(Christian spirituality towards a fuller formation: increasing communion with The Unifier)
The story of God, is one of ever increasing communion!
People seek unity or integration because we are made in the image of God who is One. And this God who is One, is also acutely and accurately busy making us one or whole. He is doing so by incarnating Himself into us, and expanding and walking His Life out in us.
We are those who choose to meet Him, and therefore be transformed by Him, in all we do.
In scriptures, Paul teaches us to be growing up into the fullness of maturity in Christ. We are responsible for growth, though it is God who actually grows us. We are nevertheless responsible to be in the right orientation to be formed by Christ. In this sense, we are not paralyzed by Grace, but activated and inspired by it. That is our part of spiritual formation. Belief, daily dying, turning often, a practice of confession etc. coming often or even living just near The Cross and living Reality of the Life of Christ. This tight friendship with who He really is, and what that living relationship requires of us.
God is not in a hurry (concerned but never worried) about anything, including our spiritual growth. He has all the “time” in this life and the next. But I do think we can accelerate our spiritual growth in the Life of Christ, partly by our willingness to submit, as His Spirit convicts us of unclaimed areas in ourselves. In the context of our friendship with Jesus, why not invite Him into the whole house! We are like houses, in which many rooms are still dark, and need His Life to light them up. Then we can paint and have fun in them, even host parties!
By unclaimed, i mean places where Christ has not yet been invited into. We are complex creations, and often not aware of even our own inner motivations. Out of the heart comes good and evil, so we are called to guard our hearts. Again that is something, we do! It is an active, not passive part of spiritual growth! Some of these parts of ourselves, are below the level of our awareness, and we must be shown them through prayer and even confession with others. Others in prayer, will often be given insights into our hearts, which we ourselves cannot see. This is one of the gifts of the Body with its many members. And one of the gifts of our lateral communion with His People.
A good test of whether we are growing in Christ, is do we see increasing spiritual fruit in our lives? Especially in the areas which may have been shut off from Him earlier. In those spaces, are we increasing in Love mainly, then all the other fruits of the Spirit–gentleness, kindness, patience etc…We can judge even ourselves by the fruits we are bearing and yielding. Do we have more self control this year than last, are we more filled with His Love for people, places and things, than we were before? Are we more willing to turn quickly when accused, to look at what in us is wrong or in need of confession. These are signs of growth, and we have to really be vigilant in watching over and governing, in this sense, our own spiritual maturation. David’s talking from his spirit to his soul, when he says, be still my soul and know!
In my own life, i think early on, i tried to appear holy or helpful, or even righteous; but did so mostly for “outer” purposes–ie to get acceptance or approval from others; to feel needed etc. But as I get older, i am more concerned with His Actual Formation in me. Am I seeing the fruits of His Life in me? Not, do others see me as holy–that’s performance orientation towards others, and we can often have the same orientation towards God–performing in order to gain acceptance and approval from Him. He has grown me there, to be much more concerned with, am I with and in Him while I’m doing this or that. That is growth for me. My inner motivation and drive shifted over time. I may look similar on the outside, but my heart has turned, at least enough to allow Him to drive my growth, instead of myself.
Looking carefully and pray-fully at our true inner motivations is a key practice. We have to get those to the Cross also, allowing that inner renovation to continue, so that we are not just performing our way towards Him. We often interrupt Him, in His growth process, by trying to take it over, or get His applause. The fact is He always applauds us-He approves of our beings, which He Himself made, and was willing to die for.
When I was younger, I had a dream I was on stage and wouldn’t stop performing until everyone clapped– you see this with many artist who base their approval in the eyes of men. Then one day, there was only one man in the audience, and He kept giving me standing ovations. Once I got into my heart, that Jesus would actually never leave me or forsake me, unlike many audiences, and really just like me regardless of my performance, things shifted in tone away from the desperate need for the approval of others. “Play until the fat lady sings, and the fat lady is Jesus, and He is always singing praises in love over His friends!” as one mentor put it.
There is also the religious struggle–to do good to be seen by others as good; or to do good to win God’s approval. Since the gospel clearly negates either orientation, and instead begins with God so loving you…we have to keep these daily stapled to His Cross. Are my charitous activities, my acts of altruism towards the world, truly motivated “out from” His Life in me? Am I really meeting Him and being formed by Him in collaborations of goodness, or am I doing good somehow still “for” Him, but outside of Him. Our good should be overflow from our level of communion. The fruits of the spirit flow from the Vine–apart from Him we can do no good thing.
This doesn’t mean we can’t help an elderly lady across the street. But it does mean we should do so “with” and “in” Him. Anyone can do good, but to do good in and from Him, changes the world and us. All activities are potential communions and collaborations with Christ. We can do the same action in or apart from Him. The action itself may be good, but it will not bear eternal fruit apart from Jesus Christ. So our real focus must be on union and communion with Him through all we do–even ministry.
When ministry is no longer a meeting place with God, it becomes sterile, or just religious. And we should do something else, until we can meet Jesus in it. Good works in themselves mean nothing really. Good works in Him, change the universe! The “in Him” part is the key both for our own transformation and for being truly lastingly helpful to others and our world.
