The Three Life-long Stages of Spiritual Development

Part 3 - Responses and Snares Within Each Stage


In my first article on the phases of spiritual growth we looked at each phase itself and in my second article we looked the similarities of each of the phases.  Today were looking at how to respond to each stage and what snares can potentially trip us up.  If you’re just joining I suggest you start from the beginning by clicking here.

Our Response in the Thankfulness Stage

Remember, this is the starting point. The place we first engage grace. The place where God initiates.  In this place we’re rejoicing because the Holy Spirit is doing everything, there are times in this stage things just appear easy, which makes us feel like we’re pretty awesome!

Our response in this stage is to just receive. Our goal is to gobble up as much of the free stuff as we possibly can. We need to take in and exploit everything the Father is offering to us!  Don’t be eager to leave this place.  Certainly don’t rush it. The temptation is to hurry up and exit this phase due to the fact we believe we can conquer the world. Why should the world suffer when there’s such a mighty warrior here to save it? It’s easy to feel that we can save the world when the Holy Spirit is doing everything for us.

Nevertheless, when he delegates a tiny fraction of kingdom responsiblity to us in the next phase, it’s easy to believe the weight of the world is on our shoulders.  So in light of this, don’t be so determined to get into ministry or your personal vision so fast that you jump into problems and spiritual battles you’re not prepared to fight. Just chill out and receive.

Snares in the Thanksgiving Stage

This desire to rush the journey is the first snare that can trip us up in this phase. It’s real easy to pick a fight with a giant, when you’ve never even killed a lion or a bear (1 Samuel 17:36).

The second snare in this phase is falling back into sin. You’re not far from your old lifestyle.  The appetites for sin are still relatively accustomed to being fed.  Old habits are broken, but not forgotten.  This can be compounded by the ease of early grace.  The easiness of it all predispositions us toward pride, and pride greases the stairs for your fall down the staircase (Proverbs 16:18).

The third snare is the Joseph syndrome.  At this early point in the journey, the Father has divinely called you out from among the crowd. The Holy Spirit is hooking you to Your call by giving you an early taste of the things to come. He’s revealing your potential to yourself. You’re tasting the power of your gifts in their future and more mature state. One suffering from the Joseph Syndrome believes they’re so awesome that the sun, moon and stars are ready to bow down to them right now (Genesis 37:9). Lacking the maturity, experience and wisdom of a more seasoned disciple, they show off their pearls of revelation to anyone who will listen (Matthew 7:6).

The problem with the Joseph syndrome is everyone wants to throw them in the pit. Their pride and arrogance, that is hidden from them, is apparent to everyone else. While their older brothers have been baking in the sun watching over the sheep, there’re not quit as entertained by their inexperienced little brother’s self revelations of grandeur, even if they are from God.  If you know a Joseph don’t throw him into the pit. Just be silently content that God’s providence can help him find it himself.

If you’re suffering from the Joseph syndrome, it’s probably impossible for you to see it right now.  However, if you can, just sport your multicolored coat and thankfully know you’re not mature enough to work the fields like your older brothers. Be quietly gratified knowing you’re the Father’s favorite and ponder the word in your heart like Mary; don’t tout it like Joseph.

Our Response in the Praise Phase

In the praise phase you must respond to the Holy Spirit by embracing what he’s giving you. You must embrace the vision, calling and identity he’s placing upon You, while at the same time accepting the responsibility that accompanies these things.  In this stage you’re learning to be a manager in God’s kingdom. You’re growing into a person that’s co-laboring and co-reigning with him. You embrace the call along with the heavy responsibility that comes with it.  You are offering the sacrifice of praise, but also releasing the shout of praise in times of victory.

The Snares in the Praise Phase

The snares in this phase of your life-long journey are disillusionment and discouragement. We get disillusioned with God, with people, with other disciples, with leaders and the church as a whole. None of the above act in a way that is consistent with our expectations. They certainly don’t align with our assumptions of what “should be.”

