Disciplined Spiritually

–Winter of 2007

Disciplined Spiritually

Serious saints who aggressively pursue the growth of their faith often struggle with maintaining the proper balance between discipline and dependence.  It is easy to slip into the extreme of either approach.  The extreme side of discipline is to overemphasize the role of what we do and to minimize what is done for us in and through Christ.  This position is characterized by the mentality of striving.  It emphasizes knowledge, rules, rededication efforts, and human activity while virtually ignoring God’s grace extended through the enabling power of His Spirit. Its emphasis on what-do-I-need-to-do can lead to the bondage of legalism. The extreme side of dependence is to overemphasize God’s role in our spiritual development to the neglect of any human initiative.  This position is characterized by a Jesus-did-it-all passivity.  It stresses experience, the supernatural, and the person of the Holy Spirit to the neglect of human endeavor.  The one side rolls up its sleeves and says, “God helps those who help themselves.”  The other side responds with, “It’s all by grace.”

The biblical answer is that spiritual formation is both human and divine.  Kenneth Boa stated it succinctly when he said that “discipline should work in concert with dependence, since grace is not opposed to effort but to earning.”  Paul places these elements back to back in Philippians 2:12-13:  “So then, my beloved, …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Paul makes it clear that working out our salvation is not the same as working for it.  He is also careful to balance this with the fact that God is active within us, accomplishing what all our learning and labor cannot.

What Christian history proves is that fallen human beings, even the redeemed ones, tend to seek the way of least resistance.  This means that most of us are more inclined to follow the extreme path of dependence rather than the path of a rigorous pursuit of developing holy habits. While it is true that dependence is critical and that the life of Christ within us is achieved not by human effort but by divine enablement, it is also true that there is no growth in the Christian life apart from discipline and self-control (I Timothy 4:7).

The New Testament teaches us that spirituality is not instantaneous or haphazard, but is developed and refined.  Paul’s letters are filled with commands to believe, obey, walk, fight, reckon, hold fast, pursue, draw near, and love.  He uses the metaphors of an athlete, a soldier, and a farmer to illustrate the disciplines required for growth.  The point he is making is that the principles and precepts of the Word of God are brought to life in us only when they are deliberately put into action and daily practiced.  This, of course, requires human choice and disciplined behavior.

For years I have longed to be able to sit at the keyboard of a grand piano and create beautiful music.  But my desire to do so has never been matched by the willingness to put in the countless hours of study and practice to make it happen.  Likewise, there is a certain depth of soul and spiritual life that will only come to those who follow the path of disciplined spirituality.

Have Christians Lost their Mind?

–May of 2004

Have Christians Lost their Mind?

We live in mindless times.  Millions of people drift along through life, manipulated by the talking heads of the mass media, never thinking through anything for themselves, and never realizing why they think the way they think.  They are completely unaware that there is any other way of thinking or living than that of the secular culture that surrounds them.  Unfortunately, this is also true for many Christians.

Harry Blamires makes this startling observation is his book titled The Christian Mind when he says, “There is no longer a Christian mind.”  Blamires means that in our time we have been so affected by secularism there is no longer a distinctly Christian way of thinking.  Blamires acknowledges that there is still a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality.  Most Christians do subscribe to a moral code higher than that of most non-Christians.  The Christian that is a member of a church commits to obligations and observations ignored by the non-Christian.  He strives to cultivate a dimension of spiritual life that is left unexplored by the non-Christian.  But as it relates to thinking, the vast majority of modern Christians has succumbed to the secular culture and no longer has a distinctly Christian frame of reference. They have lost the mind they were meant to develop.

 Is a Christian Mind Important?

