Process Spirituality:Being Versus Doing
Perhaps the greatest threat to applying these truths about process spirituality is the busyness that stems from the way we define ourselves in terms of achievements and accomplishments. We live in a future-oriented culture that relates time largely to efficiency and productivity. We are more inclined than ever to use time to accomplish results than to enhance relationships.
The Problem of Busyness
The civil religion of America worships the god of progress and inspires us to compete, achieve, and win for the sake of competing, achieving, and winning. Life for many people in the business world has been colorfully described as a matter of “blowing & going, plotting & planning, ducking & diving, running & gunning, slamming & jamming, moving & shaking, shucking & jiving.”
Longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, “We are warned not to waste time, but we are brought up to waste our lives.” This is evident in the tragedy of many people who in the first half of their lives spend their health looking for wealth, and in the last half spend their wealth looking for health.
My associate Len Sykes relates the problem of busyness to five areas:
In our home. We miss out on relational opportunities when we are dominated by excessive activities. Consider taking an inventory of activities like television, children’s lessons and sports, meetings, time on the computer, etc., and see how some of these can and should be pared down. Deuteronomy 6:5-9 exhorts parents to know and love God and to teach their children about Him “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” God intended the home to be a sanctuary for spiritual and personal development in a relational setting of love and acceptance. This requires an ongoing process involving both formal and spontaneous times together.
In our work. The mistake of looking to work rather than God for security and significance coupled with the pressured quest for more of this world’s goods—these are forces that drive us to the idolatry of materialism and busyness. If we don’t have enough time to cultivate a quality relationship with God, our spouse, and our children, we are working too long and too hard. As Gordon Dahl put it, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.”
In our recreation. Hard-charging approaches to recreation and vacations can devitalize us and keep us from enjoying personal and relational renewal. The Sabbath principle of restoration through “being-time” provides a balanced rhythm of work and rest.
In our church work/ministry. This can become another arena of busyness and frustration, especially when we take on activities and responsibilities in order to please people and meet their expectations. Not every need and request is a calling from God.
In our walk with God. Excessive activity draws us away from the time it takes to cultivate intimacy with God. We are often inclined to define our relationship with God in terms of doing things for Him rather than spending time with Him.
Here are just a few suggestions that will enhance the daily process of living before the Lord:
- Like Jesus, you must develop a clear sense of your mission so that you can invest your time with God’s calling in mind. You should also develop an understanding of your limits so that you will budget time with the Father for restoring your inner resources. There are many good things you could do, but the good can become the enemy of the best.
- Free yourself from bondage to the opinions, agendas, and expectations of others. Learn to say no to invitations and requests that may flatter you but could drain your time and energy.
- Seek a balance between rest and work, recharging and discharging, depth and breadth, inward and outward, reflection and practice, thinking and application, contentment and accomplishment.
- Ask yourself how much is enough. Unbridled wants kill contentment and drive us to greater busyness.
- Resist the temptation to allow work to invade rest.
- Look for ways to reduce your commitments so that you will not do a shoddy job on numerous tasks instead of an excellent job on a few. There is a tension between the desires to please God and to pursue success, and we will be tempted to resolve this tension by putting a spiritual veneer over the quest for success. It is better to pursue excellence in what we do for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) rather than success to receive honor from people.
- Realize that rest requires faith, because it seems non-productive from the world’s point of view. Since you cannot measure the “product” of time spent in developing your relationships with God and people, it takes a risk to invest a significant amount of time in these ways.
- Budget time in advance for the important things that could get swept away in the daily grind. If you do not learn to make the urgent things flow around the important, the important will be overwhelmed by the urgent.
- Be aware of the human tendency to avoid an honest examination of ourselves in the presence of God. Many people seek diversions, distractions, and busyness to elude this encounter.
- Try to live from moment to moment and hold a looser grip on your long-term plans. “Our great business in life is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand” (Thomas Carlyle).
- Be aware of the distinction between chronos (chronological, everyday events) and kairos (special opportunities and occurrences). Seek to be available to make the most of the opportunities or kairos moments God providentially gives you (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5), since the most significant thing you do in the course of a day may not be in your daily calendar. Be ready “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to redeem the special moments God sends your way. Seek to manage time loosely enough to enhance relationships rather than tightly to accomplish results.