Nevertheless, the redemptive potential of this place is powerful.  This is the place of character formation.  Though at times fruitful, it can be mundane. As we press through this stage we learn the value of friendship with God solely for the sake of the relationship.  He totally breaks us of seeking him for the purpose of seeing our dreams come true. We learn to seek him for the purpose of knowing him. Whether in success or failure, he becomes our prize apart from our circumstances. Many times as we remain faithful, vision fulfillment occurs in this season, but this is not guaranteed.

If you find yourself in this place, press though discouragement and disillusionment.  Don’t drop out of the race.  Don’t settle for being a good citizen, be a kingdom warrior that fights until victory is secured or until you die trying.

Our Response in the Friendship With God Phase

The third and final phase is the place of mutual friendship with God. In this place Father, Son and Holy Spirit is your best friend, which may have been true through all the phases, but now you have the maturity, experience and enough history together to be his friend as well.  Your response in this place is to choose to sit at his feet. Your focus is now interaction within his presence, not the vision or the call. Success or failure is irrelevant. He is the prize.  Knowing him with clarity and mutual transparency is the goal.

Snares in the Friendship with God Phase

The snares one faces in this stage is dependent on how things faired in phase two.  If one doesn’t believe they fulfilled their calling, as they interpreted it, there is a temptation to fall into bitterness, to live in a place of perpetual grieving and inferiority due to the fact that they didn’t reach their goals.  The people who have fallen into this trap rarely desire to press into his presence.  They feel betrayed by him.

If this is you, you must embrace the kingdom reality that you’re “being calling” trumps your “doing calling.”  You must embrace this passionately or you’re in danger of missing your whole life purpose.  Your purpose is not to be a machine that produces results, but to be a person that knows him. Remember this! The greatest commandments reap the greatest eternal rewards. The greatest command is to love him, so give yourself to his feet and let eternity pick the winners and losers.  If you choose his feet, then eternity will prove you wise.

The second snare in this place is wrongfully choosing more success over the humility of being at his feet. Maybe phase two was really good to you.  Whether by the sovereignty of God or by the wise use of your talents you bore much fruit. If this is you, there’s a danger of becoming success greedy. It’s hard to transition from being the visible head into moving to his invisible feet.  Even if you choose more success, then you must be aware in the economy of God’s kingdom, you’re not eating at the head table, but your eating at a buffet of lesser servants.

Unfortunately, many people who choose more success don’t attain it. Many times people overstay. How many people do you know that the business they own or the church they pastor would be much stronger if they retired three years earlier?  They can’t seem to let go. They don’t realize their time is up.

If this is you, then you must choose the humility of sitting at his feet. Your experience, counsel and consultation will be so much more valuable if you end on a strong note, especially if you offer this from a place of friendship with God.  Don’t be deceived into believing your value to the kingdom is based on your results for the kingdom. Your value to the kingdom is based on who you have become and the depth of your relationship with the Holy Spirit. As your physical strength diminishes and you find yourself unable to maintain the pace you’ve engaged in the past, then this provides the greatest opportunity of your life up until this point.  You now have the opportunity to deepen your friendship with the Father by drawing on a rich history lived with him.

No matter where you are on this journey, make a point to run to the end.  God speed my friends.

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The Three Life-long Stages of Spiritual Development

Reflections on Psalm 100 ~ Part 2

In my last article we discussed the three stages of spiritual development that occur over the course of ones lifetime.  If you haven’t read that article, then you’ll need to click here. My goal for this article was to examine how to respond to God and life in each stage of development as well as examine some snares that can trip us up in each of these stages as we journey into our calling, but that is not going to happen today. I got a little side tracked. So look for that in my next article.

In this article I want to state a few observations about the similarities within each stage of spiritual formation along with some responses that need to be embraced during them. So let’s get started.

