Words to the Wise: students desire practical wisdom
Our generation is one characterized by a short attention span, seeking testimonies over instruction and the need to share our feelings. At least, that’s what the media tells me. And this year, that’s what Torrey Conference reiterated.
The conference, centered around this year’s theme “From this Place: Proclaiming the Good News to a Changing World,” had five main speakers and a handful of workshop speakers. Though their messages were often very different, there was a single thread throughout all of their talks: Seek Jesus.
This emphasis is commendable — we can’t proclaim his name if we don’t understand him. Certainly, in the midst of busy schedules we need to be reminded of the importance of the supremacy of Christ over our lives. More than that, though, we need to be told how to seek him, which Torrey failed to do.
Last year, Torrey was focused on a specific goal: Sabbath rest for today’s Christian. Each speaker took a very different approach, but I felt I gained a better understanding of the spiritual, emotional and intellectual reasons for the meaning of Sabbath throughout the conference. A year later, I still think about rhythms of rest in historic, scriptural and practical ways.
Here, almost a week after this year’s conference, I’m left thinking about seeking Jesus and evangelism, but still striving to find the pragmatic connection between the two, based on what our speakers said. Though they emphasized the importance of knowing Christ, I was left desiring to hear actual ways to know him more.
Though there were five hours of main talks, there were very few explanations of how to actually go about that pursuit of Jesus. Perhaps some time ought to have been devoted to talking about the spiritual disciplines.
I am thoroughly convinced that today’s students, as much as we are told that we are story-seeking kids with short attention spans, are actually slowly clinging more and more to the orthodox rhythms that have characterized the church for so long. We’ve seen the generation before us pursue a faith marked by emotionalism and emergence. In an act of radical rebellion, we have decided that perhaps there is some value in being connected to the old things.
For example, countless numbers of my friends began practicing Sabbath-keeping after last year’s conference. They wanted to orient their lives around the commands of Scripture in a tangible way. They sought the wisdom of Jewish tradition and the practices of the historic church as ways to establish roots in their faith — roots that stretch beyond just reading the Bible every morning in the five minutes between brushing their teeth and dashing to class. These roots are grounded deeply in so much more than our emotional experience of knowing that we’re pursuing Jesus.
The church has a long and deep history of pursuing Jesus through methods much more repetitive than guilt-induced quiet times. Meditation, intercessory prayer, fasting and memorization are just some of the methods of spiritual disciplines to help the believer follow after Christ in a way that is transformative and redemptive in every part of our day and lives.
I wish that Torrey Conference had addressed some of those difficult but rewarding basics when encouraging us to proclaim God’s news. In fact, staff and faculty, I would urge you to continually instruct us in what a life lived in pursuit of Christ may look like in the dullness of the day-to-day. A single class in spiritual formation is not enough. Only through regularly exercising the spiritual disciplines will we grow roots deep enough to properly proclaim the truth of God’s news.
Students, know that we are all looking for ways to pursue Christ together. The command of “Seek Jesus,” though it sounds simple, should change every part of our lives. To know Christ better, we must seek him in the difficult and rugged spiritual times, implementing spiritual disciplines to aid us. In our engagement with these disciplines, we will then be able to better proclaim his word in the midst of our world.
As John Woolman, quoted in the beginning of Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” says, “It is good for thee to dwell deep that thou mayest feel and understand the spirits of people.”