Thomas Merton was one the great spiritual voices of the 20th century. He died in 1968 by accidently electrocuted himself in Bangkok, Thailand. He rarely traveled. But he had received permission to speak at a religious conference in Bangkok. He gave this parting advice to those in attendance. “If you forget everything else that has been said, I would suggest you remember for the future: ‘From now on, everybody stands on his own feet.'” Many, including myself, consider Merton a prophetic voice, who saw through spiritual eyes much of what needed improvement in America. It is interesting that this was his last spiritual advice. It seemed to be said with some urgency and seriousness.
So let me take a shot at saying something about his advice. I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to us in Ephesians, as he describes the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet” (Eph 6:13 – The Message). Let me share three short take-aways from the advice of Merton and Paul.
First the sense that there is an intensification in the spiritual battle we are facing. Merton says “From now on.” In other words, be alert and aware of the days to come. Paul says “Be prepared.” Jesus said, “All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mat 24:8). The prophetic voices in our culture and scripture seem to be clear regarding the future. The battle will intensify. So men, don’t be surprise . The apostle John warned us, “Children, time is just about up. You heard that Antichrist is coming. Well, they’re all over the place, antichrists everywhere you look. That’s how we know that we’re close to the end” (I John 2:18). So don’t be surprised and caught off guard regarding the decline of morality, the loss of a Christian consensus and spiritual vitality in our culture. It has happened all through church history. Why should the good, old USA be exempted if we leave God out of the public square.
Secondly, we are exhorted to “stand.” Men, that means not to sit (give up), run (being fearful) or cower (surrender). NO. We are to stand. Merton said “stand on your own feet.” You are going to need other brothers to protect your back, encourage you and motivate you. But we each have to ask for grace and strength from the Lord to stand. This means at least three things. First, be clear about your convictions, secondly,take responsibility for your actions, and thirdly, make a clear identification with Jesus and his kingdom. Many men will have to reexamine their priorities and commitments. We can’t sit on the sidelines.
Thirdly, you are not going to be able to stand alone. I am convinced that in the days to come, groups of men will be forming for the purpose of being ” faithful, loving warriors” in their communities, at work and in the Church. These men will be a challenge to other men by their combination of love , humilityand conviction. They will gather because they know they will not be able to stand alone. In their own sphere of influence they are going to gather so as a group they will be able “to take back the land.” What is the land? Their spiritual heritage and influence. Men, our christian heritage is being taken from us. We need to reclaim it one by one as we fight with the weapons of “love and humility.” We can be an influence starting in our families and then move out into church, community and work. Remember what will win the day is a Christlike character. This will be vital in a “Post-Christian” America, where the majority are suspicious of “church people.” We are not church people, but rather humble, loving followers of Jesus who are on a “subversive” mission to take back the land. Never forget we know we have won the battle as we follow the “alpha and Omega.” In the meantime, there are skirmishes to be fought not just for our sake, but for our families and community.