Last week my husband and I attended one of the most interesting and thought-provoking meetings that I believe will change my Christian life. The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder, a doctor of clinical psychology and theology who has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and various conferences around the world.
He calls himself a "neuro-theologian", which means that he teaches his students to consider that what God tells us about His creation (including us) should affect how we think, act, and live. In other words, reality as I know it, should be different if I'm going to call myself a Christian. I should be living a new life, in God's presence, instead of in a body with a brain that hasn't caught up to the new spirit within me.
But as 21st Century Christians, we are a product of our Church's belief systems, and sadly, churches in the West have stopped expecting anything new in our knowledge of God, and we have just become a thing (or product, or whatever you want to call us) of what we know. For instance, it is a mantra within the Church (and it is true) that God is love. But what does that mean to you? And how does it affect how you live your life? Is that statement just a concept, or an idea -- or is it a force? Has it transformed your life?
What is it going to take to raise up leaders in the Church, (and for those of us who are practicing our faith outside the building), to raise up people who live differently -- both in our churches, and in our families and communities? Well, Dr. Wilder says there are four habits that exceptional leaders and transformed people have developed, and they are centered around identity and belonging. Who we are determines what we will do. And when we know who we are, and how people like us (human beings transformed by the Spirit of God in us) are to act, we are able to train our brains to develop these habits and therefore to traverse this life as God's representatives. And what are these important habits?
1. Remain relational. God created us, first and foremost, to be relational. He's a God that loves relationship with those He's created, and He desires that we relate both to Him, and to others. The importance of this habit is that as Christians, whether you are a church leader, or an individual practicing your faith, you are going to run into problems -- either within your church or within the culture. In the face of problems, we must remain relational to each other -- avoiding isolation, blame, and anger -- keeping our relationships bigger than our problems.
As we live our lives here on earth, behind enemy lines, so to speak, it is important that we make our relationship with God a priority, and live our lives so that our relationships with people reflect Him; showing that relationships are more important than being right or getting results.
2. Act Like Yourself. Once you're a born again Christian, doing whatever you did in the past should not be an option. You need to ask yourself, Who is the real me, now? What I've always been, or what God's creating in me? Ephesians 2:10 expresses God's mindset perfectly (and should reflect ours): "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them". We are "a new work" [spiritually transformed, renewed, and ready to be used], created by God, with Jesus as our model, and designed by God to walk out the path He has set before us. It's a whole new way to think of ourselves, but sadly, I don't think we, as Christians, have really discovered who we are.
3. Return to Joy. This is not an emotional concept, as you might expect, but rather a relational one. This is not joy in the sense of euphoria, but the recognition that "I am not alone in this; Someone is with me in this difficulty". It doesn't mean you are going to be happy in your difficulty, but you can train your brain to understand that God is there with you. "I am not alone in this evil world". And this is perhaps the hardest of the habits to form, because it means that our brains have to learn to overcome anger, sadness, and fear in order to maintain that joy in the midst of our difficulties. But Jesus was able to do it while living out His life on this earth as a man.
4. Endure Hardships After A Return to Joy. This is all about remaining relational through the hardships in life. Keeping our relationships bigger than our problems is what it means to live your life as a Christian. When you think about it, none of us will ever face the burdens and problems that Jesus faced in dying for the world's sins. Yet, His relationships with the Father, His Disciples, and the broken people He healed were His primary focus. He continued to endure each hardship that confronted Him, knowing that He was not in it alone. If we can do that, we will live a transformed life.
In summary, I want to say that Dr. Wilder's book, Rare Leadership, provides a much more comprehensive look at how Church leaders can transform the lives of their flocks, and how parents can use these concepts to train up their children to live transformed lives in their real identities as children of God. Whether in our churches or our families, we need to be building communities in which God is an active participant, and so are we. Remember, the devil is The Accuser, and he is constantly whispering in our ears that what we did wrong (our sin) yesterday is the real us. We need to know who we are, and see ourselves as the image of what God is creating in us -- and see others as what He is creating in them.
If we believe that God is Love, and we say that we love God, and that love is a force -- not just an idea or concept -- then we need to be asking ourselves, How is my love for God doing today? How is my love for others doing today? Really knowing God, as well as being in relationship with others so that we see what He is creating in them, will truly transform our lives. We will be in genuine relationship with Him and others. And perhaps the greatest benefit of being this new kind of people who live a new kind of way is that we will see the transformation in others -- from people who need love, into people who give it. When our relationship with God is experienced with thankfulness and appreciation, we want to share it with others, and the relationship cycle starts all over again. It's time we begin to see real transformation in our lives, as we come to know who we really are.
2 Corinthians 3:18 "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit".