Relational Risk and Re-Shaping
C.S. Lewis, grappling with what it means to lose a wife and friend, wrote: "Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief." His basic point was this: it is easy for us to say that we believe in something or someone, but our belief is only shown to be authentic if we are prepared to act on it. Acting on a belief involves risk because some uncertainty exists as to what the outcome might be. "It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?"
During our time at Regent, my wife, Bronwyn and I have shared a growing conviction that one of the main ways God transforms his people is through the Christian community. This has caused us to read, discuss, pray and ponder how living with others, a particular expression of Christian community, might be used by the Spirit. Increasingly, we came to believe that living with others - in fellowship that includes not only the sharing of material goods, but also the highs and lows of everyday existence - would afford the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in our lives in a deep way. But did we believe this enough to act upon it?
When God graciously offered us the opportunity to live together with others in community, as leaders of the Regent College Marketplace Institute's Internship Programme, we were confronted by the reality that choosing to put our beliefs about community into practice required very real risk - despite our beliefs, we were uncertain as to what the outcomes of living with others would be. Instinctively, we knew that the principal risk was relational. If the Holy Spirit was to reshape us, we would need to open our lives to others, revealing our true selves, and this could lead either to joy and fulfilment or to disappointment and pain (or, more likely, to a combination of both).
Choosing to embark on this path has been a journey of discovery. As part of the Marketplace Institute Internship Programme, we have been privileged to live with eight others during the 2009/10 academic year. Living together in intentional community, we have seen the truth of Proverbs 27:17, that just 'as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another'. A commitment to sharing meals, chores, prayer, discussion and resources has, as we believed it would, proved to be a potent environment in which the Holy Spirit is shaping all of us. The most important risk we have taken is the relational risk of opening our lives to others as we share life together.
The Holy Spirit has reshaped each community member in different ways. My own experience of living in community has caused me to listen more, to become more aware of the impact my choices have on others, and to realise that pride is something with which I continually need to wrestle. I have also become more grateful for others. Acting on the belief that God uses Christian community to transform and shape his people, being prepared to take this relational risk, has also resulted in a deeper awareness of the triune God's faithfulness and sustaining power. As we have lived in community with others, Bronwyn and I have rediscovered that God holds us, strengthens our faith, and gives us the resources to take relational risks in order that he might reshape us.