- “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt any situation you believe to be the will of God” (Jim Elliott).
Causes Versus Christ
All of us have a built-in hunger for security, significance, and satisfaction, but our world teaches us to pursue these things in the wrong places. It should come as no surprise, then, that the dreams and goals promoted by the culture have also infected our whole approach to the spiritual life. There are Christian books, seminars, and churches that have baptized the media agenda of self-orientation, success, and ambition with a spiritual veneer. Many believers are encouraged to set their heart on goals that actually distance them from Christ. By contrast, Scripture teaches that our meaning is not found in a quest for self, but in a calling to know God.
Intimacy Versus Activity
Any dead fish can float downstream—to swim against the current of our times, we must be spiritually alive. As the New Testament portrays it, real life in Christ is countercultural. The world defines who we are by what we do, but the Word centers on who we are in Christ and tells us to express that new identity in what we do. Being and doing are clearly interrelated, but the biblical order is critical: what we do should flow out of who we are, not the other way around. Otherwise, our worth and identity are determined by achievements and accomplishments, and when we stop performing, we cease to be valuable. When people answer the question “Who are you?” by what they do, the world has a way of responding, “So what have you done lately?”
In Christ we have a secure and stable basis for worth and dignity, because these are founded on what God Himself has done for us and in us. Having been re-created and incorporated into the glorified life of the ascended Christ, God has penetrated to the very roots of our being and given us a new nature. Thus, being should have priority over doing, but it should also be expressed in doing. This balanced interplay would be lost if we disconnected the two. My friend Skip Kazmarek warns against this disjunction and illustrates this concern with a cartoon that shows a man laying on a couch, with a “Gangster Psychologist” (according to the diploma on the wall) sitting next to him. The psychologist says, “Well, just because you rob, murder, and rape doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.” We are not disjointed, disconnected, severed entities. Mind, body, and spirit exist in an integrated whole. How we act affects how we think, and how we think affects our relationship with God. There is a very dangerous construct that we sometimes serve up in which we can think of ourselves as “being” one way, while we continue to “do” exactly the opposite.
Thus, external action should be derived from internal reality, and this requires a rhythm of solitude and engagement, restoration and application, intimacy with Christ and activity in the world. The life of Jesus illustrates this pattern of seeking significant amount of time to be alone with the Father (Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35; 6:31) so that He would have the inner power and poise to deal with the outward pressures imposed upon Him by His friends and enemies. People who work and minister without adequate restoration through prayer and meditation do not have the interior resources to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in a stress-filled world. It is during the quiet times of the devotional life that we gain the perspective and power we need to live with character and composure in the context of daily demands. “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
Intimacy with Christ
Activity in the World
Restoration of Spiritual Energy
Application of Spiritual Energy
In this chart, the real life of the left column should energize the reflected life of the right. The problem is that people typically approach the spiritual life in terms of the right column, supposing that their actions and service will lead to intimacy in their relationship with God. While the greatest commandment exhorts us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), we tend to reverse the order, thinking we can go from the outside-in rather than the inside-out. Instead of ministry flowing out of our relationship with God, many people suppose, in effect, that ministry will determine their relationship with God.
The perennial problems of perfectionism and legalism stem from this vision of the spiritual life as a series of duties and tasks to be accomplished. Legalism is a spiritual disease that has afflicted the church since its inception. I cannot recall having met a legalistic Christian who is characterized by deep joy. This is because legalists attempt to achieve, through their own efforts, an externally imposed standard of performance in the hope that this will somehow earn them merit in the sight of God and others. This produces insecurity, frustration, denial, and failure for several reasons:
Just as none of our actions will make God love us more, it is equally true that there is nothing we can think, say, or do that will make God love us less than He does (Romans 5:6-10).
Spiritual growth is accomplished by Christ’s life in us, not by our own attempts to create life. Our responsibility is to walk in the power of the Spirit and not in dependence on the flesh (Galatians 2:20; 5:16-25).
The focus of the Christian life should not be deeds and actions, but a relationship; it is not centered on a product, but on a Person. It is a matter of abiding in Christ Jesus (John 15:1-10) rather than fulfilling a set of religious formulae.
