Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Continued from this post: Cry
If no formula exists for life, why would one exist for spiritual growth? You could define frontier as “the farthest most limits of knowledge or experience”. The extent of frontier traveled is different in every one of our relationships, from siblings to coworkers to the woman who cuts your hair. Our relationship with God is different only in the sense that he already knows us better than we know ourselves, and there is always more of him to discover. The reverse would also be true: in the context of a relationship with God, there is always more of us to realize as well. Our spiritual growth at some level must reflect the extent to which we have experienced God. Jesus speaks directly to this when he teaches about the vine and the branches. Only by experiencing the intimacy and vibrancy that he shares with the Father can we produce anything of spiritual and eternal significance, he says. Grapes grow via the process, and an incredible one at that. Earl D. Radmacher and H. Wayne House explain, “When the winter weather was over and the time for productivity was approaching, the vinedresser would move through the vineyard lifting branches from the ground, where they had been for the winter, and propping them up with stakes where they would receive the warmth of the sun. The heat promotes the ripening of the fruit. Furthermore, by getting the branches off the ground, it keeps them from sinking many little roots directly from the branch into the surface of the soil where the moisture is not sufficient to produce anything but hard, sour grapes. If the branch is lifted out of the dirt, however, it is forced to get its moisture from the deep roots of the vine and produces luscious fruit.”
Succulent spiritual fruit will evidence an inner life that has drunk of the deep root of God’s love. After reading John 15, I’m left to recognize a direct connection to an experience of God with spiritual growth. And at the same time, I grapple with spiritual fathers’ claims that the closer we get to God, the further we feel. Night travel does not necessarily mean we have left the vineyard.
John 15:8 says our maturity as disciples, or little Christs, glorifies God; not that we would become another Christ, but that the image of God would be fully restored in us. Yet he does not give a clear cut plan or formula, no twelve steps. I recently finished Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, a book of compiled essays from seven leaders from different denominations explaining their take on spiritual direction, counseling, and psychotherapy. Each offers a definition of spiritual growth and indicators of maturity. Astonishingly, all varied. The fact that it is impossible to nail down a definition for spiritual growth speaks to the mysteriousness of the process. Thus, applying a formula to an individual would be like a doctor prescribing the same pill for every patient regardless of symptoms.
To believe there is more means delving into mystery. Like shipwrecked sailors, we’re left to move forward with scraps and debris from the crash: the Bible, our stories, a burning desire or lack thereof for Him, and a promise that we can follow a certain tropical breeze if we recognize it within us.