I was worshipping with family friends one Sunday when the youngest of their five children asked to be baptized. Afterwards, his sister (the only girl in the family) hugged him and said, “Oh, boy, am I ever looking forward to that new man you’re going to be.” I laughed, but I knew what she meant. She was looking for radical change in her brother—and the sooner, the better.
Most Christians start with the same high expectations, but we are soon overwhelmed by circumstances or ensnared by our own choices. We ask ourselves, “How much have I really changed?” The answer is discouraging. The idea of real transformation seems elusive and far-fetched. Instead, we settle for becoming a reasonable facsimile of a Christian—an also-ran with shallow faith that can’t withstand stress and has little effect on the world.
I know it’s true because I’ve lived it. As a young adult, I made a commitment to live for Christ, but I had no idea what to do afterward. I meant to be faithful, but whenever God sought my heart, I resisted in every possible way. Naturally, I floundered. God knew it. I knew it. I only hoped my arrested development wasn’t obvious to the rest of the world.
Three decades later, I am ready to participate more fully in God’s plan. I’ve studied a great deal to learn what’s kept me from living a transformed life, and I feel that I’m finally closing the gap between knowing and being.
Here are five insights I gained from my study of transformation. I hope you’ll find them helpful, too.
Live simply. All the great religious traditions of the world emphasize simplicity. Making money isn’t evil, but it sure occupies a lot of time and devotion. Wanting a lot of material things and chasing the money it takes to buy them can distract, exhaust, absorb and blind us.
Everyone needs to make enough money to cover necessities and share with others, but buying things to soothe our selves, to elevate our confidence or to impress the world is dangerous terrain for anyone aiming for an authentic spiritual life. It’s a sign that we are more invested in the temporal than the eternal, that we haven’t quite leaned into the joy and security of belonging to God.
Christ didn’t own anything but the clothes on his back. Any more than that would have been unwanted baggage. What’s great about living modestly?
- It frees us from being driven from one want to the next.
- It allocates more time for spiritual pursuits that deepen our relationship with God.
- It liberates us from seeking completeness where it can never be found.
For these reasons, living simply is a fundamental part of being a Christian.
Transcend the “ick.” What does it mean to die to self and live for Christ? How do you lose your self? Most of my life has been governed by cravings, guilt, fear, doubt and anger—the “icky” part of life that’s common to all. I had no idea how to shed the ick.
Fortunately, the Kingdom of God is written on my heart and yours, too. We disable these debilitating factors and connect with his unchanging love through prayer and meditation, in good times and bad.
If you only pray when you’re in trouble, your connection with God will falter and your faith will dwindle. You’ll spend your time wallowing in the “ick.”
We’re encouraged to pray without ceasing because it refreshes us and keeps us from acting on our own deluded impulses and afflictions. A friend of mine says it best: “Stay prayed up.”
Live an eternal life—now. It’s easy to think of life as a finite span that begins when you’re born and ends when you die. As Christians, we tend to acknowledge eternal life as something that comes later. It rarely dawns on us that life on earth is part of one continuous strand. The Kingdom of God isn’t a distant place; it’s a sanctuary that exists now.
This means we don’t have to dread our own death or suffer unnecessarily when we lose someone precious. Of course we miss people who leave their bodies and become pure spirit, but we can find peace, knowing that only the body is gone. The spirit is as it’s ever been—alive and unencumbered by the physical world.
People who are grounded in Christ gradually learn to associate life with the spirit rather than the body. We try to make something spiritual out of everything we say, do and think because we’re already living with an eternal intention.
Be powered by God’s energy. Left to our own devices, most of us live on auto-pilot, driven by our habits. Only when we examine ourselves can we see what is really happening within and around us.
Channeling Christ’s renewable energy—not our own—requires a daily habit of deep awareness. Some people call it “mindfulness.” It’s one of God’s tools for transformation and it’s a skill that can be learned. Without a mindfulness habit, we are forgetful. We operate using our own brand of energy rather than the endless variety supplied by God.
Go deeper. A Christian often begins walking with Christ by leaning on mental crutches to help comprehend an invisible God. We have pre-conceived notions, ideas and images of who God is, but at some point, we realize that he can’t be pinned down this way. Our rituals begin to feel stale and empty. This signals our readiness to change the interior of our lives by resting and renewing with the true and living God. He is no longer just an idea—He’s a reality we can touch, and we’re reaching for Him at every turn.
What are the spiritual insights that have transformed your life the most?