“Spiritual Growth” is a long-used category in my Lutheran experience, at least in the Walther League of my youth. But “Growth in the Spirit” is a totally new category not yet on the radar of most pastors. At least that is my experience in trying to promote “Thriving” or “Growing” in the Spirit.
“Closeness to God” is another new category for traditional churches. But I have discovered that even very traditional believers have little diﬃculty describing their personal spiritual journey in terms of when they were far from God and when they felt close to God. Charting your own spiritual journey was discussed in the previous blog.
Life in the power of the Spirit is an adventure. Trusting God in a new adventure is one of the ways the Spirit grows us. As Paul says, “I planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Look at your life in Christ as a journey beginning at your baptism (in infant-baptizing churches) or your conversion (in believer-baptizing churches).
What discoveries about your relationship with God have you made along the way? Those who experienced a conversion after childhood have a ready-made story. They can tell what they were like before God brought them to faith and then what they have been experiencing since. Born-again stories, told well, can be fascinating. Infant-baptized believers can usually distinguish between their childhood concepts and then their understandings at conﬁrmation. But what their conﬁrmed faith meant then does not matter. What’s important is where that personal faith is now, either on the way toward convict-ed faith or experiencing growth within convicted faith. The real question is what a believer wants the Spirit to do next with their personal faith life.
Share episodes from your personal journey wherever you are right now. You may feel this is awkward. In fact, talking about your faith traditionally was discouraged, especially in the village church environment of previous centuries. The norm then was that you should not draw attention to yourself. The opportunity now is to help someone else who is discouraged or who does not appreciate what God has already done in their lives. Luther placed a high emphasis on “mutual conversation and encouragement of brethren.”
One Journey of Experiencing the Spirit at Work
I have always known Christ, growing up in a parsonage and going through twenty years of Lutheran grade schools, colleges and seminary. I knew a lot about God. I actually was farthest from God when I graduated seminary. Experiencing the Spirit did not begin until my seven years at Fuller Seminary as administrator and faculty. I admired the Pentecostal/charismatic students who made up half the student body in the 80s. There also I learned I could be conservative and still intellectually respectable.
My real growth in the Spirit began when I experienced the call to plant a church in my hometown of Cleveland. That began a new adventure of trust. I became really close to God seven months after starting, when I had to confront the realization that my church plant might fail. Recovering from a viral infection and facing this failure, I had three days of deep discussion with God. That’s when I found out what real prayer is. In God’s providence, that congregation recently built a handsome church building in a prime location and continues to grow.
In my weekly life now, what moves me the most in worship is singing. As Luther famously observed, music is the handmaiden of theology. My Bible reading in the past eight years has focused on understanding how the Spirit works in church life. Much of what keeps me close to God seems to occur when I voluntarily and consciously submit to someone else even though it is not necessary. One morning in January 2018 the idea “popped” into my head to chop up my books into 600-word essays. The idea for Virtual Church Fellowships emerged in a truly Spirit-driven workshop in November 2018. Now I eagerly await to see how the Spirit blesses this adventure.