Ep 103 Practice of Holiness
Updated: May 4, 2020
I'm Jamie Bahr and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices. Join me as we look at the practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches, and communities. In the last two podcasts, we addressed two questions, who is God and who am I? In this podcast we will look at the third question, What am I called to be?
This is what we are called to be. Jesus says, "Be holy as I am holy." But what does this mean? What is holiness? And why is it important? And how do we grow in holiness? Well becoming like Jesus we grow in our ability to give sustained attention, and that's a key word about holiness. I choose this word because today we don't have sustained attention to very many things. So if you think of holiness as a way of a practice or a habit and a daily habit of sustained attention to God and to each other.
Richard Foster states, "That holiness focuses upon the inward reformation of the heart and the development of holy habits." Now let's think about that for a minute. It's kind of interesting to think that growing in holiness is really a habit that over time reforms the heart, and this develops into character formation. So if we think about it like that, what is ... For an example, I was thinking about sustained attention. Sometimes I feel that way when I have to read a book, and notice I said, "I have to read a book" to a young child, and I'm thinking, "Okay, how long is the book? How quickly can I get through this book?" Now the practice of holiness would be first to pause, invite Jesus into this practice with me, that I might provide sustained attention to the child. Thinking about the other person. When we invite the Holy Spirit in, we invite the Holy Spirit in to act on the heart and soul of the person. I mean that would be the Holy Spirit acts on my heart to transform it, but also the heart of the child.
So at first if you don't feel like reading a book, you think, "Oh, can I get through this?" By inviting Jesus in and inviting in the Holy Spirit, we come to a point where we're shaping this holiness. So it's about the relationship with God and with your child. It's kind of interesting. Just think about that, the Holy Spirit comes in. When we invite the Holy Spirit in to participate with us in shaping the heart of the other person and also our heart through sustained attention.
Of course when we are in a hurry, what happens is just the opposite. It's the erosion of moral fiber that is what results, and it's really evident in our culture today. We have so much technology. We have such short attention span and so what happens during that short attention time all the time, we're not going deep, we really are not shaping our soul, and so it results in anxiety because we don't know what to do. So growing in the character of Christ is growing in the ability to give sustained attention in places where it is not easy to be. So in other words, we actually have to strive, or I want to say, choose to enter into these places that are difficult.
I really feel that it's more transformative if you practice this in places where it is difficult to enter into. You can start out by saying, "Well maybe reading a book to a child opens up that practice in a way. How long can I give sustained attention here?" To choosing places that are actually difficult to enter into, like a hospital, or where people are suffering.
So let's let go of some false images that we have of holiness. We often hear the quote, "Well that person thinks they're holier than thou." So it's not perfection. Trevor Hudson states that, "Holiness is not what one needs to do, but it's a deeper, inner quality of our lives that develops as we partner with a Holy Spirit and people with self-giving love." Again, there's a word, self-giving love, that is worked out through sustained attention that it develops holiness in us. Holiness is really the development of moral character. That's incredibly important today.
Moral character helps us to make just decisions to do the right thing. It's amazing that that comes out of a deep, inner formation of the heart. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, "Train yourself in godliness for while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both present life and the life to come. It's godly choices and decisions that affect our families, our communities and the world we live in."
Another quote by this Walter Rauschenbusch says, "That holiness is goodness on fire." Isn't that amazing. Goodness on fire. I love that picture of what holiness is. So again holiness is not ... Here's what it's not. It is not rules and regulations. Holiness isn't somebody who is off on a cloud somewhere. It's not through works that you arrive at holiness. It is nothing really to do with you, it's actually the work of the Holy Spirit on your soul. It is not perfection and it's not being absorbed into God. We always think somebody's holy as high up on a cloud, close to God, but here's what holiness is. The key thing is holiness is developed through sustained attention. It is world affirming. In other words, we enter into the world and all the conditions that are there. We don't avoid it. It's a bodily spirituality. It engages our whole self and we have to actually strive to enter into this. These are not always easy places to enter in when we first begin to develop this discipline. But holiness is progress in purity and eventually loving unity with God. That's so beautiful. Loving unity with God.
I know when I first married my husband, he always loved to sit with the elderly. Even in our 20s, when we bought our first home, we made friends with the elderly couple across the street. We would take time to sit there and listen to their lives, what were the things that interested them, and they really had some incredible stories. But my husband was able to so much more easier than I was at that age, able to sit there and listen and give them this sustained attention. So there's times where I probably said, "I don't really have the patience to sit there" but eventually over my lifetime you see God working on your soul and giving you the ability to have sustained attention in difficult places. It's really so transformative when it's with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
And personally I find that when you go in to, I was thinking like a nursing home, where there's many people in wheelchairs, and I've taken more time to slow down and really pay attention to their needs, to the things they were saying, to really pause long enough to invite the Holy Spirit into this and say, "Lord what is it that you want me to say? What is it that you want me to hear while I'm with this person?"
