You know what doesn’t make sense? When you see how something works in the practical, physical world and ignore it in the spiritual world. For example, my wife Diane is an excellent baker. She is one of those women who make a delicious pie crust every time she bakes a pie. Over and over again the crust is excellent. Do you think the first time she set out to make pie crust she was perfect? Of course not. She worked on it. She practiced. My friend Gary Bradley is an artist. An oil painter, usually painting landscapes. Do you think Gary’s first painting turned out as beautifully as his last few? Of course not. He has spent dozens of hours practicing his technique and developing his skills to go along with what natural ability he was created with.
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You get the idea. Working out, losing weight, framing pictures, becoming a good shot, tying flies, throwing horseshoes, hunting ducks, playing golf,….nothing we choose to become good at happens just because we choose to do it. It takes effort. It takes practice, doing the necessary things over and over to become skilled. And it works. We know it does. We might know people who have found a hobby or passion in which they have invested enormous amounts of effort and practice and have become masters of that skill. We know it can be done.
In our spiritual life. Does the same principle apply in our spiritual journey? Some say no. Some would say all the real work was done by Jesus when he died for the sins of the world. When one trusts in the redeeming work of Jesus and says yes to the gospel message is one’s own life, some would say all that needs to happen for a successful spiritual life is accomplished.
If that approach is true, what do we make of all the folks we know (ourselves included most of the time) who are Christians and who are fearful, angry, lonely, insecure, isolated or bored with life? The bible’s descriptions of the Christ follower’s abundant life include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control. The bible implies we can learn to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us (or cut us off in traffic). If fact, Jesus said that kind of love is our highest priority after loving God with everything we have.
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Either we should be able to live that way because we have prayed the prayer of salvation. And if that is true, how do we explain so many who don’t live with that experience? Or, there is more for us to do. There is work. There is effort.
Dallas Willard wrote that God is opposed to earning, but not opposed to effort. In fact, Willard says our lives should be characterized by an ongoing effort to learn to live our lives as Jesus said we should, and can.
It seems to me then, we must consider this question. Is there a spiritual life available to ordinary Christians which is full of grace, love, joy and all the rest? If we think there is, if we have seen a glimpse of it in others and want it for ourselves – we have to ask ourselves, what am I willing to do to have that kind of life? How much effort am I willing to invest to have a life like that?