Copyright 2011 by Randy Meulman
One of my favorite people in the entire world is Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled. Peck defines love as "the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth." Peck clearly understood the mystery involved in attempting to examine the unexplainable, as the nature of love is too large to be understood with words. Spiritual growth is about true life. Bury an acorn in the ground and watch it grow into an oak tree. One can talk around that growth, but the actual process of that small seed maturing into a 100’ tree is unexplainable. In spite of this fact, I have found it helpful to examine my own process in regards to my spiritual growth.
Personally, I am coming to understand what Jesus promised when He said, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." Life as I know it now is full of joy, beauty, and hope. I have come to experience a profound sense of well-being. I feel secure. My life includes the freedom to be me with all of my flaws and imperfections – I accept my individuality and separateness. I know that I am truly loved and forgiven. Though I spend a good amount of time alone, I seldom feel lonely. There is a certain quietness in my spirit. I feel so alive.
Looking back over my life I wonder how all this can be. For a large portion of my life, if given the choice, I would have chosen never to have been born. For more years than I care to remember, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and I went to great lengths trying to please others, desperately needing their love and approval. I would charge ahead, achieving goal after goal, never resting in the moment, believing that one day they would have to love me after they saw all I had accomplished. I found solace only in the bottle and the illusion of a better tomorrow.
Now that former existence is all but a vague and fading memory to me. I am excited about my future, yet I am content in the moment. I feel like glory awaits me. Recently, I met a man who was a retired basketball coach and he informed me that he was being inducted into a Hall of Fame. I was truly happy for this person, but I must admit, I also feel that I’m going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, only I won’t have done anything to deserve it. I know one day I will be resurrected to eternal life and experience the Glory of God for which I was created and, even now, participate in.
Apart from the Lord’s direct dealing with me, there have been very few individuals, Christian or not, who have been instrumental in nurturing my spiritual growth. Scott Peck is a person who has been very influential in my growth. I find it to be ironic that Peck wrote his book The Road Less Traveled, years before he became a Christian! Though I hold no resentment towards anyone, it deeply troubles me that very few Christians have contributed to my spiritual growth and I have struggled to understand why this is so. I believe that because of cultural influences, most of the Christians and Christian organizations with which I have been associated in the past have missed the mark in regards to what spiritual growth is really all about. So much of what we call love and spiritual growth, is not love or growth at all. Not the kind of love that sets us free in the way Jesus promised. And that promise is the key: being set free!
Only the Lord can create spiritual growth in us. We can be part of His process, but spiritual growth is not something, not a program, that we can give away. The whole world is a very needy place and it’s becoming much needier. In the book of Matthew, there is a story Jesus told about 10 maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise did. At midnight, when the bridegroom came, the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise replied, "Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you, so go to the dealers and buy for yourselves." And while they went to buy, the bridegroom and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast and the door was shut.
One of the most harmful illusions concerning spiritual growth is the idea of meeting people’s needs without the discerning direction of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that needs are not important, because they are. I have needs that are very important to me. I have a need for intimacy and touch. I enjoy food, sex, entertainment, fellowship and social interaction with my family, business and personal relationships. I need intellectual stimulation and I love to fish. I enjoy my home, my work and a host of other activities. And yet, the capacity to truly delight and enjoy all these wants and desires, lies beyond the need itself. I know people, and I was one of them for a long time, who seem to have everything and yet have no capacity to enjoy anything. Joy eludes them, life eludes them. They are empty shells struggling to be filled. Some of the loneliest people I know are very social people with a host of relationships. More relationships will not cure their loneliness.
Some years ago I fell on hard times and was stripped of almost everything I valued, including my health. I took a giant fall from the top to the bottom. Everything I feared came upon me. Through that experience I found peace for the first time in my life and I met the God who loves me. There are times when we have to come to the end of ourselves to be open to the new, to be open to life. Now, years later, I live in a beautiful home overlooking Lake Michigan in the most beautiful surroundings I have ever encountered. I have my health back and I enjoy the benefits money can buy. But I know my capacity to delight in all that I’ve been given is not based in the gift itself, but in the Giver of Life. One of my very best friends is as poor as a church mouse and owns very few possessions. We are true partners in faith and he is experiencing the same joy and freedom in his life that I am in mine.
There’s an essential part of life that is key to spiritual growth and without that key we are wanton, empty vessels. At the heart of spiritual growth, I have discovered the God who absolutely loves me. He is a good God and wants the very best for me. I’m not afraid of Him. He is the very source of my life and in Him there is no darkness or death. There are many who do not personally know the God I speak of. As I look around me, I see a world knee deep in hell. Violence and chaos reign as people try to suck the lives from one another in futile attempts to fill their empty lives. At one level, I feel completely untouched by all of this turmoil as I rest in the new creation which is mine in Christ. The victory for me took place 2,000 years ago. When Jesus rose from the dead, the victory for those who know Him, was accomplished.
