by Alexei Laushkin
Several years ago I was at a church retreat and each of us were asked to plot our spiritual lives on a graph from left to right and than to go around and share that graph with the group. Without fall most of these lifelong Christians drew a graph that had high points followed by a slow trajectory downward and than another moment of high point followed by a slow trajectory downward.
The spiritual content to a tee was moments of great insight and great conviction followed by long moments of sort of lesser interaction and conviction with God. These sort of peak experiences I would guess are characteristic of a lot of Christians in the United States.
Moments where you knew God was asking more and you were willing. And than moments of relative less.
Is this the normal expectation that we should have of the Christian life, or is this more an indication of a sort of wrong way of thinking about our walk with Christ supported by wrong assumptions?
Is the Christian life a mountain top that leads to a totally changed life in an instant (which God can certainly do), or is it more like a slow change that actually takes a lot of time?
Among Evangelicals I talk to, there is a real hunger for that something more substantial. Something more consistent, but while there is desire there are few guides.
Evangelicalism has as a corner-stone of its focus the devotional. The idea that each morning should be filled with 20-30 minutes of prayer, scripture, and/or journaling. And that this helps inform and anchor the convictions of said Christian throughout their days.
But would do you do if your journaling is inconsistent, your knowledge of the scripture not comprehensive enough to get good insights from books of the Bible you aren’t as familiar with, or the styles of prayer and reflection you are taught are actually not a very good fit with where you are in your walk with Christ?
How should one even begin to think about what to do?
I want to introduce three principles and cornerstones that I think help open up this window on how to pursue the Kingdom of God and the things and ways of God more seriously and fully.
- A Graceful Knowledge of Self
- One Area at a Time
- The Role of Christian Brothers and Sisters
A Graceful Knowledge of Self
The picture we get of the Apostle Peter in the gospels is a disciple who did not really fully know himself. He, very much like us, makes promises that he can not fulfill ‘I will follow you wherever you go Jesus.” Makes assumptions about himself that are not connected with a deep understanding of who he is “I will never betray you.” There is a sort of impulsiveness to how he approaches his faith. An impulsiveness born out of a real disconnect between who he is and who he perceives himself to be that. That disconnect leaves the Apostle Peter living into this reality between his ideal self and the truth about who he is.
The Psalms give us a different picture, this time of King David. The veil between self and ideal vision of self is broken down. And what we are left with is an honest unvarnished view of what self looks like when it encounters and reaches towards God.
The Psalms are filled with this honesty. Consider:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)
There is an openness to God. An honesty of the depth of one’s anxious thoughts and an invitation to be made aware of his actual character and behavior. There is a trust that such knowledge can actually bring healing.
One principle in growing in our walks with Christ is that search for understanding self. Understanding self truly and with an open heart, a work of the Holy Spirit, gives us the ability to approach God as we are and without fear. Christ being our mediator, we are than brought into a true knowledge of self through being centered and collecting our thoughts (a topic I’ll explore in another post), and with this knowledge with God’s help alone we can begin the slow work of putting of behaviors and patterns of sin and putting on new behaviors that bring us back into truer senses of self. Self as it was designed to be. Free free malice, hatred, and deceit.
One Area at a Time
One practical from a wide range of Christian writers is the importance of actually building on one piece at a time. If you approach growth in the Christian life as suddenly doing it all right as if the first time, you will quickly loss heart and end up doing nothing very much at all. It’s a bit like someone going to the gym who thinks in their first workout that they will run, stretch, lift weights, and swim all at once. As good as that sounds, what will end up happening is that somewhere between the run and the stretch they will wear themselves out unless they had previously been in shape.
Similarly if you want to grow in spiritual disciplines look at one area at a time. Put all your energy into one, fulfilling the law of Christ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul.” Put that kind of focus and intent (which you normally give away to so many other lesser things) into an area of God. Let it be the primary commitment you are making for yourself. And if that proves complex, remember the grace of God. That He has mercy on you a sinner. Pray for that encounter of mercy and grace.
The Role of Christian Brothers and Sisters
Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. When Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was betrayed, “Do this in Remembrance of me.” He instituted communion and regular worship as a central act for the Christian.
Christian brothers and sisters are a big part of our growth with the Lord. Join with others or find a group looking to grow in Christian formation and do it in pairs of two/three. Whatever form this takes, consider the importance of encouragement.
If it proves too complex to find a group but you want to start, think about just talking to a mature Christian and asking if you can share how you are doing as you approach growing in an area of focus. You will see how God can use those times to perhaps inspire others. At least that will be my prayer for you.
If you are wanting to dialogue about any of this please feel free to contact me at.