1. Embrace where you are.

No matter what phase of spiritual development you’re in, you need to embrace where you are. For example, if your in stage 2, and the Holy Spirit is pressing vision into your spirit and mind the natural by product will be a longing to see that vision fulfilled.  In many cases, depending on your personality type, there will also be a correlating drive to accomplish and excel.  This vision and this drive is birthed by the Holy Spirit, don’t buck it.  Embrace it. You understand the goal of stage three is intimacy and deep mutual friendship with God, but one can’t skip to stage three. I’m also not saying a person can’t have an intimate relationship with God in this stage, but what I am saying is if God is filling you with vision, then act on your vision. If you’re in stage one, then know that things are easy right now and rejoice in that. Don’t feel guilty, there will be plenty of trouble waiting on you in phase two. No matter where you are, embrace where you’re at.

2. Lengthen and Deepen Your Vision.

You also need to be aware this will require resolve over the long haul.  Most people drop out of the race because their vision never extended beyond the next curve. When we talk about stages and phases of spiritual development we’re not talking about months and years. Where talking about a minimum of decade in each stage and sometimes three to four decades depending on how long you live. The greater the ambition to leap ahead, generally results in longer delays. Believe me, I am painfully aware of this reality.

You must understand that you’re setting your vision for the course of a lifetime.  Who do you want to be in the Lord, when your eighty and ninety? What legacy do You long to leave behind when your lying on your deathbed? Who do you want to be in heaven?  What eternal rewards do you long to accumulate?  Most leaders excel at expanding the width of their vision, but most leaders don’t excel at expanding the depth and length of their vision. You must do this.

3.  Understand your “being calling” trumps your “doing calling.”

You also must keep in mind, especially if you’re a reader from the Western World, that ultimately the callings on our life is not what God has called us to do, but it’s what God has called you to be.  There is a “doing” piece of the puzzle, but the thrust of the work of the Holy Spirit is focused on what God has called you to become.  I know it’s not what we want, but it is the absolute truth.  If this is the truth, then we might as well cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We are called to be like Christ. We were expected to reflect his image from the beginning. You must remember the Father revealed himself as the great I AM, not the great I Do.  Assignments are important, but you must understand the call “to be” trumps the call “to do.”

Actions are important, but God is looking for actions that are aligned with who we are.  It takes a long time to discover our identity and accept who we’re to become, then it takes the rest of our life to align who we are with the words we speak and the actions we take. The Holy Spirit is developing you to such a degree that everything that flows from You, flows from the essence of your being. The Holy Spirit is perfecting the congruency that flows from your life. It’s easy to get pulled into the paradigm trap of success and failure thinking, especially if you view your calling in terms of successful actions and results. Understanding your “being calling” does lessen the sting of apparent failure, but it doesn’t eliminate it. So in times of success or failure, zero in on who has God called you to become.

4. Each phase has seasons within it.

We also must understand that each phase of spiritual development also has rotating seasons within that phase.  So it’s possible to be in the “thankfulness stage” and have a winter of the soul. It’s also possible to be in the “Friendship phase” and have a season of Spring where we’re tilling the soil for a new endeavor. But one must understand that just as the seasons change during the calendar year, the seasons change within our phases of spiritual formation.  No matter where you are on your journey there will be: Springs where you’re sowing into vision and dreams; Summers of fun, labor and gathering fruit and produce; Autumns of abundant harvest; and winters of depression and cold.  We’re not promised a continual summer until heaven, where the trees produce fruit twelve months of the year. Whatever season you’re in just know it will change, it’s the nature of living on this side of eternity.

I promise in my next article in this series I’ll talk about how to respond to God in each stage of development and we’ll examine some snares that can trip us up in each stage as we journey into our calling.

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The Three Life-long Stages of Spiritual Development

Reflections on Psalm 100

This evening as I was reflecting on Psalm 100, particularly verses 4 and 5, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”  it began to occur to me that this is more than just a progression of worship.  This also maps out our lifelong relational development with the Father over the stages of our life.

