27 Sep 2010

Desperately Seeking SPIRIT-uality: Connecting to God’s Refreshing Spirit

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Spiritual Disciplines


This post dates way back to the turn of the Millennium. I received an invitation from Jerry Rushford (on the recommendation of Tom Olbricht) to teach at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Lots of water has gone under the bridge since 2001, and my own thinking has matured and gone through the Valley of Achor, yet I hope that the direction of my thinking then continues to point in the right direction. I might say things slightly different now than then and I pray my depth is deeper now but overall I still believe this presentation. This presentation at Pepperdine was what I would call “soundings” and I invite you to ruminate upon them in that “spirit” as well.

Desperately Seeking SPIRIT-uality: Connecting to God’s Refreshing Spirit
Pepperdine University Bible Lectures

Opening

On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor which brought the USA into World War II. While most anguished that night over the loss of life and the prospect of an arduous road ahead, one man perceived things differently. This man had been fighting a war for three years already. This man had watched France fall in lightening speed. This man had endured Nazi bombers blasting English cities. This man for three years had not slept peacefully. But ironically that all changed on December 7. This man saw Pearl Harbor not as defeat but as victory. On December 8, 1941 this man wrote these words,

“So we HAD won after all! I had studied the American Civil War … American blood flowed in my veins … I thought of a remark … that the United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate! Being saturated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

That man’s name was Winston Churchill.

The mere presence the USA in that bloody war convinced Churchill he had already gained victory. The United States had done nothing, as of yet, but he slept the sleep of the saved and thankful. In the midst of the chaos of England, the news of Pearl Harbor was the news of power, not weakness, to Churchill. The day of infamy was a day of victory simply because that “gigantic boiler” was now pumping on England’s behalf.

I can identify with Churchill. I stand before you today not as a spiritual master but as a pygmy. I stand as one, who for so long, who felt as if I was meeting the onslaught of forces beyond my stamina … alone! I stand before you as one who has often had that fitful sleep of uneasiness. But one day, much to my joy, I “discovered” that boiler much more potent than the mighty United States was on my side … God’s Refreshing SPIRIT.

First Move: Non-SPIRIT-ual Confessions

I grew up in North Alabama Churches of Christ. In fact I cannot remember when I did not go to “church.” My dad led a wonderful and godly example of quietly reading his Bible every night sitting by his bed. He often had some study books (Nave’s Topical Study Bible, Unger’s Bible Handbook, Strong’s and even Josephus!) spread out as he delved into God’s Word. That image of my dad has remained vivid in my mind to this day. In my family we prayed especially at meal times. I went to college and got a BS in Bible, went to graduate school for the MA and MDiv, I have been preaching for years and I cultivated those practices. Bible reading and praying in gratitude for the blessings the Lord provided for me, Pamella, Rachael and Talya.

Be that as it may … in all honesty we were not giants of prayer or spiritual discernment. Prayer was more a perfunctory matter than a vehicle to intimacy with our Abba. I confess that I did not have a SPIRIT-ual relationship with God, his Son, or his Spirit. This became apparent to me around 1998 when a sister asked of me two things. She wanted me to

1) teach her to pray
2) teach her to worship

She said she wanted to have a “deeper relationship with God.” I freely confess that I would have been much more comfortable is she would have asked me to teach her to study the Bible.

“Relationship with God” had always been viewed suspiciously in my neck of the woods. That was a Baptist phrase. I was accustomed to speak of “being a member of the church.” I had a “relationship with the church” … not God, Jesus and certainly not with the SPIRIT himself.

I again confess, sadly now, that this sister caused angst in my life. My religion was almost completely cerebral … it was a head faith. I loved God, Jesus and even the Spirit though the he made me nervous. Something was awry!

As Robert Richardson cautioned in that Restoration classic of spirituality, Communings in the Sanctuary, “it is this religion {i.e. of the head/intellect} that inspires that spiritual pride which dogmatizes in matters of opinion and that intolerant bigotry which persecutes in matters of faith” (p.24) …

This relationship talk could be just a smokescreen for shoddy bible study. Indeed, spirituality (or piety as spirituality is sometimes reduced to) has been, at times, disparaged by some significant leaders in Churches of Christ. R. H. Boll, for example, was renown in his day as man of prayer. But in the eyes of his nemesis, R. L. Whiteside, this made him suspect. Whiteside, commenting directly on Boll’s spiritual demeanor, chides “when a man boasts {something Boll did not do btw} of his honesty, veracity, piety and devotion … well anybody but dupes become suspicious” (Christ and His Kingdom, pp. 23f). I can relate to RLWs words because I have believed them and lived them.

Signs of the Refreshing SPIRIT

But the simple questions of that dear sister would not go away. Like a poltergeist floating around my noggin I began to come to grips with the terrifying fact that though I had been baptized, and took the Lord’s Supper routinely, and deeply studied the Bible … I did not know how to pray, and though I was a Christian I had precious little “relationship with God, Christ or his Spirit.” I was comfortable talking about God but I was not comfortable communing with God.

