October 8, 2018

Metamorphosis of the Soul

How does one become a butterfly?…

You must want to fly so much

that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

Trina Paulus

People who discover that their time is limited often make radical lifestyle changes.  They give up workaholism and slow down the pace of their lives, relinquish the pursuit and collection of material possessions and finally enjoy the fullness of what they already have.  They rediscover the simple pleasures of curling up by a fire with a good book or sharing a picnic in the shade of a huge oak tree on a summer day.  Their physical condition may force them to slow down, but most welcome the opportunity to get off the hyper speed treadmills that their lives had become.

If you only had one month to live, you would likely slow down and take a different approach to each of your remaining days.  Several terminally ill people I’ve known have told me that, ironically, they eventually felt relieved by their prognosis.  By forcing them to slow down and make radical changes, their bodies provided something their souls had been craving for a long time.

For most of us, the desire to slow down and change how we approach life is already there.  But too often we distract ourselves with busyness or focus on things that can’t fulfill our deepest desires.  Our restlessness manifests itself as a dis-ease of the soul, a growing discontent that has reached epic proportions in our twenty-first century society. We make much more money and enjoy many more conveniences than our grandparents did, yet most of us are not happier.  We decide that a vacation will enable us to slow down, but when we arrive at our destination, we discover that we have forgotten how to relax.  We have difficulty spending time alone.  We don’t know how to connect with ourselves, let alone those we love most.

The only place to remedy the restlessness in our soul is inside.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes how we begin such a transformation:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2

In Paul’s prescription here, the key word “transformed” comes from the Greek word metamorphous, from which we get metamorphosis, literally meaning “to be changed from the inside out.”  The secret to faith-filled maturity is to be changed from the inside out, a metamorphosis of the soul.  Too often we wait on someone or something external to change us.  We blame our spouses for not fulfilling us emotionally, our churches or pastors for not fulfilling us spiritually, our jobs for not fulfilling our sense of purpose.  But the blame game only delays the inevitable if we’re serious about overcoming our disease and having healthy, dynamic souls.  It’s time to take responsibility for our own growth.  If you have to move one inch from where you are right now to be happy, you’ll never be happy.  Because wherever you go, there your discontented self will be.  It’s not about what’s on the outside; it’s what’s on the inside.  The antidote to the motion sickness of our souls is stillness, the ancient art of just being still.

Spiritual growth and transformation will never occur in your life until you finally get still, until you stop moving.  Paul reminds us to “fix your attention on God”  (Romans 12:2, MSG).  You can’t fix your attention on God while juggling.  Psalm 46:10 says,

“Be still, and know that I am God.” If we get still before God, we become transformed.  Consider the well-known verses from Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.”  (verses 2-3, NKJV)

Motion and commotion steal the soul, but stillness restores the soul.  Stillness before God restores our confidence in God’s ability to control our lives releasing us from thinking we have to be in control.  Isaiah 30:15 says, “… in quietness and trust is your strength.”  We realize the truth that we can’t really control our lives but we can get our lives under control.

Another symptom of our soul’s disease emerges when we feel compelled to compare ourselves to everyone around us in order to know who we are and what we’re worth.  We measure ourselves to see how we stack up, often using status symbols and appearance for our assessments.  Interestingly, the opposite of metamorphosis is the Greek word metaschematizo meaning to “change the outward appearance.”  It’s the origin of our word masquerade.  Too often we masquerade like we’ve got it all together when we are hurting deeply in our souls.  God says we need a metamorphosis, not a masquerade.  Real change is initiated on the inside; then the outside naturally changes to reflect it.

The best antidote I know for comparison or status-symbol syndrome is service.  Not serving just anyone but serving people who can’t give you anything of value in return.  When you give of yourself to someone who can’t repay you, then you cut through all the boundaries and connect more fully.  It’s no longer about comparison but about compassion.

One other malady of the soul is the crisis of comfort.  Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  Yet when our commitment to comfort affects our pursuit of God or our obedience to God, we become stagnant, bored, and depressed.  We try to insulate ourselves from pain, suffering, inconvenience, and discomfort.  Returning to Paul’s insight from Romans, we’re instructed,

“Base your happiness on your hope in Christ.  When trials come endure them patiently.”  (12:12 Phillips)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say “if” but “when.”  Every single one of us will encounter trials in life.  Most likely, you’re in the midst of some challenges right now.  And as you look ahead, more trials are probably right around the corner.  It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, wealthy or poor, on a farm or in a metropolis; suffering is part of life.  No one is exempt from tragedy.  NO one is exempt from problems.  The key is to remember that at the center of every problem is a purpose, a revelation from God at work in our lives.  Our strength grows as we lean on Him during our struggles.

The truth is God allows trials in our lives because the only antidote to the crisis of comfort is suffering.  You don’t have to go looking for suffering.  Suffering will come into your life.  Every one of us experiences deep wounds as we encounter tragedy, loss, and pain.  I wish I could tell you that if you love God and pursue Him wholeheartedly, you’ll never have a death in your family, never lose your job, never have a failed relationship, never get sick.  But I can’t say that, because suffering comes to all of us.  The key is to recognize that God doesn’t cause the problems, but He allows it in order to strengthen our character and develop us to our full potential.  If we grumble and gripe, playing the martyr, suffering doesn’t do anything for us, and our sorrows are wasted.  But God doesn’t want to waste a hurt; He doesn’t want to waste a tear; He doesn’t want to waste a sorrow.  He wants us to endure with grace, and we do that by trusting Him.

Grace is the power to change – not what we can do for ourselves but what God does for and through us.  When we become still and silent, when we start serving and embrace suffering in our lives, then we facilitate real spiritual transformation.  We learn that we can’t solve our problems in our own strength or alter our outward appearance and expect our lives to change.  Metamorphosis comes only by grace.  If you only had one month to live, you would want to stop the ceaseless motion of a busy life and find ways to enjoy stillness and solitude.  You would want to nurture your soul by forgoing comparisons and instead looking for ways to love and serve others.  You would want to find a way to suffer gracefully, trusting beyond what you can see and feel for what God promises.  Many people are forced to try to make these changes all at once because their bodies fail.  The good news is that you can begin today to alleviate the symptoms of your soul’s dis-ease and to rest in the healing balm of God’s grace.

Personal Challenge:

  1. Plan ahead this week so you can invest one hour alone and uninterrupted.  Just try spending some time being still before God.
  2. Consider the struggles you are facing right now and release them, yourself and your future to God.  Rest in the fact that you cannot control your life but you can get your life under control by submitting to what God is trying to do in your life.
  3. Think of those in your life that you could serve who could not pay you back.  Look for a way you can serve them.