laugh” from the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:4 The whole of this well-known chapter beginning There is a time for everything’ offers wisdom on balancing our time between our different demands in our lives. Authorship of Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon. It’s described as ‘the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of ... life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth’.

Love - John 13:34 has more of Jesus’ words ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

But the 16th verse also includes a warning about the existence of evil, so we must also be very careful. Similar to St Paul’s warning St Peter says: "Your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5.8). Then we here another warning... ‘18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit.

In the book of Luke Jesus says: "Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. ... Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34-36). And that's what living in the Spirit of Jesus calls us to do.
The final verses speak of our need to praise, give thanks and relate to others in the Spirit of our Lord. The Serenity Prayer is the name given to an originally untitled prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. The prayer was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Its short version is often found on cards.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.