Seasons of the Spiritual Life

This is a guest post by Pastor Dennis Sharp.  Pastor “Den” as we call him locally is a seasoned veteran of the crazy ride we call the Christian walk.  His insights, teachings, and life testimony have proved invaluable to me and many others.  I am honored and pleased to present a teaching that I requested.  Pastor Den was gracious enough to take the time to prepare this message especially for my readers.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Pastor Dennis Sharp is the pastor of Family Life Worship Center in Knoxville, TN and is a dear friend, mentor, and teacher of mine.

From the time my son was just a little fellow, up through his freshman year in high school, it was very predictable where you would find us: whatever sport was in season, that’s where we’d be! We played/coached whatever was in season: football, basketball, baseball and we did speed, strength and agility training between team sports. As his coach I would sometimes motivate him to work hard, even if a particular season wasn’t going so well, by reminding him that this was also to prepare him for the next season. “The harder you train now, the easier it will be when we get to camp this Fall.” We learned together that one season leads into another and the more you prepare in one season, the more likely you are to have success in the next. Each season should actually build on the previous one.

There are seasons in life just like there are seasons in a year. (or a cyclical youth sports calendar) Each season leads into the next and things happen in one season that facilitate other things happening in the next. For example, the chill of winter enables the fruit trees to be able to bloom and ultimately to bear fruit. If you don’t have adequate chill time the whole process gets short circuited. Life is the same way. Each season of your life is preparation for the next season. There are certain things that need to happen in early childhood, language for example, or it’s going to be very difficult for those things to ever take place. I am not saying it can’t happen, but I am saying it becomes much more difficult. If you fail to prepare in one season for the events of the next season, you are already behind when you get there. If you don’t pay attention in math class, it’s a pretty good bet that without remedial training you’re not going to be an engineer! (Unless you happen to savant, lots of luck if that’s your plan!) You spend so much time trying to catch up that you fail to do what’s needed in the present season. And you don’t get to call “Time Out” in real life. Life will keep right on moving, even when you feel overwhelmed by the season that you’re in. Eventually you can get so far behind that circumstances begin to dictate life to you. You come to feel that you have few, if any, choices. The vast preponderance of people in our culture come to live that way. They work a job that they sort of fell into, not the one they had dreamed of. (I have known degreed electrical engineers working as electronic technicians because they had fallen behind in the seasons of life) As a marriage counselor, I see couples all the time that have a marriage and a family, but it’s far from a fairy tale ending. Instead of preparing during each season (including preparing to be married), these people have just been pushed along by the ebb and flow of life and wake up one morning married with kids, no idea how they got there! How equipped are these people for their present season of life? What kind of spouses are they? What kind of parents are they able to be? By the grace of God some are actually doing pretty well (God is always in the business of redemption), but things could have been so much easier if they had known to prepare for this season of life during the previous season. By the way, that’s one among many reasons that I prefer to do pre-marital counseling to doing intervention counseling. Preparing “wannabe married folks” is so much easier and productive than repairing folks that just sort of stumbled into being married!

Our spiritual life is analogous to our physical life in that there are seasons to our spiritual life as well. Obviously, there has to be a beginning. There is a time or a season of being a spiritual baby. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). There’s nothing wrong with being a spiritual baby when you really are a newborn baby in Christ. It ought to be a wonderful time of innocence and exploration. There’s the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and you are filled with the excitement of “first love.” Don’t make the mistake of getting in too big of a hurry to grow up, take time to enjoy the season, learn the lessons of the season, childhood is a gift from God. It is perfectly normal for a new baby to crave pure spiritual milk, but it needs to be “so that … you may grow.” Unfortunately, many people get stuck in this stage and never seem to progress very far at all … perpetual spiritual juvenile delinquents as it were. “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14). Did you take note that the writer of Hebrews has an expectation that all mature Christians “ought to be teachers.” This is not the office of the teacher, they incur a stricter judgment, but the normal responsibility of all disciples. Didn’t Jesus say, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”? (Matthew 28:19-20 emphasis mine). What had Jesus just commanded them to do? To go and make disciples! What are disciples suppose to do? Everything He had commanded them (the original disciples) and that includes “go and make disciples … teaching them”! The normal progression in the spiritual life is that when you are mature you should be making disciples and teaching them. How are you going to do that if you’ve failed to prepare?

