Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Growing Spiritually

Metaphors of Spiritual Growth

One reason why I chose Regent-College for my first theological degree was because of its marketplace expertise. With eager beaver eyes to have a theological balance to my business-like solution-seeking background, I had thought that theology would provide the perfect wrapper for my life accomplishments. Boy was I wrong. Instead, my theologies were turned inside out. Studying theology does not mean a one-time payment, but a recurring pay-out of installment after installment. Faith is not a one-time exercise. The initial outlay (quitting my job, and future business prospects etc) was only a down-payment to give up more. Studying with theological experts mean my view is only one out of other hundred more competent ones. It was in a nutshell, a humbling experience. Yet, it is also a time to reflect on spiritual growth by beginning where I was.

Growing spiritually is something many church people want to do, but lack guidance. Sometimes, our own leaders seem too busy with various administrative duties to even provide spiritual direction or spiritual help. I remember being contacted frequently by church people, where the majority of the requests were to serve in various ministries in the church. Most of the time, I accede to their requests, knowing that they too were swamped. As I think about it, it is easy for younger Christians to feel discouraged, especially when becoming ‘active’ in Church means doing lots of ministry work like teaching in Sunday School, going for Mission trips, joining prayer meetings, organizing social gatherings called ‘fellowshipping.’ I would like to think that such activities do not define a person’s ministry. It is the ‘spiritual growing’ that makes all the difference. It is when one is growing spiritually, that one can share life learnings in the Sunday School class. It is when one is growing toward God, that one can show others in the mission field who He looks like. It is when one is loving God, that one can shine forth as servants dishing out yummy meals for the people around us, serving happily, willingly not grudgingly. It is when one is growing spiritually, that the default for prayer meetings is “How can I prioritize this time to meet my heavenly Father with my brothers/sisters?” instead of “What excuse should I give to skip this meeting?

Growing spiritually is something we would like to do. We need guidance and we need it real bad. Spiritual growth has both a direction as well as an intensity. One of my mentors, Dr Paul Stevens suggests 4 metaphors of spiritual growth which can be very helpful.
1) Seed – Agricultural metaphor
“The seed metaphor not only communicates the unfolding of the life contained within the seed but also suggests the pain and price of growth.” (Stevens, et al, The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, 951)

2) Child – Biological metaphor
The apostle Peter urges us to grow beyond drinking milk to eat solid food (1 Pet 2:2).

3) Disciple – Educational metaphor
The Greek word for disciple is ‘mathetes’ which represents a learner. A disciple is more than simply being a student receiving instruction from a teacher. It is basically imitating the one who is our Master.

4) Building – Architectural metaphor
With Christ as the cornerstone, we learn to build upon Christ, to grow toward God.

All of these metaphors are helpful for us to try to picture where we are in our spiritual growing. As a seed, we need to recognize that growing has its ups and downs, joy and pain. The hardest is perhaps the breaking of the shell. As a child, there are also growing pains, from total dependence on our earthly parents to total dependence on our heavenly Father. As a disciple, we grow from copying the world around us, to imitating Christ completely. As a part of the building, we need to be aware what role we play, and who we are in the kingdom of God. If we are a brick, we need to look for people around us who are able to cement us with other bricks.

A Fifth Metaphor
The seed, the child, the disciple and the building are all wonderful metaphors to consider. All four of them seems to assume a posture of increasing in size and shape, or multiplication in terms of numbers. Let me suggest a 5th one, albeit a less popular one. This is in terms of simplifying. We grow spiritually toward God, by first untangling ourselves from worldly worries. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).

When we mix two or more metals, we create an alloy. Growing spiritually is the reverse. When we remove impurities, we move toward greater purity. When we remove sediments and contaminants from water, we get clean water. When we wash our clothes with detergent, we get dirt-free garments. If we want to grow toward God, make sure we prepare ourselves by being pure and spotless before Him. The Sabbath is an opportunity to be holy before God. Take each weekday as an opportunity to de-clutter our lives. Give up the unnecessary. Give in toward reconciliation with brothers or sisters. Give out our time and resources to people in need. Give of ourselves, our lives our all as a living sacrifice of worship to God. So that when we come to God on the Sabbath, we can be pure and spotless in the cloak of Christ. This is not faith + good works. It is faith that drives one to do good works. This process is simplification. One example I can think of is in terms of equations of enough.
“Too Much to do + Too Little Time = We Get Stressed;
Too Little to do + Too Much Time = We Become Distressed;
Enough to do + Enough Time = We are Blessed;”
Perhaps, the word ‘busy’ is synonymous with worldly concerns. A follower of Christ always aims toward ‘enough’ rather than busyness. He is aware of his own limits. She is conscious of when to draw the line. For the worldly, there will always be too little time to do stuff that is complicated by the necessary and unnecessary things. For the believer in Christ, there will always be enough time to do the necessary. The way toward God is to grow spiritually. The path toward Him begins by simplicity with this exhortation this week. Let me suggest, that we silence every thought that stems from a love of money; and amplify every thought toward love of God. For me, my foray into theological studies is but the beginning of simplification. It is learning to take every thought captive to grow more in Christ. May I invite you to do the same in your respective paths as we simplify our lives?

Let me begin by saying a prayer for all of you: I thank God for every remembrance of you, and pray that God will strengthen you more and more to love him and neighbour around you.

Thought: “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:17)


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