Hello, Ian here once again. As you probably have noticed in many of my posts in the last few years I’ve sought to desire more of God, to experience that oneness with the Father that Jesus prays for us about in John 17. Hey, and isn’t it fabulous that Jesus, Himself, actively helps us in the process? Everyday. As He continually intercedes in prayer for us. This desire for more brought me, firstly, to writing a new non-fiction book, and then when I discovered I didn’t have sufficient material, secondly, to take up study again in participating in a Spiritual Formation course. To date I marvel at what I’m both learning and experiencing.
It’s a journey of the heart as the prophet Jeremiah declared: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7) I think for many years I treated it more as an exercise of accumulating knowledge and, being a passionate ‘Learner’, it was very easy for me to simply learn, fill many journals and my mind with lots of knowledge but didn’t feel any closer to experiencing an intimacy with the Lord. Also, being a routine-oriented person I had explored a myriad of ‘successful-people’ daily habits to try on to see if there was a fit. Once again, I kept hitting roadblocks. They helped me produce output but not the fruit I desired as expressed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV). It’s clear now that I was confusing measuring goals and tasks with the ways of the heart. I like how Jenn Giles Kemper describes adopting “a rule of life, on the other hand, helps you become.”
The vine analogy is a powerful one about becoming. In John 15, we read Jesus’ words: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (v 4-5 ESV) Heidi Baker sums up this essence of abiding: “Time spent abiding is time spent being equipped … Abiding in the vine means we are ‘plugged in’ to the resources of heaven.”Abiding requires spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, prayer and meditation. These are the disciplines of contemplation. As we fix our eyes on God in contemplation we are equipped and guided for bearing fruit. The transformational inside-out work of these disciplines serves to enable us to be secure in obeying the Word of the Lord. Foster describes this inside-out process well: “When the branch is truly integrated into the vine – united with the vine and receiving its life from the vine – then good spiritual fruit is a natural consequence. Action follows essence.” This is the life Jesus modeled for us, as did the first disciples and many of the Christian greats such as Martin Luther, who had so much business to attend to he could not get on “without spending three hours daily in prayer.”
Transforming vs Conforming
Since I can remember, perhaps my favourite verses has been the classic opening two verses of Romans 12:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformedby the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
As a teenager, I wanted not to conform to the patterns of the world. I didn’t want to chase what the world did. I figured I was a bit of a misfit anyway and these verses helped show me that Jesus had a different plan for us when we asked for Him to be Lord of our life. But it didn’t take me long to get sucked into conforming.
It was this essence I lacked. I had spent too many years being religious making sure I had my daily quiet time, read more books than I can remember on how to develop a closer relationship with God and felt guilty that I wasn’t committing to enough service in my church. Action follows essence. I appreciate that now. “The [Spiritual] Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.” Transformation is a process, like any significant change activity. And it requires a degree of suffering just like adopting any new habit does. In fact, building bodily muscle requires the breaking of muscle fibres and interestingly, most of the restoring of the muscle is done when resting the muscle after a work out. It’s a good analogy for the spiritual transformation process as well: the disciplines of contemplation are when our spiritual muscles are restored and/or developed to enable us to step out into the action of performing good works.
I so love that image of Mary of Bethany simply sitting at Jesus feet in Luke 10. She simply sat at the Lord’s feet listening to Jesus. Jesus tells busy Martha that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be take away from her.” (v42)
It is in abiding with Jesus we get to not just hear His voice, but His heartbeat. And the more we do it, the more His essence works its way into our hearts, transforming us from the inside out.
In all your busyness this week, please stop to spend some time sitting at Jesus’ feet. To be restored, to be replenished, to be cherished.
Be blessed my friends.
1One of 34 ‘strengths’ identified in the Clifton StrengthsFinder® produced by The Gallup Organization, Washington, D.C. 2 Jenn Giles Kemper, ‘Rule of Life’, Sacred Ordinary Days, undated, last accessed 18 August 2018, https://sacredordinarydays.com/pages/rule-of-life 3Rolland and Heidi Baker, Reckless Devotion: 365 Days of Inspiration, (Maidstone: River Publishing & Media Ltd, 2014) Day 134 4Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2017), 86 5Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008), 7