Now here’s the real rub, it works in our spiritual life the same way as it does in our physical life – if we’ve failed to prepare for the next stage we are behind. Once we get behind we can reach a point where we’re so far behind that circumstances begin to dictate life in the spirit to us as well. We are not prepared for the works of service that God has for us to do. Think you don’t need to prepare for works of service in the Kingdom? Why then did Yahweh spend 80 years preparing Moses to lead Israel, or nearly all of Joshua’s life preparing him to replace Moses? Help me understand then why Christ, when He ascended “gave gifts to men … some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4 emphasis mine). What does Peter have in mind when he exhorts his readers: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 emphasis mine)? I have met way too many Christians that seem content to remain spiritual babies. That is NOT the Lord’s will for your life! That is NOT the normal progression in the spiritual life. I have met many Christians that are frustrated with their “place of service” in the church, but who have never submitted to the discipline and hard work to prepare for promotion in the Kingdom. Might I offer this small piece of unsolicited advise?

First, if you are new to the Kingdom, just a babe in Christ, “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow.” You need to be fed and trained in the spiritual disciplines. You need the protection and oversight of a spiritual parent. Don’t get into too big of a rush to be mature. It takes time to develop in the spirit, the same as it takes time to develop physically. God is at work in your life in ways that you may not even be aware of. Enjoy this season. Get in a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church. If you don’t have a church, pray and ask God to lead you to the church He has for you. Read the Bible daily on your own. There are things in Scripture that you will not initially understand, that’s ok, stay reading and make a list of the questions you have regarding the Scripture. Most mentors and pastors will be thrilled to discuss those questions with you. Choose to be submitted and available to a godly mentor in the faith, perhaps the same person that lead you to faith in Christ. In a safe place, like with your mentor and then with close Christian friends, practice sharing your story of coming to Christ. Practice praying regularly and don’t worry that you don’t know how. Just talk to your Father, He loves you and wants to hear from you. It’s ok if it doesn’t sound quite like the leading men at church praying. Give yourself to God in worship, both corporately (in the church) and alone. Focus daily on Him. Some folks keep a diary of the things the Lord speaks to them in prayer, during worship or during their time of meditating on Him. It’s ok, even to be expected, if you don’t hear clearly from the Lord at first. Thinking of this as practicing righteousness. If you mess up (we all sin) then immediately repent and ask the Lord to cleanse you and He has promised that He will! Don’t practice sin; instead practice righteousness. You’ll get better at what you choose to practice.

Second, if you have been a Christian for some time but find yourself being dictated to by the circumstances in your spiritual life because you have failed to adequately prepare yourself for works of service, then make the needed changes in your life. It’s never to late to win! God is willing and able, even excited, to see you restored to being fully functional in the Kingdom. Start by honestly examining yourself and then repenting. Ask God to forgive you for the lost or wasted time. If that advise offends you then you REALLY needed to hear it. You may have to go back and learn the fundamentals. (you can’t routinely turn a double play if you haven’t yet learned to cleaning catch and throw) Remember what the writer of Hebrews said to his readers? “You need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” There aren’t any shortcut here. Go back and get grounded in the Word and begin to learn to “eat solid food” after you have trained yourself to digest the milk of the Word. You need to be sure that you are in a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church that challenges you to live out your faith; not just some place that your are comfortable with or that “meets your needs.” Being a disciple is not about having your needs met but about you pouring out your life for the Kingdom. If you’re behind at this point in your spiritual life, it’s time to do some serious catching up, not feeling sorry for yourself. You need to act now to prepare for the next season. When you reach the final season of your life you want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

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