Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 27, 2014
What is spiritual growth?
The work I’m doing these days tries to get people talking about spiritual growth as the priority in congregational life, and in the lives of individuals. As I travel around the church and have conversations with folks (which by the way is really interesting work), I ask questions that sound something like this:
- What comes to mind when you think about spiritual growth? How would you define it?
- What has helped you grow spiritually?
- What has gotten in the way?
I hear a variety of answers, and I have my own, which I’ll share shortly. But before you read any further, take a moment to think about those questions. Take three minutes of quiet (a minute per question) and think about how you would answer those questions this Monday morning. If this is not a good time, like you’re reading this on your smartphone while you’re hang-gliding, or multitasking in a meeting when everybody thinks you’re paying attention to the power point presentation, or otherwise distracted, try this exercise later. Give it some time, and if you feel so inclined, send me an email with your thoughts.
(3 minute pause in reading to answer the questions)
Time’s up. I continue…
There are lots of ways to think about the mystery of spiritual growth, none of them exhaustive. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, when talking about the life of the Spirit: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” At its heart, I think spiritual growth is a relational dynamic, a deepening love of God and love of neighbor. This growth is about conversation, listening, seeking, questioning, giving, receiving. It’s about an open heart and spirit, coming to know someone better. It’s about practice, dedication of time and energy to the relationship. It’s about love.
So I channel my inner Tina Turner and ask: What’s love got to do with it? I defer to the gospel reading we heard yesterday in church, from the gospel of Matthew, a story that appears in three of the four gospels. Jesus is put to the test. He is asked what it means to live the spiritual life. Which one of the commandments is the greatest? He responds that the greatest commandment is two-fold, yet inseparable. It has to do with loving God and neighbor. It’s about the practice of shifting the focus from self to the other. That kind of growth comes with spending time. It comes with going through hard times together. It comes with intentionality, or as some call it, discipleship. And it matters.
I spent last week on the road, attending gatherings in both Texas and New York City, both places where the distressing Ebola crisis has been brought home, dominating the news and triggering fears, some more rational than others. That travel involved time in several airports, which have become monuments to insecurity. It made me realize just how fear-based we have all become, given the many challenges we face together, as a global community, as a nation, as a church, in our individual lives. And I thought of the passage from the New Testament which says that perfect love casts out fear, fear and love set in opposition
Our commitment to spiritual growth, deepening of love of God and neighbor, is not something we pursue just to be good religious folk or nice people. It is a way to respond to the fears the threaten to undo us. It works if we work it. So think about your own spiritual path, past moments of discovery and inertia. Ask the Spirit to guide you into deeper growth, as you practice the love to which Jesus calls us, love that casts out fear, love of God, love of neighbor. Find a specific way to grow today.
- Jay Sidebotham
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.