Previously unpublished. Prepared for The Augustine Group, 2005.
"Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you
have been called."
"Since we stand before so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, with our eyes set
on Jesus, who initiated our faith and will bring it to perfection."
"There is no good tree which produces bad fruit….
The good man out of the good stored up in his heart, brings forth what is
To fulfill the high calling which God has placed upon us in
creating us and redeeming us, we must have the right inner substance or
character. We must come to grips with who we really are, inside and out. For we will
do what we are. So we will need to become the kind of people who routinely
and easily walk in the goodness and power of Jesus our Master. For this, a
process of "spiritual formation"—really, transformation—is
Spiritual formation for the Christian is a Spirit-driven process
of forming the inner world of the human self –our "spiritual" side—in
such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree
to which such a spiritual transformation to inner Christlikeness is successful,
the outer life of the individual will become a natural expression or outflow of
the character and teachings of Jesus. We will simply "walk the walk,"
as we say.
Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human
attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless,
well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is
not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God
acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs
our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God.
Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning
Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other,
remarks on his own efforts for Christ: "By the grace of God I am what I am,
and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of
them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (2 Cor. 15:10) The
supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.
Spiritual formation in Christ is the way of rest for the weary
and over-loaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matt. 11:28-30), of
cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matt. 23:26), of the good tree that
cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). It is the path along which God’s
commandments are found not to be "heavy." (1 John 5:3)
Before turning to some details of Christian spiritual
transformation in the various dimensions of the human being, we need to be clear
about the general pattern that all effective efforts toward personal
transformation—not just Christian spiritual formation—must follow. Because
we are active participants in the process, and because what we do or do not do
makes a huge difference, our efforts must be based on understanding. The degree
of success in such efforts will essentially depend upon the degree to which this
general pattern is understood and intentionally followed. Jesus indeed said that
without him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) But we can also be sure that if we do
nothing it will be without him. So he commands us to "abide in the
Vine." (15:1-7) We must find a way to do that.
Let us begin with a couple of easy illustrations, and then
spell out the pattern in its generality.
Learning to Speak Arabic
Suppose someone wishes to speak a language they do not presently
know: say Arabic or Japanese. In order to carry through with this simple case of
(partial) personal transformation, they must have some idea of what it would be
like to speak the language in question—of what their lives would then be like—and
why this would be a desirable or valuable thing for them. They also need to have
some idea of what must be done to learn to speak the language, and why the price
in time, energy, and money that must be expended constitutes a ‘bargain,’
considering what they get in return. If they are to succeed, all of this needs
to be clearly before them. They need to be gripped by the desirability of it.
That would be their vision.
The general absence of such a vision explains why
language learning is generally so unsuccessful in educational programs in the
United States. The presence of such a vision, on the other hand, explains why
the English language is learned at a phenomenal rate all around the world.
Multitudes clearly see the ways in which their life might be improved by
knowledge of English. As the vision is clear and strong, it pulls everything
else required along with it; and the language is learned, even in difficult and
Still, more than vision is required, and, especially, there
is required an earnest intention. Projects of personal transformation do
not succeed by accident, drift, or imposition. Effective action has to involve
order, subordination, and progression, developing from the inside of the
personality. It is, in other words, a spiritual matter, a matter of meaning and
will, for we are spiritual beings. Conscious involvement with "order,
subordination, and progression, developing from the 'inside' of the
personality," is required.
Imagine, if you can, a person wondering day after day if he
or she is going to learn Arabic, or if he or she is going to get married to a
certain person—just waiting, to see whether it would "happen." That
would be laughable. But many people actually seem to live in this way with
respect to major issues involving them, including spiritual growth. That fact
goes far to explain why lives often go as badly as they do. To learn a language,
as for the many even more important concerns of life, we must resolutely intend
the vision, if it is to be realized. That is, we must initiate, decide, bring
into being, those factors that would turn the vision into reality.
And that brings us to the final element in the general
pattern of personal transformation: that of means or
instrumentalities. Carrying through with the pattern for the illustration at
hand, one will sign up for language courses, listen to recordings, buy books,
associate with people who speak Arabic, immerse yourself in the culture,
possibly spend some intensive times in Jordan or Morocco, and practice,
practice, practice. There are means known to be effective toward transforming
people into speakers of Arabic or Russian, etc. This is not mysterious. If the
vision is clear and strong, and the employment of the means thoughtful and
persistent, then the outcome will be ensured.
Another Illustration: Alcoholics Anonymous
Another illustration of the "general pattern" of
personal transformation is provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar
"twelve step" programs. Here, of course, the significance of the
transformation or change is perhaps far greater for the person involved, than in
the case of learning a language; and the outcome is a negative one—that is, a refraining
from doing something very harmful, something that could possibly lead to
untimely death. But the pattern is basically the same.
A desirable state of being is envisioned, and an intention to
realize it is actuated in decision. Means are applied to fulfill the intention
(and the corresponding decision) by producing the desirable state of being: in
this case, abstinence from alcohol and a life of sobriety, with all the good
that that entails. The familiar means of the traditional AA program—the famous
"twelve steps" and the personal and social arrangements in which they
are concretely embodied, including a conscious involvement of God in the
individual's life—are highly effective in bringing about personal
V-I-M: The General Pattern
With these two illustrations before us (language learning and
AA), the general pattern of personal transformation should now be clear. We
emphasize that it also holds for those transformations that can only occur
through Grace: through the initiative and through the constant direction and
upholding of God. To keep the general pattern in mind as we continue, we will
use the little acronym "VIM," as in the phrase "vim and
"Vim" is grammatically related to the Latin term
"vis," meaning direction, strength, force, vigor, power, energy, or
virtue; and sometimes meaning sense, import, nature or essence. Now spiritual
formation in Christlikeness is all of this to human existence. It is the path by
which we can truly, as Paul told the Ephesians, "be empowered in the Lord
and in the energy of his might" (Ephesians 6:10) and "become mighty
with his energy through his Spirit entering into the inward person" (3:16).
It spells out the "life to the full" that Jesus, in his own person,
brought into the life of humankind. (John 10:10) Only by receiving this life do
we become adequate to our calling. God never intended anything else.
So, if we are to be spiritually formed in Christ, we must
implement the appropriate vision, intention, and means. Not just any path we
take will do. If this V-I-M pattern is not properly put in place and
resolutely adhered to, Christ simply will not be formed in us. We do not want to
be ‘picky’ about the details. That can sidetrack us into legalism. But apart
from an overall V-I-M pattern of life, what we are inwardly will be
left substantially as it was before we came to know Christ, and as it is in
nonChristians. Our inner life—what makes up our inner being of will, thoughts,
emotions, social connections and even the dispositions of our
body—will constantly entangle us and defeat us. Paul’s penetrating
description has never been improved on: "For the good that I wish, I do not
do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish." (Rom. 7:19) Paul, of
course, did not stay there. He knew the bitter reality, but he also knew how to
We will make a quick survey of V-I-M in spiritual
formation, and then return to each part for a deeper look.
The Vision of Life in the Kingdom
The vision of our life in the kingdom of God, is the
place we must start. This is the vision Jesus brought. It was the gospel
he preached. He came announcing, manifesting, and teaching what the kingdom of
the heavens was like, and that it was immediately availability in Himself.
"I was sent for this purpose," he said (Luke 4:43). If we from the
heart accept Him and His kingdom, we will find our feet firmly planted on the
path of Christian spiritual formation.
What is "the kingdom of God." It is the range of
God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. It is, like God
himself, from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 103:17; see also Psalm 93:1-2;
Daniel 4:3; 7:14; and so on). The planet Earth and its immediate surroundings
seem to be the only place in creation where God permits his will to not
be done. Therefore we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven," and we hope forthe time when that
kingdom will be completely fulfilled even here on earth(Luke 21:31;
22:18)—where, in fact, it is already present (Luke 17:21; John
18:36-37), and is available to those who seek it with all their hearts (Matthew
6:13; 11:12; Luke 16:16). For those who do so seek and find it in Christ, it is
true even now that "all things work together for their good" (Romans
8:28, PAR), and that nothing can cut them off from Gods inseparable love and
effective care (Romans 8: 35- 39). That is the nature of a life in the kingdom
of the heavens now.
The vision that underlies spiritual (trans)formation into
Christlikeness is, then, the vision of life now and forever in the range of
God's effective will. This means we are partaking of the divine nature (2
Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:1-2) through a birth "from above," and participating
by our actions in what God is doing now in our lifetime on earth. Thus Paul
tells us, "Whatever we do, speaking or acting, do all on behalf of the Lord
Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17, PAR).
