Friday, October 19, 2012

Practicing Holiness

Richard Foster goes on to share about holiness in action in Streams of Living Water:

“Holiness never involves works, as we have seen, but it most assuredly involves effort. Hence we cannot ignore the question of practice. How do we go about moving forward in holiness?

First, we train. And in our training we remember the principle of indirection. Rather than tackle the issues of virtue and vice head-on, we undertake activities of body, mind, and spirit that in time will build spiritual resources within us to act appropriately when the situation demands it. As athletes of God we plan a regimen of spiritual Disciplines that will stimulate our growth in grace. If we are struggling with pride, we learn service, which leads us into the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. If we are needing hope, we learn prayer and meditation, which usher us ever deeper into the heart of the Holy. If compulsions of one kind or another obsess us, we learn fasting, which teaches us to control all the senses by the grace of God. If we want faith, we learn worship, which shows us the Lord high and lifted up. And on it goes. Throughout we are training for holiness, planning for perfection.

Second, we invite others to travel the journey with us. Such persons become both companions and mentors. They provide us with discernment, counsel, and encouragement. Often we are too close to our own training plan to see that we are overachieving and setting ourselves up for failure. Or to see that sloth is setting in and we need encouragement to venture out into the depths. Furthermore, others often can detect our growth and development better than we, and their reassuring words help us see the footprints of God in our lives.

Such spiritual companionship also provides a loving accountability. A trust relationship is built in which it is the most natural thing in the world to answer honestly and fully the query, “How is it with your soul?” In the best of worlds we can identify persons who are giving us spiritual direction and persons to whom we give spiritual direction. But even where the best is not possible—and often it is not—we can still find loving relationships that nurture our spiritual growth.

Third, when we stumble and fall, we get up and start again. Appropriate confession and restitution are always in order, but we never spend too much time lamenting out failures and shortcomings. Where we are not yet perfect, we know that we have a perfect Friend who will never leave us, never forsake us. Besides, we are in this for the long term. We are looking ahead to the perfection that is coming and is to come. We keep pressing on.

I wish that this simple counsel did not sound so trivial, for it is a profound truth for our growth: stumbling is part of our growing. Our mistakes and failures teach us the right way to live—and that right way is the good way. And after stumbling it is no small thing for us to start at the beginning once again. We are learning that by starting again and again and again something firm and lasting is being built in us. The old writers called this something “fortitude,” and fortitude builds habits, and habits build character, and character builds destiny.

Every one of us is called to holiness of heart and life. Anthony Bloom reminds us that, “All holiness is God’s holiness in us: it is a holiness that is participation and, in a certain way, more than participation, because as we participate in what we can receive from God, we become a revelation of that which transcends us. Being a limited light, we reveal the Light.” How wonderful to think that as we become partners with God, participating in this ongoing work of Christian perfection, our little light (which is not the source of light but only a reflection of the Light—and often a distorted and faint reflection at that) might lead others all the more fully to see Jesus, the Light of the world.”

God, thank you for the friend last week who helped me see Your footprints in my life, where I was only seeing shortcomings and failure. Thank you that stumbling is not just inevitable, but an essential part of our growth, which builds our character and shapes our destiny. Thank you for the way that you miraculously use our distorted and limited light to help people more fully see the Light of Jesus. Use us, Lord, as Your instruments in the world as we seek Your ongoing work of holiness in our lives. As we become the people you created us to be.

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