Six GROWTH practices: Go, Read, Obey, Witness, Trust, Humble Yourself
Trust God in a New Venture
Another phrase for Spiritual GROWTH is Spiritual Formation. My focus is on making the basics of such formation as practical as possible.
One way is learning to trust God. Everyday life teaches lessons of trust for believers as they learn to accept what appear to be bad things happening in their lives, their relationships, illnesses, and financial insecurities. They learn new levels of trust. The phrase “Let Go and Let God” is a good summary of the life of faith. Call this passive faith.
Active faith is learning to trust God in a new venture. It’s the kind of trust Abraham, in the Genesis story, had when he heard God’s call to take his only son Isaac up into a mountain to make a sacrifice, only to find out the sacrifice was supposed to be his son. This was the son through whom Abraham was supposed to become the father of the great nation of God’s people. Killing him made absolutely no sense at all, especially given the promise God had early given. Yet, knife in hand, he was ready to do the deed. Having passed the test, Abraham then heard God tell him to halt, and instead, God provided a sacrificial lamb. This is active trust, greater than the passive trust called for in ordinary living.
Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard made Abraham’s test the basis of his most popular book Fear and Trembling. There he gave us the memorable phrase “the leap of faith.”
Martin Luther summarized spiritual formation in the Latin phrase, oratio, meditatio, tentatio—pray, meditate, and be tested. These three elements I summarize in the fundamentals Go to God in prayer and worship, Read God’s Word for you, and Trust God in a new venture.
In recent decades millions of Christians have learned how to know and do God’s will through Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God. He describes realities involved in the process of experiencing God. Recognize that God is at work in your life, and he pursues a love relationship with you. He invites you to join him and speaks to you. Key is a crisis of faith when you realize you cannot do on your own what God is asking, and you realize that if God doesn’t help you will fail. Growth continues through ultimate surrender to God so his will, not mine be done. The seventh reality is that God will never give you an assignment he won’t enable you to complete.
Blackaby’s basic illustration is what he learned through planting a new church. That challenge was a significant component of my personal spiritual life. After meeting with a group of church planters, I was thankful I did not have to take on such a high-risk ministry. I can date two weeks later when that attitude changed (January 12, 1990) and I felt the call to plant a new church back in my hometown of Cleveland. My father had told me about that opportunity. I was teaching a course on church management to pastors, and several came back from the weekend excited about a church plant they had visited. Then and there I knew what I was called to do. It involved a cross-country move with my family. I started with just a handful of people who wanted to help. Many are the times I thought I was facing failure. But God provided opportunities. My successor continued the growth, and a healthy congregation with its own building is the result.
I can cite many instances that made clear this was God’s work, not mine. My relationship with God grew much closer. Elsewhere I describe four stages of spiritual growth. The fourth is Close-to-God Faith. I have had tastes of that.
Over the years I tried many different forms of ministry and outreach. Many did not “work” in terms of attracting enough participants to continue. I found the old salesman’s adage to be true that it takes three contacts to produce one sale. If pastors have not failed in a ministry, they are probably not trying hard enough. Untested, they are probably also not growing much in personal spirituality.
But what if God does not come through with what you think is his part of the deal? The possibility of failure is inherent in hearing a personal call to take a risk. For church planting, this is especially true in mainline churches.
As in any prayer request that God do something specific, we need to allow and accept that this action is not in his plan. When responding to a calling from God, one of the first steps is to seek the wisdom of other experienced believers. Do you have the needed personality? Do the circumstances make sense?
If a calling to test your faith does result in a failure, don’t give up. Try a smaller test. The Christian life is an adventure. See what God has in store for you.