Spiritual Development-Paul’s Way

God is showing me more about how Paul the apostle spiritually parented. At times, he mothers and other times fathers. At points, he went in weak in fear and trembling as in Corinth; then other times as a very eloquent teacher. His orientation depended on God’s, and what was needed in that particular situation.

He reminds the Corinthians that when he came to them he wasn’t eloquent or persuasive but was weak and determined to make it all about The Cross. (I Cor 2). Paul was at that stage where he could be all things to all people, depending on the needs and direction of God, The Father. That’s where we are heading in spiritual maturation. We want to be so “dead” that we can turn and have His exact orientations towards those we are called to minister His Life into.

This again is a higher level of formation than many of us have reached. Not just to die, but to die daily and be flexibly available to be used in many different ways depending on the need. To speak boldly in one place; to be weak and needy in another. And to stay inwardly content regardless of which side of you God is using to express Himself. Some days He will use you to dazzle; other days to be needy and weak. His Point is guiding people into the Life of Jesus; his method can be unique to each situation. Be readied to turn on His dime! To let Him shine whichever aspect of the diadem of self He chooses into that particular situation of His Manifestation. That’s the minister’s dance!

Paul’s prayer life is a keyhole into his spirituality. In prayer, He would fill up with Christ’s afflictions for others–so that they could be birthed into these people more fully! Paul wrote of being with the churches “in Spirit”-he understood how to pray with and in Christ!-to bear the sufferings of Christ for their wholeness, so that he was almost tangibly present with them even when not physically so! This prayer aspect of his spirituality is intimated and even directly spoken from throughout his ministry. To fellowship with the sufferings of Christ gave Paul, Christ’s authority in certain areas. Paul was a priest to the Priest in this way! He was a missionary sent into the Church itself. He was, in other words, a church father!

In Philippians, Paul shares a mystery of spiritual contentment–of boundlessness and interdependence for the whole expression of what God intended to mature. He writes that He abounds and is full, and in need of nothing from them–in a state of spiritual contentment; and yet, for their sake He receives their gifts–so that it gets credited to their account. Here is a church father modeling something; for although Paul did not need anything from them spiritually, he knew they still needed something from him to become whole. There is this interconnectivity in The Body regardless of authority level. But also something of the way of Christ here in this letter. He who had everything, made himself one who had nothing, for the good of the whole. In this way, we are strengthened–we join His strength, AND we meet it when we are giving to others even though we ourselves don’t need anything from them. That is a way of Christ, but also an entry point to touch His Actual Strength. “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” The next verse starts, “nevertheless”–they did well in sharing in his sufferings.

Paul is saying something special here. He is talking FROM the position of spiritual adulthood back to others who are less mature. And he says, I really don’t need anything from you; but for your growth, i receive what you give to me. He is also modeling for them the next stages of growth to which they are headed. A stage in which you have learned to abide in Christ regardless of externals (whether rich poor hungry fed etc). A stage where there is enough of Christ in us, not to falter when externals change–even if when put to death by others–to be content in Christ. Paul is modeling a very mature stage of spiritual development.

He’s teaching them unselfishly, at the same time as modeling it with his words and life. There are ironies in Paul’s way! He is talking about himself a lot, because his testimony is a sort of model; like Jeremiah’s autobiographical parts matter as part of the teaching. They were “ways”. And here Paul is modeling and writing IN and FROM a state of spiritual contentment regardless of external circumstances. Paul is unswayed, whether he is treated as a king or a slave at this stage of his spiritual growth. And he is serving them from this space.

I wonder also on a personal level for us as a global church, if this new stage we are entering has more of this being content with whatever the external circumstances are. Paul’s secret of spiritual contentment! As the external world oscillates daily on many levels, we are to abide more centered in His Peace without vacillating spiritually. Perhaps that is why some of my normal pleasures have had to stay on the altar this season. Missing things and travel are two big areas of attack for me. If they were once again fully consecrated to Him, then I would be able to parent in any situation; or say, in other words, with Paul, both not I but Christ, and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. What Paul goes on to do from this state of contentment is serve others so they can grow into the fullness. That is the noble activity once at this level of centeredness on Christ.

