Excerpt from Sanctuary of the Soul

So, what does this for­ma­tion work deep in the subterra­nean cham­bers of the heart look like?

From the divine side of the equa­tion we can see only through a glass dark­ly. It is a glo­ri­ous mys­tery, this work­ing of God upon the human heart. Allow­ing max­i­mum free­dom and voli­tion. Pur­su­ing us qui­et­ly, relent­less­ly. Ex­tending graces and mer­cies we do not deserve or even seek. Grant­i­ng us quan­tum leaps for­ward into love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, good­ness, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness and self-con­trol. And so much more. This is the great work, but we are severe­ly lim­it­ed in what we can say about it or even under­stand. We can only stand in awe and dox­ol­o­gy at the good­ness of God.

But let me attempt to describe it for you from the hu­man side of the equa­tion. It begins first by our turn­ing to the Light of Jesus. We mind the Light,” as the old writ­ers put it. For some this is an excru­ci­at­ing­ly slow turn­ing, turn­ing, till we turn round right. For oth­ers it is instanta­neous and glo­ri­ous. In either case we are com­ing to trust in Jesus, to accept Jesus as our Life. We are horn from above, as we read in John 3

But our being born from above, of neces­si­ty, includes our being formed from above. Being spir­i­tu­al­ly born is a begin­ning — a won­der-filled, glo­ri­ous begin­ning. It is not an end­ing. Much intense for­ma­tion work is nec­es­sary be­fore we can stand the fires of heav­en. Much train­ing is nec­essary before we are the kind of per­son who can safe­ly and eas­i­ly reign with God. 

So now, we are ush­ered into this new rela­tion­ship. As Peter put it, we have been born anew, not of per­ish­able but of imper­ish­able seed, through the liv­ing and endur­ing word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). God is alive! Jesus is real and active in our lit­tle affairs. 

Hence we begin to pray, to enter into an inter­ac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­mu­nion with God. But in the be­ginning our pray­ing is uneasy and halt­ing. It’s like an alter­nating cur­rent of elec­tric­i­ty; our atten­tion bounces back and forth from divine glo­ries to the mun­dane tasks of dai­ly life. Back and forth, back and forth. And often the alter­nat­ing is worse — much worse — than not pray­ing at all. One moment we are rev­el­ing in holy mys­ter­ies and the next moment our minds are wal­low­ing in the gut­ter of car­nal desires. 

We feel frac­tured and frag­ment­ed. As Thomas Kel­ly put it, we are liv­ing in an intol­er­a­ble scram­ble of pant­i­ng fe­verishness.” We feel the pull and push of many oblig­a­tions and we try to ful­fill them all. And more often than not we find our­selves unhap­py, uneasy, strained, oppressed and fear­ful we shall be shallow.” 

Nev­er­the­less, through­out our seek­ing and strug­gling we are con­tin­u­al­ly doing three things: 

  1. We are ask­ing. Always ask­ing. Change my heart, O God; make it ever true. Change my heart, O God; may I be like you.” Ask­ing, always asking.
  2. We are lis­ten­ing. Always lis­ten­ing. Like Eli­jah, we wait through earth­quake, wind and fire for the still, small Voice. Lis­ten­ing, always listening.
  3. We are obey­ing. Always obey­ing. We obey Christ in all things. We obey the Spir­it at all times. We obey the Scrip­ture in all wavs. Obey­ing, always obeying.

Final­ly, through time and expe­ri­ence — some­times much time and expe­ri­ence — God begins to give us an amaz­ing set­tled­ness in what Thomas Kel­ly called the di­vine Cen­ter.” In the depths of our being our alter­nat­ing gives way to a well-nigh unbro­ken life of hum­ble ado­ra­tion before the liv­ing pres­ence of God. 

This is not ecsta­sy but seren­i­ty, unshak­able­ness, firm­ness of life ori­en­ta­tion.” In the words of George Fox, we become estab­lished” men and women. We are devel­op­ing a habit of divine ori­en­ta­tion. This is not per­fec­tion­ism but progress for­ward in our life with God. The inte­ri­or work of prayer becomes much sim­pler. We expe­ri­ence more en­during upreach­ings of praise and a relaxed lis­ten­ing in the depths of our heart. All that is need­ed to draw us into a habit­u­al ori­en­ta­tion of our heart toward God are lit­tle glances heav­en­ward and qui­et whis­pers of submission. 

With­out even know­ing it we are prac­tic­ing the pres­ence of God. For­mal times of prayer mere­ly join into and en­hance the steady under­cur­rent of qui­et wor­ship that under­lies our days. Behind the fore­ground of dai­ly life contin­ues the back­ground of heav­en­ly orientation. 

This is the for­ma­tion of the heart before God. With­out even real­iz­ing it our heart is tak­ing on a new char­ac­ter. Gone are the old impuls­es for manip­u­la­tion, anger and re­venge. Before we are aware of it, in slip new respons­es of love and joy and peace and patience and kind­ness and good­ness and faith­ful­ness and gen­tle­ness and self-control. 

In the words of Thomas Kel­ly we are enter­ing the expe­rience of a life of unhur­ried peace and pow­er. It is simple. 

It is serene. It is amaz­ing. It is tri­umphant. It is radi­ant. It takes no time, hut it occu­pies all our time. And it makes our life pro­grams new and over­com­ing. We need not get fran­tic. He is at the helm. And when our lit­tle day is done we lie down qui­et­ly in peace, for all is well.”

This is the trans­for­ma­tion of the human heart, which, in its time and in its way, will lead us irre­sistibly into a famil­iar friend­ship with Jesus.” 

Excerpt­ed from Sanc­tu­ary of the Soul by Richard J. Fos­ter, IVP2011.

Pho­to by Dewang Gup­ta on Unsplash

Originally published December 2010

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