How to stay spiritually growing!
THE ABILITY TO BRING GOD INTO EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE—BROTHER LAWRENCE; to see every area of life, every daily activity, as a potential Divine partnership or collaboration, through which we are more fully formed in Christ, and transformed by His Life living in us.
In all the spiritual practices we are learning to come inside more deeply and rejoin Jesus in His Life and work; make yourself resigned; this topic of spiritual formation has the religious issue around it, because, there is this our part God’s part issue. If we think God does everything, we become inactive participants in Grace. But we are partly responsible for our own spiritual growth! Keep the heart, take off, put on, guard your minds, etc; all actively our part. We partner with God in “working out our salvation” and then Peter tells us to add to this stage, the next, add too kindness knowledge and so on. Press on into the higher stages of spiritual maturity is what Paul implied often in his letters as well. And then John commends people for being at their appropriate stage of spiritual development. Placing different blessings on each.
When we approach formation or our own transformation, we have to look at how God transforms people. And for that we look at the scriptures to see how He has always transformed people. We look for patterns of spiritual growth or transformation. We look at Paul’s journey, Peter’s training etc. And we then can look throughout christian history for the experts in spiritual growth!
The subject itself has religious spirit around it; because anytime the sin nature is given activities which can make one more holy, a better person, or closer to God, we tend to want to strive. But there is a balance here–again, we do our part, and God does His. His Son has of course, done everything which really matters; but we are also asked in scripture to work out and tend to our salvation process. And we know that some part of us is always being renewed, refined, saved. It begins when we realize we are sinners, and who Jesus is, and what He has done, and believe it. But that is just the beginning. All the letters in the New Testament are dealing with what happens afterwards–how we grow up into the fullness of The Head! Spiritual maturation, our ongoing transformation into His Nature is the way of Christianity.
Of course, there is always our tendency to not be led by His Spirit in this process, but to do “for” God. I prayed, i read the Bible, i fed the poor–but I was not changed by Him. I was a Christian, but not His actual disciple. These things eventually, though the same activities, start to flow more out of HIS Nature not ours. Depending on your level of spiritual growth, some areas will still be doing it for rather than with God. Still, we must press into spiritual development; we must grow up into the fullness! This is why the apostles and prophets are “given” to the church–so that the whole organism can grow up into its highest expression. And we labor for this maturation as ministers; but we also must be engaged in this transformation process ourselves–daily. Even Paul had not reached to fullness by the end; and yet, surely, he was further along that most of us, and those he was writing. Deeper into the mysteries and knowledge and love and sufferings of Christ. Where he could write, not I, but Christ. That is what we all should be able to say–not I, but Christ in me. Every good thing springs from His Nature in me.
When every activity we do in life, is a form of communion and partnership with God through Christ, it hardly matters the external activity. It could be study. It could be changing diapers. There is no division. Life is seen as a constant place to meet God.
So we have a vision of the need for spiritual growth; we set our intentions towards it, now we move on to methods. Historically, there are many methods to grow in God. So much of the writings of the church parents are about how to grow in Christ. So we are not poor in resources. But some of us are poor in application–practical ways to apply the lessons of the mentors in the faith. How do we walk out transformation.
The basics given in acts are to meditate on the apostles teaching, break bread together (fellowship with others who are on the Christ journey), and to pray and worship. There are others added in other parts of the New Testament, but these were the basics of the early church–they studied, they prayed, they communed. Now they also obviously ministered but this was overflow. The sacraments given, were study, communion and prayer. Worship is also implied in their daily lives. If we take in only one sacrament, we are not balanced in our growth. The baptist, which i grew up in, took the sacrament of the word seriously, but there were some other sacraments missing in our spiritual diet, which i later had to go run around and find.
So how do we now practically take these three sacraments daily, so that we are giving God room to form us? Well, prayer seems to me the most ongoing practice–one can do alone or with others. It is a constant conversation with Christ in all we do. It is also learning how He is priesting. We overhear as well as speak. He speaks, we listen, then we speak and so on. There is our personal conversation, then there is overhearing Jesus conversation with His Father. I think prayer itself is a way of knowing God. And is really a daily doable activity for us all. And to grow, we must be praying both alone and with others.
Secondly, communion, or breaking bread with others. This requires some coordination and corporateness, so in a sense is more “work”. We have to actually join a community of other people and commune. This requires us to be journeying with at least a few other people spiritually.
Next study or meditation on the apostles teaching. I think this one is also easier for some than others; but it is very doable in our day. We can all stop and study the thoughts of the church leaders.
I add worship because i think it is implied that this is what they were doing in the upper room. Praying, waiting, listening and praising God. The first words they spoke at Pentecost were of praise about the wonders of God. So we need to worship and it comes naturally out of focusing on God. When we start to think about God, we want to worship Him.
I think most of the spiritual practices from the church tradition fall roughly under these four categories of activities: study, prayer, worship and communion. To stay ever mindful of God, we need these four elements in our lives. In our time, it is exciting that the spiritual practices are being recovered and implemented across The Body. But I still think the basics were there at the beginning in terms of how to grow. What they were doing at the start, is what we are still doing if we want to grow up spiritually. The formation movements in our day, really are about recovering these methods of spiritual growth. What worked for Brother Lawrence, what worked for the desert fathers, etc, are the activities which have always worked.
I might add to these four the way of love, as Jesus mentioned this as a crystallization of the entire ten commandments–love your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor. So we see that love was a practice He offered as the way. Again, love seems to be “the Way” of God in that He is Love. So we could look at that as a practice as well. When we love God, and love others we move into a position of communion or partnership with His Being.
Now, at different seasons of growth, we need to emphasize different one’s of these four. Sometimes, we need more study, other times, more prayer, other times more communion and we are led to which we need more of in our spiritual diet by The Holy Spirit.
Dallas Willard wrote again of the active and passive parts of our spiritual growth. We do something, and God does something. We play our part in keeping our hearts, putting on and off His Mind etc; and God does the real formation work. He wrote that the church in some parts had been paralyzed by Grace, and forgot to grow up into maturity. Richard Foster wrote of several obstacles or blocks in the church to spiritual growth: a consumer’s orientation, entertainment instead of worship, and the “sickness of hurry” especially in the American church. How can we start to overcome some of these blocks in practical ways so that we can be growing up into all things in The Head. So that we can, in short take on more of Christ and His Spirituality into our hearts. This is a question i will be exploring over the next year in hopes to find ways to encourage myself and others in the way of Jesus to press on and into more of His Life in us.