Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's All About the Fundamentals—Part II: Practicing Life With God

Spiritual growth has a lot in common with baseball—or any other activity we do involving our bodies. While we may learn something about an activity by watching others and taking notes, we only truly learn how to do something when we do it ourselves.   We need to find “coaches” who can come alongside us and provide guidance for us on our spiritual journey.  We can also learn reliable and repeatable patterns and practices (sometimes called spiritual disciplines) that help create space for God to work in our lives on a regular basis.   We could think of these activities as batting practice for the spiritual life.  Just like the baseball players, we need to practice these activities over and over again until they become routine to us—until doing it the wrong way is what feels unnatural.  My son attended a baseball clinic recently, and a couple times while demonstrating to the group, I heard the coach say, “I have a hard time doing this the wrong way.”  In other words, he has practiced the right way to swing so much that he finds it hard to demonstrate incorrectly. Could we imagine our spiritual life reaching that point? 
These are practices we can do with our bodies
that help create space for God to act in our lives.

In the life of Jesus we see a perfect example of living a divine life through a human body.  Like Coach Nick at Brady's clinic, Jesus had passion, but in his case, it wasn’t just for the game of baseball, but for the human race and all of creation.  Ultimately it was that passionate desire for you, me, and all of creation to be “put right” and set free to become all that God intended us to be that led him to give his life on the cross.  If Christ had that kind of passion and love for the world, we can too. 

Over and over again in his letters, Paul asserts that Christ is in us and we are in Christ, which implies that what Jesus did as a human being is possible for us.

Practically speaking, however, it can seem difficult, if not impossible, to do even a fraction of what Jesus did. To walk in the way of Jesus’s unconditional love and grace for all people seems completely counter to what comes naturally to us as human beings.  It’s hard to practice this way of living day after day when the world seems to war against it—sometimes literally.   

Ultimately we have to choose in which school we wish to enroll: the School of the World or the School of Jesus?   Many of us try to straddle the fence and dabble in both schools, but that usually doesn’t work well. The techniques each school teaches will inevitably contradict each other and we will become confused and frustrated at our lack of progress.  Once we intentionally choose to focus on the School of Jesus, however, we can begin to make progress in our spiritual growth. 

Like Coach Nick, Jesus has a well-earned reputation as a good ”coach”.  In fact, he is the best instructor for living life with God that I know. His school teaches the rigorous Kingdom-life curriculum—a counter-cultural way not for the feint of heart.  Also like Coach Nick with his players during practice, Jesus demands our utmost concentration and effort when we are in class.  Anything that distracts us must be put aside; we must be committed to the training we have started—Luke 14:25-33.  His is a hard teaching, and it’s not for everyone—John 6:60.  However, former students, such as Peter, Paul, and so many others that have set at his feet through the centuries, swear by him.   They promise us that if we stick with him, even when the going gets tough, he will show how we ought to live.  

Just as a change to how we swing a baseball bat seems strange at first, it won’t seem natural to respond as Jesus would at the beginning.  Our body (including our mind and spirit) has not yet been trained to do it, so we will feel awkward and clumsy trying to do what Jesus did. With practice, however, responding, as Jesus would if he were me, becomes easier—more natural. 

Imagine what a difference it might make if more of us committed to the School of Jesus—not just for a week, a semester, or even a four-year degree, but for a lifetime.  Every follower of Jesus must continue to learn; every day is an opportunity to practice living life with God—a Kingdom-living clinic if you will.  Imagine the burdens that could be lifted and the power that could be released if more of us had our eyes and ears opened to see life that way.  Everything we live through—the good, the bad, and all the ordinary days in between—trains us for reigning in God’s Kingdom both now and eternally.  Surely, learning to see life that way could make a difference in some of the seemingly intractable personal and global crises we face in our families, churches, communities, and world.  Who knows, it might even literally transform the world.

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