Saturday, July 24, 2004

"But will it work for me?"

Our inclination to put faith in any suggestion that promises quick healing is so great that it is not surprising that spiritual experiences are mushrooming all over the place and have become highly sought after commercial items. Many people flock to places and persons who promise intensive experiences of togetherness, cathartic emotions of exhilaration and sweetness, and liberating sensations of rapture and ecstasy. In our desperate need for fulfillment and our restless search for the experiences of divine intimacy, we are all too prone to construct our own spiritual events. In our impatient culture, it has indeed become extremely difficult to see much salvation in waiting.
- Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 129
"Jesus thrown everything off balance."
- The Misfit, in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
"I want what I want, and the sooner I get it, the better."
- Me, in an honest moment

Spiritual disciplines are hard not because they require a herculean effort (what does it mean to "pray really hard," anyway?) but because they require consistancy. It's not even the task of praying every day, meditating several times a week, or confessing our sins that is ultimately so daunting.

What makes it really hard is that we are called to follow after Jesus even though it doesn't appear to be "working" immediately. Meditating three hours a week on Gospel passages and sitting down to pray every day will not make us SuperChristians in a few weeks time.

The disciplines ought not to done like dieting. Everybody picks a diet, tries it for a couple of weeks, doesn't lose ten pounds, quits, then looks for a new diet. Changing one's eating and exercise habits on a permanent basis is considered a patently ridiculous idea. The idea of the disciplines, hell, being a disciple, is not to find a panacea to every expression of brokenness in our lives, but to live out a permanent change in our habits and values. That outer transformation of behavior and change of mind (what do you think "repentance" means?) put us in the way of God's transforming power.

We get crazy goals in mind. We pray hoping we'll somehow like prayer more, and read the Bible hoping we'll like it better. We do all kinds of things hoping we'll quit liking sin. How many times have I confessed sin, and actually apologized for liking it so much? Oh, when one day I get holy enough not to enjoy sin, than I'll be a really kick-ass Christian. That's just silly. Being holy means offering myself to God even though there are eighteen million other things I'll actually enjoy more. God can deal with our mixed motives. They are not, however, acceptable excuses for disobedience: "Jesus, I'll quit telling controlling people and gossiping about them when you make me not like it anymore."


Jesus' goals for our life in him aren't necessarily the same ones we come up with. Most of our besetting sins will always be fun and bring some sort of perceived respite, bad for us or not. Putting the "old man" to death and killing our pride will always be a challenge. I don't think God is so interested in greater church attendance or the hours we spend in prayer or that we're always studying more and better, but rather that we do these things to be in his presence so he can transform us. Christ must be formed in us. The things we do ought to work toward that end.

I must drop my search for the quick fix. Lives don't get transformed quickly. It will be no one conversation, or prayer, or bible study that changes our lives, but the presence of Jesus in all of the above. As Foster said, those are the ways we put ourselves in the path of his transforming work.

It'll make us like him. Will it make us more what we think of as "spiritual"? Never enjoying sin again and always enjoying the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices? Probably not.
Pray, study, confess and fellowship anyway.


+ Alan said...

I think I just had a spiritual experience! One of my favorite parts here is the statement that "God can deal with our mixed motives." Absolutely. We are far too worried about being perfect right now. God knows far better than that. I think He simply wants us to understand and give ourselves to the process - and that, in itself, is a process. He knows all that. Good stuff.

Bryan said...

Well, you know if you were a REAL Christian, you'd have sin conquered by now. You must not have attended by 5 steps to spiritual growth class. :-)

Seriously, very good stuff Kyle! We definitely have to lose this "quick fix" mentality that we Americans have. We're so used to instant this and instant that. We erroneously believe that we are to be instantly mature believers. Or if not instantly, within about six weeks!