The Scriptures were written to an agricultural people who understood the ebb and flow of seasonal living. They understood the importance of spending appropriate energy in the correct season. By contrast, our modern industrial societies live by the clock and 24-7 productivity, not by seasons. Our “switch” is always turned on, unwisely so. What might be positive for making widgets, doesn’t translate positively into the kingdom of God. Being seasonally in tune with Him is critical for mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Transitioning out of a church, a fellowship, an organization, or a belief system in which one has been emotionally, relationally, spiritually, or financially invested for years is one of the most difficult seasons a believer can experience. Calling it a “transition” is like calling Hiroshima a “slight bombing.” Trauma is more like it. The trauma is sometimes compounded by distorted teachings regarding covenant, commitment, loyalty, authority, submission, etc. In those situations, making such a change is morally equated with Stalinist genocide. A. T. Robertson said one proof that the Bible is inspired is that it has withstood so much bad teaching. He had a point.
Obedience to biblical principles regarding the correct way to conduct myself in transition does not necessarily guarantee things will be easy on my soul or in my relationships. My obedience is not an impenetrable trauma shield when other people are involved. Obedience is my reasonable service and the necessary platform for redemptive opportunity, not the guarantee of immunity from pain.
Understanding that there are distinct stages of transition that everyone experiences in some degree can help us understand ourselves and others, thereby maximizing the hope of a redemptive outcome of the inevitable. Let’s look at them.
A soup company once had a motto of “Mmmmm . . . good.” When life is good, savor it. Sometimes in our pursuit of the ideal future, we forget that it’s alright to enjoy the imperfect today. It’s “ok” to be “ok.” Prophetic, hard charging, or high-calling folk can be particularly vulnerable to only seeing that which must be changed at the expense of that which can be enjoyed. Corrie Ten Boom described the condition of the Church like a piece of embroidery. From the bottom it’s a mess, but from the top it’s a work of art—at the same time. The Church is disastrously wonderful and wonderfully disastrous. In the early stages of a transition, there can be a tendency to see our past or present as wholly disastrous. Maybe circumstantially it is, but when swallowed up in redemptive resurrection power, it’s transformed into our redemptive history for the purposes of God and the benefit of humanity. It becomes a wondrous disaster.
In order to experience change there has to be some element of discontent with the present. Divine discontent is the energy of change. Discontinuity begins when questions arise that cause us to disconnect with former belief systems. The old belief systems and associations simply no longer “work” or satisfy. This is often accompanied by severe internal and external conflicts. We can’t deny the impulse to an unknown future, but we fear leaving familiar places and faces. Often we can’t even explain to others the root of our discontent. This puts strain on our relationships.
You begin to question yourself: What is wrong with me? Why am I the only one having difficulties? Why can’t I express myself? Why don’t people understand me? How could I have been so stupid to believe_______? Why did I agree with ______? Why did I let “them” do that to me? Why did I agree with that?
Also at this time the enemy will attempt to ally with our fears of what we’ve never done as a way of keeping us from receiving what we’ve never received. Our critics will join this chorus. But be of good cheer. All this is faith. It’s being Abrahamic. He left everything not knowing where he was going; looking for a city he had never seen and couldn’t explain. We’re in good company. People staying in Ur really have nothing to say to those on a journey looking for an invisible city.
At this stage an individual begins to withdraw: physically emotionally, and spiritually. You try to make things work for the sake of maintaining life-long relationships, but you just can’t. You will go through the motions, sit in meetings, and behave yourself, all in the hope that that you will find acceptance, only to discover that no matter how nice everyone tries to be, it doesn’t work . . . for anyone.
It’s like a pregnant woman’s wardrobe. Her old clothes are not “bad clothes.” They just can’t accommodate her new condition. That’s the way it is with us. The germ of new life makes it impossible to fit into yesterday’s clothes. Our past is not necessarily bad. It just doesn’t fit anymore. A man cannot know what it’s like to be pregnant. He lacks the necessary equipment. He can be sensitive, caring, and try to be understanding, but bottom line, he cannot know. Individuals who are not feeling the impulse of the germ of new life (which is a GIFT to us, the planting of Another) simply cannot understand us. They are not bad people. They simply don’t have faculty to understand . . . yet.
It’s common for people who remain where we have been to resent our change. Our departure is unavoidably a statement about the present not being satisfactory in some way. This puts folks who are happy with the present into a difficult situation where, legitimately or not, they feel judged as deficient by the mere fact of our departure. The ability to maintain relationship when a fellow believer embarks on a journey we do not understand is a fairly reliable barometer of spiritual maturity. Too often, not “like” us degenerates into not “with” us. This is unfortunate. This is a season for the cream of spiritual maturity to rise to the top: love, tolerance, forgiveness, patience, non-judgmentalism, and a “wait and see” attitude.
