Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We Get Transformed In the Presence of God

(Lake Michigan Sunset)

The first step towards spiritual renewal and transformation lies in brokenness in regard to our true inner condition. The symptoms that function as indicators of our need include: hopelessness, fear, mistrust, lovelessness, spiritual coldness, and lack of energy. Once we acknowledge our need to be in an ongoing process of spiritual transformation the question becomes how this can come about. The answer is: spiritual transformation and renewal comes as we live daily in the presence of God. Only God can change us in the profound ways we need to be changed. It is impossible to dwell consistently in God’s presence and remain untransformed and unrenewed.

The kind of change we need is into Christlikeness. Only God can effect such a change. Self-transformation is impossible. God once told me, “John, why are you trying so hard to change others when you can’t even change yourself?” The kind of metamorphosis God desires in us is into nothing less than Christlikeness. Almost by definition this is something we cannot accomplish in our own wisdom and strength. Such deep spiritual change can only be brought about by God. In such matters we are like mere lumps of clay, lacking not only the Potter’s hands but the Potter’s power and creativity as well. The lump of clay must be placed on the Potter’s wheel. We have to be close to the hands and face of God.

Thus we have to learn how to abide in God’s presence. When we do this the result is inexorable: we get transformed. I don’t believe it is possible to live consistently in God’s fortress and remain unchanged. To be with God in the sense of abiding in Christ is to be changed. The result is always deep transformation. We become changed and will never be the same again. To illustrate this Henri Nouwen makes an analogy between those who enter into the holy presence of God and astronauts who have gone to the moon. Both have “a special radiance because of what they have seen.” Astronaut Robert Cenker flew on Columbia 7 in January 1986. Cenker writes:

"Of all the people I’ve spoken to about the experience of space, only those closest to me can begin to understand. My wife knows what I mean by the tone of my voice. My children know what I mean by the look in my eye. My parents know what I mean because they watched me grow up with it. Unless you actually go and experience it yourself you will never really know."[1]
Nouwen says, “That’s the loneliness of the mystic. Having seen and experienced what cannot be expressed in words and still must be communicated.”[2]

Today’s Christian leaders need a Moses-experience. When Moses came down from the mountain of God his face radiated. He was transformed. You can’t dwell in the presence of God and not radiate. What today’s Christian leaders most need is constant exposure to what George Otis called “the earth-shattering presence of God.” Granted, every encounter with God does not produce such dramatic internal upheaval. But haven’t you been in the presence of someone who so influenced you that you rarely left their presence unmoved? How much more so must it be for those who walk with God.

As Christian leaders the uniqueness of what we have to give to others comes out of intimacy with God. It is not primarily political wisdom or psychological insights that our people need from us. We may help a person with their plumbing, but if they’re truly needy in this area they should call a plumber. People today need God, and only the person who cultivates intimacy with God as their primary purpose in life will be able to give God to people. Where are today’s Christian leaders who know God?[3]

To know God intimately is to experience transformation. As regards this transformation God is the author.

[1] In Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p. 23.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Thomas Merton is an example of someone who made the encounter with God his first priority. It was only out of that deep God-encounter that Merton was able to speak with such insight in regard to socio-political events. It is instructive to note that Merton never watched TV. His time was, primordially, God-focused.