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.
My wife and I were worshipping at Bible Temple in Portland, Oregon. It was 1996 and the Toronto Blessing, as it was called, had gone viral. Churches, with Pentecostal leanings, all over the world, were being energized by the Holy Spirit in ways most evangelicals would never believe. However, the great evangelical radio talking heads had caught wind of some abuses and condemned the whole thing as demonic. Well of course it was demonic – people were laughing in church!
I had experienced enough and read sufficiently in the New Testament to know stranger things than laughter had happened among believers. Hanegraaff and McArthur could handcuff God to their interpretations of the written word if they wanted but I was recalling chapters 2 in the books of both Joel and Acts.
We had made the trip with our pastor and his wife as a reconaissance mission, asking ourselves, “Should we accommodate this phenomena in our local church?” I personally was quite open to a little laughter. In fact, given the gravity of life in our local church, I was 110% open to anything light-hearted. I was ready to laugh. Bring it on!
This church was huge! They even had a balcony and overflow rooms. There were several hundred people in attendance. Many had come to receive whatever God had for them. We were on the third row. The time of worship was unlike anything I had known. I felt safe. I poured my heart out to God in songs that reflected my hunger to know Him intimately. While I was awaiting the acclaimed laughter something else began churning within me. As I worshipped, it was as though a valve was being opened in my heart. It was apparently a water valve.
For reasons I still cannot explain, I began to weep. Something powerful was rumbling in the depths of my being. The trickle soon became a torrent and I became something of a spectacle. I wasn’t having sad thoughts or necessarily happy ones. The joy of the Lord was supposed to be my strength but my knees had just buckled. I was coming unglued… publicly.
The church quarterback had to call an audible and somehow accommodate myself and a few others who were being affected. The play? An alter call. Not unlike a Billy Graham invitation, the announcer asked if the two people now holding me up, might please haul me to the alter. I’m sure the coach was hoping God could do something for me because he and the staff had not seen anything quite like this.
For a good 10 minutes I wept (loudly) as worship music played just above my head. I was conscious of no one. I made no attempt to stop the flow. As far as I knew, this was the peace that surpasses all understanding – on steroids! A few men gathered around me. Given the volume of tears, I’m sure they had high expectation, “This fellow must have surely cheated on his wife then murdered the neighborhood!” I may have disappointed them because I had zero conviction of any specific sins nor did I feel the weight of my sinful nature.
You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)
While I still weep upon occasion, I haven’t flooded anybody out in a while. What drawer does a person file something like this in? The 1996 Anxiety Attack? The Portland Mental Breakdown? “The Oregon Trail’s End? I actually have filed this away in my “Mystery” file with a few footnotes.
David had his wanderings and so do we. Our wanderings are not just from one geographical point to the next. They are from helplessness to strength and back again. They are from one job to another, from one relationship to another. They may be from obscurity to honor or from riches to rags. Our wanderings, from dust to dust, are myriad. While our mental notes are sketchy, our hearts miss nothing. All the joys and sorrows of our wanderings are recorded. Our hearts remember and so does the Holy Spirit.
And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (Proverbs 20:5)
My Portland takeaways were; 1) The Holy Spirit is unpredictable. 2) There is a lot going on within us that we don’t see or understand. 3) Depression is un-cried tears. 4) I can’t spend my life chasing God. I must find Him where I live.
My community has heard me drone on about the inner life – this place where our hearts and the Spirit live together in an intimate and mysterious relationship. They have heard me espouse stillness and contemplation. They have heard my recommendations of the Blue Book and scriptural meditation. Why do I keep circling back on these ideas? Because they have proven to be meaningful pathways of honoring the unseen realities that govern life.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
While, being with God, may sound plain vanilla it is within that idea, I make space for God. More accurately, it is the space He has made for me, in Christ – God’s mystery. This space is not limited by geographic location nor is it constrained by time.
