As a Christian, I would love to have a magic wand. I would wave it like the fairy godmother did in Cinderella and make obstacles that impede my spiritual progress to magically disappear. Poof! Now they’re gone, all the nagging doubts, issues from my past that seem to crop up in certain situations, pain that inhibits a full surrender and old habits that die hard. Wave the magic wand, and its all gone. Poof! Poof! Poof! And now I can truly and fully worship God.
Unfortunately, I see this magic wand syndrome applied to Christianity but in different forms and utilizing different language. No one would cite it as waving a magic wand, but the reality of the formulas that are used to strengthen the sanctification process are in essence applying the same goal. Do this, and you no longer have to worry about whatever it is that is challenging your commitment to Christ. Do this, and you will have no problem at all worshipping God.
What are these formulas? One is leaving our problems at the altar and setting at the feet of Jesus. There are even altar calls to do just that. Another formula is worship. Some suppose that if we worship God hard enough, he will come and wave the magic wand and make all our problems disappear. Unfortunately, it is based on a misunderstanding of Psalm 22:3, that God shows up when corporate praise is offered, with an expanded version indicating that worship then becomes warfare and an instrument to de-shackle whatever has challenged forward progress. These are magic wands and I think yields a disconcerting blow to the sanctification process and disengages from the reasons we choose self over God.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we don’t bring our burdens, conflicts, sinful pulls and challenges to the Lord in prayer. Of course we do, as Peter commends in 1 Peter 5:7. Nor am I dispelling the need for worship, both individually and corporately. But the problem comes when we use these methods as formulas that are disconnected from the source of scriptural based sanctification and moreover, render troubled promises of spiritual maturity based on these formulas and expectations of devotion towards God.
The reason these formulas don’t work in and of themselves is because it negates the substance of sanctification and the necessary components to promote spiritual maturity. It does not happen overnight. Sanctification is a tedious and messy process that can become discouraging at times. It is a process where obstacles confront spiritual progress, self-focused thoughts confront Biblical truth, flesh confronts spirit. And there are failures; at times lots of failures. It doesn’t work itself out through sheer will or because we’ve raised our hands in worship.
When a person becomes a Christian, there is a natural opposition to this and its called “flesh”. The flesh wants its own way and continue to dominate thoughts, motives and deeds. It does not want to be subject to God’s requirements (Romans 8:7). It does not drop off when we become Christians and will seek to hinder us at every turn. Moreover, the Christian has a ready-made enemy upon conversion that hates God, his program and his people. He will do whatever he can to frustrate any steps towards spiritual maturity.
So what does the Christian do? I believe Romans 12:1-2 provide a great model for the sanctification process, which hinges on two important criteria: 1) offering ourselves and 2) being transformed through a mind renewal. Worship, according to Romans 12:1-2, is when we avert our affections from self and place them on God. This requires a transformation of thinking. We will only invest ourselves in Christianity to the extent of the value we have placed on the benefits of following Christ. Our worship is motivated by this investment. It unfolds based on how we think about God and his expectations for us. That does not happen because we engage in a corporate congregational service but unfolds through the realization of the object of faith and worship, which is the triune God.
This is where I think the teaching of doctrine is critical. Doctrine is not a dry, intellectual subject for academic oriented people but is a necessity for spiritual growth. Doctrine is teaching and Christian doctrine provides the tenets of why we follow Christ. To the extent that learning about the nature, character and work of the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is to the extent that we will avert our affections towards him and away from the obstacles that would impede progress. The more we learn about Him, his plan for history, his expectations for his people, both corporately and individually, the stronger the impetus should be to direct decisions in his favor and away from selfish desires.
Discipleship is learning. An ignorant saint who raises their hands in corporate worship is still an ignorant saint who will quickly yield to fleshly desires given the opportunity. I do believe there are times when desires and ingrained sinful habits are removed. But the overwhelming evidence in both scripture and real life, is that we must engage in an intentional process whereby the Holy Spirit is increasingly relied upon and Christ becomes a greater focus of our affections. In this way, we learn to discern what is fitting for spiritual maturity. This is aptly summed up in Hebrews 5:14 – “but solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trainded to discern good and evil“.
The bottom line is that sanctification does not happen overnight. It takes engaging in a continual learning process and wrestling with impediments to the Christian walk to the point where discernment of what is right and pleasing towards God is increasingly realized. That will motivate decisions when confronted with decisions of self vs. God. Moreover, it will motivate pure worship, from the heart that should increasingly place its affection towards God. There is no magic wand, only lives making the choice to surrender wholly to God although at times, those choices falter.
But the beautiful thing about that is, as Paul points out in Philippians 2:12-13, that as we walk out the sanctification process, that God is at work in us, both to work and will for his good pleasure. His grace is sufficient and his remedy through the cross is permanent, offering endless access to his throne of grace where we can find help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).