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?

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First published in Perspective, 2002.