Some mornings look like this: I slide out of bed with a sense of expectation. A shower clears my head. A walk on the treadmill gets the blood and oxygen moving.
The day comes at me in whatever shape it happens, but I’m present and aware. I’m able to make choices that align with who I want to be in this world. When the unexpected happens, I am able to respond flexibly, with grace. Those days feel great.
Many other mornings are not like that. I fight getting out of bed with every part of me. Circumstances or other people push me into the day before I’m ready, and I’m left dragging myself along propped up by caffeine and sugar and urgency.
The day comes at me in whatever shape it happens. Other people’s agendas and my own desire to just be at peace are in constant conflict. My attitude is alternately bitter, entitled, or frustrated. My reactions to the world around me are not graceful. Those days always feel lost.
I’ve been thinking about where the difference lies in these two kinds of days. I have more of the second than I want. It’s not in the circumstances.
Bad things and good things have happened to me on both kinds of days. It’s not in other people. People have hurt me, people have loved and encouraged me on both kinds of days.
The day comes in whatever shape it comes. I think the difference lies in me, in how I choose to show up and participate in whatever the day brings. You can experience your spiritual life in these same two ways. You can trudge through, barely conscious, or you live fully awake.
Do you know you’re in a partnership?
Did you know that spiritual growth is a partnership? Spiritual growth is not something we can perform, or force, or make happen in ourselves or others. God makes things grow — whether that’s the trees, or you and your spiritual journey, or the church.
Jesus claimed1 that He would build the church. He didn’t tell Peter to go and build the church; He told Peter to “feed his sheep,” and that He—Jesus—would build the church. Jesus also said2 that He would be the one who draws people in. In 1st Corinthians 3:5-9 Paul tells us that God gives growth, but then challenges us with a new role. He calls us God’s coworkers.
God doesn’t barge in uninvited and start re-arranging things without our participation. That’s why there are so many instructions in the Bible about living this new life. There are things that we do, effort that we put out. But our effort is not about creating growth. Our effort is not about making ourselves more holy. Our effort is about doing what we can do to put ourselves in a place where God’s work can take root in our lives.
Ephesians 5:14 offers this invitation: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.
God wants to bring about growth in you and me. God wants to bring beauty and love and truth into the world through you and me. God gives the growth. God will grow the church. God will do the work of transformation. Our role? To wake up.
Waking Up Is Hard To Do
Instead of walking through our spiritual life like I do on those rough mornings — dragging, resisting — we are invited to step into our spiritual journey fully awake. How do we do that?
1) Live in the Truth
Living fully awake begins with a profound commitment to the truth. In this case, I don’t mean holding to a particular doctrinal truth. I mean being very aware and present to what is actually so in your life and relationships. All maturing begins here.
For addicts to recover, they have to get out of denial. For sinners to be forgiven, they have to repent. For us to mature in the image of Christ, we have to be honest about what is really going on in our lives and relationships.
Here’s a painful example: Sometimes I feel an urgency in my heart to correct people who are theologically wrong. I’ve done it in classes and groups. I’ve done it on the internet. I’ve done it in personal relationships.
Now, for much of my life I was not living in the truth regarding this habit. I justified it. I said I was zealous for good doctrine, that I just wanted people to know God’s word. I felt like I was defending against heresy. But in my case, when I got honest and present to the truth of my heart, I discovered that this habitual pattern in my life is about being right and feeling powerful. It’s not about God and others; its about me feeling secure.
Until I accepted and admitted this truth, God had no access to change this in me. My justification and denial effectively shielded my heart from God’s work in me. Your story may be different, but regardless of your heart’s struggle, being awake starts with living in the truth.
2) Notice Our Walk
Once we make the commitment of living in the truth, we begin to see clearly. This is when we can begin to notice our walk. Your walk is your habitual pattern of living that is taking you somewhere. The “old Walk” takes us deeper into self, away from God and others. The “New Walk” takes us toward God and others, and away from self.3
When you look at your walk, what results, what fruit, do you see? Is the fruit of your walk more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control4? Or is the fruit of your walk you more fear? More anxiety? More drama? More bad decisions that lead to damage to the people around you?
First we choose to live in the truth. That allows us to notice to our walk. In this noticing we begin to see the work God wants to do in us. That’s when we can partner with God to grow.
3) Attend the light
How do we partner with God to grow? By trying harder? By doing more religious things? No. We partner with God in one simple way: We Attend.
The word attend and attention come from the same root. We think of attention as what we focus on, what we see and hear. For us, attending is about the events we go to. But it used to be that “attending” was about listening and serving. Think of the word “Attendant.” The attendants of the king were the people who stood near the king, listening, available to act on whatever the king asked. In this old perspective attending means more than just what we look at or hear. It includes our presence and availability.
We partner with God to grow by making ourselves present and available to what God is doing. We’re not pulling our spiritual selves up by our self-help boot-straps. We’re paying attention to God, practicing what it means to stand near, available to act on whatever God asks of us.
The Bible teaches that the things we behold—the things that we put our attention on—change us. We attend the light by focusing on Jesus, and this will change us. The opposite is also true. Every time we attend the darkness, every time we focus on it, we give it a place in our walk.
See, the currency of your life is time and attention. That’s why brands will pay millions of dollars for TV ads. That’s why everything you do online is data-mined. The most important thing you have to give in your whole life is time and attention. Where you spend your time and attention shaped your life
God’s agenda for each of us is to grow us up in the image of Christ5 But this is not something God does alone. We mature as we co-labor with God in the world. Every day, every moment, is an opportunity to lean on God, to trust God, to grow in understanding of God. Every moment we get to choose to attend.
The days come however they come. We get to decide how will we show up. We can stumble through this journey, dragging ourselves forward or we can live fully awake. This is God’s invitation: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.
- In Matthew 16:18. ▲
- In John 12 ▲
- This idea is distilled from Paul in Ephesians and Romans. Paul calls the “old walk” the flesh, or life in Adam. He calls the “new walk” life in Christ. ▲
- This is what God promises will happen in the life of someone fully surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit. See Galatians 5:16-23 ▲
- Read Ephesians 4 through carefully and you will see this. ▲