For in Christ we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
We can partake of God’s presence in each moment of our lives if we don’t tie His hands, demanding laughter or goosebumps, or expository preaching, radio prophets or a good worship team. It is in the simplicity of my heart, while presuming upon His, that I have been able to best celebrate the limitless heights and depths of who God is and the particulars of what He is saying. MwM has been my experience of dipping into the well and drawing up something that is hopefully alive for myself and those whom I love.
While I hope it has been a refreshment – even more than that, I pray it has been an example for some. We must all taste and see that the Lord is good. He is much closer than we realize.
Father, pour out Your Spirit on all people so that Your sons and daughters may prophesy, so that Your old men will dream dreams and Your young men see visions. Teach us the mystery of encountering You in the hear and now, in body, soul and spirit. Let it be.
In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”‘” (2 Kings 2-:1-6)
My insurance agent—the actuary prophet, informs me that at 62, fifteen years is the statistical remainder of my days. This authoritative word registered with me. I vigorously began setting my house in order. A few friends, seeing my burst of energy, asked if I hadn’t received a bad prognosis. I quickly set the record straight; I told them I wasn’t dying. But later I realized that wasn’t quite true. I am. In fact, we all are.
With the aid of a few wise counselors, I have been putting my house in order—gathering important information into one place. I have also been working to keep my Uncle Sam out of the estate. (His stewardship has not impressed me in the least.) And while it cannot be bindingly written into any trusts or wills, I am praying my heirs will be wise stewards in behalf of God’s kingdom.
Unlike Hezekiah, I haven’t asked God to add any years to my life. But I have asked him to help me make the most of the ones I have left. In part, my burst of energy is an answer to this specific prayer. I believe my recent flurry is also a result of God putting His house in order.
Each Christian is a dwelling place of God, a tabernacle of His presence. In our pre-Christ days our houses were vacant. However, when we asked Jesus to enter as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit took up residence in our hearts, making them His home. However, the Spirit as a mere occupant is a limiting idea. Something much greater than a tenant-landlord contract has been inked up between us and God.
When God enters the temple of our hearts, a joining of His Spirit and ours takes place. This is how we are born again. We don’t become His children through any activity; neither confirmation nor baptism makes us God’s children. We become His offspring through rebirth by faith. In His children, the DNA of divine origin is awakened; spiritually, we once again bear His image.
The original plan in Adam died in Eden. In Christ, it is resurrected wherever we live. As a tiny mustard seed, a new kingdom genesis has begun in the hearts of His children—it is the very life of God. Our foundational makeup has been restored. Our hearts, the wellspring of life, have been purified. Living water is now in us! God puts His house in order by placing His kingdom in us, in Christ. His kingdom has come and is coming. God is always putting His house in order.
Hezekiah reminds us we are all mortally ill. We may pray for additional years and get them, but they are to no avail unless our houses are in order. We begin by making sure God’s life is in us. Are we born again? We maintain our hearts by recognizing His kingdom is within us. Is Jesus our Lord? Whatever time we have left is a sacred thing. God has entrusted this time to us for the sake of His kingdom—a realm outside of time.
Father, drain away our tears of bitterness. May your life flow from our inner most being. Whatever the cost, put Your house in order that we may present to You hearts of triumphant wisdom. Defend our hearts for Your sake and for the sake of Your kingdom. Amen.
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner. (Luke:36-50)
If Jesus were combative, He might have picked up the 2×4 of correction and said, “And if you were a true shepherd of Israel, you would know who I was and that it was precisely this sort of person I came for.” But Jesus knew a thousand well placed blows would not alter this Pharisee’s thinking. What is it about a religious spirit that causes such a total blackout of self awareness? How does it strip one of empathy and equip them to judge? Have you ever been guilty of this? I have.
Jesus: Simon, I have something to say to you.
Simon: Say it, Teacher.
I went through a season where Jesus had been saying, “Rob, I have something to say to you.” But I did not have ears to hear. For the record, the way God has most commonly spoken to me is over time and through process. A season of threadbare emotions led me to believe Jesus was trying to say something! The intensity of my inner storm suggested this something might be significant.
