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.
What is my next yes? I listened to a 21 year-old woman speak about her fourteen children yesterday. With a bashful smile and a glimmer in her eye, she shared that they were a series of “yeses”. You’d think her life would be a great premise for the next reality show, and it would, except Hollywood rarely travels to the orphanages of Uganda. Katie shared the stories of her first five adoptions, small moments when she felt God whisper “Will you” and she managed a nod. Now three years after her first compliance, she finds herself amidst 400 orphans on the other side of the world, periodically returning to her posh bedroom in Brentwood, TN without any idea how her yeses added up.
Dan Allender says, “We are the sum of every yes that we utter.” And so I wonder what yeses led me here and what dominos will fall next. Of course, one yes is also a million nos. And yet, I think the glorious yeses, prayerfully fueled by our deepest passions, however mundane or routine they seemed at the time, leave no room for memory of the nos.
Continued from this post: Spiritual Frontier
Back in high school, our Fellowship of Christian Athletes met in the health classroom, three long tables deep, all facing the white board. Health posters that said “Don’t smoke” and “Exercise Helps Your Self-Esteem!”, decorated the otherwise bare cinder block walls. A handful of teen-zombies stumbled into the room cleaning sleep from their eyes. These were the days before double-shots, macchiatos, ventis, and mochas on every corner. Looking back now, I wonder how much fellowshipping could be expected at 7 AM. Disoriented good mornings and mumbled hellos.
I’ll never forget one gentleman that came to share one Thursday morning. I believe he had wonderful intentions, bless his heart, to direct high school students in life with Christ. He spoke with the warmth of a grandfather and possessed a smile that rivaled Santa’s. With the dry-erase marker and blank canvas he diagramed an old fashioned wheel, a cross between a boat’s steering device and a bicycle tire. He explained that Christ belongs at the hub, and our Christian life flows out of that through four spokes of fellowship, prayer, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. To complete the metaphor, he described the engineering of a wheel and how uneven spokes would hinder a wheels capacity to function. You can imagine the wheel’s inability to roll when its spokes differ in length. His message asserted that in order to live the functional Christian life, our prayer life and time in the Word and experience of community and life in the Spirit must be at equal and sufficient levels. Then life works.
Even at seventeen, I knew something wasn’t right. True, elements of the message have value, but overall his explanation of life with Jesus was as exciting as the lesson on proteins and carbohydrates I’d hear later that day. It was as if he fed us vegetables minus the nutritional value. I fear he lead us to a formula for success rather than a river of life. Plugging prayer, Scripture, friends, and what Celtic Christians call the wild goose all equally into my Blackberry calendar simply will not translate into spiritual growth. Philip Yancey comments, “I used to think that everything important in my life- marriage, work, close friends, relationship with God- needed to be in order. One defective area, like one malfunctioning program on my computer, would cause the entire system to crash. I have since learned to pursue God and lean heavily on his grace even when, especially when, one of the other areas is plummeting toward disaster.”
I wrestle with what it means to go after “more”. My inner administrator wants a plan and schedule rather than a cry from the heart, one that may go unanswered.