Being born into his Kingdom, in everything we do we are permitted to do his
work. That is what we are learning. That is the priviledge extended to us in the
gospel. What this vision calls us to is to live fully in the kingdom of God—and
as fully as possible now and here, not just hereafter.
The Intention to be a Kingdom Person
The vision of life in the kingdom through reliance upon Jesus
makes it possible for us to intend to live in the kingdom as he did. We
can actually decide to do it. Concretely, we intend to live in the
kingdom of God by intending to obey the precise example and teachings of
Jesus. This is the form taken by our confidence in him. Our confidence in him is
not merely a matter of believing things about him, however true and
important they may be. Indeed, no one can actually believe the truth about him
without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility. To
think otherwise is to indulge a widespread illusion that now smothers spiritual
formation in Christlikeness among professing Christians and prevents Christian
spiritual formation from naturally spreading worldwide.
Gandhi, who had closely observed Christianity as practiced
around him in Great Britain and in Europe, remarked that if only Christians
would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, "we all
would become Christians." We know what he meant, and he was right. But the
dismaying truth is that the Christians were living according to their
"belief" in the teachings of Jesus. They didn't believe them!
They did not really trust him.
Knowing the "right answers"—knowing which
ones they are, being able to identify them and say them—does not mean we believe
them. To believe them, like believing anything else, means that we are set to
act as if they (the "right answers") were true, and that we will so
act in appropriate circumstances. And acting as if the right answers are true
means, in turn, that we intend to obey the example and teachings of Jesus our
Master. What else could we intend if we believed he is who his people
through the ages have declared him to be?
The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him
is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving "Christian
culture." In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him
than you could trust your doctor or your auto mechanic and not intend to follow
their advice. If you don't intend to follow their advice, you simply don't trust
Intention Involves Decision
Now, an intention is whole and real only if it includes a
decision to fulfill or carry through with the intention. We commonly find people
who say they intend (or intended) to do certain things that they do not do. To
be fair, external circumstances may sometimes have prevented them from carrying
outthe action. And habits deeply rooted in our bodies and life contexts
can, for a while, thwart even a sincere intention. But if something like thatis not the case, we know that they never actually decided to do what they
say they intended to do, and that they therefore did not really intend to do it.
Accordingly they lack the power and order that intention brings into life
Of course the robust intention, with its inseparable
decision, can only be formed and sustained upon the basis of a forceful vision.
The elements of V-I-M are mutually reinforcing. Those whose word "is
their bond," or "is as good as gold," are people with a vision of
integrity. They see themselves standing in life and before God as those
who do not say one thing and think another. They "mean what they say."
This is greatly valued before God, who abominates "swearing falsely"
and honors those "who stand by their oath even when it harms them"
(Psalm 15:4, PAR). Similarly, it is the vision of life in God's kingdom and its
goodness that provides an adequate basis for the steadfast intention to obey
Christ. And that intention, carried through, will in turn enhance the vision by
making it clearer and brighter.
The clear vision and the solid intention to obey Christ will
naturally lead to seeking out and applying the means to that end. That is
the natural order in human life. Here the means in question are the means for spiritual
transformation: for replacing the inner character of the "lost" person
with the inner character of Jesus—his vision, understanding, feelings,
decisions, and character. By finding such means we are not left to ourselves,
but have rich resources available to us in the example andteachings of
Jesus, in the Scriptures generally, and in his people through the ages. They
include such practices as solitude, memorization and meditation upon scriptures,
fellowship and accountability to others, and so forth. More on this below.
Suppose, for example, we are convinced that we should, as
Jesus would, be generous to those who are in need, but who have already taken
away some of our money or property through legal processes. Mere "will
power," with gritted teeth, cannot be enough to enable us to do this. By
what means, then, can we become the kind of person who would gladly do this, as
Jesus himself would do it? If we have the vision of the goodness of it,
and we intend (have decided) to do it, we can certainly find and
implement the means.
For example we might, in solitude, prayer and scripture
meditation, identify our resentment and our anger toward the person who needs
our help as the cause of our not gladly helping him. And then there is justice.
Ah, justice! Perhaps in the form of "I do not owe it to him. He has no
claims on me." Or perhaps we feel the legal case that went against us and
in his favor was rigged or unfair. Or again, perhaps we think we must secure
ourselves by holding onto whatever surplus items we have. After all, we may say,
who knowswhat thefuture holds? Or perhaps we think giving to
people what is unearned by them will harm them by corrupting their character,
leading them to believe one can get something for nothing. Or perhaps it is just
not our habit to give to people with no prior claim on us—without regard to
whether they may also have injured or deprived us. Or perhaps our friends,
including our religious friends, would think we are fools. And so forth.
What a thicket of darkness and lostness stands in the way of
doing a simple good thing: helping someone in need, someone who just happens to
have previously won a legal case against us, possibly quite justly. It is the
all-too-customary human thinking, feeling, and social practice that stands in
the way. And, truthfully, it is very likely that little can be done on the
spot to help one do the good thing that Jesus commands. But by a course of
study, prayer and practice we can become different inside, and then be able to
do it with ease and joy.
This is characteristic of all Jesus’s example and teaching.
When my neighbor who has injured me or triumphed over me in the past now stands
before me in a need I can remedy, I will not be able "on the spot" to
do the good thing, if my inner being is filled with all the thoughts, feelings,
and habits that characterize the ruined soul and its world. On the other hand,
if I intend to obey Jesus Christ, I must intend and decide to become the kind
of person who would obey. That is, I must find the means of receiving his
grace and changing my inner being until it is substantially like his,
pervasively characterized by his thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationship to
the Father. Overall, this will amount to a life organized around wise spiritual
disciplines under grace. We learn that we cannot do what we should do just
by trying, but that by training we can become the kind of person
who would do it with little thought or effort.
In the spiritual life it is actually true that "where
there is a will there is a way." It is true there because God is involved
and makes his help available to those who seek it. On the other hand, where
there is no will (firm intentions based on clear vision) there is no way. People
who do not intend to be inwardly transformed, so that obedience to Christ
"comes naturally," will not be transformed. God will not pick us up
and throw us into transformed kingdom living, into "holiness."
In sum, the problem of spiritual transformation (really, of
the normal lack thereof) among those who identify as Christians today is not
that it is impossible, or that effectual means to it are not available. The
problem is that spiritual transformation into Christlikeness is not intended.
People do not see it and its value, and decide to carry through with it. They do
not decide to do the things Jesus did and said. And this in turn is, today,
largely due to the fact that they have not been given a vision of life in God's
kingdom, within which such a decision and intention would make sense. The ‘gospel’
they have heard did not bring that vision. As a result, the entire V-I-M
of Christ's life and life in Christ is not the intentional substance and
framework of their life.
Now, with this preliminary survey of how transformation into
Christlikeness unfolds before us, let us go back and look into each division of V-I-M
in greater depths.
"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent
to make certain about His calling and choosing
you; for as long as you practice these things,
you will never stumble; for in this way the
entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly
supplied to you." (2nd Peter 1:10-11)
MATTERS FOR THOUGHT:
Is the emphasis upon the ‘inner’ aspect of spiritual formation correct,
or just an evasion of responsibility to act rightly and publicly, sometimes
2nd Cor. 9:8 and Zech. 4:7 are clear statements of grace as
"God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our
own." Can you find other verses that express this understanding? How does
this understanding contrast with or supplement ordinary views of grace?
How might spiritual formation in Christlikeness make obedience to God easy?
Have you experienced, can you think of, other areas of application for the
"general pattern" of personal transformation?
Do you believe that you could change to the point where loving your worst
enemy would be the natural thing for you to do?
How close is the vision of life now in the Kingdom of God related to what
you normally hear as the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Can intention really be as important for spiritual formation as suggested
Are there "means" which you have found especially helpful toward
inner transformation into Christlikeness? Describe how they worked.
The Vision of the Disciple of Jesus
As a genuine disciple or apprentice of Jesus, I am caught up
in his vision of the goodness and greatness of God and of life in His
kingdom. On that basis I am with Jesus, by choice and by grace, learning
from him how to live in the kingdom of God. To live in the kingdom means,
we recall, to live within the range of God's effective will, his life flowing
through mine. Another good way of putting this is to say that as a disciple I
am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.
I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, of course; but I am
learning how to do everything I do in the manner and from the source from
which he did all that he did.
It is in discipleship to Jesus that we become capable of
"Walking in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been
called." For the disciple, there are three main ways in which God comes to
fill our vision. Through them the lovely God wins the steadfast love and
confidence of the disciple. He comes to us (1) through his creation, (2) through
his public acts on the scene of human history, and (3) through individual
experiences of him by ourselves and others around us.
