Rowing or Sailing?
Transformation into Christlikeness and the Christian life in general seem like a lot of work to many people. They may even think: There must be more to this life than trying; God must be disappointed in me; it feels like I live a double life (a public Christian life and a secret life of pain, disappointment, or failure); no matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to measure up to the standards I know are right and good.
In fact, most of us have experienced the weight of knowing all the things we should be doing and not doing, and the exhaustion of being behind where we think we ought to be. Giving more and trying harder seem to be the only alternatives. As a result, a lot of people give up hope of becoming more of what God wants them to be, because they have no idea how to add any more to what they are already doing.
With that approach, the spiritual life is like rowing a boat (by yourself!). You do your best to persist, even when it is hard. You go to conferences, study, and get involved in serving. You try to do the right things, but never get as far as you think you should.
At times you may even feel as if you were issued only one oar and so you keep going in circles. Some find themselves rowing against the current and going more backward than forward. When they ask for help they seem to hear: “Row harder” or “Do more” or “You are not dedicated enough.”
There is another way in which the wind does most of the work. Sailing. In sailing we learn how to align the sail with the wind and let the wind take us places we could never get to (or imagine) on our own. As we learn how to interact with the sail, we see forward movement because the wind (the Spirit) is doing the hard work.
The sailing approach is spiritual formation, which works from the inside out, relying on the Spirit. Instead of forcing myself to say the words, “I forgive you,” I learn how to engage with God so my heart truly forgives. I can then express the forgiveness from my heart. Instead of only acting as if I love my enemy, I interact with God so that God can change my heart so I actually love them. I demonstrate the life of God because of who I am, not in an effort to override who I am. This changes where I focus my efforts. My task is to learn how to let God work on my heart, rather than trying to do what I think is the right thing to do.
We no longer depend on willpower to override contrary feelings and inclinations, with repeated cycles of repentance and re-dedication: Stability/Failure/Repentance/ Stability. Instead we participate with God to move our inner life forward in ways we cannot manage by our own willpower and effort. The results? Deeper intimacy and trust in God. Scripture comes alive. Internal healing and growth become our normal everyday experience. Life is increasingly seen the way God sees it (through the eyes of heaven).
Formation is then relational. It is, as many of you have heard me say: You do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting. The connecting occurs as we glimpse that vision of life in the kingdom of God where I live in companionship with God and rely on God every minute. I use spiritual disciplines (as God invites me) to connect with God. The change in my character then flows out of living a life with God that is rich and full, challenging and adventurous.
Much of the above is adapted from David Takle’s excellent DVD course, Forming, (www.KingdomFormation.org) with his kind permission.
Grace and peace,
© Jan Johnson – For permission to reprint, Click Here