Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary Thomas's new book, The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God Every Day of Your Life, (Zondervan, 2007).
It’s good to know the truth and to do what’s right, but true Christianity is about much more than simply what you believe and how you behave. The faith is nothing less than a beautiful fight in which God wants to transform you completely, for His glory.
So don’t settle for anything less than the best. Here’s how you can go beyond just good moral behavior to true transformation:
Experience God every day. Understand that you can’t truly connect to God through mere morality. Rather than just believing in God, reach out to Him every day to experience His presence, power, and wisdom. Instead of just discussing issues, praying about them, and feeling inspired by them, put your faith into action every day. Realize that no matter how much you know about God, what matters most is what you know of God through a close relationship with Him. Don’t limit your discipleship to what you can accomplish through your own energy; ultimately, that will be nothing of eternal value. Set aside your personal agenda and invite God to act on your soul however He chooses to do so. Rely on God’s unlimited power rather than your own limited power. Know that you can best reach others for Christ simply by letting them see the compelling ways God is working through your life.
Surrender to the work Jesus is doing right now. Remember that, after His time on Earth, Jesus ascended to heaven to continue His reign – and that He is still there, calling all believers to become more and more like He is now. Ask God to help you overcome pride, so you can shift your focus from working to build influence for yourself to surrendering to Jesus’ influence on a minute-by-minute basis, helping to build His kingdom, which will outlive you. Instead of trying to impress other people through your own abilities, let them see how God is manifesting Himself through you.
Invite God to use you to do His work in a hurting world. Recognize that, by embracing God’s transforming work in your life, you can become an oasis for hurting people in our fallen world. Confess and repent of habitual sin in your life that’s desensitizing you to God’s work in the world. Ask God to help you care about what He cares about. Offer yourself to God to use in His service.
Ask God to give you eyes that can see well. Pray for God to give you His perspective on reality, helping you to see yourself as He sees you, and to see other people as He sees them. When facing important decisions, pray about each situation: “God, how does this look to you?” Understand that it’s not enough to be guided by morality alone, abstaining from lust, prejudice, or disdain when you look at people. Instead, move toward transformed sight that views people with honor, respect, and compassion. Be humble, realizing that you deserve hell, but God has chosen to spare you. Let your gratitude for God’s grace and awe and reverence for His power motivate you to view Him – and the people He has made in His image – with the right perspective. Ask God to cure you of spiritual blindness that forgets His wonderful work. Pray for Him to give you the light you need to see what He wants you to see. Make a covenant with your eyes to turn away from looking at negative, impure things and to focus instead on positive, pure things. Train your eyes to read the Bible often and incorporate its truth into your life. Worship with your eyes by focusing your sight on God’s majesty and glory.
Ask God to give you a mouth that can speak well. Recognize the incredible power of words – they can either build up or destroy nations, families, churches, careers, or businesses. Control your speech so you don’t unleash destructive power through negative words. But rather than just avoiding negative speech, strive to speak positive words as often as possible. Realize that if you allow your mouth to become God’s servant, there’s no end to the good He can accomplish through you. Invite God to use your mouth to encourage, instruct, and occasionally confront others, as He leads.
Ask God to give you ears that hear well. Know that while it’s good to avoid listening to gossip, lies, vile talk, and hate speech, God calls you to do more. Tune your ears to what is pure, holy, right, just, and divinely ordained. Learn how to test whether or not a certain message you hear may be from God: Figure out if it lines up with the truths revealed in the Bible, if it’s consistent with the witness of the universal church, if there’s any sin in your life that you haven’t confessed and repented of (which will block your spiritual healing until you deal with it properly), and if you’ve built the kind of intimacy with God that enables you to become familiar with His voice speaking to you. Expect that, the more time you spend listening to God, the easier it will be for you to naturally turn to Him for His wisdom in any situation.
