Chapter OneIt's "Morphing" Time
The good news as Jesus preached it is
that now it is possible for ordinary men
and women to live in the presence and
under the power of God It is not
about the minimal entrance requirements
for getting into heaven when you die. It
is about the glorious redemption of
human life-your life. It's morphing time. -John Ortberg
Questions To Think About
1. To be transformed means to be changed, and transformation
is taking place all around us all the time. What examples
of transformation-of any sort-come to mind?
2. What is required for transformations such as those you
have mentioned to occur?
3. Although we use the term spiritual transformation, we
often use it casually without giving it much thought.
Describe what spiritual transformation means to you.
4. What do you consider to be the indicators of spiritual
transformation? How can we tell if another person has
experienced a spiritual transformation?
Life: disappointment and hope
We shall "morph" indeed
Trying harder versus training wisely
1. What is the hope of the Christian gospel as John Ortberg
2. An important concept in The Life You've Always Wanted is
that we are always being transformed; we are always
changing for better or for worse. This happens physically
and, although it's less obvious, spiritually. How might
some of our daily practices cause us to be "formed" spiritually
in one direction or another?
3. Why did Jesus so strongly challenge pseudo-transformation
and the rabbis' "boundary markers" regarding dietary
laws, the Sabbath, and circumcision?
4. In what ways does pseudo-transformation creep into
churches today, and what are its damaging effects? Can
you identify any "boundary markers" in your church?
Large Group Exploration
Pseudo-Transformation vs. Morphing
When our lives are not marked by genuine, God-directed spiritual
change, we tend to look for substitute ways to distinguish
ourselves from those we consider to be less spiritual. We adopt
boundary markers-highly visible, relatively superficial practices
intended to quickly separate the "insiders" from the "outsiders."
These boundary markers may include conformity to
specified forms of dress and speech, adherence to certain rules
of behavior, participation in prescribed activities, and so on.
They provide a false sense of security and superiority.
The religious leaders of Jesus' day focused a great deal of their
attention on boundary markers. Many of their conflicts with
Jesus occurred because Jesus took a radically different
approach to assessing spirituality. Instead of focusing on visible
indicators of spiritual transformation, Jesus focused on
what was happening in the heart. His concern was whether or
not people were being transformed and growing in their love
of God and love of people. His concern was whether or not
they were "morphing" into the masterpieces God created
them to be.
Let's consider these opposing perspectives on spiritual
1. Read Matthew 12:1-2; 15:1-2; Luke 18:11-12. Note the
types of spiritual behaviors the religious leaders of Jesus'
day considered important. What was Jesus' assessment of
their spirituality? (See Mark 7:5-8.)
2. What did Jesus say that no doubt shocked the religious
leaders? (Read Matthew 21:28-32.)
3. Instead of focusing on external religious practices, what did
Jesus emphasize? (Read Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34-35.)
4. What is the evidence of true spiritual transformation in
our lives? (Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.)
5. Now let's consider "morphing." The word morph comes
from the Greek word morphoo, which means "the inward
and real formation of the essential nature of a person." The
term was used to describe the formation and growth of an
embryo in a mother's body.
The kind of spiritual transformation God wants each of us
to experience is a complete "remaking" of our nature. He
wants us to see, feel, think, and do what Jesus would if he
were in our unique place. What makes such a transformation
possible, and why is it important? (See Romans 6:3-14; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Ephesians 2:10.)
6. Another form of the word morph is used in the phrase
"until Christ is formed in you" in Galatians 4:19. This
word, summorphizo, means "to have the same form as
another, to shape a thing into a durable likeness."
Our spiritual growth is to be a molding process, a process
whereby we are shaped in the image of Christ. Notice what
the following verses reveal about the process of spiritual
growth God accomplishes within each Christian.
a. Galatians 4:19
b. Colossians 3:5-10
c. 2 Corinthians 3:18
7. In Romans 12:2, Paul used the word metamorphoo, from
which we get the English word metamorphosis. The
emphasis is that we don't simply learn to do things in a
new way, we become the kind of people who are that way.
How does this transformation come about?
Chapter One"WE SHALL
The Hope of Transformation
Now, with God's help, I shall become myself.
I could not quiet that pearly ache in my heart that I
diagnosed as the cry of home.
I am disappointed with myself. I am disappointed not so much with
particular things I have done as with aspects of who I have become.
I have a nagging sense that all is not as it should be.
Some of this disappointment is trivial. I wouldn't have minded
getting a more muscular physique. I can't do basic home repairs. So
far I haven't shown much financial wizardry.
Some of this disappointment is neurotic. Sometimes I am too
concerned about what others think of me, even people I don't know.
Some of this disappointment, I know, is worse than trivial; it is
simply the sour fruit of self-absorption. I attend a high school
reunion and can't choke back the desire to stand out by looking
more attractive or having achieved more impressive accomplishments
than my classmates. I speak to someone with whom I want
to be charming, and my words come out awkward and pedestrian. I
am disappointed in my ordinariness. I want
to be, in the words of Garrison Keillor,
named "Sun-God, King of America, Idol of
Millions, Bringer of Fire, The Great Haji,
Thun-Dar the Boy Giant."
