After painting a room the other day, I had the “privilege” of cleaning the paint brushes and rollers. If you’ve ever had this privilege, you know how long this process can take. After some cleaning, the brush looks clean. But the moment you squeeze the bristles, more paint oozes out. So you clean and clean. Again, the brush looks deceptively clean. But then you squeeze the bristles again, and more paint seeps out.
Spiritual formation can be like this. It seems I’ve been trying to clean the paint brush of my heart for decades. Unfortunately, I have let the paints of anger and anxiety saturate deep between the bristles. So even though I may seem calm and cool on the outside, sometimes all it takes is a stressful circumstance or a jerk… uh I mean a fellow human being… on the freeway, to squeeze my deceptively clean-looking brush and those stark colors bleed out again.
But each day I have a choice to make. In frustration, I can give up. I can simply let anger and anxiety rule my life. I have some semblance of control over them, so they wouldn’t cause too much damage.
Or I can keep following Jesus, confident in him, his life, his teaching, his power, his brilliance over all aspects of human existence and life. Ultimately I have to remain confident in him even though my brush doesn’t seem to be getting clean.
During Lent, I read Dallas Willard’s posthumously released book, Life Without Lack. First, I need to say that I miss him. He was a wonderful gift to the Church. Second, the vision in his book of a “with-God” life based on Psalm 23 has been so refreshing. This “with-God” life is what Paul speaks of when he says:
“In every possible situation I’ve learned the hidden secret of being full and hungry, of having plenty and going without, and it’s this: I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power.” -Philippians 4:12-13
In God’s New Creation, I don’t need to experience anger or anxiety. Sure there will be stressful circumstances and people. But by training with Jesus into his likeness of living a “with-God” life, I can have his unshakable confidence in an abundantly good and generous Father who has created and rules over an abundantly good and generous world. And this confidence can allow me to completely die to myself, my passions, and my desires, completely safe in my Father’s abundant goodness and generosity. This then allows me to expend my life fully on seeking and willing the good for others.
One of the shocking realizations I had from reading Willard’s book is the implications of Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
A “with-God” life, confident in God’s abundance, steeped in death to self, and fully focused on the good of others allows even my “enemies” to join me at and enjoy the benefits of the table of my “with-God” life.
The last part of Willard’s book forms the practical application of how to live a “with-God” day that will over time form a “with-God” life.
So I think the choice remains clear. A “with-God” life, no matter how long it takes to form, sounds exceedingly more appealing than a life of anger and anxiety. So no matter how long it takes, I’ll keep cleaning my paint brush.