Ryan felt like there was something missing in his life. He recalled the excitement he had when he went through Experiencing God with his small group in college. The excitement from doing that study lasted for the rest of his senior year as he devoured books by John Ortberg, Philip Yancey, Erwin McManus, and C.S. Lewis.
Five years have passed and Ryan feels like he is in a holding pattern. The excitement that came with his spiritual growth has now disappeared from his life. Spiritually he is dry and frustrated.
My story is Ryan’s story. Even though I grew up in a Christian home, attended Nebraska Christian College, and had been in ministry for six years, it was going through Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God that really put me on the path of spiritual growth.
After that everything I picked up to read seemed to move me along spiritually. The books that influenced me at that time included Wild at Heart, Seizing Your Divine Moment, and If You Want to Walk On Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Yet that period of intense spiritual growth was over very quickly and I found myself stuck in place. No matter how hard I tried to recapture that time of spiritual growth I couldn’t. I became frustrated and disillusioned.
I am certain that many Christians have gone through experiences like this. We have those times when we seem to grow by leaps and bounds and then we have frustrating stretches when it seems like we are on the fast track to nowhere. While we are committed to the same disciplines it seems that the results are totally different. What is the difference?
In order to answer that question we have to understand the goal of spiritual maturity. In basic terms spiritual maturity is learning to trust God more than we trust ourselves. Learning to trust God requires us to know His will and adjust our lives to it.
The reason many of us feel stunted in our spiritual growth is because we have concentrated on just knowing God’s will. We are disciplined in studying the Bible, reading books, listening to sermons, and attending seminars at conferences. We have a great desire to know what God expects from us, but knowing God’s will doesn’t mean we are trusting God. In order to trust God we have to obey. If we are not obeying then we are not growing.
An excellent example of this truth is found in the anonymous man from the Gospels that we have dubbed the rich young ruler. This is Mark’s account of his encounter with Jesus:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. ’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing:go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22; ESV)
This young man was religious, he was respected, and he was wealthy. He met every criteria that his culture had for a person who was right with God, yet when he examined his life he realized that something was missing. No wonder he went to Jesus to find his answers. He needed something different than what the religious establishment had already given him.
The encounter the rich young man had with Jesus shows us the two elements of spiritual growth that must be part of our lives if we are going trust God more than we trust ourselves.
Knowing God’s Will:
The first element that is so vital for spiritual growth is going to Jesus. This young man understood that his life wasn’t what it should be, and so he went to the one person he thought had the answer.
A quick examination of our lives will tell us that things aren’t what they should be. We feel like we have made no progress on this journey of faith and we are on the verge of giving up.
Why should following Jesus be so hard? What are we doing wrong? These are just a sample of the questions we ask ourselves as we struggle to experience spiritual growth.
The only one who has the answer is Jesus. He knows where we have been and where we need to go. If we are going to travel the road of spiritual maturity we must turn to Jesus for guidance.
How do we go to Jesus? The rich young man had the advantage over us because he could physically go to Jesus and ask his question. We don’t have that luxury, but that doesn’t mean that we are unable to receive direction from our Lord and Savior.
We go to Jesus whenever we seek His will. We seek the will of Jesus through prayer, Bible study, asking the advice of other Christians, and listening to God’s Word preached. By seeking God’s will we are doing spiritually the very same thing the rich young man did when he physically went to Jesus.
Going to Jesus isn’t about doing spiritual disciplines, but it is about honestly seeking God’s will. It is by seeking God’s will that we put ourselves in the position to live the life He created us to live.
Adjusting Our Lives:
This brings us to the second element of spiritual growth: obedience.
While the young man went to Jesus and discovered Jesus’ will, he ended up leaving sad. Remember the rich young man was obeying the commandments, he was keeping the spiritual disciplines of his day, but he was unwilling to change his life and follow Jesus.
This is the place I think many of us lose our way. Our dedication to seeking God’s will is very evident in our lives. We are committed to studying the Bible, to praying, worshipping, and sitting under preachers and teachers who explain some of the deeper truths of Scripture to us.
The trouble comes because of our unwillingness to make the necessary adjustments to our lives in order to change. We are moral and religious people, but we lack true obedience. We are disciplined and serve at church, but we have yet to really take the risk and follow Jesus into the unknown.
The young man went way sad because he was unwilling to part with his wealth and follow Jesus. We are frustrated because we are unwilling to risk and trust Jesus with our lives. There comes a time in our lives when the only way to continue on the path of spiritual maturity is to take a risk and trust Jesus.
Making it Real
The last seven years have been an eye opening experience for me of this very truth. I took my last ministry position in November 2006 after being out of paid ministry for a year. The church family I served had some very difficult times and had been in decline for a decade.
It was not an ideal situation for me, and I was warned by a couple of people about the position, but after consulting family members and praying about the situation I was convinced that this was where God wanted me to be. At times it was very difficult and frustrating, but this situation taught me how to trust God like no other situation I have been in.
In that same time period I started to go to counseling. This was something that God had been urging me to do for a few years, but I resisted. To me going to counseling meant that I was broken and needed to be fixed and I was bound and determined to handle things myself.
I finally gave into God’s demands to seek help with my introvert personality that have had a negative impact on my ministry. This has opened up avenues to new relationships that were closed before.
Now as Jenny and I seek to follow God’s call in starting a ministry, I know this offers us an opportunity for new spiritual growth. This provides us with new reasons to trust God that we never had before.
I have no idea what God is calling you to do, but I am certain that He has made it clear, or will make clear, to you what His will is for your life. If your experience is like mine then you know God’s will but you fear the risk that is involved. The only way to grow is to take the risk and trust God.
Now is the time to quit your job and stay home with the kids. Now is the time to take that leadership position at work. Now is the time to build a relationship with the couple next door. Now is the time to serve at the homeless shelter. Now is the time to babysit for the single mother who sits next to you at church. Now is the time to cut up the credit cards and get out of debt. Now is the time to take over the Jr. High youth group. Now is the time to risk. Now is the time to grow.