So I’ve started to realise that the real work of discipleship — changing hearts and shaping our desires and abiding habits — is too massive and demanding for me.
Like Alice after drinking from the bottle labelled “DRINK ME”, I’m left feeling small and inadequate.
The enormity of the task is overwhelming. And I certainly can’t get a handle on the key that opens the all-important door. Only God can break up the stony ground of our hearts and reorder our affections — so we love the right things in the right way.
I’m not sure whether this realisation is deflating or liberating. (Like I said when I invited you to join me on this adventure, things are kind of out of proportion down here!)
But before I let myself — and you — off the hook too quickly, let me remind you that God uses means.
What this means is that in his sovereign and loving freedom God typically chooses to work with and through the ordinary stuff of creation. His Spirit did preside over his ordinary week’s work of making everything in Genesis 1.1-2.3, after all!
And this also means God often chooses to use us — in our inadequacy and insufficiency to the task of changing hearts — and our ordinary human words and actions to achieve his life-realigning purposes.
The theologian John Webster would put this under the heading of the sanctifying work of the Spirit — which he describes as “God’s unceasing, ever-fresh act of bestowing holiness upon the creature by the creature’s consecration” (Holiness, page 77).
But it’s what Webster goes on to say that I find most helpful — and dizzying: “the primary mark of creaturely holiness is … its external orientation, its ordering towards God as its source and the object of its praises”.
If I ‘ve understood this (and there are no guarantees I have), then I think it means that as we — in our stumbling and faltering way — learn to delight in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the source of our life and the infinitely-praiseworthy centre of everything, we can be confident God is at work in us — making us holy and, ultimately, fit to achieve his purposes.
And that is a towering responsibility!