Something I’ve noticed, when connecting with some of the thought out there these days among Christians, is the impression that being more virtuous, more moral, more victorious over sin and the like is through the hard work of self effort. Consequently these efforts, based in our human ideas and mind usually result in failure, just like new year’s “resolutions”.
This approach is like plugging appliances into a generator during a power failure. There’s only so much fuel in it before it runs out, and we wind up right back in the same old fix. Eventually, even if it works at first, the power runs out. Always. What’s needed is to plug into the greater and inexhaustible Power that never runs out – the connection that was restored through Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago.
I would offer that self effort is based in human ego and is not necessarily the work of Grace. I’m not saying that we should not desire to be more godly or Christ like, but that the power to become whole again is based in the Holy Spirit, and nothing less. Godliness and being as He was in this world are always the goals, as a witness to the world that He is real, available, and offers powerful wholeness / holiness which the world cannot give and cannot take aways. However…
All our striving, all our righteousness, is as filthy rags the Scriptures tell us. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).
We can liken the word “iniquity” to its kissing cousin “inequity” – meaning not being equal to the task. Iniquity blows us away just like the wind – in the opposite direction, and is especially deceptive when it tries to play savior and source! It is the intention that paves the way to hell, the “way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12).
Jesus answer to this is not in priming the pump of self effort but the seeking of God’s own righteousness. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
We surrender the self-will, a limited power source, to the Divine will, the infinite reservoir of Godly power and righteousness! That is the answer.
But then comes another question, “How do I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness?”
The answer is that we show up for work. Only we will not be the ones doing the work. God does this work of restoring us to His likeness through the Holy Spirit – we come in prayer, in the transformative act of surrender to Him and to His will – His righteousness.
“Prayer” means connecting to Divine Grace with the intention of being transformed. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). It is always about surrendering fully to our Heavenly Father’s will for us – His highest and best. Certainly we want to not be conformed to the world, but even the awareness, inclination, and power to make the break from that conformity needs to come from God via the Holy Spirit.
Prayer may come in the form of asking, seeking, and knocking in the usual sense that we understand prayer – as petition – as we are encouraged to do. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8). The promise is that when we petition God in prayer, our requests will be answered. No one is turned away. Every one who asks receives – because this intention is so close to God’s own heart, that His children should be healed and restored – or transformed, a word that is very similar to transfiguration or metamorphosis.
“By the renewing of your mind”. Renewing means renovation. We approach God in a variety of types of prayer, including also meditation, contemplation, praying the Scriptures (also called “lectio divina”), journaling, or Scripture study. Science shows that the making of art, for example, in an intuitive way also stimulates the same areas of our mental “hardware” – the brain – in the same way as prayer and meditation.
The individual’s intention toward being transformed by God’s Grace through entering into His Presence is one thing; the spiritual practice may be different for each of us. It’s important not to rule out that what works for one person may not work for another. God’s relationship with each and every one of His children is as unique as that Soul.
The important thing is to realize that we are not transformed by our own efforts of will, and then to find a way whereby each of can come into His presence, connect with His Grace, and find that it is sufficient to do the job. This does not happen overnight, so we need to be persistent with our asking, seeking, and knocking.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).