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Transformation: Spiritual Practices as Get-Tos, Not Have-Tos

Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus



Transformation: Spiritual Practices as Get-Tos, Not Have-Tos

Brandon Cook

There are other reasons that we avoid spiritual practices.  In most people’s operating system, there lives some code (virus is probably a better metaphor) that says we have to work our way to God.  This is the heart of The Human Paradigm of proving ourselves and earning our way forward.  At the core of us, no matter how much we might profess grace, some part of us—until it, too, is converted by Jesus--goes on believing we must earn God’s attention or affection.  Thus, when we start talking about disciplines or practices, people usually jump straight to The Human Paradigm, with its focus on performance and getting things just right.  They think about prayer and scripture and solitude and silence as things we have to do, checkboxes that must be ticked, gold stars that must be won.  Most people end up exhausted, resentful, and avoidant of further practice. 

This way of thinking must be unlearned. 

But it’s complicated.  Learning God as He is will mean confronting whatever false views of Him we still hold.  Many of us do not want to create space for our souls to meet with God because we don’t, at our core, trust him.  We might avoid solitude and silence, for example, out of fear of the God we will encounter in that quiet space!  All of this Jesus must confront and convert, leading us by his Spirit “into all truth” as we unlearn our false beliefs and leave our false narratives about God and, in turn, about our own selves.[1]

Jesus is our model and he, certainly, did not relate to any spiritual practice with fear or avoidance.  You get the sense that he loved engaging them.  After all, they connected him to his loving Father!  And indeed, practices are like meals we get to come to in order to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  When my wife cooks a delicious dinner, I don’t sigh and think, “Well, I guess it’s time to eat again (sigh).”  Sometimes I fairly run to the table.  It’s not a have-to, it’s a get-to, and if we are moving in The Jesus Paradigm and our adoption, we will relate to practices with freedom and liberty and joy, not with compunction or obligation. 

This does not mean there’s no discipline or will power exerted to engage spiritual practices.  Part of our humanity is resistance, and our ego will always resist being out of control and, thus, encountering God.  We have to work to align ourselves with our spirit’s desire to connect with God, which will mean humbling our ego (and our very selves) before God.  This takes effort, but it’s never the labor to earn something from God; it’s always the labor to surrender into His grace and mercy.  As Dallas Willard often said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning.”  We are not living in the first paradigm of striving to earn, but we are putting in effort to grow in grace.  Our urgent work—the effort we must put in—is to re-orient our lives.  There is rigor, because character development always demands deep soul work, just as the transformation of the body requires long hours of discipline and dedication at the gym.  Still, the more we grow in grace, the more all spiritual practices will feel like get-tos and not have-tos.  And simply changing this frame, even on a mental level, will make us much more apt to read the Bible, have quiet times of prayer, and so forth.  By simply labeling our tendency to turn practices into have-tos, we can avoid falling into the trap.

Bottom line, if we engage spiritual practices out of The Human Paradigm and its central question (“How am I doing?”), we will get exhausted.[2]  But if we engage them in order to “grow in grace,” we will learn to look forward to a disciplined life.[3]  If they are about encountering the God of all goodness so that our character and our core is transformed to love others as Jesus did, we will run to the practices. When we see that they will empower us to live and love others in a completely new way, they will become our great ally. 

[1] John 16:13

[2] Remember The Human Paradigm with its focus on ‘How am I doing?’

[3] See 2 Peter 3:18