These verses outline the attitude of the Jewish worshipper on pilgrimage to the temple. As the spiritual sojourners approached their destination they were to proceed with an attitude of joyful adoration, but as they actually entered through the southern, northern or eastern gate, they were to enter with words of thanksgiving.  Bringing their sacrifice with them, they were to enter the outer and inner courts declaring his praise. No commoner could enter the sanctuary or the Holy of Holies. Let’s imagine this pilgrimage was for the day of atonement. These worshippers were coming to sacrifice and gather for the sacred assembly at the temple, and the high priest would proceed through the sanctuary and into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 23:27, Numbers 29:7). That day the high priest would complete the logical progression all the way into the secret place. They would come into the presence of God.

Now because of Jesus we know we can now enter into the Holy of Holies.  The veil has been torn.  We have access to God. Because of the work of Jesus we can complete the logical progression of Psalm 100. When we complete this progression it is not just lived out in our private seeking or in our corporate worship, but in the stages of our life.

Stage # 1:  The Thanksgiving Stage

The first stage of development in our connection with the Father is marked by the Thanksgiving. This is the phase of receiving of the goodness of God. In this time we receive salvation, forgiveness, justification, and propitiation. In addition to this, hopefully we receive discipleship from the church or from other brothers and sisters in Christ.  As our repentance begins to bear fruit we find coming into his presence easy. Just the mention of Jesus and we have goose bumps up our arms. We’re not jaded by issues in the church or other conflicts. We are receiving of the Holy Spirit, and we were not really investing anything, and what we do invest feels like a joy. In this first stage the Holy Spirit is doing everything and we’re doing nothing and the only logical response is saying, “thank you.” In this first stage we live in thankfulness.  We are entering into the gates of the kingdom with Thanksgiving.  The Holy Spirit seeks to develop our faith, teach us to govern and to have ownership in the kingdom, thus when he feels that we are ready he moves us on the next phase.

Stage # 2: The Praise Phase

The next phase is marked by praise.  In this phase of development the Holy Spirit is teaching us to co-labor with him.  We’re no longer being led by goose bumps, but we’re acting in faith. We’re investing in his kingdom and bearing fruit. Many times because he’s teaching us to rule and govern in his kingdom we will have to work through relational conflict, messy situations in the church, difficulty and disappointment.  Our ideals fade away and there’s a realty check of what is; ironically, at the same time vision is filling our mind and our gifting is beginning to emerge and to be refined.

It’s at this stage many people will begin to drop their relationship with God. Many are discouraged by difficulty, church issues and unfulfilled visions. Even if they don’t give up on God, they give up on the church. They hop on the conference circuit and keep church issues at arms length. Others hit cruise control, stay with it, but become negative and toxic. Others find themselves as pastors and leaders and feel called to sell insurance. Yet there’s a small majority of people who, through submission to the word of God and the Holy Spirit, learn how to co-labor with Jesus. They take ownership of problems within the church, they learn to navigate conflict, endure disappointment, submit when they don’t agree.  Through the school of Christ they learn to be happy warriors through the good, the bad and the ugly. They understand this is the price of co-laboring and being a co-heir. They understand they’re governors in the kingdom, and governors don’t run from problems, they fix them.  They’re not shocked at difficulty, they understand they’re called to solve problems, and without problems they can’t fulfill their calling. As they endure through this phase of spiritual development and training, they’ll see vision refinement and fulfillment, but more importantly they’ll see their faith come to full harvest.

So why is this stage marked by praise?  First, you’ll learn the sacrifice of praise.  When you’re working on staff and the pastor says, “I appreciate your idea, but we’re doing it this way.”  Are you going to praise him?  When you don’t feel anything at church, are you going to praise him?  When your prayers are unanswered, are you going to praise him?  When your vision dies, are you going to praise him?  When Christians don’t act like Christians, are you going to praise him?  When pastors don’t act like Christians, are you going to praise him? When you’re hit with one problem after another, are you going to praise him? When your calling feels like labor, are you going to praise him?  When you’re hit by unexpected loss are you going to praise him?  When half the church walks out, are you going to praise him? The only way you’re going to make it through this stage without becoming critical, negative, wounded, bitter and toxic is to praise him through every situation.  In phase two we also learn the sacrifice of praise in an experiential way.

