My oldest brother has started something of a "tradition" for his kids' birthdays when family gets together to celebrate - piñatas. He gets a piñata, and then all the cousins line up and do the "piñata thing": they put on a blindfold, grab a blunt stick, everyone backs away out of swinging distance, and the child takes a few swings in the hopes of connecting with the piñata and getting some candy. After plenty of whiffs and unsuccessful attempts, someone finally makes a crack in the piñata and all the kids rush forward for a no-holds-barred struggle for tootsie roll pops, snack-sized candy bars, and gum.
I wonder how often our attempts at spiritual formation - Christian growth - are something like this scenario I just described. We don't really have a clear picture of the target we're aiming for (like being blindfolded with a piñata in front of us), and so we exert a lot of effort and swing wildly in hopes that we'll connect with something - knowing that when (or better, if) we actually make contact we'll get something worthwhile. The process can feel unguided, discouraging, and exhausting.
I don't think it has to be this way. As we'll see, Scripture gives us a clear picture of our "target" - we're not swinging blindly. That will be the focus of this post. And neither is our "tool" a blunt stick that's not designed for what it's being used for. There are plenty of good books out there that help us grow in our understanding and practice of spiritual disciplines - not as an end-in-themselves, but as divinely-appointed means by which we can authentically grow in Christ-likness.
Let's now hone in on the focus of this post: What is the picture of spiritual formation we're pursuing? As we practice godly disciplines over the course of our lifetimes, what should they be cultivating?
The Bible doesn't leave us to guesswork on answering this question. It's important to acknowledge that there are places in Scripture where the spotlight is turned on certain qualities and traits. There are places in Scripture where the divinely-inspired authors are saying, "Hey, pay attention. This is what progress in the faith and growth in godliness looks like."
The verses I've included below aren't the exhaustive list, but at the same time they're a sampling that can't be ignored. So let's let Scripture itself shape the primary answer to our question, "What is the picture of spiritual formation we're pursuing?"
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
"Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word."
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Any other Bible passages you would include in this sort of list? Any observations from these verses included here?
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