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What It Means to Flourish, and How
on March 10, 2010
I am not the me I want to be. You are not either. Both of us desire to become better people. But what does better mean? And how do we become better? In his latest book, John Ortberg answers both questions with gentle wit and spiritual insight.
Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, and author of several books, including Love Beyond Reason; The Life You've Always Wanted; If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat; and God Is Closer Than You Think--all of which I highly recommend.
The Me I Want to Be is about spiritual formation, which Ortberg defines as "the process by which your inner self and character are shaped." Many people use the word spiritual in distinction from, or even contradiction to, physical. Two unfortunate consequences of this distinction are that it separates spirituality from everyday life and then narrowly equates spirituality with the spiritual disciplines. Ortberg rejects this distinction. Your whole life is spiritual, not just the praying, Bible-reading, and church-going part. And while spiritual disciplines are indispensable, they are not the only way God forms your inner self.
For Ortberg, a spiritually formed person is a flourishing person. He writes: "Your deepest longing should be to be alive with God, to become the person God made you to be, and to be used to help God's world flourish." Spiritual formation, then, involves your relationship with God, your growth in Christlikeness, and your mission to the world God is redeeming.
How do you become a flourishing person? "The only way to become the person God made you to be," Ortberg writes, "is to live with the Spirit of God flowing through you like a river of living water." Spiritual formation is not about trying harder, which only results in fatigue, failure, and guilt. Rather, spiritual formation is about discovering and moving with the flow of the Holy Spirit in your spirit, mind, use of time, relationships, and experiences.
For Ortberg, the Holy Spirit does not replace you, he redeems you. Spiritual formation is not about becoming wholly different than who you are now. It is about taking who you are now and refining you in God's image. Two examples: Drawing on the work of Michael Mangis, Ortberg talks about "signature sins." He writes, "the pattern of your sin is related to the pattern of your strengths." When you operate in the flow of the Spirit, God does not eradicate your strengths in order to eradicate your sins. Rather, he works out your sins to help you build on your strengths.
Another example: Many people believe that a spiritually well-formed person will go into some kind of vocational ministry. Ortberg strongly disagrees. The Bible is a book written by workers about workers for workers," he writes, and by workers he means people who are not vocational ministers. "Most adults spend about half their waking lives at work," he goes on to say. "Your work is a huge part of God's plan for your life, and God intends the Spirit to fill and energize workplaces. Work that gets done in offices and elsewhere...desperately requires the guidance and energy of the Spirit." Spiritually formed people will be pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, of course, but also lawyers, doctors, and plumbers. The first person in the Bible to be described as "filled with the Spirit of God" was Bezalel, who was not a priest, but an artisan.
Ortberg does not neglect spiritual disciplines in this book, but he does reframe the way we think about them in a very helpful way. Take prayer, for example. We think of prayer as a discreet activity that we participate in for a set number of minutes (or hours) each day. But Ortberg frames it differently. "The goal of prayer," he writes "is to live all of my life and speak all of my words in the joyful awareness of the presence of God." Looked at this way, it becomes much easier to see how we can pray without ceasing and do everything to the glory of God. Our life as a whole, not just a set number of minutes a day, is prayer, an ongoing conversation with God.
As a Pentecostal Christian, I am greatly cheered to see an evangelical Christian talking so much about the Holy Spirit. Ortberg's book is a reminder that all Christians are the beneficiaries of the regenerating and sanctifying work of God through the Holy Spirit, and we have much to learn from others about these issues. Ortberg does not address the issue of baptism in the Spirit, however, which is the only downside to the book from a Pentecostal perspective.
Read it anyway! It will help you become the "me" God wants you to be.