Embracing the Process

A month ago I posted about three paradigms to embrace - process, disorientation, and the move to the margins. Today, I want to explore process. If you want to go deeper into the purposes of wandering in our Christian walk, consider reading The Dusty Ones by Pastor A. J. Swoboda.

Until then, my meandering thoughts below are outlined in terms of the reality, the challenge, and the possibilities encountered when we embrace the process.

The Reality

I love the big picture. I love looking at a mountain. I really enjoy the top of the mountain. Since teleportation isn't a regular option, getting from here to there demands movement. But when the initial enthusiastic burst of energy wears off and I'm still trudging up the side of whatever lunatic plan I've embarked on, I easily experience dreamer's remorse. Even if I know the view at the top is stunning.

Process isn't glamorous. It's rarely exciting in the moment. Process can give you blisters.

Our movement from today's experience into God's preferred future is one of typically slow, mundane steps, peppered with the interfering normalcy of life. Finding out our dependency on God is the great gift of process. Discovering our limitations, we become alert to our need for God's limitless love, power and provision. We find out we're hungry and weak. That hunger and weakness drives us to the only source of satisfaction and strength that can conquer every mountain.

The reality of process also helps us reflect on our internal development. I've heard lots of testimonies from people who underwent radical and immediate transformation when they came to Christ. But for others of us, myself included, though we are spiritually and truly changed from the moment of our salvation, we experience a less overtly radical progression of sanctification. Step by step, we shuffle towards the full image of Christ.

And I've come to see this as the normal victory of the Christian life. Even those with mind-blowing never-touched-meth-again kinds of testimonies, there is still the daily grind against anger, lust, greed, selfishness and so forth. Our deliverance is complete, and it's being worked out completely day-by-day in our lives.

The Challenge

Time gets distorted in process. It's what Donald Miller calls "the long middle" in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. You can set out with ambition and hope as your paddles, but somewhere between the departure and the arrival, you have to have resolve. Embracing the process means facing the challenge of waiting, persevering, and waiting some more.

Whether it's boredom, frustration, fear, loneliness or any number of internal struggles, you don't go through process without bumping up against the rough edges of your soul, the world around you, and some sharp-clawed spiritual predators. 

Staying on the right path isn't the first issue - it's staying with the Shepherd that counts. 

There are times when the process can feel a lot like the hobbit's journey through Mirkwood. Did I stray from the path? Why do the little patches of light and respite seem to evaporate? Why am I being hunted by spiders? 

Throughout, there seem to be two fundamental questions that can nag at your soul:

  1. Did I even hear God in the first place?
  2. Is he with me now?

As a Christian, the second answer is clear - "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age," are the parting words of Christ in Matthew 28:20. There is no contingency about us getting it all right in our attempts to follow God. Jesus simply promises his enduring presence.

And therefore, if he is with us, even when we stray from the path we can be confident that he will lead us back to the right way. Staying on the right path isn't the first issue - it's staying with the Shepherd that counts. 

The Possibilities

Strength and assurance are two great possibilities for those who embrace the process. The tearing of spiritual muscles through the rigours of endurance result in growth. And the experience of God's faithful presence in the midst of the marathon create a foundation stone in us of assurance which testifies to his steadfastness in other areas of our lives.

The process provokes the possibility of conversation and testimony. 

Along with these personal factors are the possibilities of witness and catalytic force that happen when believers dive into process and keep going. I can't tell you how many times, when we were really feeling the weariness of the process, someone would say, "I wish I was living on the edge of faith like you." Or, "We saw you take that leap and it stirred us up. We have been praying and sense God is calling us into something new."

More remarkable is seeing the impact embracing the process has on those who don't know Jesus. Because, quite frankly, the willing participation in the kind of process a faith-walk demands is ludicrous, unless Jesus is real. Even when people take the "you're crazy" stance, you find that following Jesus is provocative in an age of self-security. The process provokes the possibility of conversation and testimony. It shows the world what faith looks like.

Please understand I'm no expert on this. I daresay that in a few years, or decades, I'll have gained more perspective. But for what it's worth, I'd like to encourage you to embrace the process as a gift. Jesus disciples us as we go. So keep moving forwards.