What Do You Expect to See?
One of the things spiritually-alive people most talk about is a sense of expectation. They have a sense that With spiritual eyes, they see that God will act, and will let people be aware of the continuing divine involvement in their lives.
Henri Nouwen (in Out of Solitude, p.59) likened it to getting a letter from someone you love: it brightens up even the most boring day. God's 'love letters' are being delivered daily, hourly, often moment by moment. Part of living in the Spirit is to trust that God will deliver these 'letters'. No wonder people who live in the Spirit feel so refreshed; is there anything as refreshing as that?
Part of this sense of expectation is expecting to be empowered and used by God. God will not waste you. God will put you to use. Maybe not as you want to, maybe not when you want to. But just as God's Word does not come back empty, neither will God's work in you. This idea draws from, among other places, Acts 1:8, where the risen Jesus addresses the gathering of His followers (beyond just the circle of his disciples!). Jesus told them not to try to figure out the time of the coming of the Kingdom, for it was not their task. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you," Jesus said, "and you shall be my witnesses .... to the ends of the earth." No maybes about this commissioning -- the power shall be given to be Jesus' witnesses. Acts 2 reports that on Pentecost, just after Jesus left, the Holy Spirit arrived in full force. The Spirit is still here, in each baptized believer, and not just spiritual leaders.
The power is still here, too, arising within us in order to enable us to carry out our tasks of service, witness, and benefit of the Body. Because the Spirit gives such possibilities, the follower of Christ can be bold about doing the good things which make for holiness. The follower expects to be used at any moment. This is what the holy life is made of.
When charismatics talk of doing things in "resurrection power", they are saying they're not afraid to take action for God's purposes, because anything which causes fear is already defeated through Jesus' resurrection. They're not afraid to be wrong, even dreadfully wrong. They trust that when they trust the Spirit, the Spirit will lead them in the right direction, out of whatever hole they may have dug for themselves. They can be free to take chances to follow God. They can see the course ahead with a clearer spiritual vision. While I would remind them that the Spirit, through Scripture, tells us to be discerning about all things, this is a matter of wisdom not fear. In doing God's work, whatever it may be, there's no room for fear.
"To know the mechanics does not mean that we are practicing the Disciplines. The Spiritual Disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality, and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life."
Christians through the years have learned that certain practices help them keep the spiritual channels open and help keep the heart turned toward God. They don't save you or turn you into a holy person, or even into a good one. But they can inspire your desire, and grow your love of God by pulling down the walls you yourself put up as well as those which others put up for you. You can learn to find God where God is least expected. The practices, and the disciplines they grew from, take a specific part of your way of life and turn it toward God. A spiritual discipline is, when given exercise faithfully and regularly, a habit or regular pattern in your life which repeatedly brings you back to God and opens you up to what the Spirit is showing you.
Spiritual disciplines help to keep our relationship with God in good working order, and will even help us develop intimacy. The disciplines help us keep our spiritual vision from being clouded over. But no discipline can create or begin one's relationship with God. Nothing we do can do that, because Christ already did it. No discipline can earn us heavenly brownie points, because there are no such brownie points to earn. No discipline gives us even the briefest moment of escape from our broken nature. No discipline can rescue us, make us more valuable as persons, or make us inherently more of a leader. Your life may go easier or smoother because of it, but it may get much harder, and that whole question is not really the point of it.
Disciplines, practices, and even theologies are tools used for working with the Spirit on the task of remaking us into the you God made you to be. Tools, not magic, not willpower. Tools of surrender and remanufacture. Tools used with Scripture, not in its stead. Powerful tools, but only because of the powerful One you're working with. And you are not the foreman.
The Spirit uses Scripture, fellowship and devotional practices to develop in us the spiritual eyes to see what God is doing. (This is what Ephesians means by the 'eyes of understanding'.) You become freer to break out of the neat boxes in which your behavior is packaged. You can stop trying to package God (or yourself) as some sort of Captain Nice or Joe Cool or Heather Hip. You become less afraid to ask questions, for those can act as spiritual icebreakers in a oft-icy world. You don't have to act super-pious, or stay stolid and formal, or strictly orderly and in place, or do all the right things. Or perhaps you'll stop boxing God in with limits to divine authority (as if we have any power to do so). Without the insight that the Spirit supplies, such freedom leads to anarchy and self-obsession. Without 'spiritual eyes', you force God to confront you and your way of life rather than let God share the pleasures of divine company. With spiritual vision, you can see some part of where God is headed and where you belong in it. You can then act accordingly, and not think about the boxes.
One way to envision this is to look at Jesus as the Light from different angles. The first vision is that you see the Light: you experience the 'something' that pierces darkness and drives it away. The second vision is that you see by way of the Light: you see the blessed wretchedness and fallen splendor of the world He so loved. You see the poverty and the delusions of grandeur, the cowardice and the courage, the insight and the stupidity. You can see it for what it is when the Light shines on it. You even see yourself, out from the shadows, your body, your tastes, your visual effects. The third kind of vision is to see along the Light, past the peepholes and the crevices the Light sneaks through, out past the boughs and birds and nevels and the blue sky, to the blazing Source whose vision is branded upon you.
Within a devotional outlook on life, spiritual growth never ends. No matter how well you may think you have done, there's always a whole lot more around the corner. This is a challenge, not a problem, but it doesn't always feel that way. For any practices and disciplines you use, progress will often be like trying to run through a quagmire; the feet are weighed down by the thick mud, the legs pull, and you go very slowly. But you go nonetheless, because you have the vision to see the goal.
"The renewal of our natures is a work of great importance. It is not to be done in a day. We have not only a new house to build up, but an old one to pull down. "
A devotional outlook brings many blessings and gifts. One of the surest signs of shallow belief is if you're constantly seeking gifts and of course blessings for yourself and those closest to you. The truly devoted understand why the gifts are given, namely, to further God's Kingdom, and to build up others in Christ's fellowship and beyond. They understand why God gives blessings of material or status: as tools for spreading the Good News and for making the Body's ministries function better. Seeking gains for self or clique or clan is, to be blunt, the sin of greed.
The Root of Holiness
Holiness does not exist for its own sake; the moment it does, it's no longer holy. The root of holiness is love. You can't be holy for your own sake; the best of your own holiness is rags before God. As Paul pointed out about holiness, 'it is not me, but Christ who lives in me'. Working on your own holiness for its own sake misses the point. If you look in the Bible at where God commands or commissions - say, at the Ten Commandments, or the Great Commission - you'll find that they're not focused on you. It's 'your neighbors', 'your mother and your father', 'the Kingdom of God', 'love your enemies', 'lend to others, expecting nothing in return', 'go therefore and make disciples'. God's commands go outward from us, not inward. So, any turning inward is, at best, a partial strategy for becoming whole enough to follow God the way we ought: by serving others and bearing witness. God's own concern is directed out towards others. You are called to live the same way.