The second reason this season is marked by praise is vision fulfillment. This is usually on the back end of the phase, but God in His graciousness sprinkles victories all through it. Once you have maintained your attitude and developed a more well rounded Christ-likeness, you’re primed for vision fulfillment. Your faith has endured the test and your investment is beginning to pay off.  Now, equipped with a mature faith coupled with refined skills in co-laboring, the fruit of your vision is beginning to come forward.  Your acts of faith are powerful and effective. You’ve been trained by the desert.

At this point, every hard fought miracle is especially joyful and completely praise-filled. Victories roll in and praise explodes.   Where pride would have taken root in your heart with such consistent victories, you now easily give God glory. God’s formation of your inner man is solid. You are now a co-laboring governor in the kingdom that has a developed faith in his power and a heart set on his goodness and none of these rise or fall in correlation to your circumstances. You’re ready to reap your harvest, and you’re singing his praise whiles you’re swinging your sickle. Your singing, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever.”

Stage # 3 -The Friendship with God Phase

Vision fulfillment is sweet, but the joys of success doesn’t last long.  You combine with the reality you don’t have the energy you once had.  You can’t work like you used to.  You’re no longer have anything to prove, and success doesn’t just satisfy. At this point some people find a new mountain, but a few others find the God of the mountains.  At this point ambition shifts from vision, fruit and success to coming into the Holy of Holies.  They understand their only satisfaction comes from sitting at his feet.

Our goal is to rest at his feet.  Our efforts have killed Martha, now we’re ready to be Mary. Our inner striving is over.  We’re resting in his grace, but also from our labor.  Now we’re just sitting at his feet.

At this place in our journey our moments of intimacy with the Holy Spirit and our diverse shared history with Father, Son and Holy Spirit converge into an intimate friendship with God.  We may have been intimate with God over our entire spiritual life, but there is now a prominent place for this intimacy that is free from ambition. When this is paired with a life long shared history with God then true relational friendship is birthed.  It’s at this point we become friends with God like Abraham was. In the previous stage we have too much energy, zeal and God-given ambition but in this stage those seeds have play out.  The harvest has come.  It has been reaped, harvested and stored. What we’re left with is what’s truly valuable. At this point we have decades of shared history with God.  “Lord, do you remember when we were facing this?” Friendship, intimacy, sitting at his feet, entering the Holy of Holies becomes the place of prominence in our life.  This is the goal.  We enter his courts so we can end up in his presence.

If we stay the course we will sing, his faithfulness continues through all generations.  Friendship with God ensures our legacy.  At the end of the second phase and at the beginning of the third phase we become more concerned about the generations.  You want to leave a legacy that lasts.  The problem is everything we’ve built in the second phase is not secure, but it begins to solidify as we spend time in his presence. Legacy is supernaturally sustained.  Look at Abraham!  Outside his relationship with God his only accomplishments in life involve moving, having a son and running a good herdsman business, and he couldn’t even have a son without God.  Yet his legacy is profound. Almost everyone in the world knows who Abraham is.  Why? Because Abraham was about friendship with God, and because of that friendship God supernaturally sustained his legacy. The reality is God valued their talks under the stars at night more than sacrificial labor and work done in his name.  So if you want a legacy, choose your secret place and develop a friendship with God.  Also keep in mind, Abraham developed this love for the secret place between the ages of 80 and 120, it was during his third phase of Life.  Abraham made the right choices in each stage of his life and secured a legacy for eternity.

So work your way through the temple in each stage of life and end up in the secret place.

In my next blog we will look at how we need to respond to what phase we are in.  So keep a lookout for that one.