To serve God well, we must think straight.  Distorted thinking, unintentional or not, always favors evil.  The Bible emphasizes repeatedly the importance of how a Christian thinks. Dallas Willard observes, “We first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that our first movements toward the renovation of the heart will occur”.  It is in the secret chamber of our thoughts that the light of God first begins to move upon us through His word.  In redemption our mind acquires a new way to think and a new capacity to clean up old ways of thinking.  The Bible refers to our minds being, “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:23, Col. 3:10, II Cor. 10:5).  As we grow in grace our minds are illuminated by the Spirit of God so that we can comprehend spiritual truth (I Cor. 2:12-13).  The goal of all of these processes is that we might have a total exchange of our way of thinking for the way Christ thought.  Paul referred to this as having the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16, Phil. 2:5). Is it important for us to have the mind of Christ?  It is imperative!  The only way we can escape being conformed to fallen humanity is by being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2, Prov. 23:7a).

 What does it mean to have a Christian mind?

 A Christian mind is one that has a supernatural orientation.  It believes that God has acted in history and spoken through scripture.  It sees God as the first cause, the fixed center and the final conclusion to all things.  It possesses and cultivates the eternal perspective. It sees human life and human history held in the hands of God.  It sees the whole universe sustained by His power and His love.  It sees the natural order as dependent upon the supernatural order.  It sees time contained within eternity.  It sees this world as a temporary place and not our final home.  The revelation of God and the reality of eternity become its point of reference.  In contrast, the secular mind puts its trust in this life and makes earthly happiness and well being its primary concern.  Too often, today’s Christian mind has allowed itself to be subtly secularized in one of two ways.  First, many Christians attempt to compartmentalize their thinking.  The practice of their faith doesn’t pervade every area of their job or business dealings.  They tend to use secular thinking at work and a more Christian way of thinking in the practice of their faith.  Secondly, they strike a compromise with the secular mind by relegating the significance of the eternal to the life that is to come while living their present life in much the same way a secular person would.  In other words, faith is for future security and not present practice.  They have blurred the lines between living in the here and now and living for the here and now.

The Christian mind has an acute awareness and understanding of sin.  For the Christian, Genesis 3 is one of the most vitally important chapters in the Bible.  It is the foundation of everything that comes after it, and without it very little else would make sense.  It provides an explanation for the fall of man, the curse of sin and the need of Savior.  It explains what God is doing in history.  Without this understanding, there can be no accurate, coherent sensible worldview.  Humanism, and its theory of evolution, offers no explanation to our dilemma and no hope for a way out.

The Christian mind sees truth as objective, authoritative, and God-given.  The Christian mind sees truth grounded in God’s revelation to man through His word.  It is not manufactured within a culture or developed by a consensus.  It is given by God and becomes the standard for all other truth-claims.  It governs how we behave.  It frames our perspective of all of life. It is the foundation and final authority for all we hold true. To think christianly is to think in terms of scripture.  The Christian mind understands that we do not make truth, but that we must reside in the truth.  The Christian mind understands the nature of biblical authority.  When it comes to biblical truth, obedience is not a negotiable option.  We either bow our head in submission or turn our back in rebellion.

The Christian mind holds a special view of the human person.  The Christian mind understands not only that God created man in His image, but also became a man, taking upon Himself our nature, and thereby exalting that nature for all time and for eternity.  Thus the Christian’s conception of the human person is a high one.  Human life is sacred.  Every person has value and dignity and should be treated in a way that preserves and honors both.  The Christian mind understands the immortality of man and his need for redemption. Hence he sees his part in redemptive activity.

How does one gain and maintain a Christian mind? The Bible is the mind of God (not all His mind, but all that He has chosen to share with us).  To think like God, one must think like the Bible.  We must let the Word of God fill our minds and dwell within us (Col.3:16).  Then the Holy Spirit can illuminate and transform our minds to think Christianly.  A daily exposure to God’s way of thinking can keep our minds renewed in His image.

We can never let anyone tell us that the training and development of our mind is not an important part of our Christian life.  What we think shapes who we are, how we behave and what we become.  A mind is a terrible thing for anyone to waste.  But for the Christian it could ultimately be spiritually fatal!

Spirituality

–March of 2003

Spirituality

In last year’s winter issue I shared my list of New Year’s Resolutions and pledged to write an article on each one.  The second of those resolutions was a commitment to enlarge my understanding of spirituality.  My findings are offered to you in this article.  So that you can understand what I mean by spirituality, let me offer you a working definition that Klaus Isslar gives in his book, Wasting Time with God.