The New Testament teaches that allegiance to Christ has displaced devotion to a code (Romans 7:3-4), but there is a human tendency to avoid God through religious substitutes. Many miss the point that while intimacy with Christ leads to holiness, attempts to be holy do not necessarily lead to intimacy. Sanctification is not generated by moral behavior but by the grace of a relationship with Christ. If we miss this, we will be driven to causes rather than called to Christ, and activity will take precedence over intimacy. People who are driven eventually burn out. “If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter; but if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a door-mat.” (Oswald Chambers).
Joshua and Joash
The lives of Joshua and Joash poignantly illustrate the contrast between being called and being driven. Four scenes from the life of Joshua capture the heart of this faithful man. In the first scene, Joshua is present with Moses at the tent of meeting. When Moses entered this tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance to the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:7-10). The key to the life of Joshua is revealed in Exodus 33:11: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” Joshua remained in the tent of meeting because he had a passion to know and be with God. This personal knowledge of God served him well in the second scene when he and Caleb were two of the twelve spies who were sent from Kadesh to view the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). Although all twelve spies saw the same things, ten of them interpreted what they saw from a human perspective and were overwhelmed by the size and number of the people. Only Joshua and Caleb saw the opposition through a divine perspective, and they encouraged the people to trust in the Lord: “Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:9). Tragically, the people believed the fearful conclusions of the majority of the spies, and the Israelites were consigned to wander in the wilderness, literally killing time for 38 years until the generation of the exodus perished in the wilderness.
In the third scene, the Lord prepares Joshua to lead the generation of the conquest into the land of Canaan. In Joshua 1:1-9, the Lord encourages him to be a courageous and obedient man of the Word who meditates on it day and night. Because he knew and loved God and renewed his mind with the book of God’s law, Joshua finished well. In the fourth scene, Joshua is nearing the end of his earthly sojourn when he gathers and exhorts the people of Israel to serve the Lord only and to put away all forms of idolatry. He concludes his exhortation with this famous stance: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). As Bob Warren puts it, “Because [Joshua] spent more time being a friend to God than a friend to others he avoided the pitfall of becoming enslaved to unproductive activity. But because he understood the necessity of intimacy over activity, his activity was energized beyond anything he could have imagined.”
By contrast, King Joash (2 Chronicles 22:10-24:27) was a man who appeared to start well but finished poorly. He was the only one of the royal offspring of the house of Judah who escaped Athaliah’s murderous plot to take the throne for herself. After Joash was protected and raised in the temple by Jehoiada the priest, Athaliah was put to death and the seven-year-old Joash became Judah’s king. “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (24:2), and he championed the project of restoring the temple in Jerusalem. But when Jehoiada died, Joash listened to foolish counsel, abandoned the house of the Lord, and gave himself over to idolatry. He even murdered Jehoiada’s son when he rebuked him for forsaking the Lord.
Joash was involved with “religious” activities (the temple restoration project), but he never developed a relationship with the God of Jehoiada. He was driven by causes, but avoided the more fundamental calling to know the Lord. Because the “godly activity” of his younger years was never energized by intimacy with the Lord, he failed miserably in the end.
It is easy to become more concerned with good causes than with knowing Christ. As Oswald Chambers notes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. . . . The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him. . . . We count as service what we do in the way of Christian work; Jesus Christ calls service what we are to Him, not what we do for Him. . . . The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him.” Our primary purpose is not to do something for Christ, but to know Him; our activities and abilities are useless for the kingdom unless He energizes them, and this will not happen if they take precedence over intimacy with Him. We become weary and exhausted when we attempt more public ministry than we can cover in private growth.
Even worthy causes—raising godly children, building a company for Christ, knowing the Scriptures, leading people to the Lord, discipleship ministry—will not sustain us if we are not cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus. Many believers fall into the trap of striving for goals that are inferior to their purpose of knowing and enjoying God. When this happens, we attempt to do God’s work in our own power and get on the treadmill of outward activities without an interior life.
