Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 3)

seedling2.jpg    I just finished lunch with my friend Randy.

One of the discussions we have regularly when we get together is pretty common wherever folks are trying to live out the Gospel of the Kingdom. This discussion has several names (Grace vs. Law, Grace vs. Works, Active Spirituality vs Passive Spirituality, Quietism vs Legalism, etc…), but the same basic tension. It all comes down to, “How much of my spiritual life am I responsible for, and how much is God’s responsibility?”

It’s good for me to wrestle with this. Randy spurs me to move back toward a more balanced life. I can be pretty lazy sometimes, and tend toward a more passive approach to the spiritual life. Randy says it’s good for him too, coming from the other direction. So we’re gonna keep getting together.

Both sides have scripture and smart folks they use to back themselves up. Here’s a few quotes.

“There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.” -St Ignatius

“Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it. We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning. Earning and effort are not the same thing. Earning is an attitude, and grace is definitely opposed to that. But it is not opposed to effort.” -Dallas Willard

“The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy. It is the feature of human character that explains why the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” -Dallas Willard

“‘Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for him.’ In Hebrew, ‘Be silent to God, and let him mould thee.’ Keep still, and He will mould thee to the right shape.” – Martin Luther

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8,9

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

As with almost everything, you need a little context. No one who has studied Luther, at all, would label him a quietist, no one who has read, or heard Dallas Willard would call him a legalist. And anyone who would call the Apostle Paul a quietist…well, isn’t familiar with his travel itinerary. 

In the last post I talked a little about gardening as a metaphor for spiritual formation. 

As anyone who has tried to grow a garden knows, it’s a lot of work; planning, soil preparation, planting seeds, watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting. It takes daily care, and a lot of time, all to be done by the gardener.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things the gardener has no control of; late freezes, drought, bad seed, animals. Even if none of those things are a problem he still can’t make a seed grow. Jesus said this, “This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mk 4:26, 27

Here is the picture I need to remember about my spiritual formation. I have lots of work to do to tend my garden. Good and necessary work. But I don’t make anything grow. I don’t even know how it really happens. All I can do is provide conditions that aid healthy growth.

Growth happens becuase the Spirit lives inside me. I don’t really understand how growth, or transformation happens, but I do see some results, though most of the time it happens so gradually I can only see it looking backward over time.

So, I’ll practice the disciplines, knowing that I have a part and a responsibility in my own growth. But also that life in the Spirit is a gift from God, and any growth is because of that gift.  

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5 Responses to “Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 3)”

  1. Rob Scott Says:

    Very good summary, Seaton; we’ve been wrestling with this in a different aspect of our lives. The private school our children attend just announced (Feb) that they will not be offering 9th grade next year. This has put us into a whirlwind of activity, grieving, processing and decision-making since it was unexpected and very late. Most people we discuss this with say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, God will take care of you.” This frustrates and puzzles us, because it seems to indicate that because we are taking action and making decisions, we are not trusting God. It reminds me of the quote I am about to butcher (C.S. Lewis, I think), “God knows better than I whether I should be wet or dry, so why carry an umbrella?”

  2. seaton garrett Says:

    Hey Rob,
    That stinks. You’d think they’d have let you know a little earlier. I know you guys well enough to know that you’ll make a wise decision though.

    It seems to me that a lot of folks, at least those who offer advice like you cited, fall into both extremes, total passivity, or “it’s all up to us”. And neither camp seem to know how or when to keep their mouths shut. Plus, it’s always easier to trust God when it’s someone else who has to live with the fallout.

  3. Mick Turner Says:

    It is highly unfortunate, but there are more than a few Christians who view spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation as at best, highly suspect, and, at worst, from the pits of Hell. My experience with these folks has generally been quite negative, but I try to view them and their words with as much grace as I can muster. Personally, I think Christian mysticism and spiritual formation, and the use of spiritual disciplines are the best hope for the future of the church.

    I like what you are doing here and will come by often. You are welcome to visit my efforts at: http://lifebrook.wordpress.com and at Mystic Wellsprings at http://ldturner.wordpress.com.

    I love your blog’s title!

    Blessings in His Light

    • seaton garrett Says:

      Hi Mick, thanks for stopping by. I’m with you, some folks are a little hostile towards spiritual formation/disciplines. I’m really glad that I don’t run into too many of them. I guess I have a hard time understanding what scares them about it so much, except it’s an unknown.

  4. Adolph Shamburg Says:

    I am not positive the place you are getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend a while studying more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent information I used to be looking for this information for my mission.

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