I used to think that there were two components involved in spiritual growth:
(1) What I Am.
(2) What I Should Be.
And, of course, the goal of the Christian life is to simply move from what I am to what I should be. It sounds simple enough, but simple answers are not always as helpful as they seem.
I am reminded of the story of the man drowning in the ocean. He might have been careless and fallen in the water or, he might have been foolish and jumped in. But regardless of how he came to be there, the sea was rough, the man was very tired and it looked like he would most likely drown. As the story goes, someone floated by in a boat, saw the man and gave him some very simple, easy to understand advice, “What you need is dry land.” Nothing could have been truer or less helpful.
Simply telling someone where they are and where they should be does not take them there or help them get there. It doesn’t work for them and it won’t work for you. This is because there are not just two components involved in spiritual growth. There are three:
(1) What I Am.
(2) What I Should Be … and …
(3) What I Think I Can Be.
You see, it doesn’t matter what I should be, if I don’t believe it’s possible. And so, here is the question I’ve been asking myself. Do I really believe Jesus when he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)?
Do I believe that spiritual growth is easy or difficult? I think that for most of my life I have considered the godly life to be difficult. And please don’t misunderstand me. I know that any life, any undertaking, any course of action is difficult … in the beginning. But, Jesus says that his way of life, his style of living, his way of thinking, choosing, talking and acting can be “learned.” And, most exciting, he says it will bring “rest” and can become both “easy” and “light.”
Do we believe him?
I hope we do. Otherwise we are terribly inconsistent. I say this because the principle Jesus is stating is one we use in almost every area of our lives. It is way we approach education and athletics. It is the way we master any skill. We practice. We train. And over time, to quote Jesus, we “learn.” Something changes inside. A new way becomes clearer. Noble habits are shaped and “formed.” We not only practice but also desire His way of thinking and living.
Someone once said, “We give our heart to God immediately, but our habits come more slowly.” But still, they come. The more I practice the kindness, forgiveness, patience, love and purity of God, the more fruit of his Spirit will be deeply rooted in my heart and flourishing in my life. Can you picture the habit of patience flourishing in your life, or the attitudes of forgiveness and kindness thriving in your life? What would your life look like?
You see, if you are one to say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve never been a patient man” then you are only thinking about what you should be, rather than what you can be. If faith is simply a weekend “hobby” it will always be difficult. But if I make the decision to “learn” from Jesus, to follow a slow, steady, consistent spiritual process, then I will find “rest” not disorder, and over time the way of Jesus will become “easy” and “light.”
This process is sometimes called “spiritual formation” and is made up of “spiritual disciplines” – prayer, meditation, study, simplicity, solitude, fasting, service, silence, confession, worship, celebration and more. I am thankful that more and more, these “tools” are being utilized on a daily basis, and are bringing rest and change into the lives of many.
The recently departed Dallas Willard (1935-2013) once said in an interview, “Spiritual formation isn’t new; it’s only been lost for a while.”
Is spiritual formation finding its way into your life, or is it still lost? Do you believe that spiritual growth can be learned? Do you believe that Jesus’ “yoke” can be “easy?”
It doesn’t just depend upon what you think you should be. It depends upon what you think you can be. It depends upon whether you believe Jesus.