Thursday, November 06, 2008

For the sake of others

In chapter 4 of Mulholland's book 'Invitation To A Journey' he talks about his fourth element in the definition of spiritual formation: being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.

He begins with an excellent prayer...
Gracious God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, deliver me, I pray, from the easy habit of thinking that my spirituality is something between you and me alone. It is so difficult to accept the idea that my spiritual wholeness cannot be attained outside of my life with others. Help me to open my heart and spirit to what you want to say to me in this chapter. Help me to commit my relationships to you, that they may become channels of your grace in my life and that I may become a channel of your grace for others.

On p. 41 he says...
...reflect for a moment on what the image of Christ is. It is the image of One who gave himself totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others. This is the direction in which the Spirit of God moves us toward wholeness. If we forget this, if we short-circuit our definition (as many definitions do at this point), we don't have Christian spiritual formation, we don't have holistic spiritual formation. What we have is some kind of pathological formation that is very privatized and individualized, a spiritualized form of self-actualization. Although such forms of spirituality may be very appealing to look at on the outside, quite comfortable in their easy conformity to the values and dynamics of our culture, they are like a whitewashed tomb that has deadness on the inside if they are not life-giving, healing and redemptive FOR OTHERS.

Want a test for your spiritual growth? On p. 42 he says...
If you want a good litmus test of your spiritual growth, simply examine the nature and quality of your relationships with others. Are you more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more caring, more giving, more forgiving than you were a year ago? If you cannot answer these kinds of questions in the affirmative and, especially, if others cannot answer them in the affirmative about you, then you need to examine carefully the nature of your spiritual life and growth.

He cites several scriptural references... most notably 1 John 2:9-10: "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble."

On 42-43 he says...
Our relationships with others are not only the testing grounds of our spiritual life but also the places where our growth toward wholeness in Christ happens. There is a temptation to think that our spiritual growth takes place in the privacy of our personal relationship with God and then, once it is sufficiently developed, we can export it into our relationships with others and "be Christian" with them. But holistic spirituality, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, takes place in the midst of our relationships with others, not apart from them. We learn to be Christ's for others by seeking to be yielded and obedient to God in the midst of our relationships.

He ends with the great old illustration of the Rescue Society that I used to think of often when I went off to seminary and began thinking about pastoring. I'd kind of forgotten it, but it is so right on (to me), and still so applicable to the church today. On 43-44...
The emphasis upon spiritual formation for the sake of others can be seen in the story of the Rescue Society. Along a reef-ridden, rockbound coast, a small group became concerned about those who were losing their lives in the shipwrecks that took place on the reefs and rocks. They formed the Rescue Society for the purpose of saving those who had been shipwrecked. For years they risked themselves to save others, often losing their own lives for the sake of others, but hundreds were saved who otherwise would have been lost.

As a new generation entered the Rescue Society, they decided to perfect their techniques for rescue so that even more could be saved. They began to attend rescue workshops, to bring in consultants on the latest rescue techniques, to entertain salespeople who touted the latest in rescue equipment. Before long, the maintenance and perfection of the rescue station, its techniques, its equipment, became the focus of the Rescue Society.

One night, while the entire Rescue Society was attending yet another meeting to perfect their rescue skills, a great passenger liner struck upon the reef and sank. Hundreds of people were lost because there was no one left to go to their rescue. The Rescue Society had come to exist for its own perfection and not for the sake of others.

This, to me, is the reason the emerging/missional church came about. The church had lost the "for-the-sake-of-others" mindset... we had become too inwardly focused on ourselves - the church - and forgotten what we were really here for.

I'm glad I stumbled across this book again. I needed reminding. And probably always will.

Peace out; and in.