Each person must choose to submit to God and His work. No amount of preaching or teaching or small group meetings can do that for them unless they are willing to be shaped and pruned. (iStock)
In God’s Garden: Positioned for Transformation
by Michaele LaVigne
During the summer, I love to spend time in my garden. Picking off the old, dead flower heads so that new ones can grow or stepping into my flowerbeds, I water the plants the sprinklers don’t catch. It is still surprising to me that I can have such fun pruning my crape myrtles and rose bushes. Even weeding every once and a while brings a level of pleasure.

The best part, however, is coming out in the golden light of morning or evening to sit on my patio and admire the beauty. I can hardly keep from smiling when I look at the collection of purple, blue, pink, and green. Every new bloom is appreciated. Every place of growth is noted with pride.

I have said that spiritual formation is akin to giving God space for a workshop in our lives (“Transformed in the Master’s Hands,” Holiness Today July/August 2011). Yet it can also be likened to being a member of God’s garden, with Him as the Great Gardener of our souls. He is perfect in His knowledge of us, knowing exactly what we need to produce the best blooms possible. God is the One who waters and prunes us, picks off old flowers, and delights in our beauty.

Yet unlike the plants sitting docile in my garden, we have the ability to resist God’s gardening. We often try to be our own gardeners, ending up like a three-year-old who gives herself a haircut. As long as we are still the ones trying to manage who we become, we will not become who God can make us. We need to submit to Him as our Gardener, and sit still under His expert care.

Recognizing that we have difficulty with being still and with submitting, spiritual formation gives us tools to help. These tools call us to stop all our futile and wearisome work and just be in the presence of God, whose work in us can accomplish much more than we can imagine. Jesus invited us to this by saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28).

As a pastor, I often find myself wanting to manage the spiritual formation of others. Our churches spend great time and energy providing the right kind of worship services, Bible studies, youth programming, and small groups all geared toward forming people into Christlike disciples. These are all good and necessary activities.

Yet if we expect the Church’s good work to make people like Christ, we are still taking the gardening tools out of God’s hands. It is God who forms us, not the Church. The Church is called to lead people to God, to support them, and to teach them the ways of God. But it is only God who saves, heals, sanctifies, and transforms us into the image of Christ.

Therefore, since we are incapable of forming people into the image of Christ, our time is better spent leading them closer to the One who can. Each person must choose to submit to God and His work. No amount of preaching or teaching or small group meetings can do that for them unless they are willing to be shaped and pruned. What we can do, however, is invite our people to experience the joy and freedom that comes when their own strivings cease. And then, when people accept the invitation, we can provide them with some tools that will help them to be still and submit to the Great Gardener of souls.

Michaele LaVigne is equipping pastor at Bethany, Oklahoma, First Church of the Nazarene.

4 Simple Tools
While there are many other formative tools, these four are simple yet extremely helpful:

1.  Silence and Solitude
Jesus often withdrew to solitary places to be alone with His Father. If He needed silence and solitude, how much more so do we? The constant noise of everyday life can effectively drown out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. We need time to step out of the rat race, slow down, and spend quality time with God and God alone. Complete silence is difficult, but the more we can spend time there, the better attuned we will be to hear the voice of God even when we step back into noisy life.

2.  Conversational Prayer
Prayer is our time to actually talk to Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth. He desires not only to listen to us talk, but to talk to us. When we pray, give time to pause and listen for God’s words to us, and write them down for future reference. We don’t need to fear asking Him questions about himself, about the Scriptures, or about problems we are currently having. We may not hear an answer right away, but if we listen He will certainly speak.

3.  Transformational Reading
We not only read the Bible to gain information, but to be transformed “by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). After reading a portion of Scripture, ask yourself: What does this tell me about who God is? What does this tell me about who I am? Is there anything God is asking me to do with this knowledge?

4.  Community
Humans were not designed to go it alone. We benefit from the accountability that comes from sharing our stories and the encouragement from hearing the stories of others. This kind of formative interaction doesn’t happen in groups of 100, or even 20. A handful of people who are willing to talk truthfully about their struggles and triumphs on the Christian journey will find God’s transformative power at work among them.

Read part one of this two-part series here: http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?sid=10005075&id=10010552

Holiness Today, September/October 2011

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