Recently, a friend posed a question on his Facebook page which grabbed my attention: “What habits have you set in place to ensure that you continue to walk in the way of Jesus?”
According to Henri Nouwen, Jesus himself practiced faith in at least three habitual, consistent ways: Solitude… Community… Compassionate Service. If we look at Luke 6, the good doctor paints a picture of this for us, just as he first did for followers in the fledgling first-century churches.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” Luke 6:12-19 (NIV)
I remember how a pastoral colleague of mine once used a simple metaphor to make the same point as Nouwen. He asked the leaders of a church he was serving to imagine themselves with two large mixing bowls, two boxes of cake mix and all the other needed ingredients for the cake mixes. He invited them to imagine mixing the cake mixes in the separate bowls until all the ingredients were properly blended together. He then said something like, “Now, you may have noticed that on the counter nearby there is one cake pan. I want you to pour the contents of one of the bowls into that pan. The other mixing bowl I want you to simply turn over, and pour the contents onto the counter.” He then said, “Take the cake pan and place it in the oven. In less than an hour the cake pan will be taken from the oven and we’ll have a beautiful cake. The cake mix left on the counter is exactly the same as that which we poured into the cake pan. The difference is – one mix properly formed – will be transformed into a cake. The other mix, mixed to perfection – is now – a mess.”
The significant question for each of us is the one posed by my friend: “What habits have you set in place to ensure that you continue to walk in the way of Jesus?” The question for each of us is not whether we have the right ingredients, but do we have a way of helping those ingredients to be formed in such a way that there’s cake to share with others? Jesus embraced solitude, community, and compassionate service. Mike Breen names these habits as the “Up, In, and Out” of discipleship. In what ways are we encouraging each other in our congregation to follow Jesus? Can we name the ways we are practicing regularly and consistently the same three habits? Jesus embraced and taught these to his first disciples. What habits are we embracing, teaching, and practicing with one another?
In the end, this kind of spiritual formation is not for our own individual accomplishment. It’s not a way to shine a light on our churches, or even to ensure they will survive. This kind of formation is always for the sake of others. The late Dr. Robert Mulholland said that spiritual formation is, “the process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Notice the words: process… formed… in the image of Christ; this is our calling as individual followers of Jesus, and as congregations; ordinary people who are being formed into those whose lives mirror and reflect the very character of Jesus.
United Methodists pledge to, “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” For the Church to be a transforming force in our communities and this world, each of us will need to practice, regularly, the holy habits which give our lives shape, and form us in the image of Christ.
“What habits have you set in place to ensure that you and your congregation continue to walk in the way of Jesus?”
Blessings & Peace,