At this stage individuals are usually out of the formal systems and relationships, but the former values are not out of them. This is the most dangerous and delusional stage of transition. We might be out of the old, but the old is not out of us. Typically our subjective evaluation of where we are spiritually is not in touch with reality. Having understanding of a matter is not the same as possessing the life of a matter. Light (revelation/understanding) in us, must become life in us, before it can become light in others. We cannot go from light to light. The kingdom doesn’t work that way.
At this stage we tend to be in reaction against the old rather than living in the new. We tend to see no value in our past. We often feel like those years were wasted. Of course this is just practical unbelief (do all things work together for good or not?) and is part of the delusion of the whole process. We think we’re enlightened in some new way when we’re just in reaction to our past. It is ok, to leave the cradle. It’s not ok to kick it on the way out and curse the hands that rocked it.
This is a most critical time. You simply cannot build a profitable future in God by merely being against something, or God forbid, someone. There can be a legitimate season of tearing down the old (Jer. 5), but you simply cannot camp there and expect to live abundantly in God.
During this stage our attitudes and behaviors most closely resemble those of a reformed smoker or alcoholic. A crusading zealousness for the new thing, new understanding, new perspective, new association pretty much contaminates everything we do. We begin to believe that anyone who is truly sincere and committed should be able to understand that our new place is the best and only “place” that anyone who is serious or conscientious should be. We will be quick to cut off and separate from others who don’t jump on board with us as being spiritually inferior in some way.
It’s rare that anyone can avoid the reactionary stage. It has been my subjective experience that this stage is quite an incubating Holy Spirit hot house. It can take anywhere from a few months to up to 6 years to really clear this stage and come to a healthy place through forgiveness of others, and ourselves. It takes a mature fellow traveler to love us and stay with us during this reactionary season while we are spewing death thinking we are in life. It is so critical to know one another in Christ, to know a man by his heart, not his actions, in a sense, knowing another deeper than he knows himself, which is exactly the heart of God toward us. When our actions betray our heart, it takes a patient and wise friend to not cut us loose.
Because of God’s great faithfulness and with the help of fellow travelers, the miracle of miracles is that even this death will be turned to life before the transition process is over.
5. RESURRECTION LIFE
We go for broke. We embrace reformation. We make the change . . . fully. We accept the cost, inconvenience, and misunderstanding that comes with making a change. We stop crusading and start living. Even when our own carnality in pursuit of what we think we are seeing would render us useless to Him, He preserves us. We become the incarnation of what we have seen, rather than a parrot for what we think we know. What previously we held in various degrees of reaction has become, in us, food fit for consumption by others by an inwrought work of grace.
“OUR IDIOT YESTERDAYS”
What is an “idiot yesterday?” It’s the past I left. It’s the last season I was in which I thought was an ultimate place, which wasn’t. It’s the thing I used to believe that in today’s light, I no longer believe. It’s yesterday’s absolute conviction that I taught with fervor that in today’s light was mistakenly held. It’s the harm I caused in relationships, thinking I was right. In the process of transition, yesterday looks wrong from where I am standing today. But if I grow in grace, if I change from glory to glory, today will be wrong from tomorrow’s perspective! So, I am really still an idiot today! What is one to do?
The problem is the right-wrong paradigm that is so gravitational for us. Right and wrong so easily degrade into an “us versus them” posture: the righties versus the wrongies, or even my yesterday self versus my today self. I was “wrong” yesterday, but I am “right” today, and now God is supposedly happier with me because I am now “right.” Well, if God relates to me today based on how right I am, what was I operating in yesterday when I was an idiot, and what hope do I have for tomorrow if I am wrong again, which in some way, I will inevitably be?
It’s not about being right or wrong in a particular season. It is about abiding in life over death in all seasons. I have learned to live free from the shadows of my idiot yesterdays. We can be quite wrong in our understanding and quite fine in our relationships with God and man, thus fulfilling the great commandment and all righteousness. My standing is in Christ, not my “rightness” or “wrongness” on a given issue on a given day. I get to enjoy today, as well as all the seasonal transitions I may pass through. I get to live graciously toward others, understanding that I might be meeting or interacting with someone when he is in the middle of one of his idiot yesterdays. I made it through mine with the help of others who loved me, now I can do the same for others. I can be adaptable and conformable to their season, for their sake.
The great, glorious, and assuring good news of the New Covenant gospel is that God relates to us based upon the deposit of His own Spirit in us. The indwelling Spirit of the Son in our hearts, the fruit of His own work in us, is the beachhead and anchor of relationship (Heb. 6). He relates to Himself in us, for our sake, not our right-ness or wrong-ness at any given moment. That way I can be ever present before Him, at all times, in Christ, regardless of my chain of idiot yesterdays and whatever season I may be in.
Through the inexpressible wonder and the unspeakable gift of the indwelling Spirit, my life is more than a bumbling collection of idiot yesterdays. It is more than being “right or wrong” in a particular season I may be passing through. My life is hidden with Christ in God, and it is there I live and breathe and have my being. And it is an abundant life indeed . . . in all seasons.