[UPDATE: Brant Hansen initially left a comment this post expressing perhaps what might be one of the most important and prophetic tips/practices for living the incarnation these days in the West. I asked him to elaborate a little and his latest, well written blog post hits the mark. In a world marked by lives rushing at an unsustainable frenetic pace, simplicity, or as he calls his post “Here’s to Nothing“, can ironically accomplish the most benefit for the Kingdom. Brant’s examples of how he and his family live this out practically are worth consideration. Consider it the 11th tip and Check it out! More tips are welcome, leave a comment and let us know what you think.]
As a way to express much of what has been stirring in me lately, I have decided to give my top 10 tips for living incarnationally. This list is by no means exhaustive, but consists of my reflections on some important elements for the task. They are a result of my experience and experimentation of trying to embody the gospel in our neighbourhood. In some ways our community has explored and experienced many of these to a good degree; in other ways, we are just scratching the surface of what incarnational living means. In no particular order:
1. Attentive Listening: The art of listening is becoming increasingly important for what it means to live incarnationally. Appropriate listening is grounded in a robust understanding of Pneumatology that believes, in addition to the oft overemphasized personal experience, that the Holy Spirit is active, working, leading, and inviting the church into mission. Our ideas and plans can often override the still small voice that gently invites us into unexpected and new adventures. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in the book of Acts is a good story to identify with for the importance of listening to live incarnationally. As the Spirit promises to lead us into all truth, we trust that God will reveal the injustice and oppression in our midst so that we can respond appropriately.
2. Formative Practices: Living in a rhythm that includes formative spiritual practices is vital to remain intimately connected to God. This is the Contemplative way. Seeking union with God and to see God in all things allows for greater freedom to reflect the image of God to others, understand His good an pleasing will, and it gives us a greater awareness of reality. Walking in closeness through disciplined practices of prayer, listening, scripture reading, Examen, discipleship, and fasting prepares the us for works of service that are pleasing to God and shapes us into a Gospel storied people.
3. Proximity: As Jesus localized himself in the incarnation, so too must the church localize in order to reflect most vividly the image of God. Without local relationships, the fullness of community seems somewhat lacking. People are transported everywhere through vehicles, the telephone, and the internet in convenient and practical ways. But at what cost? In the midst of the connectedness we have through technology, there is still a great longing for local relationship and the gift of presence. Being proximate with our relationships is vital if we are to express a full embodiment of what Biblical community is. So go for walks. Build relationships. Let people see you and know you are there.
4. Holistic Gospel Proclamation: Who are we and what are we about? These are vital questions about ourselves to understand and unless we have embraced the holistic gospel that includes the restoration of all creation, we run the risk of dualistic spirituality that settles for getting people to believe things about Jesus to get to heavn. Proclaiming the gospel invites people to walk alongside God in this world to help put it to rights. If we are to see the values of a community transformed, proclamation of a renewed heaven and earth and not just going to heaven are a vital component. Furthermore, inviting people into the restorative work of the church under the Lordship of Jesus is the most complete embodiment of the gospel. So we must ensure that we preach the full message and not just part of it.
5. Patience: Relationships take time. Gone are the days of thinking drive-by gospel presentations to win souls actually works anymore. Incarnation happens through the fabric of life involvement with others. That is why it is difficult to say how long it will take to transform a neighbourhood. The Gospel needs to take root and the most influential and effective way for this to happen is through long term relationships of trust to be established. So be patient and recognize that we are here for the long haul.
6. Generosity: Living with a deep theological generosity is both prophetic and attractive to a culture that is socialized into a hoarding mentality of scarcity. The fear of “not having” and the false human end our consumeristic culture preaches leaves people thinking charity and generosity consist merely of giving spare change or junk away. So be generous with all you have. Give without expecting repayment and share. The reality is that there is too much to go around in most cases and the freedom the Gospel invites us to live is one of an open hand toward possessions and not a closed fist. I am convinced it takes a living example of generosity to convince someone that the perceived freedom of consumption and materialistic pursuit is actually a form of slavery.
7. Advocacy: Following in the footsteps of Jesus means siding with the oppressed. Not only an identification with them, but an advocacy for them is what Kingdom living means. For if we believe that God is putting the world to rights, then we believe our place in that reconciliatory task is to deal with oppressiveness and injustice that systemically operates in our community. Go and involve yourself with local groups that already have a leg up on some issues, or start a grass roots movement. Offer to help and always be prepared to give an answer when people ask you why.
8. Hospitality: Relationships deepen in the home. Sharing a meal is an opportunity to allow the stranger to become a friend. As we welcome people into our home we welcome them into our hearts and allow them to freely be who they are. This requires us to become less and seek not our own desire to be known, but to desire first to know, understand, and appreciate the other. It is a posture of gentleness that reserves judgement and seeks only to love. Hospitality creates space for relationships to flourish and deepen.
9. Reading the Culture: This is perhaps one of the most important tasks for the church these days. To read the culture and understand how we are socialized as part of it is crucial to discern appropriate demonstration of the Gospel. The world and its messages that shape us today are nothing less than subversive and if we fail to understand the cultural forces and values that shape us we become scripted unawarely by them. So pay attention to media, to the stories people in your community tell and live by, to the news and to the things people constantly buy into. You’ll be better off for it and the opportunities for powerful and prophetic incarnation increase when we are aware of the stories our culture tells.
10. Pathos: Why do we even attempt to commit our lives to traveling the narrow road described in the points above? It is a response to the unending and faithful love of God alone! The love of God is the beginning of all incarnation. A response filled with passion and fueled by the Spirit comes out of our experience of conversion. Our experience of conversion is enabled by our willingness to embrace pathos. It must not stop with our initial coming to Christ, we must always have a real view of ourselves and our need for God as we grow in Him. In addition, none of this is attainable unless our hearts are in line with God’s and weep alongside His against the injustice, brokenness, and sorrow that plague what it means to live the human experience separated from God. We must resist thinking everything is OK and take seriously the suffering among us so that those who do suffer are not perceived as normal and expected fixtures of our community, but seen as Christ himself suffering. Compassion is born out of embracing pathos. Do we weep over our city as Jesus did over Jerusalem?
So what do you think? What other tips for incarnational living can you recommend. What is your tip and why?
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