Archive for June, 2012

The following is a slightly edited  excerpt from a recent quiet time  I had  from Romans 7, writing it as a personal message from God:

“So, do I mean, Rich, that you are not to study the Bible, listen to good teaching, or memorize it? Goodness, Rich, NO!  I use the Bible to nurture you, guide you, give you wisdom and tell you who you really are to Me. I use the Bible to help you realize how much you need Me to live the Christian life. No, the Bible is important  for all Christians to know and live.

However, knowing My Word has no power against the corruption in your heart, such as you wanting to live your day apart from Me, you wanting to regard yourself as important due to your performance, and your negative thinking about your future, despite Me promising you the stars.  Just knowing the Word does not give you the power to live the Word. My Word holds the standard up to you and shows you how you need to grow. You are accountable to live the truth presented; and you need to live putting off the old and putting on the new.

So, knowing My Word can lead to being cut off from My life due to disobedience. Certainly, I tell you what godliness looks like in My Word, but this alone does not make you godly. My Word defines your sinfulness. You need to come to Me throughout the day for My life to live in My power and obedience. Alignment is critical for you to do in holding up your life  to the mirror of My Word  and seeing how it fits; then come to Me for the power to live the truth.”

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One of the big challenges we face as Christians is learning to let the Lord take the lead in our lives and spiritual growth. I tried for years to grow myself and be good by doing bible studies, memorizing Scriptures, having quiet times, and a host of other activities. Only when faced with major exhaustion did I face the painful reality that I needed more help from God to be good and to grow. Following is an excerpt from my book, Experiencing God’s Transforming Love, that talks about a major barrier we all face in growing and being good.

We are strongly tempted to perfect ourselves and be good in the power of our own fortitude (rather than allow ourselves to be transformed by the power of God). No amount of human effort can transform us; only God can. We are not to focus on being obedient to a set of biblical principles. This will not transform us, nor will having quiet times, Bible studies, or practicing any other spiritual discipline. We were saved from a life of trying to be good and pleasing to God to deal with our guilt and shame. Only the blood of Christ takes care of our guilt and shame (Hebrews 9:12-14).

The first several years of my Christian walk I tried very hard to be good. I had my quiet times religiously; I did everything imaginable with the Word (listened to it, read it, studied it, memorized it and meditated on it), prayed often, and did the right things. I was blessed with much fortitude, and I used it to my advantage. By all indications, I was a spiritual giant because I was doing all the right things. Yet, was I really being transformed into Christlikeness at the heart level? The truth is that I was being transformed at the heart level, but, I believe, there were huge areas of my heart that were resisting transformation.

Spiritual transformation of our hearts does occur when we open our hearts to God, depend on the indwelling Spirit, and use the spiritual disciplines to position ourselves for this to happen. Spiritual disciplines, like listening to sermons and quiet times, position us to behold Jesus, and be transformed by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are not to try to fix ourselves. We must learn to give up trying and open deeply to God’s work through the Spirit in our hearts. Galatians 3:1-3 tells us that, as we became Christians by dependence on God to save us, we need to also depend on God to grow us, not our own fortitude to crank it out.

My living by grace was expedited when I got knocked off my feet during my midlife crisis. This was a period of spiritual and physical exhaustion. I was exhausted because I had been largely trying to crank out the Christian life in my own strength. During this time, I discovered a deeper solitude and giving myself permission to enjoy life. I discovered a passion for deep-sea fishing and experienced the joy of catching fish and being with God during the many hours of solitude on the fishing trips. I got to experience God loving me in my weakness. I became more patient with myself, and others during this time. This growth came at just the right time to enable me to be a more attentive and gentle father to my two toddler children.

At the end of this three-year period, I emerged a stronger and more useable Christian. Within two years, God provided me with a promotion at work, and I was elected an elder of our church. However, I still had a long way to go in relying on God’s life to do work, fulfill my responsibilities as an elder and live life at a deep level.

I think we evangelicals have taken a good thing (knowledge of the Word) and exaggerated its importance, while we have downplayed the importance of dependence on the Holy Spirit, life in the body, and self-knowledge for spiritual growth (Ephesians 4:4-16; Proverbs 4:23). I think this is because of the way many of us were raised, which was to be good in our own strength. This made it easy for us to buy into the deception of following biblical principles in our own strength to be good and to grow ourselves spiritually.

