Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spiritual Formation - The Need

RR bridge in Monroe

Step #1 to spiritual formation and transformation is: Realize how needy you are.

I received the gift of a Bela Fleck dvd, inserted into the player, and sat down to watch, in awe. I was not prepared to be awed, but I was. I had thought I was a guitar player!

I began playing guitar when I was five years old. I did a two year degree in music theory on my way to, I envisioned, a full-time musical career. I taught guitar in the music studio owned by Rick Nielsen’s father in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I’ve written songs, published them, had them recorded by other artists, played on TV, practiced a million hours and given tons of lessons. But I cannot play like Bela Fleck. As I watched him I thought, in an Isaiah 6 moment, “I am a man of unclean guitar playing.” I am in need.

So are you. We’re all a bunch of very needy people. My fellow musician and songwriter David once wrote, “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay” (Ps. 40:17) We all need guidance. We all need direction. We all need help, in this life. It is a good thing to recognize one’s neediness. This realization puts one in position to be guided, directed, and helped. Only the needy know they need a shepherd. Only those who realize their need for guidance can be guided.

In a moment of God-inspired musical genius David wrote the first line to arguably the greatest worship song ever written. Out of his neediness David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd.” All of David’s own talents were not enough. As brilliant as King David was, his own intelligence did not suffice. As courageous as he was, he still struggled with fear. David, the greatest King and leader Israel ever had, knew that he needed to be led. He needed a shepherd. And for that, David chose well.

In the seminary classes I teach on spiritual formation I send my students out for times of prayer, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. I instruct them: “When God speaks to you, write it down.” My experience is that God doesn’t let 40% of them get past verse 1. God asks them the question: “Am I really your shepherd?” That is the foundational question for all spiritual formation, transformation, renewal, and restoration. The answer to that question determines whether a person’s life and ministry will be authentic or inauthentic, relevant or irrelevant. This is because unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain; unless we are shepherded by God, we’re shepherded by some other god (like self; others; money; sex; power). The key question of the spiritual life is, as Henri Nouwen said: Who do you belong to?

The necessary precondition for authentic, relevant God-leadership is: being-led. To lead is to be led. To be led one must heart-recognize one’s great neediness. This is, spiritually, a very good place to be. How do we come to understand this?

I don’t think you can force this idea on people. The heart-recognition of personal neediness is given to people as a revelation. You cannot command this for others. It’s a revelation, a wakeup call, that God desires us all to have, but which all do not see. But if one consistently abides in God’s presence, God himself will show you this. He will burst the bubble of your self-greatness and the illuision of independence. It will be like me, popping in the dvd, thinking I’ve got my guitar-playing in a powerful place, watching Bela Fleck begin to play, and then comes the revelation of personal guitar-neediness.

In the spiritual life neediness is cool; self-reliance sucks. If I really wanted to play like Bela Fleck I’d need Bela Fleck to shepherd me. If I really want to be used by God I need to be constantly shepherded by God.

Pray for a revelation of personal neediness. God wants to reveal this to you. He will, as you spend time with him. Your spiritual life and effectiveness for the sake of God and his Kingdom are at stake.