I once attended a seminar on ‘vocation’ delivered by a Benedictine monk. He recounted how, if someone bounced up to him with a beaming smile and declared, “I am convinced God has called me to be a monk!” then the person was probably not called. However, if the person sidled up to him, groaned and grimaced, and choked through gritted teeth, “I have this awful feeling that God is calling me to be a monk,” then they probably were! Becoming a monk is no light matter!
At Mucknell Abbey in the United Kingdom, the Benedictine monks adhere to a rule of life sometimes called, The Wisdom of St. Benedict. The guests at the monastery do not have to respect all the rules, however they have to eat meals in silence, and when the bell rings, they are expected to participate in the communal worship. The monks, however, have to follow all the rules. For example, here are some rules from Chapter 7 of Benedict’s 73 chapters:
- Fear God; Subordinate one’s will to the will of God.
- Be obedient to one’s superior.
- Be patient amid hardships.
- Confess one’s sins.
- Accept the meanest of tasks.
- Hold oneself as a ‘worthless workman’.
- Consider oneself ‘inferior to all’.
- Follow examples set by superiors.
- Do not speak until spoken to.
- Do not readily laugh.
- Speak simply and modestly.
- Express one’s inward humility through bodily posture.”
To be honest, I find silence difficult at the best of times. I am a vocal percussionist (beatboxer) that likes to be the centre of attention — thank goodness God has not called me to be a monk, however a little discipline every so often is just what I need.
None of us like being told what to do. As we grow and mature from children into adults we move from dependence on, to interdependence with, and finally to independence from our parents. Perhaps refusing to be told how to do something is part of growing up? There were many times my father would try and show me how to do something, only for me to stroppily reply, “I don’t need to be shown!” — and of course, I would mess up the task and get even more moody! How much easier would it have been had I only listened?
The writer of the book of Proverbs in the Bible writes to a son, and like Benedict’s rule of life, he wants his reader to pay attention and take heed. In essence, he writes that if you want to have integrity, justice, honesty, and make good life decisions, then you need to pursue wisdom; and the pursuit of wisdom is to do two things: it is to have fear of God (a right perspective) and to have knowledge of God (right action), and as we will discover, they both go hand in hand.
To have fear of God has nothing to do with being afraid of God — it means to have a conscious awareness that God is God and we are human. It is to have a healthy respect for who God is, and to gain a correct perspective.
To have knowledge of God is different to having fear of God, and it means more than knowing about God. It means to imitate God in thought, word, and action — to see what God is doing and then do it ourselves. For example, if God loves, then we love; if God forgives, then we forgive; and so on.
Having both fear of God and knowledge of God is like firing a rocket to the moon! You need both the correct trajectory and then you need to launch. There is no point in pointing the rocket at the moon and then leaving it on the launch pad, nor is there any point in randomly pointing the rocket upwards and launching aimlessly! In the same way it is no use having a correct perspective and not pursuing knowledge, nor is the pursuit of knowledge any use without a correct perspective. See how they go hand in hand?
If we have fear of God and do not pursue knowledge of God then our lives become fruitless and limp. If we pursue knowledge of God without fear of God then we are in danger of replacing God in our own image or in danger of following some other moral code or idol. The writer of Proverbs says to his son that he needs both if he wants to have integrity, justice, honesty, and make good life decisions.
For Christians, our perspective is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and once we have a right perspective then we actively pursue knowledge of Christ. We want to be like Jesus, and we do this through actively learning, praying, and serving. This pursuit of knowing Christ transforms our bodies, minds, and spirits such that we may have integrity, justice, honesty, and make good life decisions.
When we attend church worship, we are effectively pointing our rocket at the moon and re-gaining a right perspective. But, to bring the change in our lives, we also need to be hungry — to be determined and eager to go deeper into Christ, to learn who he is so we can become like Him.
Is there an opportunity to learn? Let us take it! Is there an opportunity to pray? Letus get on our knees! Is there an opportunity to serve? Let us join in. Let us pursue wisdom. Let us point our rocket to the moon and go for launch!