"God the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and
The apostle Paul explains that all human beings remain
responsible before God, no matter how far away they may fall, precisely because
of the clear way in which God stands forth in nature: "Since the creation
of the world," he says, "God's invisible nature is clearly presented
to their understanding through what has been made" (Rom. 1: 19-20).
In a later passage in Romans (10: 18), Paul comes close to
identifying the very "word of Christ," the gospel, with the word of
God that goes out from nature to "the ends of the earth," according to
Psalm 19. Through the ages and up to today, outstanding thinkers have continued
to be convinced of the soundness of such thinking, and ordinary people usually
grant that it is correct.
But, though the rational processes involved in seeing the
Creator through nature are important—and, I believe, they are conclusive when
fairly examined—they are not all that is involved in our awareness of God in
nature. It may be that for most people God is more sensed through nature
than inferred—somewhat as I "sense" or "read" your
thoughts, feelings, and presence when I am around you, and do not infer them.
The words of the poet Wordsworth express what many people
"And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."
However it may come, in the training that brings apprentices
of Jesus to live on that solid rock of "hearing and doing" (Matt.
7:24-25), "God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth" must be
made present to their minds in such a way that they can see his magnificent
beauty and their love can be strongly and constantly drawn to him. This will
make a huge and indispensable contribution to their ability to love him with all
their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to receive and follow their calling
with ultimate confidence in him.
"Knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of
We also bring the heart-wrenching goodness of God, his
incomprehensible graciousness and generosity, before the mind of disciples by
helping them to see and understand the person of Jesus. On a wearying, dreadful
night, Jesus was saying a lot of things that were confusing and upsetting those
in his little circle of friends. Philip blurted out, "You talk about the
Father all the time. just show us the Father and that will satisfy us"
(John 14:8). Jesus patiently replied, "Haven't you yet understood who I am,
Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (v. 9). No doubt Philip
and the others experienced this as just too good to be true. Could the character
of God really be that of Jesus? The stunning answer is, "Yes indeed."
The key, then, to loving God is to see Jesus, to
hold him before the mind with as much fullness and clarity as possible. It is to
adore him. For purposes of training ourselves and others, we should divide this
into four main aspects.
First, we see his beauty, truth, and power while he lived
among us as one human being among others. The content of the Gospels must come
to life in such a way that the Gospels become a permanent presence and
possession of the mind of the disciple. The radiant person of Jesus shines forth
from them up to the present day. We can go through life with him "at our
elbow," therefore "Under the shadow of the Almighty." (Psalm
Second, we see the way he went to execution as a common
criminal among other criminals on our behalf. We don't have to understand
exactly how it works. But the fact is something we must always
have before our minds. That is a good reason to wear or display a cross. For all
it’s mystery it still says: "I am bought by the sufferings and death of
Jesus and I belong to God. The divine operation of which I am a part shoots
through human history in the form of a cross." Individual disciples must
have indelibly imprinted upon their souls the reality of this wonderful person
who walked among us and suffered a cruel death to enable each of us to have life
in God. It should become something that is never beyond the
margins of their consciousness. "God," Paul said, "makes clear
the greatness of his love for us through the fact that Christ died for us while
we were still rebelling against him" (Rom. 5:8). Upon this vision of God,
transformation into Christlikeness is based.
The genuine exclusiveness of the Christian revelation of God
lies here. No one can have an adequate view of the heart and purposes of the God
of the universe who does not understand that he permitted his son to die on the
cross to reach out to all people, even people who hated him. That is who God is.
But this is not just a "right answer" to a theological question. It is
God looking at me from the cross with compassion and providing for me,
with never-failing readiness to take my hand to walk on through life, wherever I
may find myself at the time.
Paul's sense of the meaning of the death of the God’s Son
for individual human beings is spelled out in ecstatic detail in Rom. 8:31-39:
"God is for us! Who is against us? Since he did not
spare his own Son in reaching us, he obviously is ready to give us every
good thing. Who will charge us with anything? God has cleared us of all his
charges. Who condemns us? Jesus died for us. Yes, and he passed through
death intact, and now stands in the place from which God acts, looking after
our interests. Of all the terrible and frightening things the human mind
discovers, not one can take us out of his loving hands. We don't just
"manage" or cope. We thrive on it all! Nothing shall
be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus the Anointed,
our Lord." (Paraphrase)
With this radiant passage before us, the last two aspects of
Jesus person to be imprinted on the disciple's soul in training are already in
Third, we see the reality of Jesus risen, his actual
existence now as a person who is present among his people. We find him in his ecclesia,
his sometimes motley but always glorious crew of called-out ones. We
trace him from those uncomprehending encounters on the first Easter morning, and
on through the amazingly different historical periods of the church. But we also
find him now active among his disciples. Who he is, is revealed in an essential
way in his people.
So the continuing incarnation of the divine Son in his
scattered and his gathered people must fill our minds if we are to love him and
his Father adequately and thus live on the rock of hearing and doing. And to see
how he has been and is lived with and loved and served and presented and
celebrated by all kinds of people across time and space adds to the force of our
love for him and our vision of The Father.
But fourth, we see the Jesus who is the master of the created
universe and of human history. He is the one in ultimate control of all the
atoms, particles, quarks, "strings," and so forth upon which the
physical cosmos depends.
Human beings have long aspired to control the ultimate
foundations of ordinary reality. We have made a little progress, and there
remains an unwavering sense that this is the direction of our destiny. That is
the theological meaning of the scientific and technological enterprise. It has
always presented itself to "man on his own" as the instrument for
solving human problems. But without a divine context it becomes idolatrous and
veers wildly out of human control, threatening self-destruction.
But this Jesus is master of all reality through his word.
Satan, in tempting him, claimed to be in possession of all the kingdoms of the
earth. But Satan was lying, as is his nature. Lies are his only hope. It is
Jesus himself who is King of the kings of the earth, and who for good purposes
allows Satan and evil to have some influence on humanity—for a while. And it
is he, as the Logos, the Cosmic Christ, who maintains and manipulates the
ultimate laws of the physical universe. In him, the early Christians well
understood, "are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and of
knowledge." (Col. 2:3)
Thoroughly presented in all these ways, the love of Jesus for
us, and the magnificence of his person, brings the disciple to adore Jesus. His
love and loveliness fills our lives. An older Franciscan brother said to Brennan
Manning on the day he joined the order, "Once you come to know the love of
Jesus Christ, nothing else in the world will seem as beautiful or
Jesus himself knew that this love was the key. The keeping of
his commandments was the true sign of love for him, because that love is what
made it possible and actual. In this love of Jesus everything comes together:
"If anyone loves me, my word he will keep, and my Father will love him, and
we will move in with him and live there" (John 14:23).
God's Hand Seen Through the Events of the Disciple's Life
The third area of vision required to bring disciples to the
place where they love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength
concerns the goodness of their own existence and of the life received through
their natural birth and the following course of their life.
God, as our "faithful Creator" and as presented
"in the face of Jesus Christ," is lovely and magnificent. But he will
remain something to be admired, or even worshiped, at a distance if that is all
we know of him. In order for disciples to be brought into a full and joyous love
of God, they must see their very own life within the framework of unqualified
goodness. Perhaps "see" is too strong a word, though it is certainly
what we should hope for. But they must at least be sure in their heart of hearts
that their life is a very good thing and that God has done well by them.
Saint Clare, won in her youth to a life of complete devotion
to Jesus by Saint Francis of Assisi, had these for her last words: "Lord
God, blessed be thou for having created me!" This can be the daily breath
of a disciple of Jesus.
Just previously, as she lay near death, Brother Rainaldo had
exhorted her to bear her infirmities with patience. She replied, "Dearest
brother, ever since I have known the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ through his
servant Francis, no suffering has troubled me, no penance has been hard, no
sickness too arduous."
Then, before her last words, she was heard to murmur to her
soul, "Depart in peace, for thou wilt have a good escort on the journey. Go
forth confidently to Him who has protected thee and loved thee as a mother loves
We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that
makes obedience to Jesus our natural response, unless we are absolutely sure
that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are. This means we must have no
doubt that the path appointed for us by when and where and to whom we were born
is good, and that nothing irredeemable has happened to us or can happen to us on
our way to our destiny in God's world.