If we minister for approval, we are doomed. If we minister to feel good about ourselves, we are weak. If we minister out of religious duty apart from Him, we are dangerous. Ministry is meant to be overflow from our intimacy with Christ. It is only fruitful in a meaningful and lasting way, if we are actually in Him.
Since, union is the key to all true ministry, we need to practice union. This is done in the grand old ways: prayer, study of scriptures, fellowship, worship, confession, praise thanks etc. But these activities have to become living temples of meeting. For if the Cloud leaves the temple, the temple is useless in itself. It no longer symbolizes or participates communion between God and us.
Our activities become religious shells with no life in them. Much as many of our church buildings have literally become. We are the people who are meant to be in living contact with Christ. If salt looses its saltiness what good is it? If we are not in Christ, what true help will we ever be to others, or ourselves. Apart from Him we cannot move towards wholeness, integration or oneness. Nor can we help transform others into His Likeness.
We see this shift in the church as a whole in our time from emphasis on outer structures, to inner formation. A focus on the true fruits of His Spirit forming in His People. It’s being named many ways–emphasizing discipleship not just initial salvation is one way it’s being highlighted. More emphasis on maturation in Christ, not just saving people, but fully aiding them in forming His Life in them. The People in Christ are the church, and less the external buildings and programs. This allows the outer forms which are meant to creatively flow from the inner Reality, to be much more flexible, dynamic, even improvisational. In the 4th C when Christianity is codified as a social institution, we lost some of this understanding of His Actual mystical Body which we are becoming. The House not built with hands, is still The House He lives in. Regardless of how its framed. The church has a great opportunity to collaborate with Christ in His creativity in making new shapes and forms through which His Kingdom flows to a needy world.
As we see this shift, we hear words like union, unity, wholeness as holiness, and many other fresh phrases currently being reclaimed and re-named in His True Church. The emphasis of prayer itself is a tremendously important sign of hope in our times. For prayer occurs at the deepest level of spiritual life, and always precedes fuller incarnation of Christ. Every revival started in prayer, and every true transformation as well. Prayer places us in the right orientation for transformation.
The original reformation movement was meant to be an opportunity for a new level of His Formation of His Life in His People. This new one will also be a similar opportunity for depth incarnation of the Life of Jesus in His People.
Many are reclaiming spiritual disciplines from the monastic or contemplative streams in our day. This is also a good sign that true formation of the Life of Christ is becoming the true motivation of His People, rather than just numbers of people saved or how big your church is. How deep is your church spiritually, or the small body of believers you are linked with. What level of communion with the Life of Christ, does your church contain? How deeply is the actual life of Jesus in your people? A tree is known by its fruit. These become more important questions as we go towards that deeper formation (or next level of incarnation and re-formation) we are currently in. Re-formation is really at opportunity for His deeper formation in His People. That is one of the things He is up to–a deeper baptism into His Name. So He can actually be the bread of Life in us for others.
The shift from old to new testaments had this shift of deeper incarnation. God is always moving in that direction! What was symbolized in the old, was incarnated in the new–the bread in the temple, becomes in Christ, the bread of Life; the wine becomes His Blood etc. We see this deeper level or completion of the symbols of the OT in the New. This process has not ended! At the reformation, a deeper formation started again, and then through the various prayer movements and awakenings, more of Him became present in His People. We now see a deeper level of incarnation in His People beginning, as His Kingdom approaches. Forceful people, lay hold–we say yes to the deeper incarnation of His Life in us! And we start there, if we want to see our world changed by His Kingdom. The King came, and is coming…as He approaches His people will become more and more available for His Life to come and be formed in them. We are being cleared out in this way for a fuller formation–another re-formation, which is really a greater formation of His Life in His People. This will shake the nations into a clear choice.
Our opportunity is to be more in His Name. There is no greater spiritual goal than this. To be found fully in Christ! Eclipsed by His Very Being! So we can truly be called, “Christ” ians. Those in a living union and friendship with Jesus.
Contact with Christ also facilitates unity and good fruits as a by product. In this sense, Christianity is less a religion than a spirituality of communion with Jesus. Less of an out applied in, and more of an in flowing outwards. As He sits within us, we are transformed, and He is able to act out through us. All activities become a potential meeting place, and manifestation of His Life in us, and then out though us. If we are not meeting Him in our actions, they are hollow, and straw which will be burnt when His Presence encounters them.
Spiritual growth is contingent on the actual Presence of Christ. And true spirituality will become a priority in our time. Apart from Him not only can we do no good thing, we can’t become better people–the masterpieces He has made us to be (Ephesians 2:10), the poems which only He can pronounce! Our beings must be in living contact with His Being for transformation to occur. That’s the law of spiritual things. For He alone is the sustainer grower, author and finisher of all truly good things. He alone is the Center that does hold. The unifier, The integrator, making all things whole in His Love. Redeeming all things into His Image of them– into what they truly are! Our true image comes clear in Christ as He forms His Own Oneness within us, we find that union leads towards unity! We find this first within ourselves, then we may be led to help others find it within themselves.