Thursday, July 30, 2009

Replacing Vice with Virtue

This is a little scholarly sounding, but it is still very personal and honest. I think scholarly is going to become a little more pervasive in my writing at least for the next couple years, so I appoligize ahead of time!

During this past year and a half, God has done a greater transformative work in my life than ever before. Through His Spirit’s calling, leading to my continued surrender, I have seen greater wonders throughout 2008 and 2009 than I have ever seen previously. God has initiated and propelled this process, and I have had the responsibility to respond to His leading through obedience and submission. This pursuit of holiness has been two-fold, as God has been refining my personal relationship with Him as well as my social relationships with the body of Christ and the world. He has developed my character in the realms of my thought life, my prayer life, my social life, and my physical self. As He has dealt with me in abandoning my vices, He has replaced my sinful decisions with virtuous decisions.

I began my spiritual journey with Christ at the age of three, and the Lord revealed His nature and His word during my childhood. I hid His word in my heart early on, which has propelled my spiritual growth throughout the rest of my life. That early foundation has proven to be vital in my spiritual, emotional, and mental development.

In spite of my early conversion experience and childhood training in the word, I faced genetic predisposition to various chemical imbalances and depressive tendencies. Circumstances boosted those tendencies into realities, and I chose to embrace a myriad of vices, which temporarily overshadowed the virtues that had been blossoming during childhood. Diagnoses were made, and I erroneously found myself confined to a “label.” I allowed myself to stay trapped in that label for 14 years, and the vices multiplied until I was almost consumed.

The process of abandoning vices has been an incredibly rewarding though arduous process. Because fleshly and disordered thought patterns were so deeply embedded into my entire existence, I had to literally “take every thought captive” and make it obedient to the Lord. The utilization of coping skills and tools for recovery were the vehicles through which the Spirit worked to uproot my sinful lifestyle and thinking patterns. The main vices that I found to be prevalent have been pride and fear. According to C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, pride is the basis of most human vices. In my personal life, I have found this statement to be accurate. Early on in my process of the abandonment of vices, I was conversing with a spiritual advisor, and she boldly and appropriately called my disordered thinking for what it was: It was pride, and I needed to fall to my knees in repentance. At that point in repentant contrition, I opened up my heart to true transformation. This initial time of repentance opened up the doors for a new sensitivity to the Spirit’s convictions and leadings unto further repentance and growth. Slowly, over the following year, my thought life was refined and redirected, as I learned to discern the Spirit’s voice as He called me to repentance and restructuring. With the weeds of lies uprooted, the soil of my mind was fertile for new seeds of truth to be planted. Mere elimination of negative thoughts is never sufficient for recovery and transformation. The negative thoughts must be replaced with the truth of God’s word and wise counsel of fellow believers and counselors.

This replacement process is synonymous with the concept of embracing virtues. The fruit which the Spirit produces in the life of the believer is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. These virtues, though never fully embraced at all times, have begun to take root in my heart and through the watering of the Spirit, are springing forth in my personal walk with the Lord and in my social interactions with others. Through a deepened and more deliberate prayer life, I have found a new level of peace that has replaced the previous stronghold of anxiety, worry, and fear. Through active participation in and vigorous study of scripture, I have found a handbook for the fruit of the Spirit. In my study of the life of Christ, I see the embodiment of all of these virtues, and as I emulate the Savoir through the power of the Spirit, I can also embody these virtues. As I have served others through my career at Starbucks, engaged in mentor relationships with adolescent girls, participated in fellowship in church, built new and healthy relationships with friends and family, and learned to intercede continually, I have learned to love more deeply, to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully, and to practice patience and gentleness with the even the most resistant individuals. Without the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my relationships with others, my personal holiness and spiritual growth is at best questionable.

God is taking me to deeper levels of growth and higher levels of social responsibility during my time at Asbury Seminary. As I pursue my degree in counseling, I am making a commitment to learn to practice the virtues of Christianity with greater skill and understanding of myself, others, and God.

Throughout the previous season of my life, I enjoyed a relaxed schedule with plenty of down time. It was not difficult to make time and room for the Lord, because I had plenty of time to work with. This season will require much more time management and deliberate planning. In choosing to make Christ central, I will be required to set healthy boundaries with myself regarding sleep, scheduling, and self-care. One aspect of making room for the Lord to work, therefore, is making room in my schedule for concentrated time with Him. This will carry over into my professional life when I leave Asbury. It will be vital, as I pour into the lives of clients, that I be filled up regularly with my life Source. My time at the Seminary will help train me in time management as I learn to steward the areas of study, service, church, fun, and rest.

I am prepared for my previous understanding of God, myself, and methodology to be challenged and unraveled as He provides enlightenment through classes and individual study. As I walk in humble willingness to restructure my views while holding onto Orthodoxy, I will find myself made more like Christ and better able to serve and care for others. There will always be room for learning and academic growth in my life, as it seems that the more I learn, the higher my awareness becomes that I know very little. Therefore, humility is a key virtue that must always exist in this process and throughout the rest of my life.

Without the evidence of social holiness, personal holiness is somewhat arbitrary. Social holiness, however, cannot occur without the existence of personal holiness. They go hand-in-hand. This partnership is parallel with James’ argument regarding faith and works. Faith without works is dead, but works not founded in faith are merely acts of spiritless legalism. I have spent the last year and a half participating in deep and transformative pursuit of personal holiness, with only marginally significant social holiness springing forth. Now is the season for greater levels of social holiness to be paired with my continued pursuit of personal holiness. As this new season emerges on the heels of the previous season of renewal and transformation, I eagerly anticipate great personal growth with manifold social consequences.

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