Ask God to give you a mind that thinks well. Understand that your thoughts don’t have to rule you; God can help you rule them through the power of His Holy Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to renew your mind, and cooperate with Him in the process. Become a diligent student, reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible often. Read some classic devotional books written by believers who lived throughout history, and learn from their experiences. Give up lesser pursuits to free up more time to pursue God’s wisdom; eliminate distractions wherever you can in your life. Turn your thoughts away from evil and toward good. Whenever a destructive thought enters your mind, take it captive by refusing to dwell on it, and replace it with a holy thought that reflects God’s truth. Know that training your mind to think wisely will also enable you to choose wise actions, because your thoughts and behaviors influence each other. Rather than focusing just on trying to modify your outward behavior, focus on thinking like Jesus so you’ll be transformed from the inside out.
Ask God to use your hands and feet to serve Him well. If you’re feeling frustrated with God, honestly consider that it may be because you’re expecting God to answer your prayers according to your agenda. Surrender your agenda to God’s agenda, trusting that He knows what’s best for you since He created you and has a much larger perspective on your life. Instead of accusing God for what He’s not doing, ask Him what you’re supposed to be doing. Know that in whatever situation you’re currently serving God, your call is simply to be faithful to God’s will in each moment. Rather than trying to do God’s will in your own power, ask Jesus to empower you to do God’s will.
Ask God to give you a heart that feels what He feels. Don’t let the stress of life’s demands crowd out what should be your top priority – cultivating intimacy with God. Devote plenty of time and energy to nurturing a close relationship with God, no matter what else you have to do in any season of life. Allow God’s greatness to inspire awe and reverence in your soul. See sin for what it is – a repulsive rebellion against God – and thank God for forgiving your sins through Jesus. Rather than just giving up sinful pleasures, replace them with eternal pleasures by transferring your affection and passion to God and pursuing what matters most to Him. Guard your heart so that you’re giving your passion only to God and not to lesser pursuits. Pray for God to help you love other people as He wants you to love them. Worship God regularly to keep lifting your focus beyond your own concerns and to what’s on God’s heart.
Make yourself completely available to God. Recognize that, when you make every part of yourself and your life available for God to use, you become a force that can impact the world in powerful ways. Do your best to represent Jesus well wherever you go – at work, at home, at a store, at your kids’ schools, etc. Know that, while you can’t predict how God will choose to you, offering yourself to Him is an act of worship that He appreciates.
Remember that you’re a walking billboard for God. When people know that you’re a Christian, they’re watching your life for evidence that your faith is real. Be sure to live a way that brings glory to God. Let others see the transformation that God has done and is still doing in your life.
Keep pursuing perfection, even though you won’t achieve it in this life. Keep growing spiritually more and more each day, so that you resemble Jesus more and more each day. While you can’t actually achieve perfection in our fallen world, you can always keep growing as you keep Jesus’ perfect example of a holy life in mind.
Persevere so you can become more mature. Do your best to stay faithful in everyday decisions, choosing to forgive, exercise self-control, love, etc. – no matter what circumstances you encounter. Welcome God’s discipline when it happens, knowing that will help you grow in maturity. Let God finish His good work in you so you won’t lack anything important in your character or your soul.
Cultivate a sense of community. Build strong relationships with other believers and seek to inspire each other to grow spiritually and be transformed together by God’s presence.
Invite God to empower you. Whenever you feel weary while going through the transformation process, ask God to strengthen you with the grace you need. Remember not to try to live the Christian life on your own strength; doing so is futile. Instead, cooperate with how God is working through you, and make decisions that will put you in places that encourage growth. Keep in mind that transformation isn’t a quick fix; it’s a lifelong journey. Know that God will help you every step of the way, and that the journey is ultimately worthwhile beyond measure.
Adapted from The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God Every Day of Your Life, copyright 2007 by Gary Thomas. Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.zondervan.com.
Gary Thomas is changing the way Christians look at their faith and family life. The author of several books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Sacred Pathways, and the Gold Medallion award-winning Authentic Faith, he is an adjunct faculty member at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. His books and ministry focus on spiritual formation: how we can integrate Scripture, church history, and the time-tested wisdom of the Christian classics into our modern experience of faith. Gary’s speaking ministry has led him to speak across the United States, in six different countries, and on numerous national television and radio programs, including Focus on the Family and Family Life Today. He lives with his wife and children in Bellingham, Washington.