I firmly believed, by this time, in God’s saving grace and I believed in the indwelling Spirit. I proclaimed we were saved by God’s grace through faith (to the best of my ability). But now, I suspect, that I misunderstood the PURPOSE of my salvation.

I believe, now, that God did not send his Son simply to remove the stain of sin. He did do that. But the goal, the reason, was not simply to forgive sin (though he does that praise his name). Rather Jesus shed his blood so that we (I) could have restored communion with God. The goal of salvation was not the removal of sins. That was a means to the goal. The telos was restoration of communion, the restoration of fellowship … Restoration of intimate intimacy.

We all believe that we will be in God’s Presence in the eschaton. But now I believe we have that glorious fellowship NOW … the goal of our salvation. We have that through God’s refreshing Holy Spirit. Many of our Fathers understood what I did not clearly. To quote from Robert Richardson again,

“To establish and maintain this communion is the great end of religion. To unite the soul to God; to erect in the human heart a living temple for his abode; to secure the enjoyment of that Divine presence which is the earnest of eternal blessedness: these are its noble and exalted aims — its truest, holiest purposes. And oh! how intimate is that fellowship to which we are thus introduced by the true and living Word … As sons to a compassionate father, we approach him to hear his words; to rejoice in his power, wisdom, and love; to cast our cares upon him and to repose in the faithful assurances of his unceasing favor” (Communings, p. 45)

Interestingly, it was from walking with giants of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement like Robert Richardson, James A. Harding and K. C. Moser that I felt God seeking my heart as well as my brain. I began to see that SPIRIT-uality was not simply being good or even pious. SPIRIT-uality is nothing short than the Holy Spirit himself God’s communion and operation in our lives. And slowly (and I mean slowly) I began to learn that it is ok to “walk with the Spirit.”

Signposts of God’s Refreshing Spirit

This notion of communion with God, I believe now, one of the central unifying themes of all Scripture. God created us for communion. God recreates us through his Son for communion. God wants to be with his creation! That is why he sacrificed his Son. That is why he sent his Spirit.

There are many texts in the canon that point to this theme and goal. However three that have come to mean so much to me are two from Paul and one from Moses.

1) Ephesians 1.13-18; 2.18,22 (know him better; access through the Spirit; know hope)

2) Ephesians 3.14-19 (strength and knowledge of the depth of Christ’s love through the Spirit)

3) Exodus 24.1-11. (God’s gracious Presence … I want to eat and drink in his Presence, I want to “see God”)

{In the Pepperdine presentation I spent significant time with each of these important, and in the case of Exodus unknown texts}

Plugging into the River of the Refreshing Spirit

SPIRIT-uality is not works righteousness. It is not a new legalism. It is not a means to manipulate God. Rather SPIRIT-uality is a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit. I take Paul as my guide on this point. “SPIRITUAL” is used as an adjective at least 24x by Paul. This is so important and we must grasp this point. Spiritual does not mean mental, an internal disposition or some such notion. Paul’s use of SPIRITUAL as an adjective means BY, OF, FLOWING OUT OF, COMING FROM God’s Refreshing Holy Spirit. SPIRITUALITY is the product of or Fruit of God himself in the Person of his Spirit. God’s own Spirit conceives and forms the life of Christ within us. Our spirits are formed by THE SPIRIT … that is what we seek.

Thus when I called this class “Desperately Seeking SPIRIT-uality” I mean desperately craving to be caught up in God’s rhythm of grace for life. I mean surrendering to the raging current of the River of the Spirit. I mean coming to know, to be known and to see God as the elders of Israel did and as Paul says in Eph 1.

I share the following suggestions that have been helpful to me. If I had to answer that dear sister today these are things I would share with her. There is nothing original or revolutionary here …

First. Ruminato. “to consider, to meditate upon, to ingest and chew upon.” Lectio divina … an ancient way of SPIRITUAL reading. I am convinced that no one in the restoration tradition has taught more on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple than James A. Harding. From him we learn that the Spirit renews and deepens our commitment to the written word as HIS instrument. Scripture is a “means of grace” he says, a sacrament so to speak of communing with God himself. If I ever get a chance to delve more in Harding’s life I would love to write a book about his theology of the Spirit. Desperately seeking SPIRIT-uality means we are committed to serious study of God’s word, but as a Nigerian Christian put it to me, “we don’t need any more leaders with heads full of Greek and hearts full of lust!”

Ruminato, lectio divina, is a way of reading that says “if I took this passage seriously what would I have to change right now?” What a dangerous question to submit to the Refreshing Holy Spirit … we may not like the answer!

This is a way of reading in which we “savor the word” {at this point I have written in the margin that Billy Wilson, a keynote speaker, used a chocolate illustration}. The word is like a delicious lozenge we carry in our mouths all day. 

I would like to recommend ruminating on images of God like Father, Husband, Lover, Mother … get caught up, and even lost, in these metaphors and watch how the Spirit nourishes your soul.

Second. Prayer. I have learned that prayer is easy to begin but difficult to develop. But over the last few years I have discovered that the Spirit has provided a magnificent “prayerbook” for the saints. Since 1997 I have been not just studying and ruminating on Scripture but I have begun to pray the Bible. The Psalms of course are a treasure trove but they are not alone. Here Scripture is not a means to doctrinal precision but an instrument bearing our spirit to the Holy Spirit. Nothing, I believe, can help us plug into the river of the Spirit more than simply praying his word back to him. We will find even in the Story itself prayer warriors like Moses himself who engaged God in wrestling prayer through Scripture.