Most of our doubts about the goodness of our life concern
very specific matters: our parents and family, our body, our marriage and
children (or lack thereof), our opportunities in life, our work and calling
(which are not the same thing), and our job. Careful study, teaching, training,
and guidance must be received with reference to the all aspects of the
disciples' lives: parents, body, love and sexuality, marriage and children,
experience with work and jobs. The object in each case is to enable the disciple
to be thankful for who they are and what they have. An often painful progression
will be required: from honesty to acceptance to compassion and forgiveness and
then on to thankfulness to God and the honoring of our lives in all of the
aspects indicated. And when this training has been completed, Paul's words will
make perfect sense: "Always giving thanks for all things on behalf of our
Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Eph. 5:20). And again: "I
have learned how to be content whatever the circumstances.... I can do all
things in him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:11, 13). This is the vision
of God that must undergird our calling.
It is being included in the eternal life of God that heals
all wounds and allows us to stop demanding satisfaction for the hurts we have
received. What really matters, of a personal nature, once it is clear
that you are included in God’s eternal life? You have been chosen. God chooses
you. This is the message of the kingdom. A very touching passage occurs in the
writings of Isaiah the prophet on this point. In his day, non-Israelites were
always "on the outside looking in," as we say. And likewise eunuchs,
who could never have a family of their own. But God says to them, "I will
give them a place forever in my house, and a name better than sons and
daughters; a name that will stand forever (Isa. 56:2-5). The greatness and
goodness of the great God who takes us up into his life—that is our peace and
MATTERS FOR THOUGHT:
How would you characterize the normal or usual vision of life in Christ
What do you think is the most important thing to believe (‘see’) about
What is the place of nature in the Gospel? (Consider Romans 10:13-20)
What does Jesus show us that nature cannot? Why can’t people do with just
Say aloud, "God has truly done well by me!" Say it to others.
Intention in Spiritual Formation
A clear vision of God and of the place he has made for us in
him enables us to form a strong and clear intention to live in that vision. One
of the most helpful things ever written on the centrality of intention and
decision in the life of the disciple is Chapter Two of William Law’s book,
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. The chapter is titled, "An
Inquiry into the Reason, Why the Generality of Christians Fall So Far Short of
the Holiness and Devotion of Christianity." What follows is a major portion
of that Chapter. In the previous Chapter he had discussed at length on the
failure of the usual Christian, in his country at the time, to be different from
non-Christians. Then Law writes:
It may now be reasonably inquired, how it comes to pass, that
the lives even of the better sort of people are thus strangely contrary to the
principles of Christianity?
But before I give a direct answer to this, I desire it may
also be inquired, how it comes to pass that swearing is so common a vice
among Christians? It is indeed not yet so common among women, as it is among
men. But among men this sin is so common, that perhaps there are more than two
in three that are guilty of it through the whole course of their lives…. Now I
ask, how comes it, that two in three of the men are guilty of so gross and
profane a sin as this is? There is neither ignorance nor human infirmity to
plead for it; it is against an express commandment, and the most plain doctrines
of our blessed Savior.
Do but now find the reason why the generality of men live in
this notorious vice, and then you will have found the reason why the generality
even of the better sort of people live so contrary to Christianity.
The reason of common swearing is this; it is because men have
not so much as the intention to please God in all their actions. For let a man
but have so much piety as to intend to please God in all the actions of his
life, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will never swear
more. It will be as impossible for him to swear, whilst he feels this intention
within himself, as it is impossible for a man that intends to please his Prince,
to go up and abuse him to his face.
It seems but a small and necessary part of piety to have such a
sincere intention as this; and that he has no reason to look upon himself as a
disciple of Christ who is not thus far advanced in piety. And yet it is purely for want of this degree of piety,
that you see such a mixture of sin and folly in the lives even of the better
sort of people. It is for want of this intention that you see men that profess religion, yet livein swearing and
sensuality; that you see clergymen given to pride, and covetousness, and worldly
enjoyments. It is for want of this intention, that you see women that profess
devotion, yet living in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in
idleness and pleasures, and in all such instances of state and equipage as their
estates will reach. For let but a woman feel her heart full of this intention,
and she will find it as impossible to patch or paint, as to curse or swear; she
will no more desire to shine at balls or assemblies, or make a figure amongst
those that are most finely dressed, than she will desire to dance upon a rope to
please spectators: shewill know, that the one is as far from the wisdom
and excellency of the Christian spirit as the other.
It was this is general intention (to please God in all
things), that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety,
and made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of
martyrs and confessors. And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you
are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you
that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you
never thoroughly intended it. You observe the same Sunday worship that they did;
and you are strict in it, because it is your full intention to be so. And when
you as fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when you
intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as possible, as to be
strictly exact in the service of the Church. And when you have this intention to
please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you
will find in you as great an aversion to every thing that is vain and
impertinent in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to
any thing that is profane. You will be as fearful of living in any foolish way,
either of spending your time, or your fortune, as you are now fearful of
neglecting the public worship….
Again, let a tradesman but have this intention, and it will
make him a saint in his shop; his every-day business will be a course of wise
and reasonable actions, made holy to God, by being done in obedience to His will
and pleasure. He will buy and sell, and labour and travel, because by so doing
he can do some good to himself and others. But then, as nothing can please God
but what is wise, and reasonable, and holy, so he will neither buy nor sell, nor
labour in any other manner, nor to any other end, but such as may be shown to be
wise, and reasonable, and holy. He will therefore consider, not what arts, or
methods, or application, will soonest make him richer and greater than his
brethren, or remove him from a shop to a life of state and pleasure; but he will
consider what arts, what methods, what application, can make worldly business
most acceptable to God, and make a life of trade a life of holiness, devotion,
and piety. This will be the temper and spirit of every tradesman; he cannot stop
short of these degrees of piety, whenever it is his intention to please God in
all his actions, as the best and happiest thing in the world. And on the other
hand, whoever is not of this Spirit and temper in his trade and profession, and
does not carry it on only so far as is best subservient to a wise, and holy, and
heavenly life, it is certain that he has not this intention ; and yet without
it, who can be shown to be a follower of Jesus Christ ?
Again, let the gentleman of birth and fortune but have this
intention, and you will see how it will carry him from every appearance of evil,
to every instance of piety and goodness. He cannot live by chance, or as humour
and fancy carry him, because he knows that nothing can please God but a wise and
regular course of life. He cannot live in idleness and indulgence, in sports and
gaming, in pleasures and intemperance, in vain expenses and high living, because
these things cannot be turned into means of piety and holiness, or made so many
parts of a wise and religious life. As he thus removes from all appearance of
evil, so he hastens and aspires after every instance of goodness. He does not
ask what is allowable and pardonable, but what is commendable and praiseworthy.…
He will not therefore look at the lives of Christians, to learn how he ought to
spend his estate, but he will look into the Scriptures, and make every doctrine,
parable, precept, or instruction, that relates to rich men, a law to himself in
the use of his estate….
I have chosen to explain this matter by appealing to this
intention , because it makes the case so
plain, and because every one that has a mind may see it in the clearest light,
and feel it in the strongest manner, by only looking into his own heart. For it
is as easy for every person to know whether he intends to please God in all his
actions, as for any servant to know whether this be his intention towards his
master. Every one also can as easily tell how he lays out his money, and whether
he considers how to please God in it, as he can tell where his estate is, and
whether it be in money or land. So that here is no plea left for ignorance or
frailty as to this matter; everybody is in the light, and everybody has power.
And no one can fail, but he that is not so much a Christian, as to intend to
please God in the use of his estate.
You see two persons: one is regular in public and private
prayer, the other is not. Now the reason of this difference is not this, that
one has strength and power to observe prayer, and the other has not; but the
reason is this, that one intends to please God in the duties of devotion, and
the other has no intention about it. Now the case is the same, in the right or
wrong use of our time and money. You see one person throwing away his time in
sleep and idleness, in visiting and diversions, and his money in the most vain
and unreasonable expenses. You see another careful of every day, dividing his
hours by rules of reason and religion, and spending all his money in works of
charity: now the difference is not owing to this, that one has strength and
power to do thus,and the other has not; but it is owing to this, that
one intends to please God in the right use of all his time, and all his money,
and the other has no intention about it….
So that the fault does not lie here, that we desire to be
good and perfect, but through the weakness of our nature fall short of it; but
it is, because we have not piety enough to intend to be as good as we can, or to
please God in all the actions of our life. This we see is plainly the case of
him that spends his time in sports when he should be at Church; it is not his
want of power, but his want of intention or desire to be there….
This doctrine does not suppose, that we have no need of Divine
grace, or that it is in our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only
supposes, that through the want of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all
our actions we fall into such irregularities of life as by the ordinary means of
grace we should have power to avoid; and that we have not that perfection, which
our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as
intend to have it. It only teaches us, that the reason why you see no real
mortification or self-denial, no eminent charity, no profound humility, no
heavenly affection, no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no
sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this,
because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these
MATTERS FOR THOUGHT:
What important bearings of intention, or the lack thereof, have you seen on
human life? In business, education, health, marriage, etc.?
