The Christian flavor of the month in my neighborhood seems to be spiritual formation. You can choose today from 1.5 million hits if you google this topic. Does this account for a revival or a new marketing strategy? Being slightly skeptical that my search engine has uncovered a pure revival, I suspect our franchises that were promoting mere “Discipleship”, are having to relabel that aspect of their product line to match the competition’s offerings.
As I read Psalm 20 (and all Psalms for that matter), I am tempted to say that the best prescription for spiritual formation is not to become an accredited, degreed professional expert on the subject; rather, the best way to form one’s spirit is to simply pray like a psalmist. This will effect the reformation of the the spirit as much as anything we might do. So how does a psalmist pray? At the very least, they pray with refined presumption.
The Psalmist presumes God is interested and active, that he speaks, that he is mighty and victorious. The psalmist presumes that God has been at work all along and is engaged with his people in all their troubles, individually and corporately.
Unwittingly, the psalmist does as much as a human could do to effect the formation of their spirit (as if this were the point?) by simply responding to God in light of the realities they presume upon. They became utterly transparent. What could be more reasonable since God knows and understands us perfectly? In light of their well established impotency and God’s might, the psalmist became vulnerable. Acknowledging their weakness, they becoming God-dependent. Living from this place they became authentic, freely and passionately expressing their raw emotions and thoughts.
It is not stated explicitly but it is implied that, in responding to God, the psalmist took the time for reflection and expression. Whether they were in the business of retreating from or charging the enemy (whatever their enterprise large or small), the writer/prayer of this psalm paused and composed their heart before the Lord. They did not just leave all their God-thoughts rattling around their brains, claiming they were praying at all times. They stopped and corralled the vague yet powerful thoughts that were coursing about helter-skelter though their inner world. In doing this they became watchmen over their own hearts. While (intentionally) responding to God in this way, their spirits were being (unknowingly) renovated. In the praying, the spirit is no doubt being shaped but primarily it is that a relationship is being shaped between God and man.
In the midst of this exchange it is as though God and his psalmist give permission to each other to simply be themselves. To many, man, fallen as he is, becoming at ease with God, will seem dangerously presumptuous. Their logic will be; “God is holy!! Humans are not!! Certainly man will leverage any ease with God to pad his independence and further his own agenda.”
It will not surprise me however if God does not leverage this ease-of-heart, which has formed naturally through authentic encounter with him, to fuel all future transformation. We need so many “re‘s”; revival, renewal, reclamation, restoration, renovation, etc.. The desperately needed “re‘s” will be birthed when Jesus is reinstated as the Lord of his people’s hearts. The “re’s” come natural to people at ease with God. They presume that he is not filled with wrath; that he is not offended, standing aloof from broken mankind. Their vision has been refreshed to see God exactly like Jesus who has always been poised to forgive, heal and deliver.
To accentuate our point let’s look at its opposite. Consider the anti-Christ spirit that so regularly makes the news. By an anti-Christ spirit I mean a deceitful spirit that portrays God as an angry, vengeful deity filled with intolerant wrath, authorizing his people to be judge, jury and executioner in his behalf toward all infidels (those who do not believe as they do). This spirit births everything from pharisees to terrorists to simple offended and defeated Christians.
I do not mean to throw spiritual formation or discipleship under the bus. I just believe that if we put our trust in doctrines, techniques, principles or programs, or worse yet, the professional Christian guru’s selling them we have just put our trust in chariots and horses and derailed simple trust and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Since its grand opening in Jesus Christ, I believe the kingdom of God is the only real franchise. When believers begin to raise the banner of God’s kingdom instead of those of their their synod, denomination, sect, or stream the world will tremble in the presence of this long awaited and prophesied reality. I believe an identifying mark on these citizens will in fact be their kingdom-ease-of-heart with God. They will be utterly dependent upon and at rest in Him alone, trusting implicitly in the perfection of their salvation.
I believe the citizenry of the expanding kingdom will be those who presumed much upon God. It will not surprise me if this new fresh division of God’s army is not formed by those who either intentionally learned to pause or who were stopped dead in their religious tracks by God himself. They then took responsibility for their own hearts, cultivating one-on-one relationships with God, where transparency and dependency birthed so much authenticity and power that it transformed the earth.
Through voluntary surrender and alliance with God multitudes will be rescued from religious bondage, overcoming the anti-Christ religious spirits that rule illegitimately with their restrictive codes of behavior rather than from the indwelling and liberating Spirit of Christ. When religion and its inevitable offspring of legalism, guilt and fear are cast out, the kingdom will flourish as love becomes the basis of all authentic rule and authority.
Father, hear our petitions. Rescue us where we are trusting in our own strength and resources. That you may be honored above every name, see to it that our selfish ambitions come to nought. May holy legions of men, women and children be restored to intimacy with you. Raise us up to boldly give our account of the abundant love, joy and the peace that are increasingly on display in and though us. May this world clearly see that your banner over us is no longer legalism; it has become love. So be it.