One of the things I love about my new job as program manager of a women’s Christian residential substance abuse recovery program is that I get to teach adults at a very fundamental level and watch them progress in their spiritual journey over a rather intense 6-12 months.
We use Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life as an introductory text to spiritual living. This week I have been introducing them to S.H.A.P.E (spiritual gifts, “heart”, abilities, personlity, and experiences- the aspects of each disciple that makes her unique and capable of being used in her particular place by God). We actually started our conversation by looking at “experiences”. And these women have many – some good, more very challenging, and some out and out horrific. My challenge was to help them get their heads around the idea that these experiences, good or bad, could be used by God and worked out redemptively in their lives, if they will consecrate them to Him to be used for His purpose.
After assuring that each woman had actually made an effort to complete her assignment to reflect and write down key experiences from her life, we began our discussion with a simple definition of the spiritual life as a series of experiences that might be identified as either purgative, illuminative, or unitive (the traditional definition of progression in the spiritual life.) We defined each type of experience and discussed examples of each type. I could practically see light bulbs actually going off over their heads! Suddenly they were aware that they have been in the midst of a spiritual journey all their lives, perhaps without even realizing it.
That accomplished, I introduced two simple, important attributes of God:
1.) God is good. 2.) God is sovereign.
I suggested to them that if they can grasp these two attributes, believe them in their minds and hearts, and reconcile to their satisfaction that these attributes are not contradicted by or diminished by the presence of evil in the world, then they can embrace Romans 8:28 and develop a spiritual worldview that will allow them to put these past experiences, and any future experiences in their lives, into proper perspective. I shared a couple of personal examples regarding God’s redemptive work in difficult circumstances and how it has led me to have absolute confidence that, no matter what, God is good and God is sovereign.
We also wandered into the issue of two approaches to forgiveness between which we may choose:
1.) that which is unconditional or
2.) that which demands one’s wrongdoer’s acknowledgement and repentance.
It was a lively and productive discussion. Afterward I received some positive feedback from some of the ladies about how the concepts had been made understandable and how it challenged them to think. Task accomplished.