I serve in the area of Christian spiritual formation. That means that one of the questions that I live with, and have been living with for years, is this one: “How do people change?”
Another: “How are people formed in Christlike character?” I could build on that. Once formed, there is reforming and transformative work yet to be done. I’m convinced sanctification is a process that involves vision, intention, and means of transformation. Until we are glorified, there’s work to be done on the human heart.
We’re involved in the process. Commitment to the process is important, because if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re a leader. Jesus said “follow me,” and he commanded his followers to teach others to follow him, too. You may not be a pastor. You may not be on a church staff. But if you’re a citizen in God’s kingdom, you’re leading others as you follow him. You’re a minister, serving God and others. You are a witness. As others look to you, they may discover what Jesus is like. You are leading as you are being led by Christ.
If we’re all leaders and our goal is to lead like Jesus as we follow Jesus, then we should be engaged in the process of change—changing to become like him. But how does that unfold? What’s that process like?
In his book Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change, Tod Bolsinger compares the formation process for leaders to blacksmith work. In the same way a skilled blacksmith refines and shapes a piece of metal, there are six steps involved in becoming a well refined leader. The leader must experience and undergo working, heating, holding, hammering, hewing, and tempering.
The Spirit works as this process unfolds. The community of faith has a role to play as well. And God is the master craftsman, the chief artisan. We see this in Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 29, Isaiah 64, and Romans 9. In those places, God is the potter and we are the clay. But God is also described in Scripture as a metal worker, a refiner. There are several examples I could cite, but I’ll offer only one, found in Malachi 3:2-4:
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
That’s a passage we read during the Advent season.
Christ has come, and he will come again. In between, God continues to call forth and refine leaders. What’s that process like? What’s the outcome? Bolsinger writes:
Fire and anvil, Spirit and community are necessary but not alone. For the master Artisan uses anvil and fire with the hammer of hard blows—both crises we undergo and practices we undertake—to shape, strengthen, smooth, and shine us into something both beautiful and useful. Without the Spirit, the hammer of life’s difficulties and tests would only scar and mar us. Without the anvil, the hammer would crush us to bits. But together fire, anvil and hammer, Spirit, community, and hardship, used by the master Artisan, forge us into something stronger and more flexible, more useful and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
In Christian spiritual formation work, we often tell people that practices will change their character, and they do. Prayer and meditation on Scripture, for example, can heat the heart hot, melt away dross, and leave us changed. But we’re not as clear, and not always as forthright, in telling people they will need to pass through the fire if they are to become everything God desires and intends. Trials, suffering, and hardship, while unpleasant, should be embraced.
1 Peter 1:7 says, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
What are “these?” 1 Peter 1:6 tells us “these” are “grief in all kinds of trials.”
In more recent months I’ve found myself being much more open about my hardships and trials. This is hard to do. I’m not looking for pity, and I don’t want to be a downer. But God has brought a lot of good, a lot of refining, I think, out of the difficulties I’ve experienced. The pain I’ve experienced has made me more compassionate, and the failures I’ve chalked up have taught me a great deal about humility.
The fires were not pleasant while I was passing through them. But I’m now grateful. My confidence in God has only increased.
How do people change? How are hearts transformed?
Heat. And trusting oneself to the hands of a master Artisan.
Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change, which I’ve quoted above, is an excellent book.
I finished reading Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice and a novel by Susan Howatch called Absolute Truths. Next up is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and a new release by Diana Gruver called Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt.
Sights and Sounds
The December playlist is up, as I shared last week. Christmas music is so on.
Movies? The best two movies I watched this past week were Alien and Predator. As science fiction/horror movies, they are masterpieces.
This is my second week publishing on Substack. The Friday newsletter continues to be free, and I plan to make it so forever. I guess I started writing because I felt like I had something to say. I’ll keep on trying to say it.
On the website I shared the old “Sunday’s Coming” video. I’m trying to think of a way to use it in a course next spring.
Before I go, standard copy.
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That's the business.
Be well this week. Bless others.
P. S. - Once again, both images are from a recent hike. I’d rather belong deeply to God, but I have a suspicion that if I belong deeply to God, somehow I will belong more deeply to myself, because I will have been freed to be that very self which God created me to be.