Change is the promise of God. Life requires it. There is no growth without change. Our souls long for it. We may sit in the same chair at the dinner table, but in matters of spirit, we recognize our need to grow and change. That need and longing is met by God’s powerful grace. The theological word to describe this change is conversion. We tend to think of conversion in the past tense.
Conversion is God’s work. His intent is not to simply make us better - but to make us new. He will grant us what we do not have on our own, life which comes by the Spirit and reflects the Son. In the quote above, Paul teaches that as we behold the glory of God in His Son Jesus, the Spirit transforms us into Jesus’ image - bit by bit, step by step, from glory to greater glory. So it becomes clear that only God can convert us. We didn’t have the power to save our souls. We don’t have the power to shape them. The Biblical metaphors for spiritual formation speak clearly. Fruitful life comes to the branches because of the Vine.(Jn.15:4) The harvest of godly virtues is the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal.5:22) The garment we wear is a new self, created by God. (Col.3:10) We are dead as we drive, shop, work, worship, but Christ is life in our flesh (Gal.2:20) Repeatedly God tells us that spiritual work is His work.
I wish I had recognized that earlier. For too long I tried to manage my spiritual life with “do or don’t do.” I would attempt to re-shape myself with resolutions, rules and will power. Any small gains made were just tinkering. I tasted improvements but what I needed was transformation. I was trying to improve my life, while God was offering me His. It took a clear recognition of my spiritual poverty before I embraced the gospel, not just for my spiritual birth but also for my spiritual living. The gospel says I need to be saved. Jesus is my Saviour. I am saved by faith not by works.
The thinkers among you will ask the obvious question. “If my conversion is God’s job, what part do I play in it?” Conversion is not automatic nor is it imposed upon us. We are not passive is this process. We participate in His grace by our affirming faith. We say can “yes” to His purpose through a variety of spiritual disciplines. Scripture. Sacrament. Liturgy. Service. Obedience. Community. The disciplines themselves are not the power of conversion. They open our souls to the presence and power of grace. Perhaps the greatest discipline for conversion is prayer.
Prayer is more than a means of change for the world around us. It is a path of conversion for the world within us. By prayer we confess both our faith and dependence as we turn our attention towards God. In prayer the light of His Spirit reveals the shadows of my heart. In prayer there is an alignment to the Father’s will. In prayer, Jesus handles my fears tenderly. Conversion doesn’t happen all at once and it may be hard for me to quantify. It’s like the seed, which Jesus said, sprouts from shoot, stalk to fruit, in ways we can’t explain. The process of conversion is a mystery. Yet, this I know. When I pray, I am changed. When I don’t, I wither. That doesn’t mean that every time I pray something happens. Sometimes I am aware of His nearness and other times I feel lost in a whirlpool of my own thoughts. Some prayer sessions warm me. Some leave me cold. I have stopped trying to make anything happen and don’t over analyze my prayers. I don’t dig up the seed to see how much it has grown. But in the obedience of faith, I place myself before Him and trust His Spirit. Shaping souls is His task. Sailors know that they can’t create the wind to move themselves forward. But they can set their sails. Prayer sets the sails of our soul to catch the breezes of God.
“…but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”