Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (Psalm 20:7)
Spiritual formation is a hot topic. Searching it, you can currently choose from 1.5 million hits on the Internet. Is this (a) revival or (b) marketing? Having witnessed some rebranding, where counseling, coaching, and discipleship morphed into spiritual formation, I’m certain of (b), but I’m hopeful for (a). I believe the buzz around this phrase is being generated in part by those who are hungering for transformation. That’s a God thing. It is also the impulse of those in professional ministry to catch a wave that has some energy in it (and hopefully some cash flow). This, sadly, is a man thing.
One of Paul’s points to the Romans is that the whole earth is in bondage and is being subjected to futility until the sons of God are redeemed. In the mean time, with their aversion to futility, men are trying every key on the chain to free themselves. The key of spiritual formation slips into the lock but doesn’t turn the tumbler. Why won’t the key turn?
You would think if one adhered to the disciplines, the pins would all line up and Voila! A son is liberated. Mastering the right set of disciplines sounds hopeful, but spiritual formulas do not liberate men. They enslave them.
We have a massive key ring don’t we? Think of the myriad proposals and people we have looked to for liberation, yet we still groan in futility. What key did the first century church possess that is missing from our key ring? To our ears, so accustomed to the rattle of our own keys, the answer will sound simplistic. Yet, whether it was 2,000 years ago or this morning, the only thing that has ever produced a son of God (or liberated one) is the life of God, in Christ.
Our redemption is a process where we are being transformed into the image of Christ. The whole creation groans as it awaits the consummation of this process. Yet, it is relieved, in some measure, when we learn, that Christ alone is our life. Upon this revelation, the lock becomes a heart set free to love God and bear His image. So, how shall we cooperate with God in our transformation?
As I read Psalm 20 I would say that the best first step is to not become an accredited, degreed professional expert in spiritual formation. Perhaps, we should just start by praying like a psalmist. This will head us in the right direction as long as we don’t patent and market it.
How does a psalmist pray anyway? At the very least, they pray with presumption. Psalmists presume God is interested and active, that He speaks, that He is able and victorious. Psalmists presume that God has been at work all along and is engaged with His people in all their troubles, individually and corporately.
Unwittingly, psalmists do as much as a human can by simply leaning on God. In the process, they shed their fig leaves and become transparent. What could be more reasonable since God knows and understands them perfectly? In light of their well-established impotency, psalmists make themselves vulnerable. Acknowledging their weakness, they becoming God-dependent. Living from this place, they became authentic, freely and passionately expressing their raw emotions and thoughts. These things will wiggle the tumbler.
Psalmists take the time for reflection and expression. Whether they are retreating or charging the enemy, psalmists pause and compose their hearts before the Lord. They do not just leave all their God-thoughts rattling around their brains. They pause and corral them. In doing this they become watchmen over their own hearts. Their spirits are no doubt being shaped, but more importantly, a relationship is being honored between them and their God.
In the process of living, God and His psalmists give each other permission to be themselves. To some, man at ease with God will seem dangerously presumptuous. Their logic is, “God is holy! Humans are not! Man, fallen being that he is, will leverage ease with God to pad his independence and further his own agenda.” This is elder-brother logic. This key will not move the tumbler.
I recall the word of a wise elder visiting our community. Regarding discipleship, he simply said, “Beware.” I now understand his council. He knew that if we put our trust in techniques, or worse yet, the professional Christian guru’s selling them, we would be putting our trust in chariots and horses, derailing simple trust in Jesus Christ—the only key to our hearts.
Father, hear our petitions. Rescue us where we are trusting in our own strength and resources. See to it that our selfish ambitions come to naught that You may be honored above every name. May 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 through us. May this world clearly see that the banner over us is no longer fear—it is love.