But some of this disappointment in
myself runs deeper. When I look in on my
children as they sleep at night, I think of the kind of father I want
to be. I want to create moments of magic, I want them to remember
laughing until the tears flow, I want to read to them and make
the books come alive so they love to read, I want to have slow, sweet
talks with them as they're getting ready to close their eyes, I want
to sing them awake in the morning. I want to chase fireflies with
them, teach them to play tennis, have food fights, and hold them
and pray for them in a way that makes them feel cherished.
I look in on them as they sleep at night, and I remember how the
day really went: I remember how they were trapped in a fight over
checkers and I walked out of the room because I didn't want to spend
the energy needed to teach them how to resolve conflict. I remember
how my daughter spilled cherry punch at dinner and I yelled at
her about being careful as if she'd revealed some deep character flaw;
I yelled at her even though I spill things all the time and no one yells
at me; I yelled at her-to tell the truth-simply because I'm big and
she's little and I can get away with it. And then I saw that look of
hurt and confusion in her eyes, and I knew there was a tiny wound
on her heart that I had put there, and I wished I could have taken
those sixty seconds back. I remember how at night I didn't have slow,
sweet talks, but merely rushed the children to bed so I could have
more time to myself. I'm disappointed.
And it's not just my life as a father. I am disappointed also for my
life as a husband, friend, neighbor, and human being in general. I
think of the day I was born, when I carried the gift of promise, the
gift given to all babies. I think of that little baby and what might
have been: the ways I might have developed mind and body and
spirit, the thoughts I might have had, the joy I might have created.
I am disappointed that I still love God so little and sin so much.
I always had the idea as a child that adults were pretty much the
people they wanted to be. Yet the truth is, I am embarrassingly sinful.
I am capable of dismaying amounts of jealousy if someone succeeds
more visibly than I do. I am disappointed at my capacity to be
small and petty. I cannot pray for very long without my mind drifting
into a fantasy of angry revenge over some past slight I thought
I had long since forgiven or some grandiose fantasy of achievement.
I can convince people I'm busy and productive and yet waste large
amounts of time watching television.
These are just some of the disappointments. I have other ones,
darker ones, that I'm not ready to commit to paper. The truth is, even
to write these words is a little misleading, because it makes me sound
more sensitive to my fallenness than I really am. Sometimes, although
I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn't even bother me very
much. And I am disappointed at my lack of disappointment.
Where does this disappointment come from? A common
answer in our day is that it is a lack of self-esteem, a failure to
accept oneself. That may be part of the answer, but it is not the
whole of it, not by a long shot. The older and wiser answer is that
the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection
of a deeper problem-my failure to be the person God had in mind
when he created me. It is the "pearly ache" in my heart to be at
home with the Father.
One of the most profound statements I have heard about the human
condition was one I first encountered when I was only five years old.
It was spoken by my hero, Popeye the Sailor Man. When he was
frustrated or wasn't sure what to do or felt inadequate, Popeye would
simply say, "I yam what I yam."
Popeye was not a sophisticated guy. He had never been in therapy
and was woefully out of touch with his shadow self and his inner
child. He did not have much education as far as we know. He knew
who he was: a simple, sea-faring, pipe-smoking, Olive Oyl-loving
sailor man, and he wouldn't pretend to be
anything else. He "owned his story," as Lewis
Smedes puts it. "I yam what I yam."
But I always thought there was a note of
sadness in Popeye's expression. It was generally
offered as an explanation of his shortcomings.
It does not anticipate much
growth or change. It doesn't leave him much
of a shot at getting to be what he yam not. "Don't get your hopes
up," he seemed to say. "Don't expect too much. I yam what I yam-and
[he would add in his bleakest moments] that's all that I yam."
That is the sad cry of the human race. You have said those
words, in your own way, and so have I. This is the struggle between
disappointment and hope.
The word itself is apt: I am in a state of dis-appointment. I am
missing the life that I was appointed by God to live-missing my
calling. And I have dis-appointed God. I have removed him from
the central role he longs to play in my life; I have refused to "let God
be God" and have appointed myself in his place. I yam what I yam.
But that's not all that I am. I am called to become the person
God had in mind when he originally designed me. This is what is
behind Kierkegaard's wonderful prayer, "And now Lord, with your
help I shall become myself." This book is about spiritual growth. It
is about that holy and mysterious process described by the apostle
Paul when he said he was "in the pain of childbirth until Christ is
formed in you." The goal of such growth is to live as if Jesus held
unhindered sway over our bodies. Of course, it is still we doing the
living. We are called by God to live as our uniquely created selves-our
temperament, our gene pool, our history. But to grow spiritually
means to live increasingly as Jesus would in our unique place-to
perceive what Jesus would perceive if he looked through our eyes,
to think what he would think, to feel what he would feel, and therefore
to do what he would do.
The goal of this book is to help us to grow spiritually. But it is
hard to write about spiritual formation in a way that captures the
urgency of the subject. Too often people think about their "spiritual
lives" as just one more aspect of their existence, alongside and
largely separate from their "financial lives" or their "vocational
lives." Periodically they may try to "get their spiritual lives together"
by praying more regularly or trying to master another spiritual discipline.
