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.