Recall that moment when Moses struck the rock from his soul anger. God wanted him to be able to speak to the rock and sweet water would pour forth. That is developmental moment as well. We could call it the shift from a soul-led life to a spirit led life. “And as many who are led by The Spirit are becoming sons and daughters of God!” God wants us to be spirit led, not soul led (our souls are good, but they are to express, and follow our spirits, just as our physical bodies are meant to express and house our soul life)-even when we are very upset with the world around us. We want to be trusted to speak to the rock from His Spirit, rather than to hit it with our souls! I have a ways to go there. My soul is loud still and does not always submit quickly. And we as a church have a ways to go there as well, i think.

We must become guided by His Spirit, so that the full voicing of His calling into us be fulfilled! That is the goal–even if our ideas of our calling have to die over and again for His full formation to occur. Paul often had mission trips thwarted even directly by the enemy, but Paul did not suddenly stop allowing Christ to form in him when these things occurred. Even these blocks became spaces where Christ formed Himself more deeply in Paul, and many of Paul’s letters were written from this active dialogue Christ was having in him from these very moments in his life. Don’t waste your trials! Let jesus form Himself through them. The goal is transformation into the new creature, not just ministering from it. If we do nothing, but have ever more of Christ forming in us, we have lived a great life! Paul was already in this state, when he wrote the Philippians–needing nothings from them, but God was allowing him to serve them; so for their sake he wrote this letter. That is a mature state of being friends!

When we understand that the formation of Christ in us is His Point. We are in a position where we can truly serve, if He asks us to. We are able to make that Galatian’s 4 cross over from slave to servant and co-heir rulers of His inheritance. Formation of His Identity precedes and is more important than calling in our ministry. We in the end, are ministering our lives.Once we know this, we are more concerned that He keep forming Himself in us, than we do great deeds for Him. And we are content regardless of what we are doing or what situations He is using to form Himself in us through. For this reason to be being discipled by and in Christ is more important than discipling others. The later should flow from the former spiritually. So we are content whether we are doing anything or not; as long as He is forming Himself in us more fully daily, hourly etc

However, in His Kindness, He likes for us to be fulfilled in all we do; and that it flow from all we are. So He gives us meaningful “jobs” or tasks to do in Him. That is about His Lifestyle in us. That they match–identity and calling; and He takes pleasure in their working in tandem and making us spiritually fruitful in all we do, flowing out of who we are in Him. All things work together for the good of His formation in us; and He is able to use even our ministries to form Himself in us! There is no area of life which is not about His formation in us. His discipleship of us. No area where He is not putting more of Himself within us.

WE CAN ONLY MINISTER THE AMOUNT OF HIM WHICH IS ALREADY FORMED IN US! Therefore our real spiritual goal is to allow Him to form more and more of Himself in us. From that, comes our ability and partnering with Him in ministering these aspects of Himself into others. So form more of Yourself in me Lord. Enjoy inhabiting me as part of Your heritage! For Your Pleasure for yourself fully in me Jesus. Amen.

Marriage, our friendships, community life–all of it is a vehicle through which Christ wants to form Himself more deeply in us. Art making, dog walking, house cleaning, washing dishes all are places of meeting in Him, through which He can be allowed to form more of Himself in us. This makes all of life meaningful. To see all of life as a space for this formation bring this spiritual contentment which Paul teaches from in Philippians. Here is an image of the spiritually satisfied person.
Lastly, more of Him means greater glory emanating from us, which draws men to Him. Be aware of this as you grow. It will not go unnoticed in those around you–both the dark and the light reacts to more of His Glory shining from people. They put John on an Island to escape this Glory shining in Him which was attracting people to The Father. So in jail, He kept shining and drawing men to God! That’s the cool part. More of Him greater glory shining off of you. And yet the inside comes firstly. Just as it was prophecies that this would be a season where God is working in this inside of your disco ball, and less the outer radiance. It ends up being that the greater formation on the inside, the brighter the disco ball shines outwardly! You’ll see this and be happy!

