My church offers us Bible Reading Notes. In the final 'Closer to God' of 2009, on the last page, in the section entitled 'Looking Outwards,' are the following words.
"Spending time with God, soaking in his presence through Word and Spirit and in community with other believers, is what changes us. It should enable us to speak about Jesus so that those who hear will be amazed..."
The final words for the year talk about our need to surrender to God so that we can be fully filled with the Holy Spirit, "who will empower us to live out the hope we have received as witnesses to a dying world of Christ's glory."
Very few Evangelicals will see any problem with these words. I have read these ideas in countless books, and heard them in countless sermons over the years.
Somewhere around 1985, I started trying to write a short book. It was modestly entitled, "The Evangelical Heresy." The heresy is that God is more interested in our doctrine than our life.
The book never got off the starting blocks, but the heresy lives on. It seems to be stronger than ever.
What is missing from the church is an emphasis on the way we live.
Of course, this basic truth can be expressed in many different ways. We could equally well say that what is missing is a commitment to engagement with the world - not just as the target of our evangelism, but as the object of God's love. Remember John 3:16? God loves the world.
For the sake of clarity, I should make an obvious point: I consider doctrine to be absolutely vital. It is vital because what we believe - what we really believe - changes the way we live. God is interested in our doctrine. But as soon as you start to think that God is more interested in your doctrine than in your life, the doctrine starts to be an end in itself. And as soon as you separate doctrine from life, and make purity of doctrine your primary goal, you are inevitably going to miss out on God's purpose for your life - to glorify Him in all you do.
Yes, we are supposed to spend time alone with God. And, yes, the plan is that we shall be changed to be like Jesus. The question is: how?
If we are honest, all the time we spend in prayer and meditation and contemplation does not seem to produce very much change. The simple answer from all sides is very clear: therefore we must spend even more time in prayer and worship!
But... just for the sake of argument... let's consider the possibility that we are getting cause and effect mixed up. Maybe the prayer and worship were never intended to change us. What if they were intended to equip us to go out and live fully for Jesus, and what if it is in living for Jesus that we are changed to be like him?
What if living for Jesus is the cause of the change we are seeking, not the result of it?
What if we are waiting to be transformed before we go out to make a difference, when God has already empowered us to make a difference, and the transformation happens as we get on with the job?