Month: August 2012

then I’m too small to wield the key

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!

first I’m too big to get where I want to go

The first disorienting situation Alice encountered down the rabbit hole was the corridor with many locked doors of different sizes. And the only one she could find a key for was too small for her to get through.

Which is a little like how I feel as I size up the summons implied in my gradually dawning recognition that right theology must open out onto right worship.

Basically, I feel like I’m way too big to get where I want to go.

Where I want to go is deeper than either merely cramming people’s heads with more information (the right answers, good theology, a Christian worldview etc) or simply giving people advice about how to lift their game spiritually or transform their lives.

Now it ‘s not that I’m opposed to good, solid gospel-centred theology and an integrated Christian worldview. I’d be the last person to suggest this!

And I also know that the best accounts of Christian theology and worldview-thinking conceive of these things less as a pre-loaded encyclopaedia of right answers to every question or situation we might face and more as a way of seeing things that has at its centre Jesus and the defining stories (e.g., creation and fall, Old Testament promises and New Testament fulfilment, resurrection and new creation) and symbols (e.g., the cross, the body of Christ, etc) of our faith.

Likewise, I’m a huge fan of life-transformation. I’ve grown and benefited heaps from having older, wiser heads advise me or share tips that help me lift my game spiritually. And I could tell you lots of stories about times when it’s been doing something that I know is right that’s sort of ‘led’ my heart into right attitudes and beliefs.

But like I say, I want to go deeper than that. Because — as I know not only from observation but also from personal experience — it’s all too easy to know all the right answers (and even write high mark-earning theology papers about them) and yet have an harbour sin in your life. And I also know that moral reformation can be a fig leaf for an unbelieving heart (like Tim Keller often says, the gospel demands we repent of our ‘righteousness’ as well as our sin).

Worse, it’s even possible to get so wrapped up in being right that you end up a whole lot more like the Pharisee than the Tax Collector in Jesus’ parable. (And we know which one of them went home in the right with God, don’t we?)

All of which is to say I want to lead people into believing, trusting, loving and surrendering to God. Which is exactly where right theology is supposed to take us, I think.

But narrow is the door — and few enter into it.

And I’m constantly wrestling with the fact that I find I’m still too big to fit through — let alone lead others through.

I’m too wrapped up in my own stuff. My own sense of entitlement (“the universe owes me”) and self-importance. My own desperate desire to be right. whether it’s because I like the attention and kudos of being the expert with all the answers or because ticking these boxes plays in to my own inner craving for control and having it ‘all figured out’.

I guess I need a dose of the spiritual equivalent of whatever was in that bottle labelled ‘DRINK ME’ that Alice stumbled upon…