The Role of God and Spiritual Disciplines in Transformation

Megachurch pastor, Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Church, shares a beautiful metaphor for the nature of how change happens in the life of the church and individuals.  In the opening chapter, he shares the process that a good surfer goes through to be able to have a good day on the waves; needless to say, there is a lot of preparation that goes into such a quick and short ride.  Factors such as right board size, waxing of the board, weather reports, shark reports, knowing one’s skill level and much more need to be factored into the day.  Even so, there is one dynamic that not even the best surfers in the world cannot control:  ‘WHEN’ OR ‘IF’ THE WAVES COME! The only thing they CAN do is prepare for its arrival; and when it does, surf.  In much the same, Foster, and others like him (Dallas Willard, Kent Hughes, the Desert Fathers, etc.), are encouraging the body of Christ to put themselves in a place where they can catch the wave of the Spirit’s movement in their lives and churches.  

As we at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church begin our journey of reading Richard F. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline together, I am reminded of one of the key principles of my reformed faith; namely, that all change that occurs in the human psyche, soul, and will for the glory of God is a result of what God is doing by His Spirit.  God is sovereign over all things, including my transformation.  While stating that truth, I realize that it smacks up against our western or human confidence to be able to be in control of ourselves and destiny.  A proclamation of ‘God’s sovereignty’ begs the question, ‘what about man’s role or responsibility?’ Are there things that we can do to be prepared or in a position where the Spirit’s movement will be greeted by receptive hearts?  

Chapter 1 of CoD lays out perfectly, in my humble opinion, not only a reformed view of the mechanical components of this sanctification process, but much of historical Christianity throughout the centuries.  

This basic position states that God moves within time to affect the hearts and minds of people to turn from their rebellion and to depend upon the redemptive work of Jesus Christ via His life, death, and resurrection. 

As a result, coming into this relationship with Christ one quickly learns that it is a connection initiated by God the Father, secured by Jesus His Son, and sealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Upon the completion of this relational transaction, the nature of this connection continues in the same vain; the believer continues to be in a state of dependence upon the Triune God to bring about our spiritual growth.  This is a truth that both Jesus and Paul state repeatedly in the bible:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.                                             John 15:5

and then in Paul:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.                         I Corinthians 3:5-7

And yet, despite these clear descriptions, we also read of the role of individual responsibility to pursue ongoing dependence and obedience:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.                             Philippians 2:12-13  

So as we begin this journey of learning about and implementing the means of grace given to the church throughout the centuries, let us keep a few of these principles in mind.  

  1. We need to do so with measured expectations.  Making use of these spiritual disciplines are not a magic pill or a rabbit’s foot; they merely put us in a place where we can wait on the lord to do whatever it is He chooses to do both in and through us.  
  2. Two, and of paramount importance, is that we all keep in mind that the Word of God is the ultimate authority for the Christian life.  Whatever the Lord impresses upon us through these practices needs to be siphoned through His Word.  As our confession states, ‘the Word of God is our only rule of faith and practice.’  With these few caveats in mind, by God’s grace, may we all catch some ‘killer waves’ of the Spirit this summer.