Learning to Dance with the Trinityby Joe Johnson
For as long as I can remember I have loved Jesus. I remember as a five year old doing “devotions” along a creek in Canton, South Dakota thinking, “If Jesus was on the other side I would walk on the water to be with Him.”
I have wanted to follow Jesus for as long as I can remember. I attended church every Sunday, and then chapel daily as a high school student at Augustana Academy. I attended daily chapel as a college student at Concordia, LBI (Lutheran Bible Institute), and Luther Seminary. The Gospel I heard proclaimed could be summarized briefly as, “Jesus suffered for my sins so I don’t have to suffer for my sins and could go to heaven fully forgiven.”
In 1983 I decided to pursue a Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Seminary so I could study healing with John Wimber. Along with the Gospel of forgiveness, we learned that Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom, which He demonstrated in signs and wonders. Jesus taught the meaning of the kingdom of the heavens to His students and gave them authority and power to do what He did. John Wimber modeled this and equipped us to do it. The theme of my dissertation was, “Making Disciples Who Do Jesus’ Ministry.”
In 2009 I attended the Fuller “Spirituality and Ministry” Doctor of Ministry course taught by Dallas Willard* for two weeks at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. I stepped into the Holy Spirit stream of spiritual formation. I decided to learn with Jesus how to live my life as He would lead it if He were me. How blessed I am to be enjoying this ride in the Kingdom of the heavens. This is not the heaven we enjoy when we die—it has to do with reigning now today, whenever we participate in what God is doing with us and others.
The V.I.M. (and vigor) model helps me live in the kingdom of the heavens with Jesus. V.I.M. is an acronym for “vision, intention and means.”
Vision: The kingdom of the heavens is available now, enabling us to be the kind of person on the inside who loves like Jesus loves. We change from the inside out! Jesus’ character includes the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
So here’s what I want you to do with God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out (Romans 12:1 The Message).
Intention: I decide to become an apprentice or student of the Master Teacher. Jesus commands us to go and make disciples of all kinds of people (Matthew 28:18-20). The Greek word, mathetes, means learner. An apprentice is a person who hangs out with Jesus so he can be like Him and do what He does.
Means: God desires to transform us. We cannot transform ourselves, but we can change on the inside through soul training exercises or disciplines of the Holy Spirit. We practice holy habits like solitude, silence, prayer, submission, worship, celebration, fellowship, giving, sleep (eight hours), margins, memorization of Scripture, fasting, sacrifice, frugality, and study. We do this in community, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5), and this is absolutely true. However, it is also true that if we do nothing, it will assuredly be without Jesus. Grace is not opposed to effort—it is opposed to “earning.” Grace is not just for guilt but for life. Grace is more than unmerited favor—it is God acting in my life to do what I cannot accomplish on my own.
“We grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We experience an interactive, transforming friendship with each member of the Trinity. “Our fellowship is with the Father… he is the one who invited you into this wonderful friendship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord… And we know he lives in us because the Holy Spirit lives in us” (1 John 1:3b, 1 Corinthians 1:9b, 1 John 3:24b NLT).
I grew up believing that dancing and going to movies in theaters were among the worst sins. When I was a student at Concordia College (not LCMS), we were not allowed to dance. Square Dancing was acceptable, but we still called it “Square Gaming.” We didn’t use the “d” word. We joked that premarital sex was specifically forbidden because it might lead to dancing.
It does seem a bit surprising to me that I am now learning to dance with the Trinity. There is even a Greek word for it, perichoresis, which actually means mutual indwelling. Each person of the Trinity brags about the other two as the best dancers and lovers. I am happy to dance with Jesus, the lover of my soul, and the Holy Spirit, joy giver and perhaps the best dancer, and with Abba Father, who can’t keep His eyes off me and is especially fond of me. Each one finds me wherever I am and asks me if I want to dance. Each one is my best friend.
Another biblical word for dancing is “rejoice.” It means doing a pirouette. My best dance is jumping up and down, like a kid. I practiced skipping recently but my body said, “You have to be kidding.” I think I will stay with dancing with the Trinity.
When we dance, we embrace each person of the Trinity. We receive Jesus by saying, “Yes, Lord” and deciding to be His apprentice in order to be like Him. The resurrected Jesus speaks to His students and to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Receiving (lambano in Greek) means to take with both hands. “Take hold of eternal living to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). We are not passive. Luke writes, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13).
We receive Abba Father’s love by receiving our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters. In the parable of the running father we read, “The father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger.” Once the boy put it on, it signified that his position as a son had been restored. The ring is a symbol of the priceless gift of adoption or sonship. It is a reminder that we are not just forgiven (the robe), but we are family (the ring) and we are free (the shoes). We pray, “I receive the ring, Father!” and thereby receive our inheritance and affirm our identity as His beloved sons or daughters.
St. Ignatius teaches in the Examen a spiritual exercise that is my favorite. I list 10 blessings for which I am grateful—recent encounters with God’s love, thin places (God’s manifest presence), people who are champions/mentors for me, etc. I also include simple things like Starbucks coffee, birds singing and laughter. St. Ignatius invites me to also list 10 things for which I am not grateful—this helps me surrender them to God. Often we end up being grateful for God’s mercy and grace in the midst of the “storm” or suffering.
Submission is a spiritual discipline that enables us to abandon outcomes to Abba Father like Jesus did. Listening is one of the most basic ways we submit to each other. As I clear away what’s going on in my mind and follow what others are saying, I “die” to my own desires and “live” to theirs. Experiment practicing situational silence in small increments:
- Not interrupting.
- Not having the last word—not one-upping them or defending myself.
- Silencing my mind—not thinking about my reply.
- Not giving my opinion unless it is requested.
I pray this prayer often: “Abba Father, thank you for adopting me as your son. Jesus, thank you for revealing to me a daddy’s love and for teaching me how to live in the kingdom. Holy Spirit, thank you for enabling me to place my confidence in Jesus and to cry, “Abba, Father” loudly and with deep emotion (krazomen). Holy Spirit, you are my strengthener, helper, counselor, comforter, sustainer and best friend!”
Experiment with praying one-word prayers: “Father,” “Jesus,” “Holy Spirit.” Wait a few minutes after naming each person of the Trinity and expect to experience God’s manifest presence and love.
*In Dallas Willard’s class he gave us permission to use anything he has written or spoken without footnoting. Those who are familiar with his teaching will hear Dallas’ voice in this article.
(Joe Johnson is the founder and director of Heart of the Father Ministries located in So. California. Joe travels internationally teaching on healing, spiritual formation, freedom, the Father’s love…and dancing. To contact Joe: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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