Summary: Your spirit will be formed by something; you cannot escape this reality. But you can have a say in the matter of what shape your spirit takes.


September 12, 2010

Isaac Butterworth

Titus 3:3-8 (NIV)

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

If you threw the water in a glass against the face of a rock, not much would happen. But submerge that rock under a flowing stream, and, over time, the rock would change. The change might be imperceptible to the eye, but it would be inevitable. Scientists even have a name for this process. They call it erosion. And it is fascinating to think that the fluid through which you may pass your hand without much resistance can actually reconfigure the shape of something as hard as a rock.

Events stream over our lives and shape us just as water shapes the stones it washes over. But, of course, we are not stones; we are people. We do not have to be passive in the face of life’s coursing influences. We can respond. We can take the initiative. We can intend to some degree what life will and will not do to us.

But be assured of this: Something will shape us. Just as gravity and the passing of time has its effect on our bodies, there are forces that impact our souls. Spiritual formation is not an option. Your spirit will be formed by something; you cannot escape this reality. But you can have a say in the matter of what shape your spirit takes. Harry Emerson Fosdick began one of his sermons with the words: ‘What life in the long run does to us depends on what life finds in us.’

So, what will life find in you? When pressures mount in intensity, when you are beset by an unexpected reversal, when the demands of living outweigh the resources you have for meeting those demands, what will you do?

Our daughter-in-law, Becky, has participated at times in triathlon competitions. The triathlon is an endurance event in which you swim a certain distance, ride your bike a certain distance, and finally, and without resting, run a certain distance. It is a very demanding test of your abilities. And I can tell you: Becky didn’t just decide one day to get up off the sofa and tackle the triathlon. She prepared herself for it. She practiced. She spent months getting ready. She trained her body for the grueling ordeal of the triathlon. Everyone understands this. If you want to build your body’s strength and endurance, you prepare. Why do we not see that the same is required in the realm of the spiritual? In 1 Timothy 4:8, the Apostle Paul says, ‘Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’

So, how can we train in godliness? Just as we adopt certain exercises for physical training, we adopt certain exercises for spiritual training. So, let’s think about this for a few moments. As we look at Paul’s words in Titus, chapter 3, let’s consider three measures you can take in doing spiritual formation on purpose.

I. Assess Where You Are

First of all, assess where you are. Look again at Titus 3, verse 3: ‘At one time,’ Paul writes, ‘we...were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions.... We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3).

Now, you and I may not be living at this moment in a state of ‘malice and envy,’ but we are capable of it, aren’t we? Let someone else cut us off in traffic, and see what we do. Let someone else get the credit for our hard work, let someone else’s needs interfere with our plans, let our spouse or our children or our parents say something that we take as a criticism, let some little thing disrupt our day, and see how it goes for us. When we lose control of our circumstances, we often react and lose control of ourselves. The apostle Paul says in another place, ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Rom. 7:15). We all know what he means. We have all experienced this. So, what can be done about it?

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