I had heard the voice of God through scripture. I had discerned it through circumstances and, on one occasion, even heard an hour’s worth, of inaudible, yet brilliantly clear words in my spirit. However, on this occasion, I was about to hear God speak through others. First, there was the doctor who asked me, “Mr. Cummins, did you know your life is being driven by anger?” My response; “What?“ Then there was the prophetic guy who told me, “You are filled with religion, aren’t you?” My response; “What?” Finally there was the counselor who said, “You really do not know who you are, do you?” I was at the end of myself. My response; “No, apparently I am clueless.” It was at this point in the process that my heart said, “Go ahead Teacher. Please, just say it.”
It would be nice if we could hear Jesus just saying it earlier, sparing everyone the wear and tear. But that would preclude process, and Jesus, I have learned, is keen on process. In a life He is transforming into the image of His Son, the heart is both the battleground and the Promised Land. For our heart’s sake (and Christ’s), He uses process to enable us to see and take ownership of that which inhibits intimacy—God’s supreme objective. For some (like me), just hearing and presumably obeying, would shortchange the opportunity we have, in process, to know Him and His ways. I didn’t understand what the doctor, the prophet or the counselor was saying. I just held those odd words in my heart, wondering if they would ever make sense.
I have told the story elsewhere of The Great Loader Bucket Incident—one of the events the Lord arranged to show me my heart. The scene was no less a spectacle than Simon and the Sinful Woman, except that hers was admirable. Mine was absolutely deplorable. While tears of repentance streamed from this broken woman’s eyes, oaths and curses spewed from my angry and indignant heart, directed at a well-meaning and undeserving friend. As the mushroom cloud faded, my heart eventually said, “Oh Father! Now I see what You mean. I am angry and religious. Please keep speaking. You have my full attention. This is going to hurt isn’t it?”
Some will read this and think, “Poor chap. All his reading has driven him mad.” Others understand and are still asking the question: “How do I distinguish between judgment and discernment? Between a critical self-righteous spirit and an honest, Spirit-led one?” Again: What is it about a religious spirit that causes such a blackout of self-awareness? How does it strip one of empathy and equip them to judge?
In a sense I am exposing the religious spirit in each MwM post. I have to. The Lord exposed it in me. It’s my story. However, a condensed response would be that, in my sin, like Adam, I had fashioned my own fig leaf of a belief system, which protected me from prolonged exposure to God, others, and myself. From my hiding places, I had learned to live in compliance to religious standards, being driven by the fear of my insecure heart. And, most impressively, I had done it all in Jesus’ name with scriptural support! These are the types of things I learned over time and through process. These are the things I believe God has spoken to me.
I entered this season discouraged because I did not hear my Father’s voice. I exited it knowing He had been speaking all along. That was huge because, in the culture I came from, God delivered important words by important people in concise sentences with thus-sayeth-Himself unction. I exited this season of process having encountered God. I had asked the teacher to say it and He had.
The fruit of this encounter has been revolutionary. I am far less inclined to label someone as a this or a that. I am also more inclined to empathize, knowing this or that person’s plight, like mine is Garden-variety sin and religion. Jesus’ words and my experience concur—the bonds of deceit are tighter with religion than sin because an outer religious life is in compliance while the heart (where life originates) is filled with dead men’s bones. Religion is extra deceitful because it serves as an institutionally approved substitute for authentic relationship with God.
