This month, we’re taking a look at John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Click here for part two of this series.
Boldy addressed in the practice of servanthood, Ortberg asserts that “appropriate smallness,” or humility “has to do with submitted willingness. It involves a healthy self-forgetfulness. We will know we have begun to make progress in humility when we find that we get so enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in the moment that we cease to be preoccupied with ourselves, one way or the other,” (p. 102).
Of note, Ortberg explains that Jesus’ example of servanthood isn’t just an example but it is a revealing of God’s character. It’s not an “outward appearance,” or a disguise, servanthood is who God is. We can draw examples from Him and emulate Him and we are meant to. We are meant to be servants, with our minds thinking as servants, not just performing “acts” like a servant (p. 106).
Servanthood, involves a relinquishing—of pride, vanity, stubbornness and exclusivity. This relinquishing is not an easy process, but progress can be made with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Like servanthood, another important practice in spiritual formation is the receiving and acceptance of liberating forgiveness.
“Confession is not primarily something God has us do because He needs it. God is not clutching tightly to his mercy, as if we have to pry it from His fingers like a child’s last cookie. We need to confess in order to heal and be changed. . . . It is a practice that, done wisely, will help us become transformed,” (p. 122).
Ortberg offers a listing of steps to the process of confession. First is preparation, being sure we are engaged with the Holy Spirit, allowing His leading—for to exempt the Spirit from this process is to come dangerously close to self-condemnation. Second is self-examination and reflecting on our inward thoughts, attitudes, ideas, as well as decisions and acknowledging sins. Ortberg says that: “Confession should be specific, concrete and particular. One ‘I lied to my boss and said I was working when I wasn’t . . .’ can bring about more honesty and change than 20 versions of ‘I haven’t been truthful enough.’”
The next step to confession is perception—a new way of looking at our sin. One thing about sin is that the more we do it, the more unaware we become to its presence. Ask God for a new lens, a new way of sensing and seeing areas of sin. Examine why you did what you did and what was the result of the sin. From this change in perception, we are able to enter into God’s pain over sin, (p. 125-127).
Regarding confession, Ortberg comes to a conclusion that “confession is not just naming what we have done in the past. It involves our intentions about the future as well. It requires a kind of promise. As God does His work in us through the process of confession, we will feel a deep desire not to do this hurtful thing again,” (p. 130).
As Ortberg mentions in the first step of confession, plugging in and being guided by the Holy Spirit is paramount to spiritual transformation. But how do we receive guidance from the Holy Spirit?
First, prayer is essential. Entering into a dialogue with God is a two-way street—He meets us and dialogues with us. The Holy Spirit’s leading is not for the “elite” spiritual leaders, the pastors, speakers, authors, etc., it is for everyone and we can learn to be open to His promptings. Unfortunately, we can’t just blank our minds, become mindless and hear the Spirit. We actually have to listen. And unlike us, who need to make external actions to guide someone’s thoughts (yours are being guided right now by the person writing this), God can guide our thoughts internally without, sometimes, any realization that a thought is coming from Him.
Ortberg continues to assess how to seek guidance by determining what seeking guidance is not. It’s not insider information, so that we’ll know which decision to make. It’s not a badge of spirituality or importance to show how close to God we are. It’s not the same thing as being passive, thinking that when the clock shows all even numbers when we look at it is an indication that God is in favor of whatever it is we want Him to be in favor of. And seeking guidance is not a way to avoid taking risks, but rather, it’s a way to develop good judgment.
We all want answers, and seeking God for them indicates a right understanding of His sovereignty and provision. We must start by seeking guidance for growth of the soul so that our daily decisions come from a place of godly wisdom. Seeking guidance for the growth of the soul involves asking these questions (p. 141): “How do I become a more truthful person? Whom do I know who can teach me to pray in a way that will nourish my soul? What practices will enable me to live in joy continually?”
Ortberg guides us through how to pursue the guidance of the Spirit (p. 143-150): Listen for the Spirit continually—during interactions, ask Him for guidance; Be relentlessly responsive—act on the promptings He gives; Listen for the Spirit’s voice in the words of others—be open to learning from others and how they know and hear Him; Practice listening in small matters—what may seem like an inconsequential action to you may mean a world of blessings to another.
Today, let go of whatever you’re holding onto that is a barrier to spiritual growth. Lean in and listen. God has a word for you that will change things.