Many of us are in a preparation season of formation. Being equipped and implanted for the next! Having models like Paul’s life is helpful to motivate us to press on into spiritual parenthood in our lives!

Many of us are in a liminal season of formation in ourselves, or being more fully formed in Him for our upcoming seasons. I think it is funny when you are in seasons of outer activity, and then transition into a formation season. At first you have no idea what you are doing. You suddenly feel dull in the old areas, and hungry in new ones. New passions emerge, and you don’t even really know how to pursue them. It is disconcerting to one part of ourselves and exhilarating to another. Things are new and strange, and it is tempted to cling backwards in that space. It is in this space that all the debris rises on the banks of your river and gets sifted again.

It is in this space that what you thought was the only way you would do it, changes. It is not so much the fear of change that arises as the disorientation of a new way of relating to the old Core; a new angle is offered, a new aspect; and we must be humble and trust again to know that the Hand that has led us thus far, will continue to do so. Still it is not easy to be held back from what you knew was right to be doing before, and wait on the Lord, until He begins to slowly guide you into the newer parts of Himself He wants to form in you. It is absolutely necessary, but also a strain. You want to prove that what you did in the older seasons was valid. You want to say, hey i was on the path. You still are! Only it is a new leg of the pathway, and if you continue the path will keep going. You are being formed. Christ is making His Way into you gradually and carefully and meticulously. He who started you on the journey, will continue to journey into you until He is all and all in you.

Formation of Christ in us, is more important than even the great commission, or our callings. God said to Jeremiah, I KNEW your identity in your mother’s womb, therefore I called you–identity and formation of Christ into us, is more important than what we do for Him. For our calling cannot be fulfilled if we are not “in Him”. Baptize the nations into the life of the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Union them into His ever increasing Life in them. Get people into this process of daily death and rebirth inside of themselves in Christ. Get them baptized, immersed in His Life–that is the great commission. Then to walk with others as you and they go more deeply into the Life of Christ daily. That is our goal–to be fully formed in Christ, and thereby to radiate His Christlikeness. The character of His Life comes as He is in us. There is no striving here to be good, only death and the Life of Christ entering and expressing His goodness. That is identification with the Life of Christ. He comes in. He is not some unattainable over there being. He comes into the very center of our beings, and dwells there, and progressively forms Himself in us. That is His mission, and then it becomes ours.

Long ago when i lived in California God told me that at the Re-Formation; He had been trying to incarnate more into His People. That the whole shift in our times was illustrated in the symbolic shift from Old Testament symbols to New–ie that the bread in the temple, had become the bread of life etc..that we were to be more deeply baptized INTO His Name in this season. That He wanted collectively to form Himself more wholly and fully into His People. I think a hunger for His greater formation in us, is the foundational spirituality in our times. We want to be more fully eclipsed by Christ daily. To experience a deeper sanctification. To become houses full of Him in each room of self. To be filled, overcome, and daily dying and being born again. A deeper sanctification process has begun in His Body! He also showed me in California that an outpouring of His Spirit was coming which was so tremendously strong, that people would be forced to cling to Christ. As in the days of Noah…These are our days on earth to live in Him! The dawn has already started dawning and the bright morning star has begun to rise in our hearts!

