Evangelicals Lack the Language for Slow Transformation

Evangelicals know about discipleship, which is often synonymous with accountability and learning.

Evangelicals know about conversion and revival, going from blindness to sight.

Evangelicals don’t have language for slow, gradual transformation. It’s not surprising then that we generally lack the practices that can lead to slow transformation.

I love the charismatic gifts and teachings. I’ve had intense moments that were deeply transforming and meaningful.

I’ve also wondered, “Now what?” after the moment passes.

I’ve immersed myself in Bible study and had life-changing insights as the Spirit used the scriptures to reshape my thinking and choices. I’ve also hit the point where I’ve felt like I’m just cramming information into my brain and God appears distant, if not non-existent.

My own assessment of my place in the evangelical subculture is that I have lacked the language and guidance into the full spiritual tradition of the Christian faith. I have found renewed hope by taking part in the contemplative tradition.

Incorporating the contemplative tradition isn’t a contemporary trend of self-help spirituality or a complete replacement of Bible study, revival, or the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. By bringing contemplation into my daily spiritual practice, I’m putting something into place that should have never been lost in the first place.

While my evangelical tradition looks for revivals and enlightening moments, the contemplative tradition warns us against seeking frequent spiritual highs. These “highs” can become obstacles in the loving pursuit of God. Yes, intimate moments with God can happen, but God is present in both the silence of waiting and in the intense awareness of God’s love.

While my evangelical tradition tends to put pressure on us to seek God and to make spiritual epiphanies happen, the contemplative tradition teaches us to rest, to be still before the Lord, and to wait for his salvation.

While my charismatic background puts great emphasis on dramatic moments of deliverance and conversion, the contemplative tradition gives a space for the slow work of transformation as we place ourselves in the loving care of the Holy Spirit day-in, day-out.

Sitting in silence before God remains jarring to my evangelical sensibilities where so much emphasis was placed on study, praying with fervent sincerity, and working toward measurable results or spiritual emotions. The contemplative tradition gives me a basic spiritual practice of 20-30 minutes of silent prayer before God and few immediately measurable results—although the impact of this type of prayer is very apparent over the course of time.

This is the slow transformation that occurs through contemplative prayer. It isn’t the type of thing you can share during a testimony service on Sunday evening. It’s hard work, forcing us to face our darkness, our false selves, and our fears. The “results” take time to materialize, and even when they do, they often end up being things like, “I’m more compassionate toward others” or “I’m more aware of God’s love and presence daily.”

These are surely good things, but they’re not going to turn heads during testimony time. However, these are the practices that have carried me through the silence, the lows and highs, and the anxiety of life. They have grounded me and given me a place to rest in God when the revival folded and the emotions dried up.

God so loved the world…

Be still and know that he is Lord…

Wait on the Lord…

The Lord is gracious and compassionate…

These are the words we can turn to in silence each day in faith and hope.

6 thoughts on “Evangelicals Lack the Language for Slow Transformation

  1. In my case, the contemplative portion of my spiritual disciples has resulted in a daily devotional, Voices Together, which is approaching its 10th anniversary. Its publication at ailbe.org, is the result of a friend’s urging to share my meditations and prayers. It is good if others benefit, but my goal is for my own nurturing.

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  2. To sit in the presence of the Holy requires that reverence and awe of the every day meeting with the Lord in the Secret Place. Here His voice is heard, our lives touched and transformation realized. Without that daily “tent of meeting” experience, the evangelical sees power but understands not the source. The Holy Spirit is in the every day and in the congregation to make Himself known.

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  3. Ed, this is a solid post and I’m glad you made the distinctions you did about contemplative prayer. It’s so often misunderstood by evangelicals and you’re right, transformation is a slow process. True sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s work in us but the transformation requires our cooperation and submission.
    Thanks for this Ed!

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  4. Ed, I saved this to read when I had a quiet moment (fitting yes?) and it was excellent. Such a clear message. I’ve always loved the word sanctification, although I don’t think we discuss it enough in evangelical circles. It points to some of what you’re discussing here. Thank you for continuing to teach us that contemplative practices don’t have to replace other disciplines, but they surely can enhance our faith.

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