Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Personal Transformation

I'm taking a class on personal transformation right now, and I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about how the brain works and how different environments can either stimulate or inhibit change. There is great research available that can help Christian leaders create spaces and opportunities for spiritual formation. Of course, the main change agent for the believer is the Holy Spirit, and I am convinced that we cannot accomplish anything of significance apart from the work of the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that we should be apathetic either. Perhaps my main role is simply to be malleable--but even becoming a workable lump of clay requires some effort on the part of a human being.

In truth, I think that personal transformation requires 100% participation on my part and that it is 100% dependent on God’s work. This is why Paul wrote about running to get the prize and doing things mightily as unto the Lord. This is also why Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

But here’s the thing—we don’t have to worry about God keeping up his end of the bargain. If you belong to him, he IS at work in you. The question is, “Am I working for or against God’s work in my life?” And what I’m discovering is that if I am not intentionally, attentively, passionately working WITH God, I am inadvertently working against him. There is no middle ground.

I have heard some describe an emphasis on personal transformation as a type of self-obsessed navel-gazing. While it is true that formation requires introspection, self-awareness, and personal reflection, these things are means—not ends. Les Steele says, “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” So the goal of spiritual formation is actually for the sake of others!  

Bible study, community service, evangelism, the sacraments, and church membership are all part of the spiritual formation process—these are tools that God uses to shape us into the likeness of Christ. But what surveys and studies show is that for many life-long Christians, these tools are not having the desired effect. We do all of these things because we know they are good things to do. And yet, after years of time invested in these efforts, we are little changed. The famous Christian psychologist, Larry Crab said, "I've been a follower of Christ for more than 50 years, and my testimony is that I'm disillusioned. What I have understood to be a distinctively Christ-centered, biblically informed approach to living does not seem to be transforming me the way I was encouraged to believe it would. I'm appalled, after all these years, at how untransformed I remain."

Can you relate?

And perhaps more importantly, are you okay with that? Did you come to Christ simply to escape the punishment of hell? Or did you come to Christ to experience new life? To be changed? To be transformed?

After almost two years of learning some new things about spiritual formation, and then with the things that I am learning though my class on personal transformation, I am so delighted to tell you that I have figured out some ways to join God in his work in my life, and I am being changed. The changes do not come quickly or cheaply, but they do come. I am no longer disillusioned, I am inspired.

The Spirit is doing a makeover on my life, and like a remodeling project, the beginning looked more like destruction than construction. And honestly, I’m still a bit of a mess. I wrestle with shame over the messes that keep getting uncovered in my life and relief that those things are finally getting the attention they need. It’s just not pretty. But I welcome the mess because I’ve caught a vision for Jesus is doing, and he has good plans.

Friends, if you have a similar experience I’d love to hear about how God has been transforming you. If you read this post and you find yourself spiritually stuck but longing for more, please share that as well. If you read my blog regularly, you’re always getting glimpses into God’s work on me! 

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