Renewal, Experiencing Personal and Corporate

Renewal in seasons and rhythms, progress and growth…

…are normal and expected in all life.

Look at nature for a reflection of God’s design. Daybreak and evening. Four seasons, summer, fall, winter and spring. Oak trees grow six weeks during the summer and solidify in the winter. On still nights, the earth gets a gentle shower of renewed life as dew falls. And God built into our design as image-bearers three progressive cycles of spiritual development along with seasons within each. John touches on these in 1 John 2:12-14, “beloved child,” “warrior” and “father.”

Golden Treasure for Renewal

At this point, we must battle the mindset of our instant-access culture. Society wants it now and undervalues process. If we imitate our society, we will remain self-referenced toddlers. But our unchanging God is a God of process. Any time of transition or renewal in spiritual growth can be daunting. And slow, one layer at a time. Yet God compassionately meets us in the mud and muck of our journey to move us upward in unique ways that demonstrate how precious we are to Him.

Don’t bemoan…

whatever struggles we have experienced on our unique journey …or presently experience. Don’t blame circumstances or people. Take personal responsibility for our responses without excuses, even if you can’t control what others do to you. God disguises Himself as people and circumstances in order to work good in us. And don’t wait until you have it all together (that will never happen!) Each day we have a fresh beginning, a “new 24,” since God’s compassion is new and fresh every morning.

When my oldest daughter was younger and helping with a church-plant, she sent me a quotation from one of my favorite authors, A. W. Tozer. At the time, change was difficult for her. She wrote how refreshing her time with God has been recently amid change. Her growing understanding of our wonderful and faithful Big God fueled change.

Tozer writes that the law of change belongs to a fallen and sin-scarred world. Men and women of faith can only find everlasting permanence in God since He alone is unchangeable. While still on earth in the “already, but not yet” of our eternal journey, change can work for the children of our Family-of-Three, rather than against us. Our Team-of-Three work…

“…the changes that occur in them. As much as we deplore the lack of stability in all earthly things, in a fallen world such as this the very ability to change is a golden treasure, a gift from God of such fabulous worth as to call for constant thanksgiving” (Knowledge of the Holy, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1961, pp. 51-52.)

Do you personally look at change as a “golden treasure”?

Jesus gave us fascinating insight into change and settling in man-made traditions, using the illustration of old and new wine and wineskins. In those days, the Jews poured new wine with its bubbling over life into new, flexible wineskins. Over time, the wineskin hardened, becoming stiff, inflexible as old wine loses its bubble. Later Jesus answers the teachers of the law more pointedly about settling in traditions. Jesus candidly states that extra-Biblical religious traditions cause us to “let go” and “set aside the commands of God.” Trusting man-made traditions actually “nullify the word of God” (Mark 7:5-13). Unexamined preconceptions block revelation.

Although I like who I am, the power in the Good News shouts that I don’t have to be the same next month as I am today. Living means change. Change requires that we let go of something before we gain another. Yes, feel the loss of what we let go. Grieve these. This occurs before the transition into the gain. Honestly face the pain and confusion. And also turn quickly to God and the new season He brings rather than marinating in your pain and loss.

As an illustration,…

the Senior Pastor at the local church I’m a part of just retired, and the new Senior Pastor will begin one week from today. I’m looking forward to the change with anticipation. And in this process of change, I’m also feeling heavy about some of the “endings.” Change is tough for many. Yet transition increases awareness of God’s footsteps in our inner life.

On one hand, we are made in the image of the unchangeable God. We long for unchanging perfection. We only find this solid rock in God Himself. It makes sense then that change often chafes since God designed us in His image.

On the other hand, we live in a fallen world since Genesis 3. Embrace this paradox in the already but not yet” of our eternal journey. Which of us would want to be the same person next month as today? I want to become all God has called me to become, and spiritual growth demands change.

So change is not easy, often pulling us toward inner conflict. However, to grow we must at least make peace with God’s process as we work towards learning to celebrate the change process as a good friend. Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheesemight be a good place to start. This short allegory is a simple, enlightening and amusing story. Johnson illustrates profound truths about possible internal responses to unexpected change.

The key question seems to be:

“Do you personally believe that this Sovereign God always invites us to respond to His presence and love…and it’s good?”

Begin with…and return quickly to…God’s grace-stance toward us. His arms are outstretched like the Father toward his prodigal son (Luke 15:20). Our inner spiritual compass must point to our “True North.” Only one place of absolute stability exists in our lives, our true home in our Family-of-Three. Press into this stability as we live in an unstable world. The unchanging God is the same yesterday as today, and always holds us safe and secure in His hands (John 10:28-29).

Do you really believe this?

Then nothing makes sense except to yield our lives to Him, lock, stock and barrel…now and forever in sweet surrender towards wholehearted allegiance. And this view of life thrusts us onward toward ongoing renewal and change as lifelong life-learners and doers since God is always “more” than we know.

