In my last blog entry several weeks ago, I continued my springtime practice of finding the connections between gardening and my spiritual journey. In that entry, I wrote these words:
Any transformation that takes place, any fruit that my life bears, is entirely His doing, His creation, to His glory. I can create an environment where I am more likely to see Him work His magic, but I cannot create one single beautiful flower on my own.
Since then, I have thought a great deal about what constitutes the environment of which I spoke…what is the “fertile soil” where God can work His gifts of transformation in my life? What is my responsibility and what is His?
In the last couple of weeks, I have been reading a couple of books by Richard Foster. One of them, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, beautifully echoes the discoveries I found in my garden. Here are a few excerpts:
“When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the Kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.”
“God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”
“A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the spiritual disciplines–they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where He can work within us and transform us. By themselves the spiritual disciplines can do nothing; they only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where He can bless us.”
Of course, the term “spiritual discipline” can be one of those church words that needs definition to be useful. Mr. Foster, in this case, is speaking of practices such as the following when he uses the term spiritual disciplines: prayer, meditation, study, solitude, submission, service, confession and worship, among others. While all of these practices can be used by God to bring growth and healing, we as human beings often have the tendency to abuse that which is good for us. Mr. Foster addresses this as well:
“The spiritual disciplines are intended for our good. They are meant to bring the abundance of God into our lives. It is possible, however, to turn them into another set of soul-killing laws. Law-bound disciplines breathe death.”
“When the disciplines degenerate into law, they are used to manipulate and control people. We take explicit commands and use them to imprison others. Such a deterioration of the spiritual disciplines results in pride and fear. Pride takes over because we come to believe that we are the right kind of people. Fear takes over because we dread losing control.”
“If we are to progress in the spiritual walk so that the disciplines are a blessing and not a curse, we must come to a place in our lives where we can lay down the everlasting burden of always needing to manage others. This drive, more than any single thing, will lead us to turn the spiritual disciplines into laws. Once we have made a law, we have an “externalism” by which we judge who is measuring up and who is not…when we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can rest our passion to set others straight.”
So, the theme for the summer…what creates the fertile soil in my life? What is my business and what is God’s? Am I using the good stuff God has given me to get in my own way or in the way of someone else’s spiritual journey? Must run do “last day of school” stuff…more later!!
“When the disciplines degenerate into law, they are used to manipulate and control people. We take explicit commands and use them to imprison others. ”
So very true. As I survey damage by spiritually abusive leaders, the fallout is devastating. Blogs by former victims scream pain. Many leave the church; some leave Christ. Others end up lashing out at both church and Christ. But when you read their stories, you see why they react as they do.