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Putting on the Wakeful One

How can we perceive, with heightened awareness, God’s perspective on the world and other people? Introducing his new book, Baptist minister and author Shaun Lambert explains that Jesus is the transformer of our spiritual and physical senses, and that cultivating watchfulness attunes us to His Spirit

Wakeful OneGod as Creator planted a seed of wakefulness in me as a child growing up in Kenya, in what seemed to be a Garden of Eden. Back in England at boarding school I would dream of returning to paradise in East Africa, and as I lay sleeping in the cold I would be suffused with the warmth of a wakeful joy.

I would also dream about travelling on a red murram road, the tyres humming on the soft surface, with the sense that home was just round the corner. I still remember the intense longing to arrive.

It was an inchoate understanding that the focused attention of the thorn trees, the open awareness of the plains and the ground of the animals pointed to something transcendent. The seed lay like a small fragment of light within my heart. It was the uncreated light of being in the presence of Jesus that woke me up. He took off the seed coat of sleep that had been slipped over that little light bulb by a Western culture focused on rational critical thinking and living in the head.

But as I look now at Jesus of Nazareth with a wide-angle lens, I see that He is not just Saviour, central though that is; He is seer and sage, storyteller and transformer of our physical and spiritual senses. This transformative work, which is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, enables us to reperceive the world and the kingdom of God at work in it.

These aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry have an important role not just in our witness, but also in our transformation. In these roles Jesus could be described, as Ephrem the Syrian poetically puts it, as ‘The Wakeful One’. [1] We are to ‘put on the Wakeful One’ (Jesus) in our baptism. [2] As we put on the Wakeful One, we ourselves can become wakeful, or watchful.

There are key scriptural verses that link to this idea. In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul says, ‘for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.’

In Ephesians 5:14 Paul also says, ‘This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”’ Romans 13:14, in the context of a call to wake up from sleep (13:11) says, ‘Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.’

When we put on the Wakeful One we put on the mind of Christ; we are waking up from sleep; we are clothing ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. What that looks like in terms of our character, which has to be developed alongside prophetic insight, is described in Colossians 3:12: ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’

I believe these verses lie at the heart of what it means to be a disciple, especially the need to wake up and clothe ourselves with Christ. Yet watchfulness seems to have dropped off the horizon of modern discipleship.

When we put on the mind of Christ, what is happening? We work on developing wisdom. We grow in prophetic insight. Through our salvation in Jesus Christ we indwell the Great Story of the gospel. Our spiritual and embodied senses are transformed, enabling us to reperceive the world. As all this happens we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus, the Wakeful One. As we clothe ourselves with Him, we become more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. We move from a place of fear and blindness to a place of love and truth. All this is the work of God’s Holy Spirit within us who leads us to Christ, as Christ leads us to the Father.

These different aspects of discipleship are ripe for a fresh look and a recontextualisation in our postmodern world that is looking anew at spirituality, wisdom and reading the signs of the times. As the church, one of our central tasks is to read aright the signs of the times.
 

Part of watchfulness

These aspects which I am summarising are all part of ‘watchfulness’ as modelled and taught by Jesus. They help us establish a clearer view on the making of prophecy and the maturing of the prophetic, which is the central theme of this book. The prophetic here is seen in a wider and more holistic sense than is often portrayed. Prophetic insight is all to do with attention and awareness, and so this is the major part of what this book concentrates on. Jesus and watchfulness is where we begin in chapter one. In watchfulness we are attuning ourselves to the Spirit of Jesus.

Part of this re-evaluation comes out of developments in biblical scholarship which recognise that the gospel is an embodied gospel. Natural and incarnational theology enable us to re-envision prophecy as something that is done incarnationally using the God-given senses and capacities that we inhabit our bodies with, enabling them to be spiritually attuned to the hidden kingdom which is part of the one reality we inhabit. [3]

A rediscovery of attention and awareness within psychology, in particular through the research of cognitive neuroscience, should also alert us to the focus of the gospels and the early church on the importance of watchfulness.
 

Where are the mature prophets?

Another central reason for writing this book was in response to a question raised by one of the founders of the New Wine festivals, Barry Kissell, who asked, ‘Where are the mature prophets?’ [4] This is not to say that there are not those around who are mature in working with the prophetic, but I do think a clear and consistent model of developing it as an every-member ministry, as part of a broader discipleship, is very much needed today.

In order to enable the maturing of prophecy we need to look again at how it is made, as a co-created process between God’s Spirit and Word and the human being willing to be attentive in such a process.

As Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 1:21, ‘For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ The prophets were never robots: they worked with the Holy Spirit, and God used their individual personalities and gifts.

John Robinson, one of the early Baptists, said, ‘The Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.’ [5] There are many things that each culture misses in Scripture that have become blind spots, or have fallen off the radar. Watchfulness is one of them in the modern church. But there are interesting aspects about prophecy that have also been missed. There has been some important research done on the types of prophecy embedded in the New Testament that can help us discern what is real when it comes to the prophetic and what is not. [6]

Mark’s gospel is an oral gospel, which would have been performed, proclaimed in its entirety, from beginning to end. It has a lot to say about watchfulness, both explicitly and implicitly. Another reason for writing this book is to encourage Christians to read Mark’s gospel in new ways and to listen to it as a whole. As we look at the different elements that will make up our focus, I will be sharing other ways that we can productively read Mark’s gospel.

Each chapter will include a passage from the gospel for you to read slowly and meditatively. I also encourage you to listen to one of the performances of Mark’s gospel as a whole. [7] In particular throughout the book, but also in the spiritual practices I expand on at the end, I want to ask the question, ‘Yes, but how?’
 


Putting on the Wakeful One (ISBN: 978-1-909728-46-2) by Shaun Lambert is published by Instant Apostle and is available from Christian bookshops, bookstores and on-line retailers.

Shaun Lambert is Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church and currently researching a PhD project in mindfulness at the London School of Theology. He is also the author of A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness.
 


[1] Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1985), 141.
[2] Brock, The Luminous Eye, 141.
[3] For example see Joel B. Green, ‘Embodying the Gospel: Two Examplary Practices’, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 7, no. 1 (2014).
[4] This was probably at a New Wine summer conference but I cannot place which one.
[5] Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘John Robinson, English minister’. Available at http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Robinson-English-minister (accessed 16th November 2015).
[6] David E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983).
[7] My favourite is a performance by Max McLean which you can buy online or watch online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td3FKGN1AsM (accessed 16th November 2015).
 

 

Baptist Times, 25/04/2016
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