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, IVP, 2011.

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

Originally published January 2011.