We are to have this deeper conjoining with Christ in all our activities. When we pray we are really just joining His prayers. When we heal, we are really just joining His healing power; when we do good in the world, we are doing so in Him. Formation and sanctification are the most important works He forms in His People–that He become all and all–as He truly already is! But if we don’t believe we are truly chosen by our Grand Parent, then we move into an orphan mentality towards God, ourselves and others. Here are some scriptures about the developmental shift from seeing ourselves as orphans into seeing ourselves as truly chosen, adopted, specifically sheltered into His Being. Not only are we nor orphans, we are specifically each adopted and chosen to grow up into spiritual adulthood in Him. The orphan mentality is one obstacle to our spiritual growth. Here I will mention a few passages which deal with this block of seeing ourselves as rejected by God rather than truly adopted and cherished:

Mephibosheth had an orphan mentality.
David desired to show favor toward the house of Saul after Saul’s death.   “And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet”  (II Samuel 9:3).  David provided everything for him.  “Thou therefore, and thy sons, and thy servants, shall till the land for him, and thou shalt bring in the fruits, that thy master’s son may have food to eat: but Mephibosheth thy master’s son shall eat bread alway at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants”  (II Samuel 9:10).  David, the king, adopted Mephibosheth as one of his own sons.  “Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my lord the king hath commanded his servant, so shall thy servant do. As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons”  (II Samuel 9:11).  However, Mephibosheth had an orphan mentality. 

“And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace”  (II Samuel 19:24).  Later when David return from battle Mephibosheth failed to go meet the king. He said that no one saddled a donkey for him; furthermore he went on to declare,  “For all of my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king: yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?”  (II Samuel 19:28).  Although he was adopted as the son of the king with all the rights as a son, he was timid about asking for anything.  Many Believers today wrestle with asking God for anything.  Why?  They feel that they have not been perfect enough to receive anything.  However, God did not adopt us because we are perfect, but because he loves us.  We simply chose to receive His love, by allowing Him to become our Lord.

In the story of the prodigal son, we find that both sons had somewhat an orphan mentality.  (Luke 15:11-32).The prodigal son, started by demanding his portion of his inheritance, basically saying, “Father, I wish you were dead.  Give me my inheritance now!”  He spent all that he had, then decided to return home to see if his father would allow him just to be a servant (a slave). “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,  And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants”  (Luke 15:18-19).   Although he was a son, he did not see himself as a son. 

The elder son who was performance oriented slaved in the field for his father.  Though he was the elder son with legal right to twice as much inheritance as the younger son, he had failed to ask his father for anything and was jealous when his father gave the younger son a homecoming party.  “And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:  But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.  And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.  It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”  (Luke 15:28-32).

If one sees themselves as an orphan, they cannot move into the later stages of spiritual adulthood He desires us each to be transformed into! We have to start to see ourselves as He does-of course, not based on our merits-but based on the fact that He calls us His own and is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, friends lovers and co-partners in His mission on earth.” And He goes on to reveal even more subtle nuances of our names, as we grow, but we have to believe that what He says is true about us, and live accordingly! If He says you are are king or queen in Him, well–you are! Let’s live it out! If He is capable of producing spiritual adulthood in us, and making us spiritually parenting and reproducing much eternal fruits through our very broken lives, then, i say let Him go for it in you!

What are the stages of spiritual development?

The Spiritual developmental stages in a general outline would be the Jewish story. Under slavery-feeling oppressed and orphaned, some without being aware; then, becoming aware and delivered (initial salvation), going on a journey (many young people, but some adults in terms of age are here), being trained (knowledge etc), preparing to cross over into your spiritual inheritance, occupying and cultivation being last–learning how to bear spiritual fruit that will last in others etc–spiritual parenting…these are the basic seasons of life spiritually. Knowing which one you are in helps. If you are coming into a inheritance phase, where you will need to occupy or possess new lands outside of yourself–ministry, then you will be trained and prepared for it by God Himself. Each of us is somewhere on this journey. If you do not yet know your basic calling, you are in the wilderness aspect and can be given knowledge directly by God or by the Moses figures in your life. If you are in the following stage, you should no longer need a guardian, but are able to be trusted to occupy and cultivate the lands you are shown which are in your domain.

