Day 23: How We Grow – 40 Days of Purpose-Driven Life

Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ

Point to Ponder: It is never too late to start growing.

Verse to Remember: “Let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God — what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect..” — Romans 12:2b (TEV)

Question to Consider: What is one area where I need to stop thinking my way and start thinking God’s way?

[Read More] thoughts on Day 23 of Rick Warren‘s Purpose-Driven Life* including the role of intention, reason, and emotion in spiritual maturity.

I must confess, I sometimes find Rick’s treatment of spiritual issues fairly, well, “basic.” That’s no sin on his part — his book is intended as a introduction to the entire Christian life for a mass audience, and I seriously doubt I could do any better within those constraints. Still, that means that I am usually not challenged intellectually by the concepts he presents — even if I am challenged spiritually to live them out.

Today’s lesson, though, is meaty enough to give even me a pompous ol’ wind-bag like me pause. đŸ™‚ To be frank, I find the standard evangelical treatment of “spiritual growth” fairly lame: it is either “stuff people’s head full of the Bible,” or “try really hard” — both of which tend to generate more shame and/or pride than actual growth. Not that the liberal admonition to simply “let God love and accept you as you are” is any more effective — though it is probably more pleasant, if only in the short run.

Just to be clear: I’m all for memorizing God’s word, pursuing God’s holiness, and receiving God’s love. What I’m against is that idea that those are *sufficient* to create spiritual growth. When we as leaders push such simple-minded nostrums as the route to sanctification, we either lower the bar on spiritual maturity, or make our followers feel guilty for their failure to bear fruit. Not good.

Compared to that, Rick’s counter-proposal is a breath of fresh air, even if I’m not sure I fully understand it. His basic position appears to be (paraphrasing):

1. Spiritual growth starts with an act of the will.

“You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing.”
(emphasis his)

2. Spiritual growth requires work by both us and God.

“The ‘work out‘ is your responsibility, and the ‘work in‘ is God’s role.”
(emphasis his)

3. The most important choice we make is to change our thinking, not [just] our behavior.

He uses the example of a speedboat on autopilot, which is perhaps the most profound picture of repentance I have yet seen. To him, repentance is not merely turning the boat around by brute force, since “By sheer willpower you could overcome the autopilot, but you would feel constant resistance… so eventually you give up.. [and] quickly revert to your old patterns” — which accurately describes my attempts to reform negative behaviors without dealing with their root causes!

The alternative understanding of repentance that Rick proposes is to “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think“, which Rick breaks into two phases:

i. Stop thinking immature thoughts, which are self-centered and self-seeking
ii. Start thinking maturely, which focuses on others, not yourself
Even here, though, Rick is quick to point out that this isn’t about “the amount of biblical information and doctrine you know.” Rather, “Christianity is not a religion or philosophy, but a relationship and a lifestyle. The core of that lifestyle is thinking of others, as Jesus did, instead of ourselves.”

This is hard. Really hard. Anyone who thinks loving others is easy is either mistaking codependency for genuine self-sacrifice, or still in the early honeymoon of faith. “This kind of thinking is unnatural, counter-cultural, rare, and difficult.” That’s the bad news, which we need to let sink in: finding our happiness by fulfilling our purpose requires us giving up our right to focus on our own happiness. Not fun. Maybe impossible, at least for humans.

The good news, of course, that God will change our minds, and our hearts, if we let Him. But that’s a topic for another day.

Prayer: God, I am convicted yet again of how much my stubborn heart insists on interpreting everything through the light of my own comfort, convenience, vanity, and pride. Father I repent of those selfish mind-patterns that steer me down the paths of self-righteousness and self-pity, and ask that you would give me the mind of Christ. Reset my auto-pilot to point more truly toward you, that I might know the freedom that comes from being your slave — rather than my own. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

While Googling to see if my blog showed up with with “40 Days of Purpose” +blog (it hadn’t), I was struck by how Rick’s understanding of spiritual growth is perhaps at the root of both his success and his controversy. Rick’s purpose, from what I can see, is quite simply to give people a sufficiently broad understanding of God’s will for their life so that they i) know what that means, ii) choose to follow Him, rather than themselves. That’s it. His goal is for people to make an informed choice to live a certain way, no more and no less.

That may not be the end-all be-all of the Christian life, but its certainly a heckuva start. I am surprised (but not really shocked) by how few of his critics even grasp that fact, much less try to refute it.