But I have discovered that the saints in Scripture are not the only prayer treasures providentially preserved by the Spirit for us. I have discovered, ironically, the value of God’s church, the community of disciples down through the centuries. You will recall Paul’s words in Eph 1 and 3 about the role of the community in discovering the riches of fellowship with God. Does that mean only the living saints? Clearly not! Have we not inherited a wealth of SPIRIT-ual riches? I confess that I did not think so in years past … I had that opinion by the way with practically NO knowledge of that heritage. But today I do believe so.

Many Christians have written down their prayers. These prayers are not inspired like the Psalms. Yet they are often incredibly helpful, amazingly rich and … inspiring! Their faith in the darkness, I claim as my own. Their courage and boldness in the face of satanic onslaught, I claim as my own. Their words rising to the throne of God like sweet incense … have become mine.

{At this point I referred to specific examples of earthy, earnest, SPIRIT-ual prayer. Manasseh’s Prayer of Repentance. Tobias’ prayer for a God-centered marriage. The church’s prayer to glorify God in Te Deum. Etc.}

Some of these great prayers of the past have been preserved in books like The Prymer or The Book of Hours. These are wonderful tools to cultivate a river of the Spirit into the mundane tasks of life. Through some we are daily focused upon the Incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord. Our prayers become centered in the rhythm of grace rather than our individual whims.

I have found that these resources have enriched my prayer life tremendously. They have not by any means diminished spontaneous prayer. Rather I have found that I have found a disposition towards prayer that I credit the work of the SPIRIT for. Perhaps this is something like what Paul meant when he urged us to “pray IN the Spirit.”

Third. Sabbath. This is a strange suggestion to the ears of us in Churches of Christ. Sabbath is not simply a saturday but a period of rest and cessation of activity to enjoy the things of God. George MacDonald once wrote that sleep is God’s contrivance for giving us the help he cannot get into us when we are awake …

The sabbath principle is one of the finest examples of the rhythm of grace. Here GOD works and we simply “let it be.” When I stop my work nothing essential stops. The world goes on. It is both humbling and liberating to know that the burden of the care of the world does not depend upon me. Evening and Morning is the biblical rhythm beginning in Genesis 1. God is working before we are created or rise from bed and he continues to work when we return to sleep or rest. In our lives we are graciously invited to join in his work in the power he supplies through his own Spirit.

Taking a break, a sabbath, allows us to slow down and let the Spirit give us rest and perhaps a “tune up.”

Concluding Remarks

I am still a spiritual pygmy. But I do believe that God has blessed me in profound ways over the last few years through his Refreshing Spirit. I have lots of flesh yet to crucify but I join Churchill in saying, by God’s grace of the SPIRIT-ual, I now sleep the sleep of the saved and the thankful.

6 Responses to “Desperately Seeking SPIRIT-uality: Connecting to God’s Refreshing Spirit”

  1. Randall Says:

    Thanks Booby for another encouraging post.
    Hesed,
    Randall

  2. Trent Tanaro Says:

    Great post Brother! This was me about three yrs ago…I have come a long way to the point to where I am now. Appreciate you. if you ever come to lubbock, we have got to meet for coffee. May the Spirit be with you!!
    Trent Tanaro

  3. Doug Young Says:

    This really resonated with me. Thanks for offering it at just the right time.

  4. Thomas Paulson Says:

    I remember the first time I really prayed. It felt so good.

    Wonderful post.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Good post. It is certainly true that the most “spiritual” COC folks do not come close to the “relationship” expertise that Baptists have mastered. But the Baptist are as sloppy on doctrinal expertise as COC folks are on relationships. Both are good on what they have focused on because they exclude the other aspect. I wouldn’t look for much change. Most Baptist would be benefited by listening to some COC guys teaching doctrine as well as COC guys can benefit from a Charles Stanley sermon. Both groups are pretty well etched in stone religious cultures.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I have been born again since June 19th 1987, and I can still remember when I came up from the baptimal waters that my heart was set afire. I felt clean from head to toe, sizzling inside. I remember I WANTED forgiveness, I WANTED to be made knew. I came from a background not knowing of the Christian churches?Church of christs. I just heard a message and I had the desire to be cleansed. I have ALWAYS felt that presnce/confidence for all of my new birth, except for a time when God chastened me. I deserved it and it as as the scripture says,

    ‘No discpline feels pleasant at the time, BUT LATER ON it produces a harvest of righteouness and of peace to those who have been TRAINED by it’

    I do not regret the chastening, God’s spirit within me is STRONGER and I remeber that verse, ‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, RIVERS of living water will flow from within them.”

    I wish that for all believers and people..

    He has given a Spirit of POWER. Personal inner STRENGTH to quiet any storm, make us fly as high as an eagle, to motivate and change us from the inside out. And to help us not sin. Come Holy Spirit, have thine own way.

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