Many are the Hands That Shape Our Hearts in Christ

Who has been most influential in your spiritual formation? Earlier I answered this question with the names of authors. Now I answer it with the names of people I know.

Last week I ate lunch with someone I was meeting for the first time. He asked about my journey of spiritual formation.

A decade ago, I would have answered with names of authors who influenced my thinking. Some of these authors are no longer alive and I have not met most of them.

Instead, I heard myself answering the question with names of real people who nourished my heart. Each of them are real people I know personally, who were agents of deep renewal in my life.

In the face of sin, no acquired knowledge from any book, podcast, or private meditation had the power to break the curse I felt in my heart. Nothing had more transformative power in my heart than real confession with real people in real spiritual relationships.

In the trenches of ministry, each time I felt low, God lifted my head through an honest conversation with a co-labourer in Christ.

Early in marriage, my wife and I had troubles that felt too overwhelming to overcome. It was not until we brought our troubles to the light that things began to change.

One spiritual conversation with a real person felt more powerful and soul-nourishing than 10 books written by strangers.

Many years ago, in a crucial conversation, my mentor asked me many probing questions to test the motives of my heart. This often feels as vulnerable as receiving surgery. It is intrusive and makes you feel exposed. But it is vital for deep spiritual formation.

I do not trust false prophets of healing who bypass the call to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). They are like bogus physicians with deceitful motives and false cures to real illnesses who try to “heal wounds lightly”, insisting, “‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:13-14).

I only trust the physician who runs the appropriate tests, diagnoses my condition accurately, and prescribes the way to healing and wholeness, even if it be through the difficult way of surgery.

Such are the true prophets who use God’s word with surgical precision. They apply the gospel to the place where it hurts. When this happens, the mind not only knows the truth but the heart is able to rejoice in it.

In the conversation with my mentor, he asked, “What are some plans you can make to experience more renewal in your life?”

I answered unconvincingly, “I think I would like to spend more time in prayer, read some books, listen to some podcasts, and spend more time in quietness and reflection.”

He replied with one of the most formative things I have heard in my life.

“Akshay, those are all things that you can do all by yourself. Why aren’t you asking anyone for help?”

As they say, the penny dropped.

It is so much easier to offer help than to ask for it. I was teaching people about being a child of God but I was living like an orphan.

You cannot confess your sins to a book, confide in a podcast, cry on the shoulder of a blogpost, or tell your secrets to a sermon.

If God truly loves us, he will not enable our orphan-like independence, isolation, and self-reliance. He will crush it with the power of his people.

The deepest influences in my spiritual formation are not great books, podcasts, sermons, or articles. Each of these were formative but limited in their power and purpose. The deepest change in my life has come through real spiritual relationships with real people.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. But it is through the body of Christ that the invisible Christ becomes visible. His power becomes tangible through the love of his people.

I think of the heritage of those who fear God’s name (Ps. 61:5). I remember my mentor, counsellor, fellow pastors in this difficult life of ministry, co-labourers in the body of Christ, and friends who feel like family.

This rich fellowship of renewal includes strangers like this person I met for lunch, with whom I found a kindred spirit because of our shared kinship in Christ.

Most of all, I think of my wife, who is a living embodiment of the grace of God in Christ.

Each of these, and more, are the ones who have most deeply contributed to my spiritual formation.

Today, our marriage is richer, my heart is stronger, and my hope in Christ is greater because God’s grace is enlightening the eyes of my heart to know the hope to which he has called me, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18).

Trusting people is difficult and undesirable. But it is the most visible evidence that we trust in God. We can only trust people more when we trust in Jesus most. Only the fear of God can overcome our fear of people. Unless we are clothed in Christ, we will forever be covering ourselves with fig leaves.

Who is someone you can ask for help, so you no longer feel like you are walking alone?