From Spiritual Mountaintop to Spiritual Wilderness

original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc
original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc

Dramatic. Powerful. Intense. All are words that I would use to describe the weeks following my conversion to Christianity. Surrendering my life to Christ was without question a calculated decision; I was not crying out to God in a moment of crisis. Still, I was a broken person and the Holy Spirit moved dramatically to meet my need.

On one particular evening, while studying for a physics final, I saw two visions that I inherently understood to be from God. I’ll not go into detail, but one of the visions provided a future image of a successful ministry. I was at the top of the world! Not only had the Creator of the Universe lovingly plucked me from the depths of sin, He had visibly shown me a hope-filled future.

Not long after that glorious season, I found myself painfully trudging through the trenches of life; that mountaintop experience felt like nothing more than a blurred memory. My challenges were so difficult and my struggles so deep that I questioned whether any of the good experiences had ever even happened. Worse yet, my expected road to Christian ministry turned in a most unwanted direction, apparently leading away from—instead of toward—the vision God had given me.

Fast forward over thirty-three years. I’m still walking with God and am now involved with “full-time” Christian ministry. As of today, I still have not seen the complete fulfillment of the vision God gave during my college years, but at least the path of my life has turned back in what I would consider to be the “right” direction. For me, the call of God continues to be very much a faith walk, but I can now see its fulfillment through the eye of faith. That’s a lot more than I can say for the long, dark portion of wilderness territory that I once traversed.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read via photopin cc

I wish I could say that my experience is unique—that I stand alone amongst all the men and women of God who have gone before me. I cannot say that. What happened—and continues to happen—to me is part of a pattern frequently used by God. Mountaintop vision to desolate wilderness to fulfillment of the vision—that’s the way the pattern works. Or at least the way it is supposed to work. Sadly, not everyone emerges from a wilderness season as a spiritual champion for Christ. Indeed, many go to their graves mired in the bitter-tasting muck of unbelief—as typified by an entire generation of ancient Israelites who perished in the Judean wilderness.

Often, it’s very difficult to explain why a wilderness season came to be. Sometimes God is clearly the author; other times He seems to have little to do with the situation. But regardless of how our time of spiritual dryness and isolation came to be, the manner of overcoming is always the same: we emerge as champions by responding to negative circumstances in a manner that honors God.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc

Our heavenly Father always has the best interests of His beloved children at heart, but there is something that He has sought after since the creation of the human race: our fruitfulness (Genesis 1:26-28; John 15:8). The Creator of the Universe passionately desires to see us bear the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to see that fruit multiplied in the lives of those we serve. This is really what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is about. A spiritual wilderness experience can reflect the glory of God as He mystically brings the fruitful out of the barren, or it can reflect the sinfulness of humankind as we spiral downward in cynicism and unbelief. The choice, my friends, is ours.

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which will soon be available for sale. Also, when our new SfMe Media website is complete, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)


The Essence Is the Mechanism

Caricature from The Hornet magazine, March 22, 1871

It’s common knowledge that Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species was a game changer. Interestingly enough, Darwin’s theory was heavily laden with speculation based on real observation, but lacking any type of significant scientific experimentation. Still, Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the opportunity secular scientists longed for, providing an intellectually plausible mechanism by which naturalistic evolution could possibly take place.

A scientific focus on key mechanisms often leads to a clearer understanding of how this world might actually function. A vital mechanism we all learned about in our early science classes was  photosynthesis–the process by which a plant can process water, nutrients in dirt, carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow; even to the point of producing fruit. Without the essential mechanism of photosynthesis none of us would be alive because we’d have nothing to eat.

Personally, I don’t buy into Darwin’s theory and I don’t generally spend a lot of time thinking about photosynthesis, but those are not the primary issues at hand. Rather, I’m trying to illustrate that in order for growth to take place, there must be a mechanism of transformation—some type of repeatable process that produces real and specific change. (I know some of this may sound terribly technical, but you won’t be disappointed if you bear with me.)

I’ve spent much of my Christian life seeking to understand the mechanism for spiritual growth in the life of a believer. How do we help someone who becomes a child of God to actually grow into a spiritually mature disciple of Christ? (For anyone involved in Christian leadership, this is probably the primary issue of our day). Our initial response might be that we need to get people reading the Word and praying and involved with Christian fellowship. But I would say those are the nutrients of the Christian faith and not the mechanism by which transformation takes place.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that The Essence Is the Mechanism. If you remember my previous post, The Essence of Christianity is “faith working through love.” Allow me to explain how I think this all works. Although I’ve used some scientific jargon to this point, the mechanism for spiritual growth is really quite simple.

Diagram by At09kg - CC BY-SA 3.0

Biblical faith is the primary means through which we abide in God’s grace. A person abiding and abounding in grace is like a well-tended garden with life breaking out everywhere.

Think about a fruit tree. That tree has so much life that it produces sweet and succulent fruit as a byproduct. There’s no straining or struggling—the tree simply draws in nutrients and the mechanism of photosynthesis does the rest.

Reading and studying the Bible, praying and genuinely connecting with other believers all serve as nutrients that help to nurture our faith, enabling us to continually abide in the Holy Spirit’s life giving grace. The result is the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives, especially the fruit of love.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB)

The mechanism for Christian growth is really that simple! Living by faith amounts to abiding in grace. Giving practical expression to our growing love for God (and others) releases yet more grace and perpetuates a cycle of consistent growth with spiritual maturity (and reproduction) as the end product.

Now some readers may be thinking that personal spiritual growth really is not that simple and I might agree to a point. But what’s actually complicated for us is learning how to continually abide in God’s grace—not the mechanism for transformation itself. If we can get this figured out, it will be a game changer for sure!

Implications – Part II

Potluck Photo by scottfieldstein - CC By 2.0

Much has been made over the years of the Greek word koinōnía – a word most often translated as fellowship in the New Testament.

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship (koinōnía) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinōnía) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:7 (NASB)

Koinōnía has multiple dimensions that all converge for us into a common theme – the shared lifestyle of fellowship, giving and devotion of those voluntarily bound together through the New Covenant in Christ. A sense of the depth of this word is found through the celebration of communion—our ongoing covenant meal.

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing (koinōnía) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing (koinōnía) in the body of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:16 (NASB)

We’re talking about something here that far exceeds your typical potluck fellowship dinner. There is such a sense of unity between God and His people that we sometimes find ourselves wondering where one begins and the other ends. His presence fills us and binds us in a profoundly powerful way. There is so much more to fellowship and unity than meets the eye!

Unity releases life! We see it in the natural sense through the God-designed sexual union between male and female. In the paradigm of a God-ordered family that life goes far beyond the physical reproduction of children—a healthy emotional life is imparted as well.

Those who enter into fellowship with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ are brought to life spiritually. As they continue a shared lifestyle  with God, excess life is released, taking form as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Celebrating the bread and wine both requires and produces fruit.

Fellowship with God necessitates fellowship of some type with other believers. God then imparts a unique measure of life as we draw together in the unity of covenant through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever.”

Psalm 133 (NASB)

Make no mistake about it! There is a supernatural element to Biblical unity as God anoints the intended culmination of His plans and purposes. The life of God released cannot be contained!

Can church structures affect koinonia? Most certainly! However, the greater question is whether the life of God is being continually released in our midst as we prefer one another in love and honor. Do we want to see the life of God transform the world around us? Then let us learn to honor and love all other Christians within and without the walls of our local fellowships!