All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. Those who will not begin at the bodily end of things are already prigs... Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.
You state the problem very clearly, and the fact that you can do so really shows that you are very much on the right road. Many don’t even get so far.
The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you have realised. But you are expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’
The Lord Jesus Christ acted in what he did as a great public representative person, and his dying upon the cross was the virtual dying of all his people. Then all his saints rendered unto justice what was due, and made an expiation to divine vengeance for all their sins. The apostle of the Gentiles delighted to think that as one of Christ's chosen people, he died upon the cross in Christ.
He did more than believe this doctrinally, he accepted it confidently, resting his hope upon it. He believed that by virtue of Christ's death, he had satisfied divine justice, and found reconciliation with God. Beloved, what a blessed thing it is when the soul can, as it were, stretch itself upon the cross of Christ, and feel, "I am dead; the law has slain me, and I am therefore free from its power, because in my Surety I have borne the curse, and in the person of my Substitute the whole that the law could do, by way of condemnation, has been executed upon me, for I am crucified with Christ."
But Paul meant even more than this. He not only believed in Christ's death, and trusted in it, but he actually felt its power in himself in causing the crucifixion of his old corrupt nature. When he saw the pleasures of sin, he said, "I cannot enjoy these: I am dead to them." Such is the experience of every true Christian. Having received Christ, he is to this world as one who is utterly dead. Yet, while conscious of death to the world, he can, at the same time, exclaim with the apostle, "Nevertheless I live." He is fully alive unto God.
The Christian's life is a matchless riddle. No worldling can comprehend it; even the believer himself cannot understand it. Dead, yet alive! crucified with Christ, and yet at the same time risen with Christ in newness of life! Union with the suffering, bleeding Saviour, and death to the world and sin, are soul-cheering things. O for more enjoyment of them! Charles Spurgeon - source unknown
In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection. Only a few days after the Crucifixion when two candidates were nominated for the vacancy created by the treachery of Judas, their qualification was that they had known Jesus personally both before and after His death and could offer first-hand evidence of the Resurrection in addressing the outer world (Acts1:22). A few days later St Peter, preaching the first Christian sermon, makes the same claim—‘God raised Jesus, of which we all (we Christians) are witnesses’ (Acts 2:32). In the first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul bases his claim to apostleship on the same ground—‘Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord Jesus?’ (1:9).
As this qualification suggests, to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection. . . . . The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the ‘gospels’, the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. . . . . The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘gospel’ no gospels would ever have been written.
To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders, even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy...Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice...
Self can live unrebuked at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.
A W Tozer in The Pursuit of God (1948), pages 45-6
It was given to St. Paul to proclaim Christianity as the spiritual law of liberty, and to exhibit Faith as the most active principle within the breast of man. It was St. John's to say that the deepest quality in the bosom of Deity is Love; and to assert that the life of God in Man is Love. It was the office of St. James to assert the necessity of Moral Rectitude; his very name marked him out peculiarly for this office: he was emphatically called, “the Just:” integrity was his peculiar characteristic. A man singularly honest, earnest, real.
Accordingly, if you read through his whole epistle, you will find it is, from first to last, one continued vindication of the first principles of morality against the semblances of religion. He protested against the censoriousness which was found connected with peculiar claims of religious feelings. “If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” He protested against that spirit which had crept into the Christian Brotherhood, truckling to the rich, and despising the poor. “If ye have respect of persons ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” He protested against that sentimental fatalism which induced men to throw the blame of their own passions upon God. “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot tempt to evil; neither tempteth He any man.” He protested against that unreal religion of excitement which diluted the earnestness of real religion in the enjoyment of listening. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving your own souls.” He protested against that trust in the correctness of theological doctrine which neglected the cultivation of character. “What doth it profit, if a man say that he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?”
Read St. James's epistle through, this is the mind breathing through it all:—all this talk about religion, and spirituality—words, words, words—nay, let us have realities.
From Frederick William Robertson's Third Series of Sermons Preached at Brighton
Psalm 120:2.Deliver my soul, O Lord, from
lying lips, etc.
In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the
smallest insect, or the spike of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the
quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it,
and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole
constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery; so it is
sometimes with the words of the slanderer.—Frederick William Robertson.
From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, notes on Psalm 120.
