Sunday, July 15, 2007

The way of love - Part the last: Practical steps towards resolution

A relevant and timely excerpt from Dallas Willard’s “The Great Omission”:
We should not only want to be merciful, kind, unassuming, and patient persons but also be making plans to become so. We are to find out, that is, what prevents and what promotes mercifulness and kindness and patience in our soul, and we are to remove hindrances to them as much as possible, carefully substituting that which assists Christ-likeness.

Many well-meaning people, to give an example, cannot succeed in being kind because they are too rushed to get things done. Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love. If this is our problem, we may be greatly helped by a day’s retreat into solitude and silence, where we will discover that the world survives even though we are inactive. There we might prayerfully meditate to see clearly the damage done by our unkindness, and honestly compare it to what, if anything, is really gained by our hurry. We will come to understand that for the most part our hurry is really based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone.

Perhaps we will end up making plans to pray daily for the people with whom we deal regularly. Or we may resolve to ask associates for forgiveness for past injuries. Whatever comes of such prayerful reflection, we may be absolutely sure that our lives will never be the same, and that we will enjoy a far greater richness of God’s reality in our lives.

In general, then, we “put on” the new person by regular activities that are in our power, and we become what we could not be by direct effort. If we take note of and follow Jesus in what he did when he was not ministering or teaching, we will find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was “on the spot.”

The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christ-likeness is their refusal to take the reasonable and time-tested measures for spiritual growth. I almost never meet someone in spiritual coldness, perplexity, distress, and failure who is regular in their use of the spiritual exercises that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of the New Testament.

That reminds me of the Richard Foster quote that I used as my prelude post to this series.

I doubt that I’ll have anything different or better to say on this subject for a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The way of love - Part V: You've read this before...

I’ve long suspected (and preached) that the evidence of spiritual fruit in a life lies in the pursuit of something higher than the fruit itself. I've been pointed again and again to the spiritual disciplines – not as legalistic ways to live my life, but as ways to increase my sensitivity to the Spirit and natural ability to be intimate with my Creator. Love, in the Christian context, should be a natural outflowing of that intimacy and the resultant deepening understanding of who God is.

Well, maybe I just don’t “want it” bad enough, because there are still plenty of distractions in my life that I give my attention to over the pursuit of spiritual formation. So now I’m pounding on the door of heaven, asking God to give me this desire above all else, because I am convinced that life is meaningless without the love that flows consequentially from a gut-level, honest understanding of my relationship to Him. And yet I remain frustrated by my own level of spiritual apathy.

I was “raised in the church,” so I don’t have the same context for God as someone who encountered Him somewhere along the way, and therefore has a distinct “before” and “after” by which to measure the reality of what God has done in their life. I therefore have difficulty comprehending the realness of God well enough to be able to honestly claim that I have a love for Him which supersedes all else. He’s so beyond my own understanding… so “out there” and intangible that it’s hard for me to associate any real passion with the pursuit of Him.

(Incidentally, this principle is at the heart of my often reserved or even cynical nature when it comes to corporate expressions of worship. My own inability to truly understand and identify the greatness of God conspires to make me feel rather inauthentic when I publicly express my wonder and admiration for it… and I’m often given instead to wondering whether or not anyone really identifies with what they’re expressing. Perhaps I’ll blog further on this subject line some day under the title “The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”)

So where do I go now? I’ve come full-circle, back to the realization that I don’t evidence Christ-like love in my life as a general rule, which seems to follow from the fact that I don’t love God with the fullness that I desire (or He desires, for that matter), which seems to follow from my general lack of intimacy with, and hopefully commensurate understanding of Him.

I just hope this growing dissatisfaction actually leads somewhere.

[to be concluded]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The way of love - Part IV: Turning the corner

I had a chance to visit with an old friend last night. I’ve known him for about 7 years. He moved away about 8 months ago, but is back in town visiting this week. He brought up the fact that I haven’t blogged recently.

He said “for a while there, you were writing your heart out, and then… nothing.”

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that my busiest season of the year runs from May through September when we close out the year for our Fulltime program (which I direct) at CTI, move through our Summer outreach season (I coordinate all our international outreaches), and launch a new year for the Fulltime program in August with training that runs until October (I’m responsible for developing and overseeing the program and associated training.)

Consequently, I have very little time or mental energy to devote to “recreational pondering” during this season. The moments of introspection I do have are almost all dedicated to visioning for the next year of our Fulltime program.

But something else has kept me away from the blog these past few months as well, and that’s the “now what?” factor. The lack of a clear answer to the problems I’ve evidenced to myself through the “Way of Love” series has sort of sapped my motivation to probe further into the subject… and I’m a compartmental eater, which means I have a hard time moving on to something else until I’ve completed whatever is currently on my plate.

The point of the “Way of Love” series has been, mostly, for me to objectively journal about my personal struggle to truly evidence the virtue of love in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time proving to myself that this fruit lies at the heart of all other Christ-like character traits; that without it, no other godly pursuit really matters.

Well, mission accomplished. I’m convinced – and more than a bit disheartened - because I have once again evidenced my knack for clearly documenting problems, but not identifying the solutions. And I really want to see this problem of love solved in my own life (if I may be so pragmatic.)

And so we turn the corner from exploring the problem to exploring the solution.

[to be continued]