Over my years of membership in the American Psychological Association, I watched my division of industrial and organizational psychology spin oﬀ a new specialty called sports psychology. Those psychologists focus on helping athletes to reach peak performance. They explore mental practices that allow an athlete to squeeze out a little more speed or increase endurance by a few minutes.
The early Christian church had its version of top athletes, superior practitioners of Christian spirituality. After Christianity was absorbed into the Roman Empire, many new members had questionable motivations. Those who considered themselves real Christians sought a way to show commitment.
You have to understand the setting. Christians at the turn into the fourth century experienced the worst persecution in the ﬁrst two-and-a-half centuries of Christian history. Of those martyrs not cruelly put to death, many walked around with missing limbs or bore bodily evidence of the consequences for not recognizing the emperor as a “son of God,” the title ﬁrst given to Caesar Augustus by the Roman Senate. Such martyrdom for the cause impressed many observers and contributed to the explosive growth of Christianity in the fourth century.
With that option gone after Christianity was legitimatized, some believers sought other ways to demonstrate “peak performance.” They went out into the desert to live as hermits. Bishop Athanasius, for whom the Athanasian Creed was named, wrote the biography of Antony of Egypt, the hermit who ﬁrst gained public recognition. Antony’s story inspired many others who became hermits to be closer to God.
In medieval times, the monks and clergy were recognized as closer to God than everyone else, the commoners. Luther and Calvin recovered Paul’s teaching that all are ministers. Getting closer to God is an opportunity open to all believers, whether or not they pursue it.
I share this historical observation to raise the question: where do we ﬁnd Christians seeking to be “closer to God” today?
Unlike superior athletes today who crave attention and bragging rights (as well as higher pay), the peak performance of believers is only possible through a humbling experience. On their own, believers will never experience peak-satisfying levels of love, joy, and peace. That level only happens to believers when the Spirit enters and changes their hearts. The Spirit has to move us to more comprehensive love, joy and peace—closer to God.
Christians who function at the Close-to-God stage draw little attention to themselves. By deﬁnition, they are humble. Some will become leaders, if they sense a calling to that role. Believers are eager to follow a truly Spiritual leader and are willing to work around his weaknesses.
Like a sports psychologist, I can give advice on practices that will more readily bring about Stage 4 Close-to-God faith. These disciplines have been known through centuries of church life. I have summarized them in the six practices for GROWTH in the Spirit: Go to God in worship and prayer, Receive God’s word for you, Opt for self-denial, give Witness to your experiences, Trust God in a new venture, and Humble yourself before God.
Recognize that most of the growth in our spirituality is driven by the Holy Spirit. What we can do humanly is keep ourselves where the Spir-it can most readily work in us, that is, in his workplace of believers gathered around the word.
Like short Zacchaeus, we can ﬁguratively climb a sycamore tree so we can better recognize the Spirit and then keep ourselves where he can work on us. Like Jesus who spotted Zacchaeus up in the tree and invited him down for a time of meal-fellowship, we can let the Spirit draw us into closer fellowship—the Spirit sent by the Father and Son to be their advocate for more godly and abundant living here and now.
Would you like to grow closer to God?
David Bahn says
Excellent observations! Thanks for sharing. I especially love the idea that “the peak performance of believers is only possible through a humbling experience. On their own, believers will never experience peak-satisfying levels of love, joy, and peace.” Yes indeed. Well said.
David Luecke says
Thanks, Dave. I just read a book called the J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller. It was a clear statement that before you can move up closer to God, you have to first go down in humility over something that happens to you. I think Walther was trying to say that when he put such an emphasis on repentance.
Lee Larsen says
Unfortunately in America and in many other places in the world these days life is very good, too good you might say. We are very busy working as well as playing hard. Life isn’t hanging precariously in the balance like it is in much of developing countries. We expect to live a long life and enjoy many comforts along the way. It isn’t until we grow older or are faced with a crisis that we search for answers to why this is happening. Through this urgency we seek help from the spiritual realm. These days that can mean a wide variety of things, thus the reason why we need to be actively sharing and inviting others to come to the cross of Jesus.
I know I have shared this many times over, but I can’t say it enough, the best way to draw closer to the Lord is to open your heart & mind to Him and freely let Him use you to do His will. This is best accomplished through simple surprising acts of kindness performed for anyone that His Spirit sends your way. The simple but practical gift or free helpful service rendered makes interacting with people you do not know so much easier. They want what your giving away! They just do not realize that they will soon come to know that it is Jesus that is reaching out to them in this unusual way at this unusual time & place! (Some busy public place in your community). The Connect Card that is shared does the heavy lifting. It is what does the connecting to the love & grace of Jesus. It also serves as a warm invite to come to your church/school/youth activity and so on where they are most welcome and can learn more about Jesus.
It is when you love on everyday people, some maybe with apparent physical needs but most looking like they are doing great, that is until the Holy Spirit comes over them. Immediate transformations can take place and you will witness the outpouring of their heart as they share of an in the moment crisis they are in the midst of. These moments will happen with precision timing leaving you with absolutely no doubt as to His divine presence. It is these unforgettable moments that serve to bring Jesus to life, to know that He is indeed right there beside us and in us doing miracles each and every day. We have been performing monthly PACK events in our community for over 25 years. PACK is now at work in 112 countries around the world. Please join with us so you may experience the faith & Kingdom building aspects of PACK in your church and in your community! God bless!
David Luecke says
Thanks for sharing. Yes, the reaction of those receiving help in the name of Christ can be awesome examples of the Spirit at work.
With all the craziness of today’s society, it is difficult to feel spiritual at times. Even church has this sense of controlled worship instead of a feeling of spontaneity. I find I teach my peak of spiritual closeness in two ways. One is lying in my bed at night with total darkness. There is nothing to take my mind off those moments of spiritual closeness. The second is nature. I can be walking or even while sitting in the car and watching the beauty of nature go by. Nature offers its own silence and wonder that refreshed the spirit. Those are my peak moments with god.
David Luecke says
Thanks for sharing. You clearly have the temperament of a naturalist, feeling close to God in nature. I remember your experience of God that happened in a worship service on the roof of a building when an airplane flew over making tremendous noise. It was a moment of awe for you.
Phil Esala says
Words create worlds. How we think about something in words has impact. Is it possible that we can misunderstand “growing closer to God”? You write, “That level only happens to believers when the Spirit enters and changes their hearts.” But the Holy Spirit dwells in believers. The Holy Spirit has already entered me. The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave me so that the Holy Spirit must again enter me to change my heart. Oh, how true it is that I don’t always recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in me! My sinful selfishness gets in the way and I so often and so readily look to myself for answers and for direction, not to the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. I have come to question whether it is helpful for me to ask the Holy Spirit to come to me, to “fall afresh on me.” That seems to imply that it’s the Holy Spirit who needs to “come back” to me, when indeed the problem is not with the Holy Spirit. The problem is me. I believe that the Holy Spirit changes my heart. But the Holy Spirit already dwells in me–fully, completely. That being said, your main point today is well taken. Humbling experiences are vital. I need humbling. My ego usually does not like humbling experiences. My ego doesn’t like to be humbled. But I need those humbling experiences. When I receive them, I am blessed. I pray that I more quickly recognize the value and importance of the humbling experiences, and appreciate that the Holy Spirit dwelling in me is blessing me through those experiences. Thanks for reminding me how I need humbling. That reminder is good for me. The Holy Spirit dwelling in me is teaching me that.
Bob Leech says
The main thing I believe that daily i ask the Holy Spirit enter me & lead me to help others on their road to Heaven!.