What is Law’s point about swearing? Do you think he is right?
Is the transfer of the point about swearing to "pleasing God in all
things" a fair and accurate one?
Is Law’s picture of the "tradesman" (business man or woman) as
"a saint in his shop" realistic? Desirable?
And what of "the gentleman of birth and fortune" (a wealthy,
upper-class person)? Realistic? Desirable? Have you seen examples?
Is the way Law brings in grace at the end biblically correct?
Means to Growth in Grace
William Law’s words seem shocking to contemporary
Christians, because it is no part of how we see the Christian life today that we
would actually intend and choose to do what Jesus taught. Of course that was
also true in his own day, and in the day of a later writer, William Wilberforce,
who in 1797 published his A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System
of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country,
Contrasted with Real Christianity. But we today are perhaps all the more
shocked because we are almost totally out of touch with the practices, familiar
to both Law and Wilberforce, through which transformation toward Christlikeness
can reliably come to pass.
Those practices were understood as "means of
grace," in the language of Law (see above) and, more famously, in that of
John Wesley, one of his careful readers. That is, they are activities which open
our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body and soul, to
progressively remake our whole personality. Another name for them—more
ancient, and also more in use recently—is "spiritual disciplines,"
or "disciplines for the spiritual life." They train us for leading the
life which God intended for us: one which has the power and character to fulfill
our calling. They are methods by which we obey the command to "put
off" the old person and to "put on" the new person who is in the
likeness of Christ. (Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24) They are "exercises unto
godliness." (I Tim. 4:7-8) Through them we become capable of doing, with
God, all the wonderful things commanded in the Bible, which we know are
impossible in our own strength and wisdom.
In general, a "discipline" is any activity
within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by
direct effort. Though we may not be aware of it, we experience
"disciplines" every day. In these daily or "natural"
disciplines we perform acts that result in a direct command of further abilities
that we would not otherwise have. If I repeat the telephone number aloud after
looking it up, I can remember it until I get it dialed. Otherwise, I probably
couldn't. If I train rigorously, I can bench press 300 pounds; otherwise
certainly not. Playing a musical instrument and carrying on a lively and
interesting conversation are other illustrations of ordinary activities which
require discipline in our physical or "natural" life. We have to
"practice" them. Discipline, one can see, is an essential component of
any worthwhile human existence.
But essentially the same thing happens with disciplines for
our spiritual life. When through spiritual disciplines I become able
heartily to bless those who curse me, pray without ceasing, to be at peace when
not given credit for good deeds I've done, or to master the evil that comes my
way, it is because my disciplinary activities have inwardly poised me for more
and more interaction with the powers of the living God and his Kingdom. Such is
the potential we tap into when we use the disciplines for the spiritual life.
Some Activities That Serve as Disciplines.
What, then, are some particular activities that can serve as
disciplines for the spiritual life? And which should we choose for our
individual strategy for spiritual growth?
In answering these practical questions, we need not try to
come up with a complete list of disciplines. Nor should we assume that our
particular list will be right for others. Quite a few well-known practices will
have a strong claim to be on everyone's list. On the other hand, there are a
number of good activities that may not usually be thought of as disciplines,
though they can be, and yet others that have served through the ages as
spiritual disciplines but are now largely forgotten. For example, there is the peregrinatio,
or voluntary exile, introduced by the Irish St. Brenden (born 484) and widely
practiced for some centuries thereafter. There is the vigil or
"watch," where one rejects sleep to concentrate on spiritual matters.
The keeping of a journal or spiritual diary continues to be an activity that
serves some individuals as a vital discipline, though it probably would not show
up on any "standard" list. Sabbath keeping, as instituted in the Old
Testament, can be a most productive discipline when adapted to modern life.
Physical labor has proven to be a spiritual discipline, especially for those who
are also deeply involved in solitude, fasting, study, and prayer. (1 Thess.
An activity that can be an especially effective spiritual
discipline for those who are used to "the better things in life" is to
do grocery shopping, banking, and other business in the poorer areas of the
city. This has an immense effect on our understanding of and behavior toward our
neighbors—both rich and poor—and upon our understanding of what it is to
love and care for our fellow human beings.
In our modern society, which proceeds at such a frenetic
pace, simple sleep and rest may be disciplines in the sense just described. They
will, as we have said, enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort,
including staying in good emotional and physical health, and possibly being
loving and sensitive to our family and co-workers. But usually when we rest we
would not be practicing resting—though, in the current world, that too
may sometimes be needed, for some people actually cannot even rest by simply
doing it. Practice is discipline, but there are disciplines which do not amount
Now spiritual disciplines are also spiritual
disciplines, and not mere bodily behaviors. That is, they are disciplines
designed to help us be active and effective in the spiritual realm of our own
heart, now spiritually alive by grace in relation to God and his kingdom. They
are designed to help us withdraw from a total dependence on the merely
human or natural; and, in that precise sense, they help us to mortify the
"flesh," kill it off, let it die (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5), and to learn
how to depend upon the ultimate reality, which is God and his kingdom.
Thus, for example, I fast from food to know that there is
another food that sustains me. I memorize and meditate on scripture that the
order of God's kingdom would become the order and power of my mind and my life.
In shaping our own list of spiritual disciplines, we should
keep in mind that very few disciplines can be regarded as absolutely
indispensable for a healthy spiritual life and work, though some are obviously
more important than others. Also, some are more important than others at
different stages of our spiritual life. Always practicing a range of
activities that have proven track records across the centuries will keep us from
erring. And, if other activities are needed, our progress won't be seriously
hindered, and we'll probably be led into them.
So, to help us make our way into a life of planned
disciplines, let us list some activities that have had a wide and profitable use
among disciples of Christ, and discuss how to approach some of them in a
prayerful, experimental way. The following list is divided into the disciplines
of "abstinence" and the disciplines of "engagement." We
cannot here discuss what each of these activities is and how each can make an
especially important contribution to spiritual growth. But we will be
illustrative and point the way to further study.
Disciplines of Engagement
As we organize our plan for spiritual growth around some
selection of these activities, and as we put that plan into practice, we will
see steady transformation of our thoughts, emotions and will—even our body and
social context—toward the character of Christlikeness. From the stages of
early discipleship, where "the spirit is willing but the flesh is
weak," we increasingly pass to the stages where the flesh—think of that
as what we more or less automatically feel, think, and do on our own strength
alone—is increasingly aligned with the Spirit and supportive of its deepest
intentions in us. This is absolutely essential in a training that successfully
brings us to do from the heart the things that Jesus knows to be best.
A further help in understanding what spiritual disciplines
are for the disciples of Jesus is to recognize them as simply a matter of
following him into his own practices, appropriately modified to suit our
own condition. We find our way into a life where the power of inward hindrances
to obedience/abundance are broken, by observing what Jesus and others who have
followed him actually do, and learning to structure our lives around those same
activities. Thus, although scripture does not tell us in formulaic terms what to
do in order to build our life upon the rock, everyone who knows anything about
Jesus' life, and that of his most effective followers, really does know what to
do to that end, or can easily find out. It is not a secret. Or perhaps it is an
So, basically, to put off the old person and put on the new
we only follow Jesus into the activities that he engaged in to nurture his own
life in relation to the Father. Of course, his calling and mission was out of
all proportion to ours, and he never had our weaknesses. Still what he practiced
is, roughly, what we must practice, in order to enter into his heart and
character. For example, solitude had a huge place in his life, as the Gospel
Two Disciplines Of Abstinence: Solitude And Silence.
By solitude we mean being out of human contact, being alone,
and being so for lengthy periods of time. To get out of human contact is not
something that can be done in a short while, for such contact lingers long after
it is, in one sense, over. And silence, a gift of many dimensions, is a natural
part of solitude and essential to its fulness. Most noise is human
contact. Silence means to escape from sounds and noises, other than the gentle
ones of nature perhaps. But it also means not talking, and the effects of not
talking on our soul are different from those of simple quietness. Both
dimensions of silence are crucial for the breaking of old habits and the
formation of Christ's character in us. Silence well-practiced is like the wind
of eternity blowing upon you.
Now why, precisely, are these disciplines of abstinence so
central to the curriculum for Christlikeness? A primary objective in training in
Christlikeness is to break the power of our ready responses to do the opposite
of what Jesus teaches: for example, scorn, anger, verbal manipulation, payback,
silent collusion in the wrongdoing of others around us, and so forth.