Change & Renewal: Endings & New Beginning…& Transition

In his excellent book, Managing Transitions,” William Bridges provides me with a helpful framework for change and transition (see his diagram below). He writes specifically to the business-world to aid in their transition process. In our rapidly changing world today, however, the underlying principles apply to all transition, including a personal life-crises, local church transition, and Christian movements.

Check out the diagram to the left from Bridges, depicting the sequence of this process. Time moves from left to right, although overlap most always exists. Recently my Aunt and Uncle needed to sell their house of 30+ years and move into an assisted living apartment. As I’m writing, they are physically in their new beginning, the apartment. They are still dealing with endings (selling their house) and feeling the stress in this big-time transition. This process has overlap, rather than being neatly sequential. Please don’t neglect or short-change any part of this Both/And/And process.

The change process begins with identifying and processing our “endings” well before we move through “transition” to the intended outcome, “new beginnings.”

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me…
(Philippians 3:13b-14a, emphasis).

A single-minded focus for ongoing renewal (“one thing”) includes a compound response (“forgetting & straining toward”). In order to reach and press toward the “new beginnings” before us, first “forget what is behind.” This includes previously squeezing out and holding onto the life lessons, both what limited us and also our successes.

What people or circumstances do we feel limit us because we have not fully forgiven so we are free? After forgiving, I “treasure hunt” to squeeze all the good life-lessons from these experiences. Since God causes even bad things to work for good in His people (Romans 8:28), I know beyond doubt that God has good gifts for me, even in the midst of tragic events. I deliberately hunt to discover this good like a treasure hunter seeks valued treasure. Then I take this “treasure” of good and “reframe” any painful “ending” with it. Store these costly treasures where we can retrieve them easily.

Then in reference to those painful events, choose to “remember no more.” This is not forgetting, but courageously refusing to use this against the person in the future (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Over time if the “ending” comes back to mind again, the treasure begins to loom brighter than the pain from the event. Because of Romans 8:28, this is not make-believe. This is one way I honor my past. If we do not process our painful past “endings” thoroughly, we are prone to pendulum responses in the present.

Normally we do not move from where we are into the better God has for us with no inner wrestling or time lapse preparing for self-discovery. Focus on these three aspects of the process: Endings. New Beginnings. Transition sandwiched between the two. Here is a brief summary of these three stages.

First, something ends,

perhaps we lose or let go of something valuable. Some change is thrust on us. Other times we choose ourselves. Regardless, God longs to use this for good in our life. Letting go of the old ways and the old containers normally creates a sense of loss in us and/or in others. For healthiest change, these losses must be identified and processed, grieved or celebrated, depending. What are you experiencing during these endings? Be candid with yourself.

Take time to journal, process and reflect. Discover fresh artesian wells for this season, those things in your life that bring spiritual refreshment. And discuss with a trusted friend.

On one island, the natives discovered a foolproof way to capture a monkey. They drilled out a smallish hole in a coconut shell and put the monkey’s favorite nut inside. The monkey reached in and grasped the nut in its fist. Now the monkeys were trapped. Their fist was too large to withdraw and they would not let go of the yummy nut.

Some of us also hold onto the yummy things we presently experience. This entraps us from pursuing what is best. Endings demand a letting go of some present attachments to make space for what is next. And not everyone processes at the same pace. As we relate to others in the change-process, leave space for the quick processors and also for the slower processors.

Second, transition is…

…that time between the ending or the lessening of the old, but before the new has become fully formed or operational. William Bridges calls this the “neutral zone. The neutral zone is the time when crucial psychological realignments, reevaluation and new patterns take place most quickly. These renew and recalibrate our inner spiritual compass.

“Transition” also demands extra time and energy so prioritize the essentials and let non-essentials slide. Since “transition” is so fluid with much on the table, the neutral zone is where our Philosophy of Life may be most powerfully challenged and reoriented. God designs this season as an opportunity to form new values for maximum LifeChange. Knowing the LifeChanging power in “transition” draws out from me a stronger desire to embrace “friend transition” more quickly, even with the uncertainty and the pain.

Third, new beginnings are the experience…

…of the anticipated positive change. Change now begins to work powerfully for us with renewed energy and vision. We experience this in our “new beginnings,” although the in-depth preparation takes place during “transition.” A seed must fall into the ground and die before new life springs forth.

During the process, all three aspects are often together simultaneously. Each vision of a “new beginning” begins with the majority of focus on what will end. The process then moves through the neutral zone of transition as the focus for much of our time and energy. Finally, dawn casts light on these new beginnings, the final cycle in the process.

An Illustration

I heard a story about an old horse trader from Missouri. This true account helps me unpack some of the necessary ingredients for ongoing change and renewal.

When the horse trader bought a horse, in the final negotiation he asked if the seller would throw in his old harness. To the seller, the harness was worthless because the leather had hardened over time. A brittle, inflexible harness is unusable.

