In our Conference of churches, the North American Baptist Conference, we are being challenged and encouraged as leaders, to ask the questions, “How am I being spiritually transformed (changed toward Christ-likeness)?” And then, “How are our churches spiritually forming people?” These are two crucial questions, if we are going to develop growing, active and faithful disciples who live with Christ on His mission.
If we are going to have spiritual change, leaders must lead spiritual change. In a meeting with Kent Carlson, VP of Leader Formation and Dave Johnson, Lead Pastor of Church of The Open Door, a couple of years back. They shared a list of things we can do to create space for God to bring ongoing, long-lasting spiritual change. These notes are a summary of their ideas and a few of mine.
- Carve out large blocks of unhurried time to spend alone with God. This is hard work. Ministry and life is demanding. But how can we lead spiritually if we’re not taking time to discern the presence and the leading of God? I am thankful for the times that God broke into my life and made himself known. But the truth is, it shouldn’t have been necessary.
- Find someone who can handle hearing about your sin. There is something powerful that happens when we are completely honest. When our sin is brought the light of day, we find freedom. The connection is highlighted in James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
- Make friends with one of the “least of these.” We need to make friendship with people at the margins of life. When we see and experience the humanity of those with needs that are different from our own, we have new opportunity to learn how to practice the love of God. And when we love them, we are loving Jesus. Remember he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).” Something I need to remember is that friendship is an equalizer. I can’t come as the one who has the answers, or the power to fix. But I come as a friend who walks with another where they are.
- Nurture humility. Humility is the foundation of spiritual growth. As I think about this, I wonder how to do that? Here are some ideas for me. I can discipline myself to ask questions instead of giving answers. I can learn to take time to wait for direction, rather than come up with solutions. In the end, I can develop a trust that God will take care of me which will free me to focus on what he wants me to do for and with others.
- Pay attention to inward rightness. This inward rightness is a peace we can have with God and others. One danger sign we were told about was “defensiveness.” We were told that “defensiveness is a hole in inward rightness with God.” The point is, if we are living life with a pervasive defensiveness, we know we’ve lost the sense of “settled-ness” that comes when all is good with God. This unsettled-ness drives us to justify, over-explain, and even fight for people to understand us and agree with us.
- Live with an expectation that the Kingdom of God is operative. We should expect that God is up to something. And our job is to make space for it, rather than create it. I look at the Lord’s Prayer. And if Jesus taught us to pray “give us today our daily bread,” he must have expected that prayer would be answered today! In the same prayer he told us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that he thought this would be answered today, too. I believe the Kingdom, in its fullness is yet to come, but that doesn’t mean the Kingdom isn’t on the move today.
- Embrace not getting what you want. When we are denied our desires, it opens the door for us to pray, like Jesus did “Not my will, but yours.” The way we handle this kind of denial in the little and big things of life reveal our real spiritual condition. It also is the first step to all the other steps above. We won’t move forward in our spiritual walk, until we subdue our desires, one by one. If Christ will reign in our lives, he must reign over our desires.
What do you think about these? Which ones are you inwardly fighting against and why? What might happen if you became intentional in just one or two areas? What would other start to see if you did?
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