The temptation to live by biblical principles in our own fortitude (a moralist) is strong. One major reason is because we can avoid humbling ourselves before God and depending on his grace. In Jeremiah 17:5, God considers a person cursed who habitually tries to be good in his own strength and fails to rely on the Spirit.

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1.   How come my church does not teach Spiritual Formation?

  • Many seminaries have tended to neglect connecting theology to how people are transformed.
  • Many pastors have tended to not provide practical application of the Word to the daily struggles with sin that people face.
  • Too many pastors have tended to make knowing the Word an end itself, instead of it being a means through the Spirit of experiencing God at the heart level.
  • People are often taught by word and example that knowing the Word is more important than being godly.
  • There has been the tendency to lose God among the wonders of his Word, and fail to cultivate a relationship with him.
  • The focus of much teaching tends to be on doing the right things and doctrinal correctness. This can lead people to believing and doing right things, instead of being the right person through changed heart beliefs.
  • Many pastors often do not teach people how to experience the presence of God in their daily lives.
  • Many pastors have tended not to teach people how to cooperate with God practically in growing spiritually.

2.  How may this approach to spiritual transformation affect my church?

  • There would be much more dependence on prayer, and less dependence on intellect to lead the church.
  • There would be a greater emphasis on small groups, mentoring, discipleship and spiritual direction.
  • The sermons would not lose their emphasis on teaching truth, but also they would be tailored to help people to engage the text at the heart level.
  • There would be less busyness and ineffective programs, and more informal one or two-day retreats.
  • There would also be greater transformation in the lives of the elders that leads to a more open, loving fellowship at the Board-level that God can use in a more powerful way to do his work through the church.
  • Small groups would provide fellowship at a much deeper level, and be more of a living all of life together, as they relate at the heart-to-heart level.
  • Many people would become “unstuck” in their growth process by being provided with spiritual disciplines that can help them to better cooperate with God.

3.   Whatever happened to just knowing and doing the biblical commands and principles in the Bible?

The doing of the biblical commands from the heart requires God’s participation in the process. Spiritual Formation trains practical disciplines and concepts that aid in receiving God’s power to live the Bible’s commands and principles.

4.   Doesn’t Spiritual Formation tend to lead people to neglect the ministry?

In the short-run, there will often be some withdrawal from church activities to provide time to practice the spiritual disciplines. However, the purpose of the disciplines is to connect to God in a deeper way, so that a person’s life becomes more supernatural. So, in the long-run, as people do the ministries of the church, they will often become more fruitful, for God will be increasingly leading and empowering their efforts.

5.      What are these spiritual disciplines that you are talking about?

The following list includes several of the most commonly practiced spiritual disciplines of Spiritual Formation:

  • The Word disciplines (reading, hearing, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Bible)
  • Contemplative and Centering prayer
  • Small Group
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Mentoring
  • Retreats
  • Spiritual warfare
  • Ministry
  • Walking in the Spirit
  • Putting off the old and putting on the new
  • Journaling
  • Being yoked to Jesus
  • Asking God to reveal beliefs of the heart
  • Spiritual Direction

These are some of the most common practices of Spiritual Formation. Some of these are widely practiced by evangelical churches today. Many are not. God will lead each of us  in which ones to practice during each day and season of our lives. These practices are not to become a form of earning spiritual growth, but as a means to position ourselves for God to transform us.

6. Is Spiritual Formation charismatic?

No, not as the term is commonly used. Spiritual Formation does emphasize an experiential love relationship with God that lives truth from the heart. It does not teach focusing on the charismatic gifts at the expense of all the other gifts. It teaches that all the gifts are important in the body today. It does emphasize relating to God through his Word as of primary importance, but also teaches the importance of prayer and other spiritual disciplines as important means that God uses to fellowship with us. It does teach the importance of feelings as an indicator of the truth about the condition of our hearts, but stresses that the truth of the Word is our guide for life. It does teach that the Christian life can only be lived in the power of the Spirit.

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