Walking in Love TURNby Fr. Joe Hudson on May 15, 2020
Good morning Good Shepherd Jesus followers!
For the past several weeks I have shared with you some thoughts on the Way of Love, and a series of practices we can engage in that, if practiced regularly, will cause us to naturally walk in this Way. Following my pattern established over the past several weeks, this week I should be discussing the practice of WORSHIP. Spoiler alert! You will have to wait until next week for that discussion. I have determined that some foundational information and basic understanding is necessary before we continue with the seven practices in the Way of Love. If we do not all proceed with a similar understanding of the “why’s” behind these practices, then we may start incorporating these practices in our lives without fully understanding the reasons why they are so important, and how we should use them.
So, let me begin by commenting on our lives as Christians. When we think and speak about our responsibilities as disciples of Christ here on earth, we often use words like “being conformed to the image of Christ,” or “transformation,” or “conversion,” or “holiness.” As I mention these words, we often begin thinking about individual behavioral changes that need to take place – things we should be doing, things we should stop doing, changes in what we think about, changes in our attitudes, changes in our priorities. When this is the direction of our focus, I believe that we are considering the wrong set of metrics. I do not believe that this is how things are meant to work in God’s eternal realm.
Does God expect his children to become more like Christ over the years? Yes, God does. Does God expect an ongoing process of transformation in our life with God? Absolutely! The rub comes in when we think we know what that transformation or holiness looks like. We have in our mind the image of the kind of person who is “transformed” or “holy.” There are two problems with this; first, our image of what a transformed person looks like will be inaccurate. To use a simple and bit absurd example of this, I think back to when I used to sport a beard on my face. My wife’s stepfather saw this as a sign of rebellion. To him, holiness did not include a beard. In that case, I’m not sure what he thought of Jesus?! Apart from the beard issue, we often have ideas of specific attitude and behaviors that we think go along with holiness or transformation. Some of those understandings may be accurate, but we never know exactly what a transformed person is like. Second, we may have a wrong idea of how we arrive at that “transformed” or “holy” state; how we get there.
Sometimes this misunderstanding of how we progress in transformation begins when we are young and start going to church, or maybe we start attending a church later in life. We may notice the people around us on the church benches (we haven’t yet figured out that they are called pews 😊) acting differently than how we act. We want to fit in, so we work at smiling more, and using less off-color language, and trying to be nicer to people, and other stuff like that to fit in; to be more holy. By going about it this way, they have learned how to behave like a Christian in church and in the activities of their life, but this change is only skin deep. It is not really genuine internal transformation. Jesus challenged this type of change when he addressed religious people of his day and said: “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” So, how does one go about cleaning “the inside of the cup”?
Let me approach an answer through an example of a couple who have been happily married for forty years. Have you noticed how many long-term married couples begin to talk a similar language and have certain funny code stories that are just theirs? They may also develop some similar mannerisms. How does this happen? It happens as a result of life shared together - through time spent with each other. It happens through deep love, and trust, and commitment. This mutual couple transformation takes effort. But the effort is not the kind that mostly focuses on trying to change your own, or your partner’s behaviors. No, the effort is found in making the relationship a priority, in trying to love your partner unconditionally, forgiving them, and seeking to build mutual trust. As a result of this kind of effort, couple transformation occurs.
So, how does this relate to our spiritual transformation, and the process of being conformed to the image of Christ? Spiritual transformation should not primarily occur through a focused effort of the will at changing thoughts, and attitudes, and behaviors. Our transformation should occur – like the change in long married couples – through simply focusing on the relationship with the Other – God. In the Way of Love, it might look like this:
- When you notice the focus of your heart and your priorities drifting slightly away from your Partner God, you make a choice to turn back towards God (the practice of TURNING).
- You desire to get to know all you can about your Partner God (the practice of LEARNING).
- You find ways in your life as an individual, to find a place for life together; for mutual oneness and connection with God (the practice of PRAYER).
Do you see the difference between these two ways of personal transformation?
- One type of transformation is attempted through an effort of the ego and willpower. The focus here is on certain thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that the individual believes may not conform to some expected Christian standard. This is reinforced repeatedly throughout scripture where we find admonitions like this in John’s gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We hear these words, and quickly recognize certain acceptable, and other unacceptable behaviors. Then we go about falling in line. We think that by changing these things, we may conform more closely to this expected “Christian” standard. However, this is primarily skin-deep transformation, and does not go to the core of the individual. It leaves their ego and will firmly in control, and intact.
- The other type of transformation occurs more organically through osmosis as the individual put’s effort into their relationship with God through TURNING, LEARNING, PRAYING, and WORSHIPPING. The apostle Paul spoke of this transformation through osmosis when he said: “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts.” This second way of transformation goes much deeper to the core of the individual and requires much less ego and willpower work.
The first way at transformation remains on the surface of the individual. The second way goes much deeper. However, this second way at transformation demands more of us. It requires surrender of our ego and will. Author David Benner says this: “we can and frequently do offer a substitute for surrender – something that looks superficially enough like it that we easily confuse it with surrender. We can offer obedience.” Dr. Benner goes on to say: “What God desires is submission of our heart and will, not simply compliance in our behavior.” This is the hard part in genuine transformation; surrender of the ego and will to God. The easy part of this surrender comes when we deep down know how intimately, and passionately, God loves us for who we are, it makes our surrender to this Lover much easier.
Let me end by summarizing this foundational material. As followers of Christ, my desire for myself, and for each one of you, would be that we all recognize the need to yield our ego and will to God in loving surrender. From this yielded position, we then begin to gain a deeper understanding of, and participation in, these seven practices in the Way of Love. As we do this on a regular basis, we will be opening our inner being at deeper and deeper levels, to the Holy Spirit’s presence, and work of internal transformation. This is work that goes down to the depths of our being; soul and spirit, including our emotional and psychological being.
(I HAVE NOT MENTIONED THIS BEFORE, BUT LET ME ENCOURAGE YOU TO REACH OUT TO ME THROUGH A PHONE CALL, OR EMAIL, OR FACETIME, OR GOOGLE DUO, IF SOMETHING I HAVE SAID IN THIS LETTER, OR IN MY PREVIOUS LETTERS, DO NOT MAKE SENSE, OR YOU DISAGREE WITH, OR YOU ARE CONFUSED ABOUT, OR YOU WANT TO RESPOND TO ME ON, PLEASE, PLEASE, REACH OUT TO ME. I MAY THINK THAT I AM MAKING THIS PROCESS OF TRANSFORMATION CLEAR, WHEN IN REALITY I MAY NOT BE. I LOVE BEING IN DIALOGUE WITH YOU!)