A couple of years ago I came across a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero, in which he argues that it is impossible to be growing in spiritual maturity if we are not also growing in emotional maturity. By ‘emotional maturity’ Scazzero means such things as: living in a balanced way between being and doing (learning to Sabbath and rest regularly, and not define our lives by work and busyness), learning to feel the full range of human emotions without being controlled by them (or by a few, such as anger or fear), and learning to find our identity in Christ and not in our work or family or relationships or accomplishments. All these things are part of basic discipleship of course, but they also have a profound impact on our overall emotional health. I encourage you to get a copy, as it has been one of the most helpful books for my own discipleship that I’ve engaged with in a long time.
Last Sunday I was suggesting that along with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, comes one of the things that sets Christianity apart from other religions, or even from ‘religion’ in general. Namely, that the heart of our faith is not an invitation by God to live for Him, but to live with and in Him. The shift is a subtle one, but it is essential for us to understand the difference.
Calling people to live for God is a common theme among pastors and ‘real radical disciples’, and it goes something like this: the meaning of life is to be totally sold-out and passionate for God, which means being determined to do great things for God. The operative word here is, of course, FOR. What have you done for God? How many lives have been changed? How many people have been saved? How many churches have been planted, ministries started, cities reached, cultures transformed, mission trips gone on? How many children have you sponsored or wells dug in Africa? And on and on it goes, because the ‘radical’ nature of discipleship here is proved by accomplishing great things. The carrot is that if you are successful then you will know that God is pleased with you, that he is for you also, so you can be sure that “great will be your reward in heaven”. If you are not successful, or if you burn out, or if your relationships fall apart in the process, then either you'll dig deeper and try harder or you will give up in despair. In practice, even those who are successful are usually left dissatisfied, often wrestling with activist guilt: have I done enough? Am I successful enough? Will God accept my works?
As it happens, there is another religion that preaches this kind of doctrine: Islam. What we need to recognise here is that neither of these, the Christian nor the Islamic version of this ‘gospel’, have any true understanding of grace. We may preach or believe in grace, sure, but what we actually live - our functional experience of Christianity - is in fact fear and ultimately guilt generated by the more deeply held belief that it is our works that will save us, it’s what we’ve done for God that will make our lives count in the end.
Contrast this with John 15 and we have a problem. Yes, Jesus says that “if you love me you will keep my commandments”, and if he had left it there, we would be firmly in ‘live for God’ territory. But Jesus doesn’t leave it there, instead He completely turns the tables on us and says that the secret, the essential ingredient that will make this happen is not to “work harder” but “abide”.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
Here we are invited to live with and in God, not for God, with the promise that our fruitfulness, and ultimately our deepest joy, will flow from Him. And this time it will be free of activist guilt because it is fruit that God has grown through us as we surrender to the reality that we “cannot bear fruit on our own", certainly not "fruit that remains" anyway.
This Thanksgiving weekend, I encourage you to take some time to rest and to pray. Take some time to remember what Christ has done for you to make it possible for you to be with Him. Remind yourself: I am not my own, I belong to Christ.
I also encourage you to take some time to reflect on the questionnaire below. It is a very simple tool recently produced by Pete Scazzero’s ministry, which is designed to help you ‘locate’ where your life is on the spiritual-emotional spectrum. It doesn’t address everything, but if you do end up scoring low on many of the questions, perhaps you should consider whether there are some elements of your life that are out of balance.
I leave you with one of my favourite passages of Scripture to meditate on this weekend:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are of earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
Next to each statement, write down the number that best describes your response.
1- 2- 3- 4- 5- 6- 7- 8- 9- 10-
Not at all True Moderately True Completely True
____ I am relaxed and unhurried.
____ I am deeply aware of God’s great love.
____ I appreciate and love one person at a time.
____ I am content amidst suffering and setbacks.
____ I praise and promote others easily and joyfully.
____ I am generous with my time, money, and gifts.
____ I listen for God’s voice and will throughout the day.
____ I forgive and let go of hurts.
____ I am prudent in conversations and discernment.
____ I am playful and able to laugh easily.
____ I get up quickly when I fail or fall.
____ I respond to criticism graciously.
Pete Scazzero says:
“If you scored mostly ones, twos, or threes, you are likely doing too much, perhaps more than God has asked you to do. You may be overloaded. The fact that you took the assessment is a grace from God. What might God’s invitation be to you today?
If you scored mostly fours, fives, sixes or sevens, then you are making progress, but you are likely still out of balance with not enough being with God to sustain your doing for him. Ask yourself: What adjustments might God be inviting me to make in this season?
If you scored eights, nines, and tens you are in a good place. Your doing for God and your being with him are well-integrated and balanced. Be encouraged.”