We have counted on preaching and teaching
to form the life of the Christian. But this strategy has not turned out well.
The result is that we have multitudes of Christians who
can hardly get along with themselves, much less others.”
~ Dallas Willard
For me, 2020 was the best of years and it was the worst of years. Newly married and loving my life, beauty stretched out over a seemingly-endless horizon. Then came the pandemic. Then daily riots broke out in my city. Then the 2020 election cycle. All these things converged at the same time churches were forced to suspend in-person gatherings in an effort to keep people safe. Church attendance has been a pillar of my life and I did not find online worship to be at all compelling (but I love and respect churches SO much for pivoting to that format).
Had you told me five years ago that I would go months without stepping inside a church building, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now that I’ve lived through that very reality, I’ve discovered something important and it’s this: The Church, as it stands right now, cannot handle the full weight of spiritual formation. In fact, I don’t think it was ever intended to. The Church is built for equipping. A ski shop can outfit you with all the essential equipment you need to tackle those slopes, but the ski shop cannot make you a great skier. That’s on you. That takes practice. That happens out there on the steep, steep mountain. Or, to use a metaphor I can actually relate to: A cookbook and a chef’s hat cannot make you a great cook. Only real time in the kitchen with a lot of success and a multitude of failures can do that.
2020 & 2021 have been exactly that for me: Time in the kitchen. It has been a time of reorientation, as the corporate Church was forcibly removed from the very center of everything I do, and the life and way and words of Jesus became a truer and more reliable compass. During this time, I ran into an old book by Dallas Willard called Renovation of the Heart and it has upended so many things while also setting so many things right. I won’t go deeply into the book’s content because it’s very dense and hard to capsulize, but I will say that it has led me to a more intense and intentional discipleship practice than ever in my 56 years of living. And it has been unbelievably difficult and unendingly beautiful.
Each morning, after reading something in the Bible, I sit down with my journal and the Holy Spirit and I get really, really honest about the Big 6. The Big 6 are the six things that comprise my whole life. They are:
3. Decisions (will, spirit, heart)
4. Relational Context
These six things are the rooms of the house where I live – and they will only be as healthy as the thing around which they orbit. Every day, I ask: Are my thoughts oriented fully around You and Your way? Are my feelings? Are my decisions? Is my body? Is my soul? Are my relationships?
And every day I discover stuff in myself that is incompatible with His way and His love for me. BUT…and this is big, every day I discover something more beautiful about Him than I’ve seen before – and that beauty covers my wounds and my failures and my inadequacies with grace, while still calling me to a higher, better life. Each day, I find that the Bible offers direct insight into WHO Jesus really is and WHO I really am – and when I bring those two truths together – boom! – real change is possible. And, wow, I feel that change happening – in the peace I have at night, in the way I respond to conflict, in the way I view my enemies, in the soul-deep joy I feel in spite of this season of global unrest.
Allowing His heart to form inside of my heart is not producing anything marketable. I’ve never written less or been less relevant in the Christian marketplace where I used to schlep my words, but it is producing so much LIFE. It’s life I thought I already had, but now I realize there is always so much more to experience of His love for us. I’m finally understanding that I will never get to the depths of His goodness, but I will happily keep drowning in it for all of eternity.
If you are longing for the life of Jesus to come alive in you and to work through you, could I suggest you start with your Big 6? I still love the Church fiercely, but going to church will not be enough. Listening to great teachers will not be enough. Paying your dues will not be enough. Spiritual formation is all about spending honest time with the Holy Spirit, letting Him examine our hearts and show us His way. It’s about inviting Him into road trips and long walks and quiet mornings to let Him do the work He came to do: Counsel and comfort.
Oh, how He longs to be with us. Oh, how He loves us.