V. BEING BORN AGAIN: HOW AND FOR WHAT?
A. The Growth Of a Child of God
Being born into a Christian family does not ensure that one is a Christian. Being Christian means to be born again, born anew by God's Holy Spirit. It means daily turning away from evil thoughts and deeds, daily turning to God and to His Word for spiritual nourishment, just as one daily renews his bodily strength through physical nourishment. As a newborn child of God I hungered for God's Word and guidance.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Obviously, a new convert best finds spiritual strength in fellowship with more mature Christians. Since no other Christians lived nearby, I was deprived of this blessing. But God used my beloved wife, Milly, to stand by me and encourage me during those initial stormy days that followed my conversion.
A new convert must continually review the meaning of his conversion. Is his conversion real? Are his motives spiritually pure or are they tinged with selfishness and greed for material advantage, even with self-righteousness? From what and for what is he converted? How can he best serve God and his neighbours? How should he respond to family and friends, even if they turn against him, malign him, disown him? Does his present life reflect the change for the good he has claimed to have experienced? The following Bible passages helped me:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 16)
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matthew 5 :48)
Yes, these passages helped me considerably to understand. They provided direction. But the latter passage: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!" How is the disciple of Jesus not only to understand this passage but to stand under it and to practise it? I sensed the wide gulf that existed between the ideal Jesus demanded and the reality of my weakness. Yet, I also knew that He knew, better than I, the reality of my weakness. And still the ideal remained.
It takes time to discover through meditation and prayer that such an ideal is both devastating and exhilarating: devastating because of our human weakness and exhilarating because of the confidence Jesus the Messiah places in His disciples. Why should He wish an inferior goal for them? Why should He not expect from them the attitude of service and the pattern of selflessness which He Himself displayed? Was He not beside His disciple to encourage His disciple towards that goal, to prompt him when he faltered, and to pick him up when he stumbled?
Because he (Jesus) himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrew 2:18)
it is Common knowledge that Jesus devoted much of His service to healing the sick and that He left this legacy of healing with His disciples. That a disproportionate number of Christians in India were engaged in medical practice, especially in nursing, was hardly coincidental. This legacy has continued.
Now, more than ever, I realised that my medical talent was a gift from God. "What do you have that you did not receive" (1 Corinthians 4:7)? True, I had insisted that my motive for becoming a doctor was humanitarian. After all, that was what we were taught and what we were expected to say! And it is a good goal. But what of those other intermingling motives that focused on personal concerns such as wealth, status and power?
Two other passages helped me greatly to focus on what it means to be a disciple of the Messiah (Christ) and to live as a disciple of the Messiah:
For he who was a slave when he was called by the lord is the Lord's freed man; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. (1 Corinthians 7:22)
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot he hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.(Matthew 5:14-16)
Not only had God created me; not only had He gifted me with a talent for medicine; even more,. He had bought me again with the price of Jesus' blood! I belonged to Him as His child. I was redeemed, forgiven and freed to serve Him and His purposes, to seek His praise and not my own, to be a sign that pointed others not to myself but to Him as the sole source of all goodness. Praise be to God! Does not the service of the son or daughter exceed that of the servant or slave?
In Milly, a nurse and a midwife, God had graciously provided me with a life partner and a professional co-worker. Together we decided to provide a modest health care programme for our community with whatever resources were available to us. After I resigned from my government position, we established a clinic in Dasgaon, a village close to my birthplace. Despite difficulties, we treated the rich and the poor alike for a period of four years. Once a month we visited our daughter, Shirin, whom we had admitted into a boarding school in Poona, about 100 km away from Dasgaon. Our visits to Poona also allowed us to worship with fellow Christians in one of Poona's many churches. We were grateful for this opportunity. Later we moved to Aurangabad. And so we carried on ... until another storm broke upon us.
B. The Price of Discipline
Nowhere does the Bible promise the Christian an easy life. "For what son is not disciplined by his father" (Hebrews12:7)? But God does provide His children with the strength to cope with their difficulties. Intellectually, I understood this well enough, but only experienced it personally in December of 1979 when I was stricken with a glandular cancer.
I was aware of the bare Qur’anic references to Job (Ayyub) and had read the lengthy account in the Bible about the trials and tribulations which Job endured. Now, I could truly identify with some of his difficulties, for both the cancer and its treatment inflicted unbearable torment upon my body. I knew, like Job, that God knew, even more than I could know. I knew He also cared because it was through that weak and wretched cross of the Messiah that He demonstrated the power of His resurrection. To experience personally that revolutionary and blessed paradox of God's power emerging out of one's own human weakness is to know the secret of Christian faith. It saved me from simply resigning myself to "blind fate" or from even cursing my affliction. If muscles must be strained to run a race and if a string of a violin must be stretched to produce music, is it strange that one's whole being must be stretched to determine the nature of one's trust in God? As Jesus had taught, a cultivated and unswerving faith in God's Fatherhood allows His children "to move mountains and work wonders".
After eighteen months of treatment for a body riddled with cancer; I suffered a relapse. At one point one of my legs, which had badly festered, was to have been amputated. But today, by God's grace, I am well, standing on both legs, and have had no further treatment for cancer since February 1982. Once more, I am working with the people of Aurangabad who had considered me dead. But many of them loved me and had prayed for my recovery. I had tasted something of the joy in suffering to which the Bible refers:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
Dare one speak about a foretaste of resurrection? Thankfully, with my family and others, I rededicated my life to God.
C. Moving towards Maturity
My personal ailments have profoundly affected my attitude towards the sick and my treatment of their ailments. I count it a blessing from God to have suffered physically so that I can truly identify with the suffering of others. Now I want to diagnose them and to treat them, not only their ailments. I want them to know that God cares for them, that ultimately He is the source of all healing, that medical staff, instruments and drugs are simply His gifts, and finally that the proper stance of both patients and staff is simply to say: "Thank you, dear God!" We pray for our patients and offer them portions of the Holy Bible that speak of new hope, new purpose and God's peace for their lives. If only, even through their sickness, they might see God not only as their Master and Judge but also as their loving Heavenly Father! If only they might taste the sweetness of God's love and forgiveness, and their hearts might be liberated from the acids of anger, greed, envy, hatred and revenge, which so often impede even physical healing also!
And if the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you. he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.(Romans 8:11)
But how can they hear without someone spreading the good news? (Romans 10:14)
It is true that some of my distant relatives initially resented my conversion and turned against my family. Apart from this and some minor forms of persecution in Aurangabad, we have felt little or no family and community animosity. As a family we continue to meet regularly and love each other. When family members come to our house, we read the Bible and pray together, on occasion at their request. We are grateful to God for His protection and our family bonds.
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." As disciples of Jesus we press on toward this goal, following Him who is the author and perfecter of our faith. And; we would echo, however faintly, the voice of His master disciple Paul:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but 1 press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
But how long the path? How arduous the journey? And what cost the endurance? God alone knows. We simply remember Jesus "who for the joy set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2) for us and for our salvation also.
And for you and for your salvation also!
Today, if' you hear his voice. do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)