Bill Hybels, in his book Axiom, has written a chapter called “The Tunnel of Chaos.” In it, he says author and psychologist M. Scott Peck outlined four stages that a group of people go through from pseudo-community to true community. “If community involves knowing and being known, serving and being served, and loving and being loved, then most relationships…are constantly devolving into pseudo-community” (p. 101).
Pseudo-community is a “first stage” where people tend to be warm and amicable toward one another. They avoid talking about differences and anything that could result in conflict. They speak in sweeping generalities that are not wholly true. Peck says, “In pseudo-community a group attempts to purchase community cheaply by pretense.” This is a shortcut to nowhere. Even though the group may function well on the surface, underneath there are real fears and concerns waiting to be expressed.
To move beyond this stage, a group must endure chaos. Chaos is marked by people beginning to state what they really feel as well as a yearning for the leader to give direction. Notice this is not the time for the leader to demand the group follow, but to give direction and lead people through the tunnel of chaos. In the chaos, a leader must:
- Listen well and give people opportunity to share.
- Encourage honest sharing by laying “ground rules” for discussion.
- Discern when it is best to talk about the chaos as a group and when to talk to an individual.
- Pray about the direction God is taking the group and what He is trying to show you all.
- Lead by example in the way he or she shares with honesty and vulnerability.
After chaos, Peck says there are two possible next steps: moving into “organization,” though this is not community, and moving through emptiness. Group members all need to empty themselves of the barriers to communication, Peck says. He lists fixed expectations, preconceptions, prejudices, snap judgments, the desire to convert someone to your point of view, the urge to win, fear of looking like a fool, or a need to control. I would add that emptiness is not an end in and of itself. Our goal in emptiness is then to be filled with the Spirit and the grace of God.
Only after chaos and emptiness can a small group that begins with well-intentioned pseudo-community cross the bridge to true community. Paul also reminds us of the need to live as one together when he writes, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:2-6).
Questions to Ask:
- What effort do you need to make to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”?
- How would you assess the conversations typical of your small group? Do they feel more like pseudo-community or community?
- Are you willing to go through the chaos and emptiness? Are you seeking to be filled with the Spirit? How can you lead those in your group to seek more of the grace of God?
Authoritative prayer is just what it sounds like. It is praying with the authority Jesus said we have. We can ask anything in His name and He will do it, including prayers against our enemy. Richard Foster counsels us in six ways.
First, we should not go looking for the devil under every bush. In the power of God, we learn to take authority over our own flesh. In humility, where we honestly assess our sin and ask the Spirit to search and know us, we pray for the Spirit’s work of cleansing and purifying in our lives. While we don’t discount the devil totally, we also don’t give him more power than he deserves. After all,
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” –Colossians 2:13-15
Second, we don’t need to put on a special voice or conjure up a louder prayer, as if praying this way tells the devil we’re serious. If God’s power is present, then we don’t need special effects.
Third, we have special resources to draw on. Foster says in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home,
“It is common to experience unusual anointing of the Holy Spirit for specific ministry situations. When appropriate we should wait for the power of the Spirit to increase, all of the time surrounding ourselves with the light of Christ and covering ourselves with the blood of Christ and sealing ourselves with the cross of Christ.”
The Spirit, the light, the blood and the cross of Christ. My sense is that many of us would find ourselves out of our element. What does it mean for the power of the Spirit to increase? As with any other spiritual discipline and relationship, practice is key with others who are more experienced.
Fourth, when praying against evil, we pray with gentleness and compassion for the person. We don’t use the circumstance as a chance for display. We don’t go into the prayer hoping to tell a great story when we’re done. Authoritative prayer is not a vehicle for vainglory. (Perhaps this is why we don’t know what to do with TV preachers who go all out with their inflection and volume?)
Fifth, authoritative prayer is not a substitute for the habits of disciplined living. Many times, we don’t need deliverance but discipline. We need to read our Bibles regularly if we want to conquer sin. We need to repent and stand in the assurance of our forgiveness and victory over sin. We need accountability for addiction. Prayer is a huge part of deliverance, but its effectiveness is tied to these other pieces of the disciplined life.
Sixth, Foster, says, rarely do we practice authoritative prayer alone. It is work to be done with others. This allows us accountability and support.