These responses mainly exist at what we might call the
"epidermal" level of the self, the first point of contact with the
world around us. They are almost totally "automatic," given the usual
stimuli. The very language we use is laden with them, and of course they are the
"buttons" by which our human surroundings more or less control us.
They are not "deep"; they are just there, and just constant.
They are the area where most of our life is lived. And in action they have the
power to draw our whole being into the deepest of injuries and wrongs.
("Mob psychology" and "group think" are well-known
testimonies to that.)
Now it is solitude and silence that allow us to escape the
patterns of epidermal responses, with their consequences. They provide space to
come to terms with these responses and to replace them, with God's help, by
different immediate responses that are suitable to the kingdom environment—and,
indeed, to the kind of life everyone in saner moments recognizes to be good.
They break the pell-mell rush through life and create a kind of inner space that
permits people to become aware of what they are doing and what they are about
We hear the cries from our strife-torn streets: "Give
peace a chance!" and "Can't we all just get along?" But you
cannot give peace a chance if that is all you give a chance. You have to
do the things that make peace possible and actual. When you listen to people
talk about peace, you soon realize, in most cases, that they are unwilling to
deal with the conditions of society and soul that make strife inevitable. They
want to keep them and still have peace, but it is peace on their terms, which is
And we can't all just get along. Rather, we have to
become the kinds of persons who can get along. As a major part of this, our
epidermal responses have to be changed in such a way that the fire and the fight
doesn't start almost immediately when we are "rubbed the wrong way."
Solitude and silence give us a place to begin the necessary changes, though they
are not a place to stop.
They also give us some space to reform our inmost attitudes
toward people and events. They take the world off our shoulders for a time and
interrupt our habit of constantly managing things, of being in control, or
thinking we are. One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to
do nothing. Thus, the Christian philosopher Pascal insightfully remarks, "I
have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact,
that they cannot stay quietly in their own room."
Now this idea of doing nothing proves to be absolutely
terrifying to most people I speak with. But at least the person who is capable
of doing nothing proves capable of refraining from doing the wrong thing. And
then he or she will be better able to do the right thing.
And "doing nothing" has many other advantages. It
may be a great blessing to others around us, who often hardly have a chance
while we are in action. And possibly the gentle Father in the heavens would draw
nigh if we would just be quiet and rest a bit. Generally speaking, he will not
compete for our attention, and as long as we are "in charge" he is
liable to keep a certain distance.
Every person should have regular periods in life when he or
she has nothing to do. Periods of solitude and silence are excellent practices
for helping us learn how to do that. The law that God has given for our benefit
tells us that one seventh of our time should be devoted to doing nothing—no
work, not by ourselves or any of our family, employees, or animals. That
includes, of course, religious work. This is Sabbath.
What do you do in solitude or silence? Well, sofar as things
to "get done," nothing at all. As long as you are doing
"things to get done," you have not broken human contact. So don't go
into solitude and silence with a list. Can we enjoy things in solitude and
silence? Yes, but don't try to. Just be there. Don’t try to get God to do
anything. Just be there. He will find you.
Even lay aside your ideas as to what solitude and silence are
supposed to accomplish in your spiritual growth. You will discover incredibly
good things. One is that you have a soul. Another, that God is near and the
universe is brimming with goodness. Another, that others aren't as bad as you
often think. But don't try to discover these, or you won't. You'll just
be busy and find more of your own doings.
The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for
there you find you are safely more than what you do. And the cure of loneliness
is solitude and silence, for there you discover in how many ways you are never
When you go into solitude and silence, you need to be
relatively comfortable. Don't be a hero in this or in any spiritual discipline.
You will need rest. Sleep until you wake up truly refreshed. And you will need
to stay there long enough for the inner being to become different. Muddy water
becomes clear if you only let it be still for a while.
You will know this finding of soul and God is happening by an
increased sense of who you are and a lessening of the feeling that you have
to do this, that, and the other thing that befalls your lot in life. That
harassing, hovering feeling of "have to" largely comes from the vacuum
in your soul, where you ought to be at home with your Father in his kingdom. As
the vacuum is rightly filled, you will increasingly know that you do not have to
do many of those things—not even those you want to do.
Liberation from your own desires is one of the greatest gifts
of solitude and silence. When this all begins to happen, you will know you are
arriving where you ought to be. Old bondages to wrongdoing will begin to drop
off as you see them for what they are. And the possibility of really loving
people will dawn upon you.
Soon you will enter into the experience of what it is to live
by grace, rather than just talk about it.
These are some of the fruits of solitude and silence.
The apprentice will have to learn how to keep in solitude and silence, of
course. For most of us, wise and loving practical arrangements must be made with
those around us. And we should encourage and help family members and coworkers
to enter such spiritual disciplines themselves.
Obviously the effects of these disciplines will greatly
benefit our objective of loving God with a full heart. For the usual
distractions of life greatly hinder our attention to God, and the habit of
thinking about everything else is almost impossible to break in the bustle of
life. Time away can help. People often complain that they cannot pray because
their thoughts wander. Those thoughts are simply doing what they usually do. The
grip of "the usual" is what must be broken. Appropriate solitude and
silence are sure to do it.
Two Disciplines Of Positive Engagement: Study And Worship.
It is a profound truth about human beings that our first area
of freedom concerns where we will place our mind. Until solitude and silence
have had their effects, our minds will very likely continue to be focused on the
wrong things, or on good things in an anxious attitude of trying to dominate
them. But as we, through relocating our bodies into solitude, escape and change
the inputs that have constantly controlled our thoughts and feelings, we will
have additional freedom to place our minds fully upon the great God, His
kingdom, and its peace and strength.
This, in turn, will transform our emotional state, and
thereby the very condition of our body. Most of those around us will sense that
and begin to act differently themselves. The social context will change for the
better, and what we have to respond to will be much more in the spirit of the
kingdom. I have observed this on many occasions.
Once solitude has done its work, the key to progress in
spiritual formation is study. It is in study that we place our minds fully upon
God and his kingdom. And study is brought to its natural completion in the
worship of God.
When I study anything I take its order and nature into my
thoughts, and even into my feelings and actions. At one time I did not know the
alphabet, for example. But then I studied it. I brought it before my mind, with
the help of my teacher, and related my body to it in ways well known to all.
Before very long the order that is in the alphabet was in my mind and body. From
there, that order enabled me to reproduce, recognize, and use the alphabet and
its parts. The order that I took into myself by study gave me power to do many
good things that I could not do until, by study, it had become mine.
What we learn about study from this simple example of the
alphabet is true in all areas, from the most theoretical to the most practical.
It is also true when we study what is evil, a very dangerous thing to do. Then
we take on orders and powers of evil—or they take us. But, thankfully, most of
what we naturally come to study is good. A student of plumbing or singing, for
example, takes into his or her mind certain orders by purposely dwelling upon
the relevant subject matter and activities in appropriate ways. That is how
study works. And, of course, it always enables individuals "to do what they
cannot do by direct effort"—the mark of a discipline.
The "blessed man" of Psalm 1 (and Joshua 1:8) is
one whose "delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates
day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in
whatever he does, he prospers." You can’t achieve that outcome on your
own. You do it by indirection, absorbing you mind in the ways of God.
Now disciples of Jesus are people who want to take
into their being the order of the Kingdom of God that is among us. They wish to live
their life in that Kingdom as Jesus himself would, and that requires
internalization of its order. Study is the chief way in which they accomplish
that. They devote their attention, their thoughtful inquiry, and their practical
experimentation to the order of the kingdom as seen in Jesus, in the written
word of scripture, in others who walk in the way, and, indeed, in every good
thing in nature, history, and culture.
Thus Paul's practical advice from his jail cell to his
friends at Philippi: "Whatever things are true, serious, right, pure,
lovable, well regarded, any virtue and anything admirable, let your mind
dwell on them. What you have learned, received, heard and seen in me, do
that. And the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:8-9). For all such
good things are of God and his reign.
Of course, in all our study as and with disciples, the person
of Jesus is the center of attention. But he is not really separable, for us,
from the written revelatory word, including the law, the prophets, the history,
and the wisdom of the Old Testament. One who would train disciples "to hear
and do" will direct them to all these, still centered on the person of
And the Twenty-third Psalm is also an exquisite summary of
life in the kingdom. The mind of the disciple should have it prominently
displayed within, to always foster the joy and peace of the kingdom as well as
to orient all of his or her actions within it. The Ten Commandments, the Lord's
Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 8, Colossians 3, Philippians 2-4, and a
few other passages of scripture should be frequently meditated on in depth, and
much of them memorized. This is an essential part of any training for
Christlikeness. Positive engagement with these scripture will bring kingdom
order into our entire personality. This is something you will strongly experience
as you go through the process of such study.