It's amazing that we can intentionally move into these places and we begin to ... I guess I want to say, we want to shape our own will to be in God's will, and that takes a work. You actually have to choose that, to participate in this transforming process. I mean, I think, could it really be that maybe we have the needy so that we can engage them in partnership with Jesus and in that partnership the Holy Spirit does this incredible work, this transforming work, on both me and this other person I'm with?
Another quote from Trevor Hudson, he says that, "The attraction is that we are invited to share in this divine holiness of self-giving love." Isn't that beautiful? That God is inviting us into this divine holiness of self-giving love. That Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with you. It's a different set of values. It's a formation of moral character or virtue.
In the Bible, the Book of James really focuses on moral formation and that's really about the source of our action. We act out of the heart. I mean it really reveals our true shaping when we make decisions and we have to decide, well, what is the source of our action when we act? Do we just ... is out of control, or do we actually know and can make choices that are for the good of others? So a divinely transformed heart will, by its very nature, produce good fruit. Let's think about this. Who is a model to you of holiness? Are there people that give you some true sustained attention that they engage with you, their whole self, and that they have the sense of loving unity with God? When I think of people like that, well of course we can all think Mother Teresa, it's hard to think of her in a hurry, but you begin to see this is a person who really had a deep, deep holiness because of the attention she gave to the poor and the needy.
This comes to making ... I can't explain enough how this turns into making good decisions that affect our families, that affect the workplace and that affect the world that we live in. Who in your life is that person? Begin to ask questions, what are their habits? Is this person able to take action that is right action, just action? What is the inner quality they have when it comes down to making some difficult choices?
If you haven't read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I would just highly recommend the book Bonhoeffer by ... I think it's by Eric Metaxas. It's so good. But here is a true example of holiness. While waiting in prison cell, he wrote the four dimensions of spiritual life that leads to freedom in all facets. Bonhoeffer was able to see his imprisonment and suffering and loss as a wondrous transformation. He was about to be executed but in his time in this prison under Nazi imprisonment, he wrote these four disciplines, it was kind of like a poem, and it was called The Road to Freedom, and it's one of the finest expressions of holiness, a true model of courage and compassion. It's inner spiritual resources for appropriate action is the key.
So the four things are, discipline of the soul. Really you can subject your own soul to be in the will of God. If you're not, then you run with confusion not knowing which way to go. The second one is action. People always sometimes will say, just act, just do it. Well don't just do anything, but dare to do what is just. Freedom comes only through action, but it's just action so we have to step out beyond that anxious waiting into the storm of events. Bonhoeffer states that, "Carried only by God's command and by your own faith, then will freedom exultantly cry out to welcome your spirit." Suffering is also another key, its wondrous transformation and we shouldn't shy away from suffering. We live in a culture today that does shy away from suffering. We really have a suffering avoidance culture today. So you can see why we're not maturing, we're not maturing in our faith and we're not maturing as human beings to handle some of the difficult things that lie ahead of us for caring for the world we live in and for those that God has given us to care for.
And then finally he says the last one is death. "Finally we might see what mortals have kept us from seeing, freedom, how long we have sought your discipline, action and suffering." I really recommend that you read The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it's just incredible as a prime example of holiness, and think about the action he took. He saved people in prison spiritually right up until they took him for his execution.
So there are two things that we have to do in order to grow in holiness. One of them is pause. Pause and invite the Holy Spirit into your presence as you move into difficult spaces. Ask Jesus to move with you more deeply into the self-giving love for others. It's a challenge, but there's this inward movement towards godliness, it's the Holy Spirit shaping you.
One other thing, I think of small practices that you could do, another one that comes to mind here is really think about your calendar. Do you find yourself filling that calendar quickly so you have things to keep yourself busy? Or do you ever just stop, pause and invite Jesus in and say, "What do you want on my calendar Lord?" Sometimes when I let go of filling in all those little squares and I decide to just sit and rest and allow God to fill that space, I am always surprised by the people he brings across my path that I need to pay attention to.
I mean you could just ... I remember one day I did this and I ran into a gal that I hadn't seen for a while and I thought surely God brought this person across my path, and I asked her, "Do you have time for a cup of soup?" Because I had kept my calendar blank, it allowed God to put on that calendar those he wanted me to spend time with and that his Holy Spirit could touch their heart and could touch mine in a transforming way. There was a real sense of joy, even playfulness, as you find the secret to abiding in Christ and that you've resisted the pull of a self-centered day.
The second thing then is really don't avoid suffering. You should really hang out with one or two people regularly who are in pain or suffering. There's really people all around us. If we invite Jesus in, he will open our eyes to see who we need to encounter. Richard Foster says, "Our relationship to God is a new life in existence for others through the participation in the being of Jesus." So we are really called to serve all people in partnership with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, whoever and wherever they are. It's a life that participates with Jesus in our world, living whole and holy lives.
It's a blessing, it's a true blessing of joy, and I hope that you will take that time to develop what is true holiness in shaping your own character for your well being to make moral choices that are surely to come your way in life.
Next time we'll be talking about the practice of holy listening. If you have any questions or want to view the show notes and resources, please go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcast.com.
Thank you so much for listening and blessings on your journey.