The Lone Ranger and Spiritual Formation
“Hi ho, Silver! Away!” If you recognize that phrase, you’re at least as old as I am: a child of the fifties. Yes, it was the Lone Ranger spurring his faithful steed, Silver, into action. This fictional masked former Texas Ranger took on the bad guys in the Old West single-handedly. Well, not quite; Tonto was his faithful Native American partner. Still, he was dubbed the Lone Ranger, and American culture adopted him as a byword for anyone standing alone to fight against the odds.
Depending on the situation, this term can have a negative connotation as well, such as there are no Lone Rangers in team sports—or, for that matter, in following Christ or even one’s own spiritual formation.
One of the courses I took at Asbury Theological Seminary back in the 1980s that impacted me to this day was Spiritual Formation by Professor Reginald Johnson. As students, we all came expecting this class to be about the individual Christian’s formula for an effective personal prayer life with Christ. The professor, though, had us break into groups of three or four. We had to meet weekly throughout the course to mutually encourage one another in our own individual spiritual formation. This added a “we” aspect to spiritual formation we had not previously considered. Unconsciously at first, we were learning that there are no Lone Rangers in one’s own spiritual formation.
As best I recall, during our weekly meeting we were to each share our answers to three questions: 1) How was your personal time with the Lord this past week? (Consistency, but also what He is showing you, working on in your life, etc.); 2) How are your relationships going? (spouse, family, other); and 3) How are you doing with this course—what are you learning, being challenged by, etc.? Then we were to pray for each other according to what we shared.
This brought a motivating factor to our own individual spiritual formation process. After our first time together, I was motivated to come to the next group meeting without saying again, “Well, I really didn’t get to spend much time in prayer with the Lord this past week.” God can even use embarrassment as healthy motivation. The more we did this over the three months of the course, the more we realized the indispensable value of such mutual support. Over the next 30-plus years since seminary graduation and that impacting course, I’ve always sought out fellow Christians or ministers to have such an interpersonal, supportive group relationship. I guess you could call it a “community of Lone Rangers”—an oxymoron, I know.
When I was young in the Lord, I viewed Christianity, for the most part, as a “just me and Jesus” venture. I wanted God to get on with my ministry! It wasn’t until years later, including the influence of the aforementioned professor and course, that I truly realized that I needed—not optionally, but as necessity—other believers who wanted the same mutual, interdependent support, because by it we would experience our greatest potential individually and corporately in Christ! Individual spiritual formation is integrally intertwined with bodylife: they are reciprocally affecting for growth in grace. We are not only privileged to be members of Christ, but we are also members of one another (one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite themes).
Our American culture tends to glorify individualism and Lone Ranger heroes. In the body of Christ, though, we hold to a different kingdom distinction: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20–1). Notice that spiritual oneness of believers with each other and Christ precedes “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” So Jesus affirms that spiritual union with Him is individual and communal, if indeed our witness to the world is going to be impacting.
The Church desperately needs this understanding and practice today, in the midst of such rampant individualism and relativism. And to think that something as simple as prayer life—personally but also in deliberate, mutually supportive community—is the determinant factor for igniting a faith movement toward God again in today’s world!