Last week, we began a 6-week series at Woodland Hills Church entitled Formed: The Shaping of a Life. The first sermon by Greg can be watched here. As a part of this series, the church has provided an interactive guidebook which includes:
- Reflective Readings
- Personal Exercises
- Small Group Discussion Guides
- Small Group Exercises
Each week introduces a different spiritual practice, including some ancient disciplines like lectio divina and the Examine.
The electronic version of this resource is being provided for free by the church. Click here to download.
We have included part of Greg’s introduction here:
We believe a number of awe-inspiring truths. For example, we believe that Jesus left the beauty of heaven, entered into our dark and fallen world, humbled himself by becoming a human being and, out of love for us, suffered a shameful, horrifying death on a God-forsaken cross. So we believe God went to the furthest extreme possible in order to free us from our sin and the devil’s captivity, and bring us into the unfathomable, unquenchable, limitless love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe the infinite distance God crossed to redeem us reflects the infinite perfection of the love that God himself is (I John 4:8). And we believe that, because God allows us to participate in his perfect love, we are called and empowered to love all others—including those who consider themselves our enemies—the same way.
Yes, we believe some awesome truths! Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that, while we believe these truths, we often don’t experience them as real in our lives. Most of us don’t regularly experience God’s limitless and unconditional love. And most of us don’t regularly experience this limitless and unconditional love for all others. There is a gap between what we believe to be true, and what we experience as real.
What can we do about this? To answer this question, many of us opt for what I like to call the “try harder” solution. We look for the right way to do the right things to change our behavior through our own willpower and effort. However, while our efforts play a role in closing this gap, the “try harder” solution rarely produces the results we want. That’s because willpower alone cannot, in and of itself, change our fundamental character. Sure, it might produce short-term changes in our behavior. But willpower alone can’t transform us to help us experience God’s perfect love for ourselves or manifest this love for others. If we rely on trying harder, we might succeed in producing actions that look loving (often covering up the fact that we actually despise the people we’re acting loving towards). But trying harder cannot transform an unloving person into a person who genuinely loves others, include enemies, the way Jesus did.
So what can we do to acquire the kind of character that enables us to experience the beautiful truths we believe? The answer is called spiritual formation. Through the years I’ve read a ton of books on this topic, but I’ve found that when you boil it all down, spiritual transformation depends on one simple thing—and it’s the opposite of the “try harder” approach! We must learn how to yield to the Holy Spirit who abides within all believers and who is always working in shaping our character to be more like Jesus. Our main challenge is to simply get our “old self ” out of the way to let the Spirit do his work.
However, dying to the old self’s habit of relying on its own willpower and effort is easier said than done. Ironically, it takes discipline to learn how to yield to the Spirit! Throughout history, Christ followers have found that there are a number of spiritual disciples that help make space for the Spirit to do his transforming work, and can empower us to experience the reality of the beautiful truths we believe.
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be examining and experimenting with several of these spiritual disciplines. Trust me: this will not be about going through a spiritual checklist of “oughts” and “shoulds” to make us better Christians. Nor will it be about searching for some magic formula that promises to transform us into spiritual giants. We will be talking about simple, practical exercises we can do that help put us in a position so that the Spirit can be released, our character can be further shaped, and the truths we believe can become experienced realities. If we stop trying to grow through our own will power and open ourselves up to the Spirit through these disciplines, I believe many will be transformed by this sermon series.