Coming to really know the one true God who loves me seems like such a miracle to me. For so many years, I fought with a god who was not God at all. There are many people who worship what I call the monster god. Those young misguided men who steered those planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 were serving such a god. Talk about commitment, faith and sacrifice. Those boys had it and all they accomplished was to promote fear and death.
For a good portion of my life, I created and adopted standards for behavior and performance and made all sorts of moral judgments based on my own inherent sense of goodness. I felt more than qualified to determine who was right and who was wrong. This form of thinking comes natural to many of us and never produces life. The false goodness I speak of is conceived in, and then nurtured in, a spirit that is separated from God. It is the spirit that rules this world and often poses as an angel of light. In the book of Matthew, a man asked Jesus, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus replied to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good." It is impossible to please God with our goodness and with what we feel is appropriate because our goodness is an illusion and connected to the Lie. In the Garden of Eden, Satan promised, "You will be like God, knowing good and evil." Good and evil separated from God, are one in the same, and in the end they produce death.
When Jesus came to earth, He came to create a new race of people, connected to God in love. We can be naked before Him and not be ashamed. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to those who belong to Him. The Holy Spirit is the way to spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit is actually a person who resides in us. He is our counselor and our guide for spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit, to us, is that same energy that takes a seed and produces a 100’ oak tree. The nature of the Holy Spirit is clearly expressed in the Bible. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." If you want to know who God is, look at the fruits of the Spirit, as they are one in the same. Spiritual growth is impossible apart from the Spirit. Spiritual growth is about closer relationship to and in the Spirit.
There is a subtle yet great sacrilege that has wormed its way into the lives of many Christians and stymied or killed their spiritual growth. Many, often with the encouragement of a church, have taken the Bible and their own sense of righteousness about "being in the Word" as synonymous with obeying the "Living Word of God." A book meant to point the way to trust and faith in Jesus becomes an idol (bibliolatry) and a stumbling block to entering into a deeper life-altering relationship with the Holy Spirit. As a result, we fail to experience the freedom and spiritual maturity that is available to us only through the leading of the Holy Spirit. As a young believer, I bought into this heresy myself. I can remember spending hundreds of hours studying and memorizing great portions of this historical revelation. Years wasted in a vain attempt to please God and trying to find a formula to life. Trying to find security in a book and belief system proved to be death to me. Jesus summed it up best when He said to the religious community of His day, "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life and it is they that bear witness to Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life."
Believing this lie turned out to be tragic in my life and only produced frustration, guilt and a sterile mundane, empty existence. For a person like me, that is synonymous with death. The attitude of moral superiority is the true enemy of Christianity. This is the same spirit that points the accusing finger towards homosexuals, drug addicts, those who do not embrace the "American ideal", sinners in general and anyone who offends our sensibilities. This spirit is convinced of its own rightness and readily quotes from the Bible, but it is not the living, life-giving Spirit of God. I believe these sins of the flesh that are so often mentioned in religious circles are mere mosquito bites in comparison to the cancer of the morally superior. The fact of the matter is this: Jesus hung out with many people who the morally superior of His time called the scum of the earth. Yet these sinners felt loved and safe with Jesus and after spending time with Him, they became His disciples. Some of them even helped write the New Testament. And what is credited to the morally righteous of Jesus’ day who kept the rules and faithfully kept their religious traditions? They killed the One who came to save and give life. The spirit of moral superiority is still going strong more than 2,000 years later.
In truth, our relationship with God is a living, dynamic thing and we can talk about anything with Him. Areas of our lives we wouldn’t dare share with others; we can freely share with Him. We are all naked before Him. We don’t have to live in denial concerning any area of our life. The Lord will never make you feel guilty, nor will He be shocked about what you discuss with Him, no matter what it is. If you feel guilty, go to Him and talk to Him about your guilt. He wants wholeness and life for you. He wants you to experience love and joy. He wants you fully alive and passionate about your life. He wants your needs met. He wants you to experience that sense of well-being that comes from knowing Him. Believe me when I say you are loved. If you do not know that you are loved, you just have to get to know this God who loves you. Simply invite Him into your life.
Even as I struggle to put into words the mystery of God’s love and the key to spiritual growth in my own life, I am aware of how utterly inadequate my words truly are. For the glory of knowing God cannot be captured in words. For me, that glory is an energy that has set my heart on fire in regards to life. I pray that same fire will touch your life as you grow spiritually.
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