In the last post I discussed how spiritual formation takes time. There is not a magic pill or a secret formula that leads to instantaneous transformation. Spiritual formation is much more of a gradual step by step process than a leap and a jump. Often it does not appear that change is happening but when one steps back and takes a broader view of life change is evident.
Today I would like to address the same topic but from a different angle.
Spiritual formation takes time. Or a better way to phrase the statement may be that spiritual formation takes effort. Spiritual formation does not happen naturally and it does not happen automatically. Why would we assume that if we just attend some sort of church service once a week that we would be spiritually formed? Why would we assume that just because we have listened to countless sermons over the years that somehow we would be more spiritually mature? Why would we assume that if we believe in God long enough we will automatically grow closer to God? It doesn’t make sense; and yet too often we live as if one hour a week will be enough to help us grow closer to God.
A great analogy would be to think about a basketball team. A basketball team does not perform at the highest level during a game by chance. Hours and hours of practice time are logged long before a team ever steps on the floor for the first game. And even when a team is in the middle of a season there are literally hours of practice time each week just to be able to perform well in a game. No one would ever expect a basketball team to compete that only practices one hour a week. That would be crazy. Yet we think that one hour with God each week is enough to make us spiritually mature.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with my oldest daughter a few days ago. She started taking piano lessons about six months ago and is picking up the music quickly and doing an amazing job. (I may be alittle biased, but you probably are with your children too.) However, when she gets a new piece of music she is sometimes frustrated that she can’t play it correctly the first time. So I sat down with her last week and tried to help her understand that learning music takes time and if she practices long enough she will master the piece. And it never fails; when she practices she learns the piece. Why? Because learning to play music takes time, effort, and practice. Even Mozart had to practice to become Mozart. Countless hours of work go into playing a concert piece correctly and beautifully.
So why is it that so often we are grasping after the magic pill when it comes to spiritual formation? Why is it that so often we expect to be making mature spiritual decisions when we never put any effort into growing in Christ? I have never met a single Christian who does not have the desire to grow more and more into the image of God. Yet while the desire is there, we may not be always putting forth the effort to allow growth to happen. We may not be practicing our “trade” as often as we should. We may not always be placing ourselves in a position for growth to take place.
Consider the analogy of a sailboat. A sailboat will go no where without the wind blowing. It is the wind that causes the boat to move. Yet, it doesn’t matter how hard the wind is blowing, the wind will have no effect on the boat if the sail is not raised.
Now the word Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek can also be translated wind. So if our analogy is moved to the spiritual life; it is the Spirit, the wind that makes our boats move in the direction of God, but we are responsible for raising the sail. Only the Spirit can cause growth, but we are responsible for putting ourselves in a position for growth to take place.
So if we want to grow closer to God we must realize that it takes time. The people that we consider spiritually mature are that way because they’ve spent countless hours reading scripture, meditating, praying, and practicing disciplines. They are not that way by chance. We can be spiritually mature too. But we have to be willing to put in the time. To open ourselves up to the Spirit. To spend countless hours with God and allow the Spirit to work.