This is a guest post by Jonathan Shelton. Jonathan and his wife, Candi, are a part of the Parish Leadership Team.
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the idea of spiritual formation. Granted, there are probably far more entertaining things to nerd out over, but I’m truly fascinated by our capacity for growth. I love watching it happen in others and I long for it to happen in me. As I’ve renewed my attempts to grow spiritually over the last decade or so, I’ve had to learn, re-learn, and unlearn many things. I’ve had to learn that the process doesn’t benefit much from exerting my self-will and a few heaping doses of brute force. It is far better accomplished by a consistent act of surrender and a permeating sense of availability to the hands of Christ as he smoothes some surfaces and sharpens others. He is every iteration of the master: the surgeon, the potter, the painter, the author; and we are the medium in which he works: the patient, the clay, the canvas, the story.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’ “
Jesus knows that we are incapable of becoming like him unless we have him. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is my tendency to try harder; to be good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. All my attempts to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” are simply barricades to Jesus accomplishing in me what he hopes to. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, he hasn’t designed our strength to be sufficient. It doesn’t mean that we stand aside and watch him like some out-of-body experience, but embracing our weaknesses makes way for his great strength. He tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). He makes it clear that there is work to be done, but it isn’t work we can’t bear. Sometimes it is easy. Other times it is remarkably difficult. The common denominator in all of it is this: The One who loves us more than anyone else ever has is shaping us into versions of ourselves that more clearly resemble him. He is holding the blueprint of our highest and most perfect self. Just as a painter has an idea of the finished product before the first brush stroke, Jesus sees a redeemed and restored version of us and is working in us and through us to move us closer, bit by bit, toward the masterpiece he had before we were born. Spiritual Formation is simply embracing the process instead of resisting it.
The process of becoming more like Jesus in every area of our lives seems daunting until we realize that he has given us himself to accomplish the task. And through him we can be poised to push the boundaries of the Kingdom of God a little further each day.