Editor's note:

Richard Fos­ter, always help­ing us put the­o­ry into heart-open­ing action, here gives sev­er­al deeply prac­ti­cal ideas for pre­sent­ing one’s body and mind to Jesus. 

It’s easy to read these, nod in agree­ment, and move on. In this age of dis­trac­tion these kind of exper­i­ments take a lot of inten­tion. I encour­age you to choose one, just one, and put it into prac­tice this week. Because my thoughts in the morn­ing often start dark, right now I’m set­ting a night­ly reminder on my phone to pray St. Aidan’s prayer and record my thoughts in the morn­ing. I’m excit­ed to see how God works through this sim­ple exercise.

—Brian Morykon

In this let­ter I want to stress the impor­tance for you of Dal­las Willard’s book, Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart. To a small group of us Dal­las once said (and here I am quot­ing him from mem­o­ry), With­out a prop­er the­ol­o­gy of God and a prop­er ontol­ogy and anthro­pol­o­gy of the human self, reli­gion will always degen­er­ate into super­sti­tion or legal­ism, and often both.” Well, Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart gives us the very best ontol­ogy and anthro­pol­o­gy of the human self” found anywhere.

This teach­ing is so very impor­tant. Today peo­ple throw around words like soul,” spir­it,” heart,” will,” etc. with­out the slight­est idea what they mean. Well, this book explains exact­ly what such terms mean. It gives us a clear, bib­li­cal under­stand­ing of the depths of the human self. Even more, it gives us a clear, bib­li­cal under­stand­ing of how our inward selves can be deeply trans­formed so as to take on the char­ac­ter of Jesus Christ.

You see, we all have been spir­i­tu­al­ly formed, but usu­al­ly our for­ma­tion has been in very bad ways. Indeed, we are de-formed,” if you will. And we need to be re-formed,” that is to say, we need ref­or­ma­tion. Even more, we need trans-for­ma­tion.”

But to effec­tive­ly and con­scious­ly enter into this spir­i­tu­al form­ing, re-form­ing, trans-form­ing process we need a clear under­stand­ing of the human self. An ontol­ogy and anthro­pol­o­gy of the self. Exact­ly what is the heart, the spir­it, the will, the mind, the body, the soul? How are they to be spir­i­tu­al­ly re-formed and what is their role in our over­all spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion? Now, this under­stand­ing is giv­en to us in Scrip­ture, but it is not giv­en sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly. The Bible could not accom­plish what it need­ed to accom­plish and do it sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly. But we do need to under­stand what the depths of the per­son are, and then we need to relate this to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its trans­form­ing pow­er. Then we need to relate all of these mat­ters to the larg­er social realm. All of this is giv­en with pre­ci­sion and care in Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart.

Have you gath­ered by now that I hope you will get this book? Even more, I hope you will read it care­ful­ly and prayer­ful­ly … even more still, I hope you will apply it to the warp and woof of your dai­ly life.

Grow­ing Together

In this sec­tion I want to present two sam­ple sug­ges­tions of ways to prac­tice the themes dis­cussed in Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart. Then, as you study the book for your­self, you will be able to devel­op your own exer­cis­es for the oth­er dimen­sions of the self: soul, heart, spir­it, will, social realm. Maybe two or three of you can work on this togeth­er and encour­age one anoth­er along. I’m sure you will get the idea quick­ly. God bless you as you learn to put on the char­ac­ter of Christ.

The Body

The body is the indi­vid­u­al­ized pow­er pack” God has giv­en us for func­tion­ing in life. It is the store­house of habits. So now, take a week or so to become aware of the habits deeply ingrained in your body.

  • Note those habits that make life pos­si­ble. Breath­ing, for exam­ple. Or digest­ing food. Or sleep­ing. Or walk­ing. Or talk­ing. These are all habits that we take for grant­ed but with­out which we could hard­ly func­tion. Give time to thank God for these habits.
  • Con­sid­er habits that make life eas­i­er. Things like dri­ving a car or typ­ing or read­ing or play­ing some sport. Isn’t it won­der­ful that we can do these things almost with­out con­scious thought! They help us get through life, and when they are absent, we real­ly miss them.
  • Con­sid­er habits that move you in life-giv­ing direc­tions. Maybe it is a reg­u­lar habit of prayer. Or of eat­ing healthy foods. Or of prop­er and reg­u­lar exer­cise. And so forth. How did these habits devel­op? Who or what influ­enced you in these life-giv­ing direc­tions? How do you feel when you miss doing them? Are there prac­ti­cal ways that you can incor­po­rate them even more into your dai­ly regimen?
  • Turn to those habits you know are destruc­tive and death-giv­ing. I need not enu­mer­ate them – they are already too vivid in your con­scious­ness. And don’t start con­demn­ing your­self over them or get­ting defeat­ed by them. Just sin­gle out one destroy­ing habit and ask, What deci­sions can I make and actions take this week that would begin to free me from this habit and replace it with a bet­ter one?” Maybe shar­ing this one mat­ter with a trust­ed friend and hav­ing him or her pray over you in this regard would be a good first step. But oth­er steps need to fol­low. What might they be? This is your dis­cern­ment process – you need to dis­cov­er the steps right for you.

The Mind

The mind is a pri­ma­ry bat­tle­ground in the spir­i­tu­al life. Satan, for instance, approached Eve with an idea, and it was an idea asso­ci­at­ed with a lot of feel­ings … and it swept her away. Adam, too. So the are­na of ideas is of pri­ma­ry con­cern for us as fol­low­ers of Jesus. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing exercises:

  • Set aside one hour some­time and focus your atten­tion on those things that are true and hon­or­able and just and pure and love­ly and gra­cious (Phil. 4:8). How you do this depends on you. You may read or paint or sim­ply sit qui­et­ly. See how you do. Do dis­tract­ing thoughts crowd in? Evil thoughts even? What does this teach you about your inte­ri­or world?
  • Watch a movie or TV pro­gram that is focused on destruc­tion or vio­lence. How do you feel after­ward? What ideas or emo­tions were the cin­e­matog­ra­phers appeal­ing to in the movie? How ready were you to respond? Now, watch a movie or TV pro­gram focused on healthy rela­tion­ships or com­mu­ni­ty build­ing. Check your feel­ings after­ward. Are they qual­i­ta­tive­ly dif­fer­ent from your first exper­i­ment? What were the under­ly­ing ideas or assump­tions? Which expe­ri­ence influ­enced you for the better?
  • For a week or so keep a note pad by your bed and write down the very first thoughts you have as you awake in the morn­ing. Is there a pat­tern? If so, are you glad for the pat­tern or dis­ap­point­ed? Then for the next week pray these words of St. Aidan each night just before sleep, I am going now into the sleep: O be it in Thy dear arm’s keep, O God of grace, that I shall awake.” Then record your very first thoughts in the morn­ing. Are they any dif­fer­ent from the first week? What did you learn about God and your­self from this experiment?
  • Mem­o­rize Philip­pi­ans 3:10 – 11: I want to know Christ and the pow­er of his res­ur­rec­tion and the shar­ing of his suf­fer­ings by becom­ing like him in his death, if some­how I may attain the res­ur­rec­tion from the dead.” Now, for one month speak this pas­sage out loud every morn­ing, noon, and evening. Also, say it silent­ly as many times as you think of it dur­ing the day. After the month, see if the exer­cise trained your mind in any way. Were there days when you just could not do the exer­cise? What was hap­pen­ing on those days? Were there days when the pas­sage seemed to fit into the day’s events perfectly?

First pub­lished in Per­spec­tive, 2002.

Originally published December 2001

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