Sunday, January 15, 2006

Spiritual Transformation: N steps forward, M steps back

As we sat down in church this morning, one of our vocalists was singing something like:
Every day with Jesus
Is sweeter than the day before.
I wasn't sure about the words (still not) so I googled on those words and this blog entry came up. It doesn't mirror my feelings, but I sometimes think songs like this don't do a lot of good. I mean, if you don't feel that "every day in every way I'm feeling better and better," does that mean you aren't spiritual, or that you don't really know Jesus? How about that night Jesus spent in Gethsemane, when he was sweating drops of blood, when he told his friends, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death"? Was that sweeter than the day before? I wonder if some of these songs aren't like some of the wicked shepherds that the prophets talked about. OK, I'm getting in touch with my inner anger now.

Meanwhile, at a more mundane level, how about for you or me? To me, spiritual transformation feels more like Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back -- and some days it's more like 1-2 forward and 3-4 back.

During the sermon, which I thought was terrific, we heard a quote from Dallas Willard, relating real spiritual transformation to the practices Jesus followed. Google pointed me at, which includes this:
True transformation is possible in our lives. We can experience an “eternal (kind of) life” while living here on earth.
How? Mimicking Jesus' activities
What did Jesus do? He arranged his life around certain activities and practices
Looking back at my walk with the Lord over the past quarter-century, I can say confidently that this can work. (It's useful and available but not sufficient.) I can also say confidently that it takes a long time -- longer than those "every day... is sweeter" songs suggest. To me, a truer picture of spiritual transformation was written by a friend maybe a quarter century ago:
He's changing me --
My precious Jesus.
I'm not the same
Person that I used to be
Sometimes it's slow going
But there's a knowing
That one day
Perfect I will be

Little by little bit every day
Little by little in every way
Jesus is changing me (you know he's changin' me)
Since I made a turn about face
I've been walking by his grace.
Jesus is changing me.
-Laura Turner (now Gomez)
UPDATE: Laura says she didn't write it; google finds over 100 pages with these words but I haven't found the author.
Sometimes it is slow going, but there are enough promises in the Scriptures about how it's God's work to complete the work he began, to change us to want to do his will (etc.) that I feel confident asserting that he's going to do it. And because of that confidence we can and should press on and work our our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that God is going to strengthen us with all power according to his glorious might (as Paul prayed) that we may have great endurance and patience, etc.

I love that part: "strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, so that you may..."

May what? May have wisdom and spiritual insight? May speak the word with great boldness? May live the "victorious" (ugh!) life? No, it's this:

"... have great endurance and patience." Colossians 1.9-12.

In other words, we've been warned that these things can take a long time. Maybe a very long time. Moses had maybe 40 years of preparation (starting at age 40) for a ministry that lasted another 40. How many years between when Abraham said Sarah was his sister... and when he journeyed to the land of Moriah? And do we think we can grow or be transformed any quicker than these giants of the faith? But God will accomplish his purpose.

We don't always know exactly how or when God will fulfill his promises, but can be sure that he will.

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