I know many people who profess serious allegiance to Jesus,
and claim him as their Savior. But, unfortunately, they simply will not take
essential scriptures into their soul and body and utilize them as here
indicated. The result is that they continue to recycle their failures and make
little or no real progress toward the abundance/obedience essential to
"walking worthily of the calling wherewith we are called." Some of
them even try to use other spiritual disciplines, but with little result. An
essential ingredient is missing, and the order of their mind and life remains
other than that of the kingdom.
Study is by no means simply a matter of gathering information
to have on hand. Intensive internalization of the kingdom order through study of
the written word and learning from the Living Word establishes good
"epidermal responses" of thought, feeling, and action. And these in
turn integrate us into the flow of God's eternal reign. We really come to think
and believe differently, and that changes everything else. "Thy word have I
hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." (Psalm 119:11)
Now we must not worship without study, for ignorant
worship is of limited value and can be very dangerous. We may develop "a
zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10: 2), and then do
great harm to ourselves and others. But worship must be added to study to
complete the renewal of our mind through a willing absorption in the radiant
person who is worthy of all praise. Study without worship is also dangerous, and
the people of Jesus constantly suffer from its effects, especially in academic
settings. To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them.
In worship we are ascribing greatness, goodness, and glory to
God. It is typical of worship that we put every possible aspect of our being
into it, all of our sensuous, conceptual, active, and creative capacities. We
embellish, elaborate, and magnify. Poetry and song, color and texture, food and
incense, dance and procession are all used to exalt God. And sometimes it is in
the quiet absorption of thought, the electric passion of encounter, or total
surrender of the will. In worship we strive for adequate expression of God's
greatness. But only for a moment, if ever, do we achieve what seems like
adequacy. We cannot do justice to God or his Son or his kingdom or his goodness
to us. So we must constantly return to worship.
Worship nevertheless imprints on our whole being the reality
that we study. The effect is a radical disruption of the powers of evil in us
and around us. Often an enduring and substantial change is brought about. And
the renewal of worship keeps the glow and power of our true homeland an active
agent in all parts of our being. In the atmosphere of worship, to
"hear and do" is the clearest, most obvious and natural thing
Now we have very briefly touched upon four specific spiritual
disciplines: solitude and silence, worship and study. Around these a individual
and group "Curricula for Christlikeness" can be framed. It should be
clear how strongly such disciplines will nourish and be nourished by the
principle objective of such a "curriculum"—that of bringing the
disciple of Jesus to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Other
disciplines, such as fasting, service to others, fellowship, and so on, might be
discussed as well, and, indeed, in a full treatment of a curriculum for
Christlikeness they must be discussed. But if these four are pursued with
intelligence and prayer, whatever else is needed will certainly come along.
The important insight to guide us at this point is that, to
build our house upon the rock of obedience (Matt. 7:24-25), putting off the old
person and putting on the new, we must have a definite plan for doing so.
Although this cannot be done without interaction with the grace of God, neither
will it be imposed upon us. We must devise steps to the fullness of Christlife
that are biblical, time-tested, realistic, experimental. Such steps, as seen in
the disciplines for the spiritual life, are not laws of righteousness; they are wisdom,
and our Teacher will help us in every need as we live with him in the V-I-M
(For further study and direction concerning spiritual
disciplines, one may wish to consult Richard Foster, Celebration of
Discipline, or Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines.)
MATTERS FOR THOUGHT:
What is your understanding of "means of grace"? Have you had
experiences with any, or seen any implemented in Church life?
The concept of "discipline" applies both to natural activities and
to those that require Divine assistance (grace). Does that seem right to you?
What would you take to be the most important and generally applicable of the
specific disciplines listed? Why?
What about the idea of "doing nothing" in solitude and silence? It
is one of the hardest things for most Protestant believers to accept. Could
it, nevertheless, be a good thing in pursuing spiritual formation under God?
Why or why not?
How are study and worship interdependent in making spiritual progress?
Has scripture memorization played a significant role in your life with God?
How might it help us to enter into the blessed life of Psalm 1?
A Composite Picture of "Children of Light"
We can view the ideal outcome of the V-I-M process by
sketching a composite picture of "the children of light," drawing on
how they have changed in the various essential dimensions of their being. To
call them children of light is, in biblical terminology, to say that they
have the basic nature of light: that light is their parent and has passed on to
them its nature, as any parent does. The apostle John summed up the message that
he and his friends had heard from Jesus as this: "God is light, and in Him
there is no darkness at all." (1st John 1:5)
Now, the people who have moved into the light of Christ are
not perfect and do not live in a perfect world—yet. But they are remarkably
different. The difference is not one of a pose they strike, either from time to
time or constantly, or of things they do or don't do. They are not
"performing"—though their behavior too is very different and
distinctive. Where the children of light differ is primarily and most
importantly on the "inside" of their life. It lies in what they are in
their depths, in what they would do and could do.
Thought life: Perhaps the first thing that comes to our
attention when we get to know their inner life is what they think about, or what
is on their mind. Simply stated, they think about God. He is never out of their
mind. They love to dwell upon God and upon his greatness and loveliness, as
brought to light in Jesus Christ. They adore him in nature, in history, in his
Son and in his saints. One could even say they are "God-intoxicated"
(Acts 2:13; Ephesians 5: 18), though no one has a stronger sense of reality and
practicality than they do. Their mind is filled with biblical expressions of
God's nature, his actions, and his plans for them in his world. They do not
dwell upon evil. It is not a big thing in their thoughts. They are sure of its
defeat, but they still deal with it appropriately in specific situations.
Because their mind is centered upon God and oriented to all
else with reference to him, all other good things are also welcome there. Again:
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence
and if anything worthy of praise," their mind ponders those things
(Philippians 4:8). They are positive, realistically so, based upon the nature of
God as they understand it. "I have set the Lord continually before
me," the Psalmist says, "Because He is at my right hand, I will not be
Feelings: And then perhaps we notice—and small wonder
given what has already been observed—that the emotional life of these children
of light is deeply characterized by love. That is how they invest the emotional
side of their being. They love lots of good things and they love people. They
love their life and who they are. They are thankful for their life—even though
it may contain many difficulties, even persecution and martyrdom (Matthew
5:10-12). They receive all of it as God's gift, or at least as his allowance,
where they will know his goodness and greatness and go on to live with him
forever. And so joy and peace are with them even in the hardest of times—even
when suffering unjustly. Because of what they have learned about God, they are
confident and hopeful and do not indulge thoughts of rejection, failure, and
hopelessness, because they know better.
Will (spirit, heart): Looking a little deeper we find
that these children of light really are devoted to doing what is good and right.
Their will is habitually attuned to it, just as their mind and emotions are
habitually homing in on God. They are attentive to rightness, to kindness, to
helpfulness, and they are purposefully knowledgeable about life—about what
people need, and about how to do what is right and good in appropriate ways.
They are not obsequious, but respectful of the rights and responsibilities of
These are people who do not think first of themselves and
what they want, and they really care very little, if at all, about getting their
own way "Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
do not look out for your own personal interests, but for the interests of
others" (Philippians 2:3-4). These are easy and good words to them. They
are abandoned to God's will and do not struggle and deliberate as to whether
they will do what they know to be wrong. They do not hesitate to do what they
know to be right. It is the obvious thing to do.
Body: That, of course, involves their body. Their body
has come over to the side of their will to do good. It is constantly poised
to do what is right and good without thinking. And that also means that it does
not automatically move into what is wrong, even contrary to their resolves and
intentions, before they can think not to do it. It is no longer true of
them that their "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew
20:41) They know by experience that those words of Jesus are not a declaration
about the inevitable condition of humans, but a diagnosis of a condition to be
corrected. The Spirit has substantially taken over their "members."
Consequently, we do not see them always being trapped by what
their tongue, facial expressions, eyes, hands, and so on have already
done before they can think. For their body and its parts are consecrated to
serve God and are habituated to be his holy instruments. They instinctively
avoid the paths of temptation. The bodies of these people even look
different. There is a freshness about them, a kind of quiet strength, and a
transparency They are rested and playful in a bodily strength that is from God.
He who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead has given life to their bodies
through his Spirit that dwells in them. (Rom. 8:10-12)
Social relations: In their relations to others, they are
completely transparent. Because they walk in goodness they have no use for
darkness, and they achieve real contact or fellowship with others—especially
other apprentices of Jesus. "If we walk in the light as He Himself is in
the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son
cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7). And "The one who loves his
brother abides in the light and there is no cause of offence in him" (2:10,
PAR). They do not conceal their thoughts and feelings (nor do they impose them
upon everyone). Because of their confidence in God, they do not try to
manipulate and manage others. Needless to say, in their social contexts they do
not go on the attack or on the hunt, intending to use or to hurt others.
