I had a conversation with a mentor and teacher of mine – Monte Cox – a few years ago that keeps coming up in my mind.
Monte shared with me some teaching he had developed about the Holy Spirit and spiritual formation.
He likened spiritual formation in the Holy Spirit to sailing a boat.
Our role in spiritual formation is simply to raise the sails and catch the wind of the Spirit. The key question then is what does it look like to “raise the sails” and be carried along by the Spirit to become more like Jesus?
Monte shared five different ways to raise the sails, but one of them stuck out to me the most.
We raise the sails to the Spirit’s work by paying attention to what we take in with our eyes and mind and heart from external sources. The inputs we receive affects the outputs we are able to give.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” the old saying goes. The positive spin is true as well: goodness in, goodness out.
Which is probably why the apostle Paul urged the Philippian church the way he did: “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
In his letter to the Colossian church, he encourages them to set their minds on “things above” and not on “earthly things” (Col. 3:1). In other words, dwell on good and godly things and not on the garbage of our broken world.
This approach to raising the sails is all the more important and difficult in the age of Netflix: the age of on-demand, unfettered access to entertainment content. We’re simply more capable than ever before to binge watch the garbage of our broken world.
And it has an effect on us, whether or not we’re ready to admit it.
The more violence we watch, the more aggressive we may become.
The more f-bombs we hear, the more likely we are to employ them in our own vocabulary.
The more nudity we see, the greater the tendency to objectify people sexually.
The more angry political rants we watch and read on Facebook, the angrier we become in our interactions elsewhere.
What goes in impacts what comes out.
What if we consumed the story of God the way we consume Netflix (or Amazon or Facebook or whatever)?
What if we dialed down the on-demand inputs around us that over-expose us to the brokenness of our world and dialed up our connection to God and God’s people?
I’ll be honest and say I’m writing this post for myself more than anyone else. If it helps you, great. But it has foremost been a word for me personally — and the reason Monte’s conversation has been popping up in my mind lately.
My aim in addressing “personal holiness” in this post is not so that we can gain God’s affection by being more holy people. We already have God’s affection in Christ. My interest is in how we can be good, loving neighbors — people who think and act like Jesus would if he were physically present with us today. People who are good news to their neighborhoods. The inputs we receive — the “cultural liturgies” we engage every day — have a direct impact on the kind of people we become.
Please chime in and explore this with me!
How big of a deal are “inputs” in spiritual formation, in your opinion?
What are the challenges of managing the inputs you receive in our on-demand age?
How can we limit our inputs without disengaging culture or becoming self-righteous?