Have you ever met someone who was significantly changed by a spiritual experience? Perhaps that person is you or someone you know or maybe you’re one of the many who attend a church, but who have never had that life transforming encounter with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Is such a life altering transformation necessary to be a Christian or a Christian community and if so, can we prepare ourselves or others for that life transformation?
In my part of the Christian church spiritual transformation is something we have talked about. Generally though, we connect it to such events like baptism or hear about it in sermons. Rarely though do we expect anything to actually happen to anyone and if by chance it does, we seem surprised and a bit afraid. We certainly wouldn’t want to become like those Pentecostals or Baptists.
As we look to the Bible for guidance on this matter we discover that the New Testament in particular speaks often about this internal transformation/external change in the life of believers. The New Testament has so many stories of people’s lives being transformed that I cannot but conclude that transformation is what God wills for all creation.
Jesus’ own baptism and wilderness experience transformed him from being a simple carpenter into a person with a mission. The book of Acts records transformation after transformation as the Holy Spirit touches the lives of people and changes the focus of their lives. St. Paul, who himself was a product of such a transformation recognized that transformation was not just a one time experience, but also an ongoing process (see Romans 12:2). Transformation may not be necessary for default living in this world, but it is necessary and expected for living in God’s kingdom.
So then, can people be prepared for transformation? I believe the Holy Spirit is constantly working towards this goal in our personal lives and in the life of our Christian communities and our world. However, the real question for us is, “Can we participate in that preparation?” I would say that this is our calling and that the scriptures witness to this.
As people who belong to the body of Christ we follow our Lord’s lead. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” This fullness of life can only come as the result of the Holy Spirit’s work through what we as Lutherans have come to know as the means of grace: Scripture, preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the mutual conversation of the people of God.
However, for these vessels of God’s grace to be transformational we must approach them in a much more serious and intentional manner than we do today. Scripture must move from just being that Bible some place in our homes to the daily reading and studying of it. Preaching must move from being one of many things pastors do to the primary focus of a pastor’s ministry. Baptism must move from that nice one time event for babies and their parents to an ongoing growth in Christian discipleship. The Lord’s Supper must move from bread and wine on Sunday to engagement in the sacramental mission of word and service in the world. The mutual conversation of Christians must move from chit chat on Sunday morning to weekly small groups gathering to pray, study, reach out, serve and support one another in our personal callings and our mission together.
Certainly the Spirit will blow where it blows and transform lives in spite of us, but I believe God has invited us into a living partnership where we can prepare the way for the transformation of our own lives, the lives of others and the whole creation.
So what if we became more intentionally focused on preparing our own lives, the life of our Christian communities and our world for transformation? Perhaps we might see more butterfly Christians and fewer cocooning ones.