Another quote from Robertson, which is worth noting:
"The one great certainty to which, in the midst of the darkest doubt, I never ceased to cling—the entire symmetry and loveliness and the unequalled nobleness of the humanity of the Son of Man." And another point about Robertson himself: [He]made a careful study of the Bible, committing to memory the entire New Testament both in English and in Greek. That's focus for you, and such memorisation pays off, in the long run.
Psalm 120: 2.Deliver my soul, O Lord, from
lying lips, etc.
An unbridled tongue is "vehiculum Diaboli", the
chariot of the Devil, wherein he rides in triumph. Greenhorn doth describe the
tongue prettily by contraries, or diversities: "It is a little piece of
flesh, small in quantity, but mighty in quality; it is soft, but slippery; it
goeth lightly, but falls heavily; it strikes soft, but wounds sore; it goeth
out quickly, but burns vehemently; it pierces deep, and therefore not healed
speedily; it hath liberty granted easily to go forth but it will find no means
easily to return home; and being once inflamed with Satan's bellows, it is like
the fire of hell."
The course of an unruly tongue is to proceed from evil
to worse, to begin with foolishness, and go on with bitterness, and to end in
mischief and madness. See Eccl. 10:13. The Jew's conference with our Saviour
began with arguments: "We be Abraham's seed," said they, etc.; but
proceeded to blasphemies: "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and
hast a devil?" and ended in cruelty: "Then took they up stones to
cast at him." John 8:33,48,59. This also is the base disposition of a bad
tongue to hate those whom it afflicts: Pr 26:28. The mischief of the tongue may
further appear by the mercy of being delivered from it, for,
1. So God hath promised it (John 5:15,21). "God saves the
poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty," and
"thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue," or from being
betongued, as some render it, that is, from being, as it were, caned or
cudgelled with the tongues of others. "Thou shalt hide them in the secret
of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a
pavilion from the strife of tongues" (Ps 31:20); that is, from all
calumnies, reproaches, evil speakings of all kinds. God will preserve the good
names of his people from the blots and bespatterings of malicious men, as kings
protect their favourites against slanders and clamours.
2. So the saints have prayed for it, as David: "Deliver
my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue."—Edward Reyner.
Quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 120. The original material is possibly from Reyner's 'Rules for the Government of the Tongue: together with Directions in six Particular Cases,' (1656)
So how does one break down barriers and build bridges in conflicts...? Through storytelling. A mediator needs to facilitate relationship building by letting people tell their stories. This builds empathy for the other and helps one begin to see things from the other's perspective. According to Douglas E. Noll, storytelling increases empathy for the other and deescalates emotions. He writes, "Empirical evidence and deep experience suggest that storytelling is the only way through the conflict maze."
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications) often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. . . .
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook--even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Measured against the ages "mere Christianity" turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all to familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. . . . It was of course varied; and yet--after all--so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life. From C S Lewis' introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius. 1046 edition.
We know that God is compassionate, loving kindness and all we're asked to do is to be in the world who God is. In order to make that happen, we create this community of kinship. Mother Teresa, I think, diagnosed the world's ills correctly when she suggested that the problem in the world is that we've just forgotten that we belong to each other. So how do we stand against forgetting that? How do we imagine a circle of compassion and then imagine that nobody is standing outside that circle? How do we obliterate once and for all the illusion that we're separate, that there's an "us" and a "them"?
I well remember a Christian leader who a number of years ago used to give this advice to younger Christians: 'One of the most important things in Christian leadership,' he would solemnly intone, 'is never to admit any weaknesses. If you admit weaknesses, others will exploit them to your detriment.' Astonishing! Surely there are many areas in which Christians must acknowledge their weaknesses. Isn't that Paul's policy, when in 2 Corinthians 12 he insists he has learned to 'boast' of his weaknesses so that Christ's strength might be made perfect in him?
Indeed, in the same passage, Paul circumscribes what he says about his own spiritual experiences, precisely because he is fearful that people will think too much of him. If he must be assessed, he wants to be judged by what he says and does in the public arena, not by laying claim to spiritual experiences no one else can test. What is remarkable is the way Paul's' stance differs from our own. Many Christians today, even Christian leaders, go through life fearful that people will think too little of them. They quickly become irritable if someone, especially a junior, is praised more than they. But Paul goes through life fearful that people will think too much. Follow a leader like that! He has been tested by hardship, and he is not an untested upstart of a self-promoting peacock. Emulate such leaders.