Christian spirituality involves a deepening trust and friendship with God for those who are in Christ Jesus.  More specifically, it is an ever growing, experientially dynamic relationship with our Trinitarian God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–through the agency of the indwelling spirit of God.

The Bible assumes it to be self-evident that we can know God intimately.

Leaping out from almost every page of scripture is a God who affects us and is affected by us.  The Old Testament reveals a God that speaks, pleads, loves, works and manifests himself to His people.  He walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, eats with Abraham by his tent, and argues with Moses on the mountaintop.  The gospels give us a front row seat as the eternal Son wraps the garments of human flesh about him, steps onto the stage of life and interacts with man.  Yet, to many, the idea of being intimate with God is still mystical and illusive.  A certain distance remains in their relationship.

 How can we develop spirituality?

Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart, says, “The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.”  The following is what I perceive to be those essential steps.

 Spiritual formation is a deliberate choice.

Like any friendship, you must work at developing friendship with God.  It has to be a priority in your life. The psalmist David passionately wanted to know God above all else. He described his pursuit of God with worlds like: longing, yearning, thirsting and hungering. Jacob’s passion for God kept him wrestling with God all through the night.  To the Apostle Paul nothing mattered more; it was the first priority, total focus and ultimate goal of his life. (Matt. 5:6, Phil. 3:10, James 4:8)

 Spiritual formation is a team effort.

Spiritual development happens experientially as we walk with Jesus Christ.  He invites us to step into the “yoke of training” with Him.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Furthermore, we need not be limited by our own experiences to deepen our knowledge of God.  Much can be learned through the stories and experiences of other believers.  Thus, to know God more fully can only come about within a growing and God-knowing community of saints. (Heb. 10:24-25)

 Spiritual formation takes time.

Holy character is developed in a crock-pot not a microwave.  Most of my readers will have to have a change in lifestyle before they ever know God more deeply.  To spend time in reflection, meditation and solitude is a waste of time to most American Christians and in our Western culture wasting time is a sin.  But if we want to model the public life of Jesus then we must follow the pattern of his private life (Luke 5:15-16).

 Spiritual formation requires authenticity.

The Saints of Scripture were honest with God about their feelings.  Abraham was allowed to question and challenge God over the destruction of Sodom.  David made accusations to God of unfairness, betrayal and abandonment.  Jeremiah confronted God with the charge of being tricked.  God can handle that kind of honesty and in fact encourages it.  True intimacy is built on disclosure and openness.

Spiritual formation engages the mind.

One of the freedoms we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon. A mind that is filled with holy influences will be a mind that is strong in retaining the knowledge of God.  Read good books!  Discuss and debate what you’ve learned.  Keep your mind on the stretch for spiritual development.   There have been many great saints who had no formal education, but there were and are no great saints who have not educated their minds in the deep things of God. (Romans 12:1)

 Spiritual formation needs our emotions.

J.I. Packer wrote, “ We must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it no so.”

  Spiritual formation uses all the means of grace.

The capacity to remember and abide in God’s presence comes only through steady training.  The classic spiritual disciplines provide that training.  Saints through the ages have used the following disciplines to develop spirituality in their lives: meditation, communication, fasting, journaling/reflection, prayer, accountability, and practicing the presence of God.

 How do we know if we are making progress?

Successful spiritual formation in Christ will be evidenced in our lives.  We will be enabled to walk increasingly in the wholeness, holiness, and power of the Kingdom of God. Yet a vital part, maybe the most vital part, of spiritual formation is not seen but sensed.  Sensed not in our successes but in the keen awareness of what is yet to be done. A man who is being spiritually transformed is like a man carrying a lantern before him on a long, or not so long, pole: the light is in front of him, always lighting up fresh ground and always encouraging him to walk further.

Developing spiritual intimacy with God is a lifelong and eternity-long adventure.  One that is well worth the journey!