It is crucial for us to form the habit of holy leisure, of quiet places and times alone with the Lord, so that we will restore our passion and intimacy with Christ. In this way, service will flow out of our life with Him and our activities and abilities will be animated by dependence upon His indwelling power. This restoration and renewal is especially important after periods of intense activity. When we seek and treasure God’s intentions and calling, our personal knowledge of Him (knowing) shapes our character (being) and conduct (doing). Although we are more inclined to follow Jesus into service than into solitude, it is really the time we spend in “secluded places” with Him (Mark 1:35; 6:31) that will energize our outward service.
Practicing His Presence
Our times of solitude with Jesus should not be limited to secluded places—we can choose to enjoy solitude with Him even in the midst of the outward activities of everyday living. Private prayer consists of mental prayer (meditation and contemplation; discussed in devotional spirituality), colloquy (conversational prayer with God; discussed in disciplined spirituality), and the prayer of recollection (practicing the presence of God). This recollection of God can be habitual or actual. Habitual recollection is analogous to a man’s or a woman’s love for a spouse or children, and does not require an ongoing consciousness. Just as we can form a habitual identity as being a husband, a wife, or a parent, so we can ask for the grace to form a habitual state of mind as a follower of Jesus Christ. Actual recollection involves the developing habit of turning to God at regular times throughout the course of the day. This is more along the lines of what Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach, and Thomas Kelly pursued in their quest for a more conscious awareness of God in the routines of everyday life.
Note the process imagery in Scripture that stresses an ongoing awareness of the presence of Christ: abide in Jesus and let His words abide in you (John 15:4-7); set your mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6); walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25); keep seeking the things above where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-2); rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18); run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). The spiritual life is not a measurable product, but a dynamic process.
Here are some suggestions for practicing the presence of Jesus:
- Send up “flash prayers” at various times during the day. These are very brief prayers or mental notes that acknowledge God’s presence or lift up others. They can be offered when waking, sitting down for a meal, walking, driving, waiting, listening, and so forth.
- Try using the same short prayer throughout the course of a day, such as the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) or another brief prayer (e.g., “I love You, Lord”; “I thank You in all things”; “By Your grace, Lord”; “Thank You, Jesus”).
- Pray and work (ora et labora). Do your work with a listening ear that is cocked to the voice of God. When you combine prayer and action, even trivial tasks can be spiritualized through a divine orientation. Invite the Lord to animate your work so that the ordinary is translated into the eternal.
- Play to an Audience of One; live coram deo (before the heart of God). Seek obscurity and anonymity rather than public accolades so that you will desire to please God rather than impress people.
- Ask Jesus to energize your activities and cultivate an attitude of dependence on Him, even in areas where you have knowledge and skill.
- Monitor your temptations as they arise (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life) and turn these moments into opportunities to turn your eyes to Jesus. We do not overcome sin by trying to avoid it, but by focusing on Jesus.
- Experiment with prayer. For instance, try praying for strangers you see while you are walking or waiting or driving. Ask the Lord to direct your prayers and listen for His promptings and impressions. Reach beyond your own concerns and become a channel of God’s grace and mercy to others.
- Develop an eye that looks for God’s beauty and handiwork in nature when you are walking and driving: plants, flowers, birds, trees, the wind, clouds, the color of the sky, and so forth. Learn to savor the wonders of the created order, since they point beyond themselves to the presence and awesome mind of the Creator.
- Turn the other pleasures of this life (times with close friends, enjoyment of great music and food, etc.) into sources of adoration for the One who made these things possible. Cultivate a sense of gratitude for the goodness of life and the tender mercies of God that are often overlooked.
- Ask for the grace to see every person you meet and every circumstance you face today as a gift of God. Whether these experiences are bitter or sweet, acknowledge them as coming from His hand for a purpose. Look for the sacred in all things, and notice the unlovely and those who are usually overlooked. Remember that the EGRs (extra grace required) in our lives are there for a purpose.
- Since we tend to live ahead of ourselves by dwelling in the future, try occasional time-stopping exercises by standing in and relishing the present moment. Realize that Jesus is with you and in you at this very moment and thank Him for never leaving or forsaking you even in the smallest of things (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).
Intimacy and activity, solitude and engagement, interior and exterior, calling and character, rest and work—both sides of each of these spectra are important. A balanced life of being and doing will nourish both restoration and application.