Though I can’t recall everything that was said with absolute clarity, the conversation still rings in my mind after twenty years. A spiritually mature deacon was speaking with the leader of our church’s drama ministry concerning the idea for an upcoming play. From the deacon’s viewpoint, the issue was clear and the situation dire. We were a church of around 500 people and yet, according to him, only about four or five of us were on fire for the Lord. Though there was a great deal of activity, there didn’t seem to be a push to know God nor a desire to engage in a lifestyle of service to Him for the sake of the Gospel. Consequently, the need for a play and not just any play. We needed something big! Something that would jar us into the kind of Biblical lifestyle we treasured so much in the book of Acts, but seemed so far from our everyday experience.
Why a play, you ask? The answer is simple: The believers in our church, like many, if not most, Bible-believing American Christians, were convinced that spiritual growth was the result unique, special, emotional events. Thus Christian drama, retreats, revivals, conferences and other special events were deemed absolutely necessary for our growth and progress in the faith. How many times have you heard about, read about or been encouraged to attend a conference, retreat or some other special meeting, with the promise that it will be a life changing and transforming event? Somehow, that attending the event (which usually involves some cost) is the key that will lift your life from spiritual doldrums into the exciting adventure that is ‘real Christianity.’
And how many times after attending such an event do you find yourself right back in the same spiritual place as before (only with a bit less money)? Once the excitement wears off, you return from the mountaintop and absent from the gifted speakers, anointed worship leaders, and energy of the crowd, it’s back to life, back to reality. You continue your search for real spiritual growth, but having little or no idea of how to get there, simply wait until the next play, retreat, conference, convention, rally or revival. How did we develop such thinking? That’s a long and somewhat detailed story, and one that, while important, is not the subject of this book. In short, since the Garden of Eden, humanity has always sought a short cut to fully developed spirituality. That reality has been exaggerated by two factors that are magnified by our unique brand of American faith. Firstly, we have a gross misconception of the very idea of spirituality. For most Americans, including Bible-believing Christians, spirituality resembles more of an indefinable state of consciousness that occurs as we access the Divine individually, and which brings us a certain sense of private peace and well being. Secondly, and related to the first, is the belief that God really meets people in private, personal, life-changing encounters. And this is where the focus on special events comes in. For we’re convinced that God not only meets us in these events but in some way He especially meets us within them.
Yet for all of our concerts, plays, revivals, retreats, conventions, conferences, holy convocations, and rallies, many of us are still at the same place we were upon first coming to accept Jesus Christ. Consequently, we’re always on the lookout for the new book, the new fad, the new experience that will finally at long last transform us into the kind of Spirit-filled, on-fire Christian life that we’re convinced is out there but always just beyond our grasp.
If you’re hoping this book will be the key to your entrance into such a life, then let me assure you now that it will not. I did not write this book to give Christians some special secret insight into ‘the victorious life’. Reading this book and even putting its wisdom into practice will not change your life overnight. However, I do believe that this book can begin your lifelong (emphasis on lifelong) journey to vital spiritual fitness. Despite your previous disappointments, you can grow and mature in authentic Biblical spirituality. You can grow in your love, joy and delight in our Lord Jesus Christ. You can mature in Godly, Christlike character and actually see old, ungodly, unfruitful habits drop away while you pick up new, Godly, and fruitful ones. Moreover, you can enjoy a vibrant and meaningful ongoing witness as you see God touch many lives through your service and witness of His Gospel.
How do you get started? To begin with, you will have to let go of any notions or convictions that the only way to grow in Godliness is through special, emotionally saturated experiences. Let me give an analogy. Imagine meeting someone who is obviously suffering from malnourishment. You certainly want to help this person and begin by asking if you could buy them something to eat, and then if possible, help them to secure regular meals. To your great surprise and complete confusion he replies that he’s fine with things just the way they are. In fact, he tells you that in just a few weeks he’s attending a big event where he will have more than enough food to eat and fully intends to have his fill. After speaking a bit more you discover that the ‘event’ to which he’s referring is his family’s annual Thanksgiving Day meal. After further inquiry you find out that he has access to more than enough food for daily regular nourishment. So you ask when was the last time he had a real, healthy, filling meal. With enthusiasm he replies that it was Labor Day. A group of his friends have an annual cookout at which he stuffed himself with hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad, baked beans and the works. Despite this by early November he was clearly malnourished and the effects of his constant lack of regular food were beginning to show.
Finally you ask, “What’s up?” Why does he wait for big events to eat great quantities of food and then practically starves himself for the remainder of the year? He looks at you as if you’ve just beamed in from the Enterprise and says “That’s how everyone grows and develops, isn’t it?” You walk away from one of the strangest conversations you’ve ever had, wondering if this individual needs special care. Now that’s exactly how many believers think and feel about spiritual growth. It’s that view of spiritual growth of which you must let go of if you’re ever going to actually grow and progress in the faith once delivered to the saints.
In place of spectacular event-oriented religion, you must embrace the Biblical truth that God causes His People to grow through the use of seemingly ordinary methods, practiced consistently over a long period of time. Along with that, you may also have to change your definition of what spiritual maturity is and what a growing, spiritual believer looks like. But we’ll get to that later. This book will flow along the following format. First, I’ll define what spiritual health is by examining its essential components. Next, we’ll take a look at the factors that contribute to vital spiritual health. The final section explores the Biblical outcome of vital spiritual health which is a Gospel-driven life.
Oh, and the play. From what I remember it was a hit with our church at the time. And though I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure that a good many of us came forward once more to rededicate our lives to the Lord. We were no doubt sincere in our desire to see God change our hearts, minds, and lives. Did that happen? Not that I can recall. Months or perhaps even weeks after the play things returned to ‘normal’ and as always we awaited the next big thing.