It is the religious equivalent of going on a diet or trying to
stick to a budget.
The truth is that the term spiritual life is simply a way of referring
to one's life-every moment and facet of it-from God's perspective.
Another way of saying it is this: God is not interested in
your "spiritual life." God is just interested in your life. He intends
to redeem it.
God's Work of Art
One of the great works of art in the Western world is Michelangelo'sPietà, a marble statue of an anguished Mary holding the crucified
Christ. Some years ago a fanatic nationalist rushed upon the masterpiece
and began smashing it with a sledgehammer. Although the
damage was significant, Vatican artists were able to restore the
statue to near-perfect condition.
You were created to be a masterpiece of God. Paul writes, "For we
are God's poiema"-a word that can mean God's "workmanship," or
even God's "work of art." God made you to know oneness with him
and with other human beings. God made you to be co-regent with
him-to "fill the earth and subdue it," to "have dominion" over creation
under his reign and with his help. It is the goodness of God's
work in creating us that makes our fallenness so tragic. This is why
my disappointment in myself runs so deep.
But God is determined to overcome the defacing of his image
in us. His plan is not simply to repair most of our brokenness. He
wants to make us new creatures. So the story of the human race is
not just one of universal disappointment, but one of inextinguishable
Inextinguishable Hope and the Gospel
Frederick Buechner once wrote that every age has produced
fairy tales. Something inside us believes, or wants to believe, that
the world as we know it is not the whole story. We long for the reenchantment
of reality. We hope that death is not the end, that the
universe is something more than an enclosed terrarium. So we keep
spinning and repeating stories that hold the promise of another
But these stories don't simply demand that another world exists.
A common feature of fairy tales is that the enchanted world is not
far away. You step into a wardrobe and you're in Narnia. You walk
through a forest and stumble on a cottage with seven dwarfs. This
other world turns out to be far closer than you thought.
In fact, the stories that endure are the ones that most deeply
touch this longing inside us. Buechner quotes J. R. R. Tolkien:
It is the mark of the good fairy-story, of the higher or more
complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic
or terrible the adventures, it can give to the child or
man that hears it, when the "turn" comes, a catch of the
breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed
accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of
Furthermore, fairy tales are not just stories about the transformation
of the world around us. They are usually about the transformation
of the central characters: frogs becoming princes, ugly
ducklings becoming swans, wooden marionettes becoming real
boys. George MacDonald gives to his hero, Curdie, the magical gift
of being able to tell by the touch of someone's hand what he or she
is turning into.
These are all features, Buechner says, that the gospel has in
common with fairy tales, with this one great difference: The gospel
Jesus' announcement of the gospel is simply the announcement
of the existence and availability of another dimension of existence,
another world. "The kingdom of God has come near," he said.
"Repent, and believe in the good news." The Good News-the word
we translate "gospel"-is that this fallen world as we know it is not
the whole story. There is another realm. It is as real as the chair I sit
in and the book you read.
These words of Jesus announce the
great "turn" in the history of the world. The
lid is off the terrarium. Anytime someone
heard Jesus say them-really heard them-these
words would bring a catch of the
breath, a beating and uplifting of the heart,
and sometimes tears. They still do.
The good news is especially that this
world-the kingdom of God-is closer than you think. It is available
to ordinary men and women. It is available to people who have
never thought of themselves as religious or spiritual. It is available
to you. You can live in it-now.
This means in part that your story is the story of transformation.
You will not always be as you are now; the day is coming when you
will be something incomparably better-or worse.
C. S. Lewis expressed that hope this way:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and
goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting
person you can talk to may one day be a creature
which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to
worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now
meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in
some degree, helping each other to one or other of these
destinations There are no ordinary people. You have
never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these
are mortal, and their life is to ours as the
life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work
with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting
This is why Jesus came. This is what spiritual life is about. This
is your calling-to become what Lewis calls an "everlasting splendor."
The Need to "Turn Aside"
God holds out the possibility of transformation. One day when the
human race had not heard a word of hope for a long time, a man
named Moses walked past a shrub. He had seen it before, perhaps a
hundred times. Only this time it was different. This time the "turn"
comes; this time the wardrobe opens into Narnia; this time the bush
is on fire with the presence of God.
And Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight,
and see why the bush is not burned up." Everything turned on Moses'
being willing to "turn aside"-to interrupt his daily routine to pay
attention to the presence of God. He didn't have to. He could have
looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just
missed the Exodus, the people of Israel, his
calling, the reason for his existence. He
would have missed knowing God.
But he didn't miss it. He stopped. He
God said he wanted to begin a new
community of human existence, and he
wanted Moses to lead it. He wanted Moses
to go to Pharaoh, the commander-in-chief
of a superpower, and tell him that his vast Israelite labor force is no
But God's sense of timing seemed strange to Moses. Forty years
ago maybe-forty years ago he was young and strong and the product
of the greatest education the advanced civilization of Egypt
could produce. Forty years ago he had powerful connections and