The patient horse trader took the old, inflexible harness and soaked it in brine for several days. Then every night he sat on the porch and rocked as he patiently and persistently rubbed saddle soap into the old leather. Night after night he consistently worked the leather in small, incremental change towards his goal of renewed pliability and usefulness. It was now valuable, ready to fulfill its harness-purpose. I hope my quick reflections stimulate your personal thoughts and insights.

1. Ongoing Self-renewal Springs from a Vision of “More:”

The old horse trader began with a vision in his mind of what that old harness could become. He began with the intended end in mind. This brittle, inflexible harness once again fulfills its intended design because it carries potential for renewal within.

“I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me” (an expression from Ignatian spirituality).

2. Ongoing Self-renewal Requires Awareness of the “Gap:”

The horse trader honestly assessed the current state of the bridle and also what it could become. This “gap” motivated him to patiently work towards the best for the old bridle. With the vision of what could be, he monitored progress with effective “feedback loops” that highlighted incremental change. Desperation fuels the necessary hard work needed to close the “gap.”

You are unique. Personally develop a way that effectively works for you. So how can you regularly realign your life-responses with your core-values and spiritual DNA without becoming introspective or stuck in past tradition? Learn to develop a Sabbath-lifestyle, scattering little Sabbath-rests in God’s presence throughout your everyday life. Daily, weekly and monthly life-rhythms keep us aligned with our God-Assignments for this season in life. Over time this Spirit-led self-discovery develops self-awareness. Without this, our lives tend to drift, like a rip tide persistently pulls swimmers off course.

3. Ongoing Self-renewal includes both Continuity and Discontinuity:

The horse trader began and ended with the same harness. Continuity. The harness was also different, restored to a state where it could be used again for its intended purpose. Discontinuity. With renewal, don’t swallow deceit that the “new” thing implies a completely new start, discarding the old. Who we are and what we do now is connected with the next season and cycle.

4. Ongoing Self-renewal Demands “True Grit”… Passion with Perseverance:

The Missourian committed himself to the time and extended effort to bring about incremental renewal. His passion for a good harness kept moving him. His perseverance kept him steady, even before he knew with certainty what the final outcome would be. Transition normally demands time and patience, although at times God may certainly change us quickly.

Growth is messy and confusing. I don’t enjoy either, yet they drive me in desperation to utter dependence on Him so I don’t settle. As we grow and mentor others, give ourselves and others space to learn on the fly. And risk-taking means space for mistake-making, like we all have experienced.

In knowing God, we come to know ourselves. If we know God and ourselves, we realign our inner spiritual compass to “all-in, sweet surrender toward wholehearted allegiance to Jesus.” Quickly choose to do His will as soon as we know it. Healthy answers to our three essential, inseparable questions lead us into a deeper abiding:

  • “What is God like?”
  • “How does this God see and know me?”
  • “How will I exercise the authority I carry for my God-Assignments in this season?”

I don’t want to be tomorrow what I am today when God yearns to give me “more” spiritual growth. God’s abundant grace through this threefold developmental cycle meets us where we are on our chaotic journey. This perspective provides a very flexible, agile approach within broad guidelines.

If you are in a season where you are currently struggling in a major transition, you may want to explore more. I amplify on this a bit in the bonus blog in the Appendix, and William Bridges book, Managing Transition, is exceptional.

Next steps:

  1. For a PDF printout of this fourth blog, click here.
  2. If you would like a free PDF of all four blogs plus the bonus expanded ideas from this blog, click here.
  3. To  return to the first of this four series blog, click here.
  4. For those who want more, I have written an unpublished manuscript, expanding on all these subjects with my musings. For the free downloadable PDF, click here.

2 thoughts on “Renewal, Experiencing Personal and Corporate

  1. Hello Jim,
    Thanks again for a very powerful post. So much here to mull and think on. Your beginning with the 1 John 2 scripture reminded me of the time in Jamie’s Small Group we discussed this passage. Though in John’s style it seems very plain and straight forward, it is series of couplets that are unlike anything else we have in his writings that at least for me, is so very deep in its structure. The use of children used at the opening of the book and in the second refrain, but adding little children in the opening. The reiterations of what each life stage is taught in both halves but the subtle addition of Knowing the Father to the children and the buttressing of why we have overcome the evil one to the young men. So much richness there.

    I do struggle often with transitions. Especially those where no apparent good comes from it. Outside of the current struggle of getting into my Golden Years and not seeing much gold except that I have to give more and more of mine to the doctors, I think of the loss of those whom meant so much to me, like my mother and father. I accept it as part of the fallen world in which we live, and realize it was not God’s intention, and that one day He will reconcile and redeem eternal life to His creation, but for now, I still deeply feel the loss and struggle with the new beginning I have gained.

    I do though want to thank you for sharing Bridges analogy of the Neutral Zone during a transition. It often seem that the place between loss and refreshing is anything but neutral. Much more of a war zone. But seeing that time as a place where we need to lay down our arms of grief and expectation at our Father’s feet and just trust in that peace, is a wonderful attitude we should try to emulate.

    Again I am very appreciative for your work and will see on the backside of part 2.

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