A Heart of Stone to a Heart of Flesh: Experiencing Transformation in Community
Editor’s Note: As part of our 15-year anniversary celebration we are sharing stories and testimonies from each completed Transforming Community to celebrate all the Lord has done. We hope these stories will inspire you to continue to go deeper in your relationship with God, draw you into celebration of all the Lord has done, and encourage you to partner with us in all He has yet to do!
This first Transforming Community came together in such a small and personal way that no one could envision we would be preparing to launch TC 14 with 70 leaders all these years later. Beginning with a list of friends and family, mailed invitations were paid for by the first registration fee sent in by Ruth’s brother, Rev. Jonathon Taylor Haley. TC 1 (as we call it now) was a small group of 12 men and women and 5 leaders who met together on retreat over the course of 3 years. Although it is hard to imagine now, we met in a circle in the parlor at the Loretto Center in Wheaton, Illinois.
When I was first invited to join a Transforming Community experience, I thought the description Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership was a bit of an oxymoron. I could imagine strengthening the “mind” of my leadership, but where did this soul ‘thing’ fit into leadership?
Working hard at godliness
You see, I had come from the intellectual world, a place that had always been my comfort zone. I spent 9 years in college, 25 years on a University campus as a member of the faculty and administration, and then 15 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Discipleship of the mind had attracted me to the Faith in the beginning, and I had lived it out my whole life. That was how I both imagined it and thought about it.
In reality, I lived out of a theology that said I needed to work hard to please God. If anyone had taken time to point this out, I would have denied such a statement, but it was still true. I behaved as though working hard to produce more right action, added to eliminating wrong behavior, equaled godliness. Sin was something to be managed, kept at bay and always pushed to the edges. It was all about getting one’s mind around the problem and solving the problem. Godliness was something that I achieved (or pretended to) with my good efforts when I was motivated by right thinking.
Finding myself in the story
The fourth retreat in the Transforming Community experience is all about being shaped by the Word, allowing scripture to work its transforming power within us. We were encouraged to find ourselves in the story of the scriptures. I went looking with great interest – Barnabas, Stephen, Moses, Joseph, Samuel, Jonathan, David, Hezekiah….these were all characters I examined. None were me, so I asked God to show me ‘my story’ in scripture, still expecting heroic models.
Shortly after this, I was given a vivid picture of what God had in mind for me. It was a startling and very real dream. I was seated cross legged on the ground and I was focused on a cluster of animate “things” in front of me that kept trying to move away. As each would move away, I would gather it back with my hands, and keep it close. The process seemed endless. After some time passed, I became aware of Jesus seated in front of me. He was there quietly waiting for me to be ready.
When I looked into his eyes, there was no condemnation, no impatience, only love and acceptance. The things in front of me ceased to be significant and, as he looked at me with love in his eyes, he carefully reached into my chest and with his left hand removed a heart of solid stone. In his right hand there suddenly appeared a fleshly, beating heart, and he inserted it into me, replacing the heart of stone. All the while he kept staring at me with love in his eyes so that I knew I did not need to be afraid.
To characterize that as a startling view of myself is a serious understatement. It both shook me and encouraged me. Shortly after that, the daily lectionary scripture was in Ezekiel 36, and verse 26 leapt off the page to me:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Finding safety community
I had found myself in the biblical story at last. Through the Transforming Community experience it has become clear to me that what I really needed to do is simply trust God. I needed to trust myself to God and the others in the safety of this community. Humility is not something to be conceptualized and affirmed in my mind, but is something to be embraced and experienced in the heart. I needed to trust that He had dealt with my sin once and for all, and it is not something for me to work hard at “managing.”
The fruit of that trusting process, ironically, is the very godliness that I thought I was producing before. I had at last discovered how God intends for me to please him, facing my sin squarely with Jesus at my side, trusting that He had dealt with my sin once and for all; living into a world where my fleshly, beating heart follows after him and trust him, and that my mind is secondary in this journey of trust.
In this process I have also learned to tell the difference between my authentic and false self. I had spent a whole career in my false, ego-driven self, but living into my true self and embracing the transforming experience was now my calling. This has been intriguing, challenging and very, very humbling.
A bumpy ride
The transformation from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh has, at times, been a very bumpy ride. It has been painful both in my life and in my spirit. I have been embarrassed more than once at how foolish I had been or was being. I saw that my instincts were to always make simple things complex rather than hearing the simple words of love that God offered. It continually amazed me how simple it was when I had struggled for so long.
In a word, it had been a transforming experience to spend two years journeying with other leaders and learning to trust myself to them. I owed a tremendous debt to 18 dear people who prayed for me through those days. They have truly been a transforming community for me and I cannot imagine those years without this group of people knowing me and praying for me. They were a lifeline, a safe harbor, an expression of God’s love to me that I cannot begin to describe.
The journey continues
But TC1 was just the beginning. I came back again in TC4 and traveled deeper still, finally ready to experience the full measure of the teaching. I have since been part of the volunteer hosting teams for TC7, TC11, and TC12. I retired from InterVarsity in 2012, and have been delighted to assist others through this experience.
I cannot imagine life ahead of me without pursuing the heart of God, trusting Him with myself and my future, completing the work that He has taken up within my heart. I know that being willing to enter into community with other leaders has been a key to God’s transforming work in my life.
© Tom Boyle, 2017