Each of us is meant to get to a stage where we are reproducing from what seeds God has given us. This is the wise farmer who learns to plant in a reproductive way to bear fruits unto eternal life in the world around him We cannot really reproduce on this level until we know who we are and that we are free and have some knowledge and equipping–ie until we have passed through the earlier stages, we cannot be in the later ones. We all have a commission to cultivate in partnership with God, and to go and bear much spiritual fruit. Each season needs unique inner death and rebirths; and each season needs unique equipping. Paul told people they no longer needed teachers, that they had Christ in them directly. He was not saying teachers are bad, he was saying that they were at a stage where they should be already ministering themselves and reproducing.

What Paul was modeling in many of his letters is a later stage of spiritual maturity–spiritual parenting. He had to go through an intensive training or wilderness stage, before he was released into his calling. But once, in it, He was at times both mothering and fathering the different communities of believers he was entrusted with. You can see that this involved carrying Christ’s afflictions and affections for them at times. It also involved being tuned in “in the Spirit” to them at all times, even when he could not be physically present. I think this spiritual availability is one characteristic of a spiritual parent. As is the willingness to get with Christ in his intercessions for them–to fellowship with His Sufferings for others. That is what Paul did often.

He himself had already been to heaven, or so it seems, in a very real way during his training years. And preferred it to earth, it seems. But he stayed so that others could become complete. That is the way of Christ, and it is a sign of spiritual adulthood. Both to know your true home, and to be intentionally away from it for the good of others.

He also physically suffered for the sake of the gospel. In many ways, his suffering seems akin to a woman’s labor pains, that the child of Christ be born in people and grow up into His Full Adulthood within us. Jesus Himself went through maturation stages, which is great mystery in itself, as He preexisted creation itself! Still, there is something about The Father that includes growth processes, or maturation processes in all of His Creation. All He created has intrinsic maturation processes within it. Every creature starts at nascent stages and moves on. The new creature is the same in this-our spirits, grow. We grow up in Christ! Our hunger should always be to continue maturing into Christ until we are complete or whole in Him. That is the Christian journey.

Paul gets to the point in his spiritual development (i.e. the stage of Christ formation), where He can feel all the gaps in the church. He fills them and feels them in Christ. Filling up with Christ’s affections, he prayed from them, and wrote from them. And yet he was also content with any external because He was “in Him”. This is picture of very mature stage of spiritual development–very high up in the, “not I, but Christ” ladder. Ironically, unlike other religions, this stage did not come from effort, but Christ actually forming Himself in and living out through Paul. That is the way of Jesus. Remember, go serve others, means go be in Him and help form more of Him in others.

The trajectory of spiritual growth begins with realizing we are loved by God, and moves on into our loving God, and then serving what God loves and is sacrificing for. We start to fall in love with what He is in love with-not because of where it is at on its journey, but because He loves it so much, and can already see it matured! So we come to be willing to sacrifice our own comforts to serve that which He loves. Paul’s life teaches this. You see that He is so fatherly and motherly concerned with the churches-which then as now-are not neat and lovable at times; and yet, God had implanted His Own Heart towards them in Paul! They had been placed in his heart. So that, so many of his letters come from this place, where He is serving them because of The Father’s Heart for them placed in him. That is our model. We should be coming to love and see things more and more as God does. And then to be willing to lay down our many lives for the things God is passionate about. He obviously loves His Church, though she may seem unlovable at times. He obviously loves all humans, cites, nations, and and the earth itself. He wants us to catch His Heart., to allow Him to implant it in us! The journey is to have, resting in us, more of The Father’s Heart and way of seeing, so we can serve and in doing so model His orientation towards His Creation.

Recent Posts

Midrash on the Psalms

Reading the Psalms again today (little midrashing for you today!), as I often do, as they seem like the center (and therefore centering parts of

Read More »