Jay Blogs – On Becoming

My colleagues and I are in the business of helping people become who they will be. After all, education is not just the process of teaching people stuff, of putting knowledge in their heads so they’ll be smarter than they were before, or equipped to get a good job. Education is also the means by which we become someone who is fundamentally different than we were before.

Christian education, good Christian education, is about becoming someone specific, what philosopher James K.A. Smith calls a “peculiar people.”  Christian education is not only forming our minds, but also our hearts, our loves. Because, as Smith says, we are what we love, meaning that our thoughts, our energies, our pursuits, and our quest for meaning will be centered, motivated, and driven by the things we love. What makes Christians–not just people who say they believe in Jesus, but actual disciples, followers, those who do what he does and say what he says– “peculiar,” is that they live lives committed to him. And, because those lives are committed to him, and because the Jesus way is so very different from the way the world thinks or acts or what drives it, this way is seen as odd by the majority world: strange, both repellant and paradoxically winsome, all at the same time.

At Grace, we engage students in telling the stories of God’s Word and of those who followed him faithfully throughout the history of the Church to give our students a vision of life, the stories of heroes of the faith that modeled this peculiarity, so they can see and feel a different narrative for life than the one they’re bombarded with daily. We engage them in life and legacy groups so they can see that they are made for community, and that doing life with others, with “your people,” the other peculiar people around you, molds and shapes and forms you, and teaches you to love (because we’re all difficult to love, aren’t we?), and allows you to use the gifts and talents God’s given you in the ways he created you to use them–to serve other people. And, we use the opportunities for leadership afforded in life and legacy groups to teach our kids how to influence others in Christ-honoring ways, to see how younger, less-experienced students look up to you and the God-given responsibilities associated with that honor, and how to steward that responsibility well.

We connect our kids to worship, once a week at the elementary, and up to four times a week at the high school, in order to shape their affections toward the Lord. We engage them in times of silence and reflection, so they can train their hearts to rule out distractions. We call them to abstain from their phones during school in order to help them quiet their minds and engage others. We teach them the spiritual disciplines–prayer, Bible study and meditation, solitude and silence, fasting, and others. They have opportunities to practice these disciplines because these are the means of grace, the way we place ourselves under the shower of the Holy Spirit so that he can transform us, so that we can be made into other people.

We teach them, then let them take what they learn to serve the greater community around them, so they can connect learning to doing. We want them to realize they are a part of God’s story, his redemptive work in the world around them, and everything they learn and do is part of effectuating that work.

Most of all, we pray for them and we love them. We know that their transformation into all they will become is the work of the Spirit. We know you can lead a horse (or a child) to living water but you can’t make him drink, and so we pray that the Spirit will ignite their hearts and draw them to him. And, we love. We love with the love of Christ, not from emotion but as an intentional decision to be all for them, so they’ll understand phileo (brotherly) love and agape (spiritual) love. They see it shown for them, and they desire it, and want to give it to others.

This process doesn’t end when we graduate from school, or when we become adults. We are in the constant state of becoming. As I live well into the sixth decade of my life, I’m acutely aware this transformation process is ongoing. I’m not the same man I was even at 46 years old, much less at 36.  I know the Lord better, more deeply. I understand his love for me more fully, and it has changed me. My heart resonates with David Benner, who said, “Meditating on God’s love has done more to increase my love than decades of effort to try to be more loving. Allowing myself to deeply experience his love–taking time to soak in it and allow it to infuse me has begun to effect changes I had given up hope of ever experiencing.”

The fact that we are being constantly formed is true of all of us. As John Mark Comer notes in his new book, Practicing the Way, we are all engaging in spiritual formation every day. Our spirits–what we love, what we worship, whether and how we feel love, whether and how we love others, and the impact all these things have on shaping our characters– are being developed every single day. It doesn’t matter whether we’re a Christian or not. The person who is as far from the heart of Christ as you can imagine is being spiritually formed- not toward Jesus at all, but formed, nonetheless. You are being formed, as well.

And, the trajectory of this transformation can go either way. Haven’t we all known people, maybe parents, grandparents or friends, or others, who were once kind, gentle, pleasant people, maybe those who loved Jesus, and who have become formed and shaped into those who are angry, and suspicious, and irritable? How did that happen? Sometimes disease or illness can be the culprit, but in most cases, it was that they allowed themselves to be spiritually formed by the world around them, by media, or isolation, or exposure to the wrong people, or maybe a combination of all these things. As Comer notes, who we are at the end of our lives is the end result of a fully-formed person, for good or for bad.

Who are you becoming? You may have grabbed onto the promises of Easter, to the foot of the cross, and allowed the blood of Jesus to cover your sin, but are you living for him? Are you being shaped into his image? Are you growing in the fruit of the Spirit? Are you living the abundant life that Jesus promised his disciples?

If the answer to any of these is “no,” the season of Lent is made for you. It’s our time to reflect on where we are (I know I am- how I’m using my time, how I can better use my schedule to love and serve people? Lent is having its way with me), and how we might engage with the Lord to become someone new, someone who is all God intended for us to be, to enjoy all he has for us in this life, not just the next.

This is not some impossible dream, not some “professional grade” Christian goal that you’ll never achieve because you’re a “regular” Christian. Jesus designed the abundant life for all of us– being his disciple, walking in his way. Any of us can have it. It just commands our attention and our commitment, things that may be hard to shift but which all of us currently give to something.

What are you becoming?