Moreover, they are completely noncondemning, while at the
same time they will not participate in evil. They pay it only the attention
absolutely required in any social setting, and beyond that, patient and joyful
nonparticipation is the rule. They know how to really "be there"
(wherever "there" is) without sharing in evil, as was true of Jesus
himself. (Of course, as with him, others may disapprove of their "being
there," and there are always some occasions where one should just step
away.) But they do not reject or distance themselves from the people who may be
involved in such situations. They know how to "love the sinner and hate the
sin" gracefully and effectively.
Soul: Finally, as you come to know these people—though
those who know only the human powers of the flesh will never be able to
understand them (I Corinthians 2:14)—you see that all of the above is not just
at the surface. It is deep, and in a certain obvious sense, it is effortless. It
flows. That is, the things we have been describing are not things the
children of light are constantly trying hard to do, gritting their teeth and
carrying on. Instead, these are features of life that well up out of a soul that
is at home in God.
This, then, is the outcome of spiritual formation in
Christlikeness. Again, it doesn't mean perfection, but it does mean we have here
a person whose soul is whole: a person who, through the internalized integrity
of the law of God and the administrations of the gospel and the Spirit, has a
restored soul. The law and the Lord have restored it. (Psalm 19:7 & 23:3)
Such a soul effectively interfaces God with the full person and enables every
aspect of the self to function as God intended.
The Scriptural High Points
Now, with this composite picture of the inner and outer
person of the children of light before us, let us compare it to some of the New
Testament descriptions of what the disciples/apprentices of Jesus are to be
like. We are now in a position to understand them in a new and, I believe, very
encouraging way. Certainly, that is just the opposite of their usual effect,
even on very devout people. Usually, I think, these bright passages may inspire
longing, but a longing that is tinged with hopelessness and guilt. Now we are in
a position for that to change, for we know the realism and practicality of the V-I-M
The passages we have in mind are very well known. Of course
Matthew 5-7 heads the list, but properly understood it really goes no further
than familiar passages in Paul's letters, or in those by Peter, James, and John.
And there are similar, though on the whole somewhat less penetrating, passages
in the Old Testament. We might cite in this connection Romans 12:1-21, 1
Corinthians 13, 2 Corinthians 3:12-7:1, Galatians 5:22-6:10, Ephesians
4:20-6:20, Philippians 2:3-16 and 4:4-9, Colossians 3:1-4:6, 1 Peter 2:1-3:16, 2
Peter 1:2-10, 1 John 4:7-21, and so on. Perhaps Micah 6:8 could serve well as an
Old Testament point of reference. Deuteronomy 10:12-21 would also serve. It
would be very worthwhile to plan a full day in silent retreat to read and reread
these passages meditatively.
The Contrasting Picture of Children of Darkness
These passages portraying the children of light are given
additional force by contrasting passages on the "unfruitful works of
darkness" (Ephesians 5: 11, NRSV). In Galatians 5 Paul described "the
deeds of the flesh" where natural human impulses and abilities are allowed
to be the rule of life. These "deeds" are acts of "[sexual]
immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities [or grudges],
strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying,
drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (verses 19-21).
Another of Paul's "dark" passages—we don’t have
time to explore Romans chapter 1—is 2nd Timothy 3:2-5. Speaking of
"the last days," apparently when evil on earth will have had time to
'"ripen,"' he says that "men will be lovers of self, lovers of
money boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,
unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal,
[despisers] of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather
than lovers of God." They may be religious in outer form, but their words
an acts belie all that is genuine in it.
"Redeeming the Time"
Now the life of faith in Jesus Christ, following the V-I-M
pattern, leads us out of darkness evermore into the light. The time allotted to
our life is redeemed by opening ourself to God and His kingdom through
non-legalistic practices that break internal bondages and gives us new habits
and character. In his essay "On Method," Samuel Taylor Coleridge makes
a remarkable statement on the power of ordering our time aright:
If the idle are described as killing time, he [the
methodical man] may be justly said to call it into life and moral being,
while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of
the conscience. He organizes the hours, and gives them a soul; and that, the
very essence of which is to flee away, and evermore to have been, he takes
up into his own permanence, and communicates to it the imperishableness of a
spiritual nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies, thus
directed, are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed, that he lives in
time, than that time lives in him. His days, months, and years, as
the stops and punctual marks in the records of duties performed, will
survive the wreck of worlds, and remain extant when time itself shall be
no more ....
Indeed, one of our greatest tests of faith—of our
confidence in God—is how we plan to use our time. In particular, will we have
faith to do the things which will secure us in goodness of God, in "his
righteousness" (Matt. 6:33); or will we neglect them, and lose our lives in
inefficient and futile struggles with powers that are too great for us. With his
usual acuteness William James, in his Talks to Teachers gave this advice:
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little
gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little
unnecessary points; do every day or two something for no other reason than
its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find
you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is
like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him
no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But,
if fire does come, his having paid it, it will be his salvation from ruin.
So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated
attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He
will stand like a tower when everything rock around him, and his softer
fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.
This may seem only a council of human wisdom. It is
that, but it is more. For the same principle applies to we embodied, social
beings who have stepped into Christ’s kingdom as his disciples. It speaks of
that area of freedom and responsibility where our desire and choice for God
determines what we will or will not do in pursuit of God. Because the way of the
kingdom is open before us, it is our opportunity and responsibility to lead
right where we are in the character and power of Christ. And in such a
position "the fire" will certainly come.
Christian Leaders Responsible for the Future of the World
Because the resources of God’s Kingdom are available to
them, the responsibility for the condition of the world in years or centuries to
come rests upon Christian leaders and the teachers in the Christian church. They
alone have at their disposal the means to bring their surroundings
increasingly under the rule of God. On the one hand, they have the "all
power" that is in the hands of the One who bid them go and teach all human
groupings to do as he commanded, and promised to be with them always (Matt.
28:18-20). On the other hand, the teachers of the gospel have Christ's Kingdom
fellowship to live in and to offer to all. They have millions of people who
regularly come to them, submitting to their leadership in the spiritual life
even when unclear about what that means. And, further, they have knowledge of
concrete practices of submission to righteousness within which, given adequate
teaching and example, they and their hearers can make regular and remarkable
progress into the character and power of Christ himself.
The disciplines for the spiritual life are available,
concrete activities designed to render bodily beings such as we ever more
sensitive and receptive to the Kingdom of the Heavens brought to us in Christ, even
while living in a world set against God. Lovingly and intelligently
practiced, they join with grace to enable us matter-of-factly to "come
boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find
grace to help us in our times of need." (Heb. 4:16, LB). Therefore our
calling to lead for God where we are is a realistic one, for it can be carried
out from the resources of the Kingdom.
A beautiful prayer from Coventry Cathedral, built in 1043 and
destroyed in 1940, shows how to bring the fulness of God into the fullness of
Hallowed be Thy name in Industry:
God be in my hands and in my making.
Holy, Holy, Holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth of full of Thy Glory.
Hallowed be Thy name in the Arts:
God be in my sense and in my creating.
Holy, holy, holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth of full of Thy Glory.
Hallowed be Thy name in Commerce:
God be at my desk and in my trading.
Holy, holy, holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.
Hallowed be Thy name in Government:
God be in my plans and in my deciding.
Holy, holy, holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.
Hallowed be Thy name in Education:
God be in my mind and in my growing.
Holy, holy, holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.
Hallowed be Thy name in the Home:
God be in my heart and in my loving.
Holy, holy, holy; Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are fully of Thy Glory.
Albert Schweitzer concluded his Quest of the
Historical Jesus with this picture of the personal call of Jesus:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old,
by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He
speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to
the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those
who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in
the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through
in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in
their own experience Who He is.
MATTERS FOR THOUGHT:
How would you like to have mature "children of light," as
described, for neighbors, supervisors, family members? What difference
would it make?
Does being a "child of light" seem a really good thing to you.
Could you live in this world if you were like that?
Are Paul’s "dark passages" true to life? Or are they overly
"dark"? Unfair to humanity?
How do you experience time, and the mastery (or lack of mastery) of
time, in the process of your spiritual journey? Your spiritual formation?
Is it correct to say that "the responsibility for the condition of
the world in years to come rests upon Christian leaders." That is,
upon leaders who are Christians? Are any corrections or qualifications to
this statement needed?