Transformation Through Love | Spiritual Formation
Scripture promises and demands transformation in the life of a Christian.
What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. ~ Romans 12:2
Out of Shape
God is once again leading me on a wild adventure to discover His amazing plans and purposes in my life. We’re chasing a Master of Divinity! First stop: Research, Writing and Ministry Preparation class. I highly recommend our textbook, Foundations of Spiritual Formation,(1) to anyone looking to grow in faith. This week’s focus is areas of lack in my own formation, and how to fill those lacks.
On discouraging days I note I need a good deal of work in all the areas covered, and likely several it doesn’t. However, as God reminds me frequently, He didn’t ask me to be perfect. He asked me to be willing and to let Him worry about the perfecting. He used my willingness to highlight the chapter on love. After I got through the squirmy feeling that always arises when that topic comes up,(2) I realized He is, as always, right on target.
Diagnosing the Disease
Bill Miller claims in Foundations, “Christian spiritual formation should always, at its core, be about learning to love, especially when loving others is uncomfortable or challenging.”(3) This statement leapt out as it coincides with several other recent lessons. Lessons on love arose in Bible studies and school assignments. The Lord called me to be steadfast in dealings with several folks that are certainly a challenge. He is shaping a vision for ministry focused on Christian identity, relationships, and public witness. At their core, each of these areas requires loving God, loving our neighbors, and truth in love.
Until recently, I would have said I was well prepared for loving others well and teaching others to love well. He’s given me a lot of practice over the years loving the grieving, the angry, the broken and the unlovable. Still, every time I think I have the hang of it, He reminds me of areas where I’ve grown slack. As seasons in my life change I shift focus and lose sight of what it looks like to love people well. Habit, hurt, and busyness lead to a kind of spiritual cardiomyopathy that leaves my heart rigid and thickened, lacking the freedom to love with the abandon of Christ. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is an excellent surgeon, and He has provided abundant resources for rehabilitation.
Transformation Through Open Heart Surgery
Miller lays out five key principles for learning to love well. The first and last are: “Love Does Not Default to the Status Quo” and “Love Is Sustained When We Experience His Love.”(4) My first necessary step in heart transformation is resting in God’s love. Klaus Issler ends his chapter in Foundations on the soul with a section about intentional time alone with God.(5) I have learned “quiet time.” But, when push comes to shove, time with God is always the time I abandon as commitments mount. Lack of time with God leaves me distant from God’s love and leaning my own capacity to love people, which will never be enough to love people well. (6)
Several months ago God provided an incision in my routines to get to the heart of my heart. Our new church has short prayer meetings three days a week early in the morning. Ordinarily, I am not a morning person. Praise the Lord, He deals in the extraordinary! Six a.m. prayer meetings are now grafted into the heartbeat of my week. This allows God to stretch me into getting up early every morning. Going forward, each day will begin with time in prayer and contemplation of God’s presence and Word to open my heart to love Him and love people better.
Transformation Through Cardio Rehab
The last step in this segment of my personal transformation is to go back to that idea of not defaulting to the status quo. The last three years of my life have seen dramatic and drastic upheaval. Which is good, God is replanting and pruning our lives. But in the face of all that change and the easy excuse of COVID, I tend to default to my comfort zone.
God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to stretch: to stretch our faith, to stretch out comfort, to stretch out our hands to love those hurting and in pain, hopeless and in the dark, lonely and afraid. My prayer each morning will include a request. “God show me the hard things You wants me to do today. Give me the courage and the opportunity to do them.” I’ll be listening and looking in church, in small group, in the grocery story, or in my home. Each time I run for the status quo I’ll pause. Is that a good habit that keeps my heart stable? Or is it habit and fear that prevents me from the transformation God creating? And I will move toward transformation.
For those on a similar expedition with the Lord, I encourage you to consider this advice from our textbook. Connect to a small group of Christians who will walk with you through your time in seminary. Community has been part of God’s plan since the garden. Growing in God’s calling requires the fellowship of others to worship with, to grieve with, to love well, to be accountable to and to learn with. We are part of Christ’s body. We will wither and die if we allow deep technical study to separate us from the heartbeat of Jesus.