Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Guaranteed to Give You Vim, Vigor and Vitality! - Part One

I have come to make an assumption about many of the Christians I have met in churches where I have served and preached and worshipped. It is this: most Jesus-followers desire to have a spiriutally vital relationship with their Lord. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word vital as full of life and vigor, animated, and invigorating. We want our walk with Christ to be full of life...animated...invigorating and the like. For believers to walk in this type of relationship with Jesus, there must be a process of spiritual transformation. The good news is that Jesus is fully committed to bringing about this process in our lives (Philippians 1:6, Colossians 1:28).

My friend, Derek Vreeland, is in the process of publishing his first book, Shape Shifters. In the book, he deals with the topic of spritual formation and I was glad to have the privilege of reading an early draft. In reading, I was particularly struck by two things he said. First, Derek gives an outstanding definition of spiritual formation. He defines it as "...the work of the Holy Spirit to transform [Christians] into the image of Jesus for the joy of God the Father in the context of Christian community as we all walk along spiritual pathways." Derek helpfully reminded me that our lives with Jesus and becoming more like him is a process. (For those of us who "want it now," this can be utterly frustrating!)

Consider this thought, "It is much easier to envision the end result of our transformation than to consider the change that gets us there...The journey of change is a winding, meandering road filled with potholes, unexpected twists and turns, and frustrating setbacks. It takes Jesus one sentence to describe the pathway into the kingdom of God, but it takes a lifetime to walk its path." What is that one sententce:

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like a little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

As a pastor that desires both transformation in my own life and in the lives of those I serve, a few things have captured my attention on this subject. One, Christians that desire change too often focus on change as a one-time event. Let me illustrate. In the Baptist tradition there is a focus on a time of public invitation in the gathered worship services. These time serves as both an opportunity for non-Christians to respond to the Gospel and for Christians to pray and reflect on issues concerning their walk with God. I have often heard members refer to this time as "getting things right with God."

I have counseled Christians who have prayed about issues in their lives during a public invitation. They come, hopeful, that as they commit an area of their life over to God that the struggle they have experienced may no longer be realized any longer. The desire is for the struggle to simply go away as they commit to walk more closely with God.

Over the years, I have heard testimonies of men and women wonderfully delievered in times of public invitation and in living rooms. As well, I have talked with people who have humbly prayed for change and then walked away only to face later frustration over the continued struggle in life over a particular issue. Questions follow. Did I not pray sincerely during the invitation? Did I not have enough faith? What's wrong with me? The questions begin to create both an unhealthy and unsustainable life. This focus on a one-time event can lead to Christians thinking...if I just read that book, if I only attend that conference, if I could just pray with that Christian leader...and on and on it goes.

It seems to me that Christians must remember that a prayer of commitment in an area of life needs to be seen as the first step in what will be a life-long process rather than a one-time fix up. Look at Scripture. Abraham. Jacob. Moses. Sampson. David. Peter. Paul. These were all works in progress. God works to create the environment for us to change. Yes, one-time events are intergral to the process but they are not the end.

This leads to an important second thought. Christians often fail to work, on their part, to create an environment where healthy spritiual formation can take place. Several years ago I read Leaders of the Future edited by Peter Drucker. In it, one author stated that every organization is designed to get the results it is getting right now. The application of this phrase has been helpful to me as I look at individual lives, both my own and others. There is the reality that it is God that changes the character of people through his power and grace. However, the Bible is chocked full of verses that remind us of our own participation in creating an environment for spirituality. Consider these:

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from flow the springs of life."

Proverb 4:23

"...this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land...all the days of your careful to do them that it may go well with you...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might...You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in our house, and when you walk by the way, and why you lie dow, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand...You shall write them on the doorposts of your house..."

Deuteronomy 6:1-3, 5, 7-9

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith..."

Colossians 2:6-7

The teaching of Scripture is so clear: when it comes to our spirituality and walk with Christ, we are not to be passive. We are to participate.

Let me ask you these questions.

-Is your life designed to create an environment for spiritual formation?

-Do you have time in your schedule to regularly read Scripture?

-After hearing the teaching of the Bible on Sunday, do you ever spend some moments on Sunday afternoon or during the week thinking about what you were taught and how you might apply the teaching?

-Do you ever read the passage the pastor or teacher spoke about for yourself and meditate on it?

-Do you ever meet with another trusted Christian friend to talk over what is going on in your relationship with God?

-Do you ever read any helpful Christian books?

-Do you listen to biblically-sound Christian music?

-Do you drive out to a park on the weekend for a quiet walk?

-Do you ever bake a cake and take it to neighbor just because?

These questions are not for guilt but rather to help you think through how you might work on creating a better environment for spirituality in your life. My concern is not that people are failing to attend church. It is that I am often uncertain about what is happening in both individual lives and corporately among all the people that is of spiritual consequence. I fear that people are only counting on the one hour (+ or -) of corporate worship for all of their spiritual nourishment.

Let me suggest that Proverbs 4:23, Deuteronomy 6 and Colossians 2:6-7 assume that in order for these things to be lived, something has got be happening on Monday through Saturday.

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