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” (Luke 7:41-43)
There are many among us who have asked Jesus into our hearts. Upon asking, some of us knew our debt was at least 500 denarii. Others prayed the prayer, thinking theirs was about five. Since empathy is realized and tears are spilled proportional to perceived debt, my prayer for us all is:
Father, help us to understand we are all in the “500 Plus” club and that any tendency to pick up a stone, as opposed to shedding a tear, keeps our hearts aloof from You and others. In Your kindness, show us how deeply indebted we are to You and to others. Show us our qualifications as the chiefs of sinners who, by Your great mercies, have been enabled to stand with boldness and joy in Your most holy presence. May we live the balance of our days repaying to both the deserving and undeserving, and especially to You, our indebtedness of love. Amen
In the days of His flesh He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (Hebrews 5:7)
What accounted for Jesus’ emotional intensity? Even though He asked if it might be avoided, His personal suffering was not the heaviest thing on His heart; it was ours. He knew we had been ravaged. He longed to deliver captives from the killing burdens of sin and religion. He saw how disease wracked men with pain, ultimately claiming their bodies. He also knew either eternal glory or catastrophe awaited every soul.
Rolling toward Him in Gethsemane, Jesus saw a wave, accumulating all the horror and filth of sin, past, present and future. He knew this tsunami was headed straight for Him and that He would be crushed by it. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)
Jesus knew the more you see, the more you will need to cry. He grants that some will share His burden and know His tears. Even with darkness in view, He wants them to see the superiority of Light. He is the Light of this world. We are His children!
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10)
That God’s children have not been exempt from suffering is a mystery. Instead we are called to endure it and learn from it. It is not meant to crush us as it did Him. It is meant to draw us to Him and to teach us to abide in Him. If He permits us to know the suffering of clear vision, He knows we cannot carry it alone. He desires we live in a state of continual dependency upon Him, always casting our burdens back upon Him.
Father, in these brief days of our flesh, may we see and may we offer up, with passionate tears, our prayers and petitions to You – the One who has saved us from death, knowing that we have been heard because of Your piety. Amen.
By combining a few thoughts from Paul and one from Solomon, I conclude …
There is a time for time’s fulness and it is now. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 & 2 Corinthians 6:2)
In today’s passage, time is just about full. It is the most intimate of moments. Jesus has invited Peter, James and John to come deeper into the garden with Him. As far as we know, He simply desired their company and support. He made a point to tell them how they should compose themselves in the fulness of time. He takes His intimate friends aside and confides …
My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death, remain here and keep watch with me. (Matthew 26:38)
That God is willing to reveal His deepest emotions to man should awaken us to the type of relationship He desires with us. However, as Jesus is pouring His heart out – the disciples were snoring!
Jesus : Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.
Even among His friends, sleep is apparently a chronic problem. At the most important moment they succumb to the temptation three times! Finally, their opportunity to respond passes and Jesus wakes them, saying …
The hour has come and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.
I do not fear God’s wrath. I am confident it was absorbed in Christ on the the cross. I do tremble a bit though, knowing I too am capable of being asleep in the fulness of time – squandering my opportunity to keep watch with Him, wasting my invitation into greater depths of intimacy. Jesus knows sleep is a formidable enemy. He tells us …
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 26:45)
This verse and the words that follow, speak directly to the critical nature of time and how we steward it. This will not effect our salvation but it is definitely going to affect our reward. That is sobering! Whether its in this body or the next one …
Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. (Matt 24:46-47)
Scripture warns us, eyes heavy with sleep, will be a sign the times are once again full. Jesus is still inviting us to stand with Him and keep watch. A frightening number of us sleep even now, having given ourselves over to the worries of this world, driven to a frenzied pace by technology, consumed in our vocations and vacations – deluded in our perceived need for more. Listen to Paul …
Awake, sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ”. (Ephesians 5:14-21)
The Blue Book is one of the Lord’s standing invitations to keep watch and abide in intimacy. Jesus is still saying, “Remain with me a while. Be awake and watchful over your heart because times are growing more full by the day. Again, I don’t fear judgement. I do acknowledge, with sobriety, that my choices matter and, that at some point, our exclusive opportunities to love, will be no more. Today is the day of salvation.
Father, help us to hear Your invitation. Help us to slow down and listen to Your heart and ours. Help us to make the choices wise stewards make. Help us to grasp the greater intimacy, opportunity and reward at hand. That we would be those with whom You would share your heart’s burdens. Amen