I have always been intrigued with how people cultivate their spiritual life. One of my first roles as a pastor forty years ago was to create a path for individuals to become disciples of Christ in a large church that was growing dramatically through evangelism. I felt like a kid in a candy store! We had hundreds of young followers of Christ who wanted to grow in their faith. The lead pastor offered to send me on a two-week trip to any church in the United States to study how other large, growing churches were developing disciples.
As I visited four or five of the churches (primarily on the west coast), I learned so much and developed a long list of questions about the process. Most of these questions still haunt me today. It bothered me that people develop in different ways and at different rates. Some don’t grow at all. It isn’t like growing corn, where the stalks grow consistently. I was perplexed why the first young man I poured my life into while in that role, after a couple of years, got married and left most of what we had been working through. For the last forty years, I have continued to wrestle with this process. The Christian spiritual journey is founded on the grace of God, which none of us deserve. In other words, God went to an extreme length to liberate us from our isolation from Him. He did this by graciously welcoming us into his companionship. It is based upon Christ dying, and there is nothing we can do to deserve it. It was simply a gift he offered us. So it is by simply accepting this gracious offer that we learn the meaning of “being” rather than “doing.” It isn’t what we do to earn God’s approval, but purely by graciously accepting what he has done and remaining in relationship that we experience intimacy with God.
This truth is foundational to all our future growth.
However quickly, we learned that we must read our Bibles, pray, attend church, and…the list goes in different directions depending on the tribe in which you came to faith in Christ. There is clearly a lot of “doing” that we must accomplish if we are going to develop in our faith. As we developed various disciplines in our lives, we found our spiritual life began to mature. We noticed the inward transformation of our heart began to produce outward changes in our behavior. Our desires changed as well as our actions. There was a healthy and natural developmental process taking place.
Today, I hear people challenge followers of Christ that “being” is more important than “doing”. However, I think this is an inappropriate comparison. It would be like asking any college football fan from the south if they are an Ohio State Buckeye fan or a University of Michigan Wolverine fan. The reality is most fans in the south are fans of neither of these teams. There are other options besides only those two schools. I know it is hard for me to imagine, but nonetheless true.
Let me suggest that our walk with Christ is much more complicated than just being or doing.
After watching many people grow, get stuck, un-grow, or go sideways over the last half-century has led me to see the best word for describing the Christian spiritual journey as one of “becoming.” It is a journey of becoming.
Our spiritual journey with Christ is a process of maturing which continues throughout our entire lifetimes. I can honestly say that I have grown more in my spiritual development over the last several years than probably any other period in my life. I am changing and developing a lot at 68! That is almost fifty years after I began this journey.
It isn’t either being or doing but becoming that describes the spiritual life of a Christian. The Oxford Dictionary defines becoming as the process of coming to be something. This seems to bring being and doing into a healthy balance. It implies we are “to be” while progressing on a path toward a destination. The destination is to become like Christ. Obviously, we all have a long way to go. I don’t think the best question is where you are on this path, as much as what direction are you heading?
I find it interesting that Dallas Willard believed (along with C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards & others) that this process of development will continue, even after death*. I know it will take me that long.
*Preparing for Heaven by Gary Black