Finally, as we read the book of Ephesians, Christ’s heavenly position of authority, spoken of in Ephesians 1, leads to us being placed there with him in Ephesians 2, so that we can wage war against the principalities and powers in Ephesians 6. I would encourage you to read the book in one sitting and observe how each of these chapters fits with the others.
Andy Stanley says that one of the five things God uses to grow our faith is personal ministry. What we’re talking about here is serving in ministry, mainly within the church, but also outside of the church. If transforming our bodies is to become a priority, then we must begin to use them in tangible, new ways to serve others.
I’ve called this one of the catalysts toward spiritual formation. Scripture is full of references to the attitude we must have in our personal ministry.
Matthew 20:25-28 says, “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We are not to be like the rulers, or benefactors, of the Gentiles, who in Jesus’ day were among the wealthiest 3% of the Roman world. They gave tons of money to cities and expected praise and adoration and power in return. Rather, Jesus calls us to embrace the shame of a slave.
Romans 1:25 (on how we used to serve created things instead of God) says, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
In this verse, we are reminded that our personal acts of service and worship in this world can be directed toward created things–money, other people, our jobs, social status–our equivalents of idols. When we do this, we participate in keeping the image of God in us marred and broken.
1 Cor. 12:4-6 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
I love this passage. Gifts, serving and working are all paralleled here by Paul. In the various gifts and service that we find within the church, there is the same Triune God at work. God distributes the gifts. Notice that God is not only at work in the act of working, but also in those who are doing the work. This is one reason why faith sticks in teens and new Christians when they choose to serve in a local church. God shapes them in the work they do on worship teams, in kids ministry, at food giveaways, and in working with the homeless.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
These are such oft-quoted verses, especially at ordination services. And they should be, for they speak of the importance not only of the ordained minister, but of God’s people at work in service. I think of aging as an apt metaphor. As people age, those who stay physically active as much as possible tend to stay alive longer (a generalization, but one with empirical evidence). So it is in the Christian life. Those who continue to serve in the church trek onward in maturity in Christ, while those who sit on the sidelines miss out on the corporate spiritual formation God seeks to do in His people, the church.
The mind is where we begin. Before our conversion, our thoughts were directed by sinful hearts. Now they are directed by a regenerated heart, capable of loving God…and yet our minds need “renewed.”
Our thoughts involve four things, according to Dallas Willard:
1. Ideas: Patterns of interpreting reality. They may involve beliefs. They are shared by those who know. Examples are freedom, education, happiness, the American dream, progress, death, home, government, church, fairness, God, etc. We all have ideas of what these things are and should be. We cannot precisely define ideas: they are hard to pinpoint and yet we try to define them as a way to control them. For example, whoever can define “marriage” in our country can control who is allowed to be married. We are largely blind to our ideas; but exploring what we think of as “natural” or “obvious” shows us just where our ideas lie. Our idea systems need to be transformed. For example, if we once thought of “blacks” as people inferior to “whites,” this is something God must work on in us.
2. Images: Images are tied to ideas but are not abstract. They are concrete. Images evoke emotions. When we think of an idea, we have an image that runs through our head. Jesus chose one image–the cross–and made it the most powerful image in the world. Again, our images must be transformed.
Dallas Willard says, “When [Satan] undertook to draw Eve away from God, he did not hit her with a stick, but with an idea. It was the idea that God could not be trusted and that she must act on her own to secure her own well-being” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 100).
Part of spiritual formation is rewiring our minds to have new ideas and images of God too. The other two areas of thought help us to break the power of our toxic ideas and images.
3. Information: The first task of Jesus in the gospels, in his public ministry, was to proclaim to people the availability of entrance into God’s kingdom, to give them new information about eternal life in God. Jesus had to combat false information about God in his teaching and proclaiming. Just as Jesus gave us information about God, so we need to know who God is.
4. Ability to think: Dallas Willard defines thinking as “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in the light of given facts or assumptions” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 104). He says, “The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well” (p. 105). Today, we easily dismiss those who think about God as people disconnected from real life. But perhaps this is because we have not taken the time to think about how we think. We all think. And our minds are no less important than any other parts of us. Those who think this way are like the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia who produced the “killing fields,” where anyone with any sign of education, even those who simply wore glasses, were killed in the late 1970s.
Scripture uses the phrase “renewing of the mind” when it speaks of our mind’s transformation.
Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ephesians 4:20-24: That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Note that in both passages, the renewing of the mind is contrasted with the sinful thought patterns of this world. It is combined with other acts of putting off the old self and putting on the new self. The renewing of the mind, then, can be thought of practically as changing our ideas and images with new information and the ability to think (with the assistance of the Holy Spirit).
How does God change us if we do not have an idea of the end goal of the Christian life? It’s one thing to experience conversion and to have the assurance that God is your God and you will one day live with Him in eternity. But it’s quite another to feel like you’ve got a grip on where He’s directing you in this life, right here and right now.
Scripture speaks of the goal with a Greek word telos. Here are a few passages where it occurs, though not
- Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:9-13: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- Ephesians 4:11-13: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
- Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
- Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
- James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
- 1 Peter 1:7-9: “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
- 1 John 2:5-6: “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
From these passages of Scripture, we can list several things that could be part of the goal of the Christian life. It refers to being “mature” as a result of persevering through suffering, being “mature” as the result of hearing Christ taught, being perfect as God is perfect, the opposite of something that is partial, completeness, and refers to salvation as the end result of faith.
N.T. Wright looks at the Bible and says that the goal of the Christian life is this:
- The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.
- This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
- Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world (After You Believe, p. 67).
It is interesting that the NT authors never use telos to describe the picture of the goal from Revelation. And yet the concept of a new humanity capable of living in the new heavens and new earth makes sense. If we agree with Wright, then the assumption is that our maturity here and now is something we’ll need there and then. We are practicing what it looks like to be the new world’s priests and rulers.
This vision of the goal of life encompasses what on one hand many Christians look forward to–eternal life with God–as well as what many other Christians strive for today–the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
How would you define the goal of the Christian life? What do you think God wants you to be/become?
All of this conviction is part of what John Wesley called “prevenient grace.” It is a grace that goes before that enables us to respond to God wooing us back to Him. Without God’s grace, we would still be dead in sin and helpless to respond; God makes a way for us to return to Him by first giving us grace and then by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Prevenient grace operates in us before we even know anything is happening. It leads us to a place of repentance by creating in us our first sensitivity to God, by producing conviction that we have transgressed the will of God, and by causing our first wish to be to please God.
The opposite of coming to grips with God’s conviction is denial. This is where we tend to go as we rationalize our thoughts and actions. If we choose denial, as God continues to convict and make us aware of new areas of sin in our lives, then we short-circuit our Christian spiritual formation. Denial is a harsh reality for many Christians who find their own behavior to be out of line with their theology. All of a sudden it is easier to switch beliefs than to switch behavior, and so they gradually turn away from God instead of confessing to Him what they also know deep down to be true.
As we deny God and his truth, we cut ourselves off from grace and our mind (thoughts and emotions) becomes darkened to the truth. Ephesians 4:17-19 says, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”
The Gentiles are those who do not know God. Notice how they are first ignorant and darkened in understanding; their hearts are hard. Because of this, they turn to something else to fill the void: sensuality and greed. It is a result of the choice to ignore God that humans turn to perverse forms of sin.
There are times when it is tempting to believe the condemning lie of Satan that says there is no hope to change, that God cannot release us from this sin, or that God really doesn’t love us because of our sin. We might think these words, “For God was so mad at the world that he sent his Son to come down and tell them to shape up, that whosoever would shape up would have eternal life. Indeed, God did send his Son into the world to condemn it, in order that the world might be saved through good works” (Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, 99)
But if we choose to acknowledge our sin, to call it what it is just as God already knows anyway, then we enter into confession.
Perhaps this sounds weird, but I believe that God, somewhere around this point in the process, waits. Not with a hard hand ready to hit us when we’re down, but with a gentle, grace-filled hand ready to accept us, like the prodigal father in Luke 15. Up to this point, God has been convicting us of sin. He has also been giving the prevenient grace we need to be able to respond to his gift of forgiveness. But now he waits for us to respond to grace by acknowledging and confessing our sin. At this point, our response is to pray about our sin and acknowledge that it really is the Holy Spirit convicting us about real sin.
What is confession? 1 John 1:5-10 gives us a good picture.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Madame Jeanne Guyon says, “There is a higher experience of repentance, and there is a deeper experience of confession of sin than the feeling of regret. In fact, you will find those feelings of regret replaced by something else–replaced by a love and a tranquility” (in Foster, Celebrating the Disciplines Workbook, p. 49).