Intimacy with God

The moral shock suffered by us through our mighty break with the high will of heaven has left us all with a permanent trauma affecting every part of our nature. There is a disease in both us and our environment.[1]

Our pragmatic, bottom-line reaction results in a search for “what, where, when, how” answers. The “long, narrow ridge” of the Disciplines, as Foster describes them, is bordered by “moral bankruptcy” and “heresy” on both sides. Moralism is on one side and on the other is antinomianism.[2] Clearly, it is not the path, the disciplines themselves, that change us but the space they create for transformation by God. Moreover, transformation moments along the path don’t constitute transformation.

John Eldridge counsels “… the people, and times and places through which the Romance has seared us will betray us if we think that the Romance is in them.”[3] C. S. Lewis observes “… it (is) not in them, it only comes through them and what (comes) through them (is) longing … they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”[4]

While Scripture emphasizes the practice of the Disciplines as a context for grace empowered transformation, it is silent about “how to” aspects.[5] For example, we are not taught “how to” pray or fast. Technique is not the goal. It invites pride. There are no expert pray-ers or fast-ers. Legalism promotes mastery. Furthermore, having mastered something, for example, the law – one is then at the maximum state for growth on that continuum. Spiritual development on the grid of legalism is a fixed and achievable goal, but then also finite and terminal. It is pseudo-holiness that short-circuits both true holiness and transformation.

In the same way, experientialism is pseudo-transformation. Having been ‘born again,” “sanctified,” and “filled with the Spirit” one has arrived. The seeking process is over. The only way to achieve additional growth is greater and wilder experiences – thus fanaticism, a hunger for the sensational and the thrill of the bizarre. The invitations for such experiences are everywhere, particularly in Pentecostal settings. Spiritual formation is not mastery over a list of rules or a mere string of titillating supernatural experiences. It is a rigorous relational journey to know God, to become like Him – and it is infinite with no termination possible. It offers unbounded potential for growth and development. True Christians are on a never ending journey.

Sin is the disease that plagues all humans (i.e., Rom. 3:9-18) and from which we all die. It is inherent. It “works its way out through the ‘bodily members,’ that is, the ingrained habits of the body (Rom. 7:5ff).”[6] Isaiah 57:20 says “the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot rest [it is in a state of dis-ease] and its waters toss up mire and dirt.” Methods are not adequate to manage such inner storms, “We rely on willpower and determination. Whatever may be the issue for us – anger, fear, bitterness, gluttony, pride, lust, substance abuse – we determine to never do it again; we pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it. But the struggle is all in vain, and we find ourselves once again morally bankrupt or, worse yet, so proud of our external righteousness that ‘whitened sepulchers’ is a mild description of our condition”[7]. Oswald Chambers once warned that Bible characters who fell did so “on their strong points, never on their weak ones.”[8] Pride always goes before the fall. The victory is not found in fighting the disorder, but in surrender to God’s order, in trusting his love and being trued by his truth. “The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.”[9]

This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.

 

[1] Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 110.

[2] Foster, 85.

[3] Curtis and Eldridge, 125.

[4] Quoted by Curtis and Eldridge, 125.

[5] Foster, 3.

[6] Foster, 4.

[7] Foster, 5.

[8] Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer, 102.

[9] Foster, 7.