When I became the first Director of Spiritual Formation for my church, my goal was to teach and motivate people to strive to “be like Jesus.” When a new pastor arrived not long afterwards, the staff set out on a journey to create a new mission statement. After much study and discussion, we agreed on one that I wrote: Transformed Lives Transforming the World. That statement incorporated our need to be transformed on the inside before and as we live like Jesus outside in our own little worlds – and some-times in the big world, too.
We brought in James Bryan Smith’s Apprentice Series and more than 200 people learned about living in the safety of the Kingdom of God and about practicing spiritual disciplines. Every year we chose a church-wide spiritual formation theme and emphasized that theme through classes, small groups, through sermons, and in booklets that I wrote. And it worked! Teachers, business owners, factory workers, city council members, dentists, entrepreneurs, single parents, married couples, senior citizens – were cooperating with the Holy Spirit and seeing their lives transformed. And that transformation just naturally spread to the worlds they lived in.
That experience taught me that intentionally cultivating and practicing a “long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson) results in becoming like Jesus. My mission in life became to share the principles of a transformed life. with anyone who would listen.
Dallas Willard has said, “Disciples are those who, seriously intending to become like Jesus from the inside out, systematically and progressively rearrange their affairs to that end.” This post is the first of several occasional posts in 2019 which are intended to help us all to seek and work at continual transformation so we can make a difference in this grimy, depressing world in which we now live in – the place C.S. Lewis called ” enemy-occupied territory.”
We begin this series with a comment by Jonathan R. Bailey, a “serial entrepreneur” and chairman of the board of Renovare. In his Micro Essay blog post for December 30, he reminds us that
[Students of spiritual formation] don’t need fresh knowledge, we need to practice what we know. Knowledge above practice is like water rising above our heads. If it gets too high, we drown. We must let go of all the chatter around the Spiritual Disciplines and simply start practicing them.
Often we think of spiritual disciplines or “soul-training exercises” as onerous time-eating tasks. We feel we have to “gird up our loins” and prepare for drudgery. To me a spiritual discipline can be as simple (and difficult) as making a choice and then following through on it.
I thought about this recently as I became increasingly irritated with a hard-boiled egg. I have studied all the tricks for cooking and peeling these eggs, including cooling them in ice water before I try to peel them. My husband eats two of these beastly creatures every morning, so fourteen times a week I can choose to grouse, cuss, throw the egg across the room, swear I will never make another hard boil egg again – or choose to use this frustration as a spiritual exercise for developing patience. It’s making the choice that is the most difficult part! Once I say, “This is just an egg. I choose to be patient until there is no trace of shell on it,” I relax and calmly just peel until it is ready to eat.
Another exercise I use for to help in my transformation from a raving maniac to a patient person comes in the car while I am waiting for a 100 car train to meander by. Here is the scenario. The traffic is backing up – twenty cars ahead of me and behind me. I will definitely be late even though I gave myself ten minutes for the 15+ plus stop lights that are in my path. I decide to take Jon Bailey’s advice and simply practice what I know. I stop counting cars, looking endlessly for the caboose or calculating how fast the traffic will proceed once we are freed from this madness. Instead I choose to enjoy the view or listen to the radio, or take deep breaths, or drink some water – or remind myself that waiting is not a sin nor is being late – or all of the above.
A more consequential use of this practice involves my relationship with my husband. I am now basically his “nurse.” I bring medication four times a day, take his blood pressure, urge him to eat, remind him to use his inhaler, and the list goes on. Sometimes he does not want to be bothered or is tired of taking pills – or he just doesn’t want to give up control over his body. I get it! But when he gets angry and I retaliate or feel sorry for myself, nobody benefits. So I am learning before I go through the door of the room to stop and remind myself to act as lovingly as Jesus did in all his relationships – no matter how difficult they were.
I will need the help of other spiritual disciplines to become a patient and loving helper to a man who feels awful most of the time. But I believe that transformed people can change their world – and I will keep on keeping on. Stay tuned.