I was visiting with someone about recent spiritual growth that had been brought about by some circumstances that were difficult. She experienced great growth in her faith and ability to trust God through it. Her insights had led her deeper in the Bible and prayer, but she has been somewhat alone in what she was learning there. She shared some deep and profoundly meaningful experiences with Christ she’d had and said she had not shared those things with anyone. I hear that frequently in counseling with the students at Titus 2. They are fearful they will be laughed at or dismissed as mentally unstable, overly “religious” or just “odd.” They do not feel “safe” confiding some of their thoughts and feelings with others. Furthermore, some fear sharing such things because they fear it will make them appear that they are bragging about their relationship with Christ or exalting themselves because they have received a gift of personal Presence.
I can understand such feelings that arise from deeply meaningful experiences in one’s spiritual life. I have had such experiences throughout my life, but especially since the time when I went through a depression in my 40’s ……in which an emotional emergency led to further spiritual emergence. My observation is that many people have had such experiences. In fact, I think everyone is equipped by the image of God within them with the capacity for such experiences. Some are more open and willing to receive them than others. I call the fully open, willing and trusting participants in spiritual life “deep divers” and the reluctant, private participants in spiritual life “surface floaters.” Deep divers study. They learn that there are risks. They allow God’s love for them and their love for God to conquer their fear. They also learn how to depend on God every minute.
Most learn that there are some things that are not useful for public display or discussion. They will not be understood by most people. It will be like “casting pearls before shine”, useless at best and potentially damaging to the pearls. It may even be damaging to the pigs if they gobble them up and can’t digest them! But even then, the pearls will most likely simply be lost in the muck and mess of the excrement of the pigpen. A pork producer could perhaps speak more informatively to that analogy from the pigs’ perspective! But spiritual experiences are perhaps to be shared in small, intimate settings…..one- to-one or with a select group where the ability of the individual to understand and engage is more likely. The one possible exception to that need for discretion in where one shares is if one has been called to ministry with the gift of teaching. When one is equipped to teach, it can require that one be vulnerable enough to share things more boldly and broadly, with less reserve in order to challenge themselves and others to explore new spiritual territory. That kind of call to push boundaries broadly and boldly certainly needs to be accompanied by God’s call, his presence, and his protection. In the process one may well experience things that are not part of the “normal” spiritual growth process. For the sake of example, although each of us receives certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, someone with the gift of teaching may experience more broadly a greater number of aspects of the gifts, not permanently and not to be used personally within the Body of Christ, but for the sake of understanding, knowing how to recognize others’ gifts and to assist them in understanding and deploying their gifts. I have experienced a number of gifts on a limited basis, ad hoc…toward a specific purpose…. to equip me to help equip others. Some of the gifts I have experienced only once or only in limited situations for a specific purpose are intercession, miracles, healing, tongues, prophecy, knowledge, craftsmanship, and exhortation. In every case, the Lord taught me about the gift through his Word and allowed me to witness it or personally experience it in a very powerful and anointed and memorable way so that it would be in my toolbox, to be used in teaching as I walk with others through spiritual growth and development. It taught me that all of us who are believers and have received the Holy Spirit have within us the full Holy Spirit DNA of Christ. God is able to use any one of us for anything at any time and in any way he chooses. The limits are generally in place to serve God’s specific purpose ordained for us and to prevent us from becoming prideful. I recall a moment when I was a newly born again Christian in which I overheard a woman about 20 years my senior say to another woman, “No one has a relationship with Christ like I do!” There were tears in her eyes and her voice was quivering. In my immaturity I wondered, “Who does she think she is? Another blessed Mary, mother of Jesus?” I think what I felt in that moment may have been incredulousness at what I perceived as her arrogance, like watching the Pharisee thanking God that he wasn’t like the publican. Maybe it was jealousy. How can she think she is so entitled as to have something that no one else has? Now, as a more mature Christian I can understand. Each of us is unique. Each of us is equipped uniquely by experience, equipping, created purpose, knowledge of God’s will and surrender to it for something that no one else can know, do, or be! God relates to each of us through the uniqueness of who we are. While discipleship among believers may have many similarities of understanding and experience, the deeper one is willing to dive, the more individualized and unique that relationship will become. That is where one has to be most careful to remain tethered to the truth of the Word and not wander into territory beyond boundaries that God has set.
I think about Jabez’s prayer: “ Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested.” As noted here, “The prayer is composed of four parts. First, Jabez asks God to bless him. Second, he asks God to enlarge his territory or increase his responsibility. Third, he prays that God will be with him and stay close. Lastly, Jabez asks that God keep him from harm so that he will be free from pain. www.allaboutprayer.org/prayer-of-jabez.htm
This prayer has intrigued me. Jabez prays for protection from harm and freedom from pain while seeking God’s blessing, asking God to enlarge his territory and pleading with God to stay close to him. Jabez appears to recognize a risk associated with God’s blessing and with his own willingness, even eagerness, to be used by God for bigger things. Discipleship entails risks. Stepping out into public ministry entails even greater risks. Whenever one steps out in faith, ready to grow and be used by God for kingdom purposes, satan’s attention will be laser-focused on that person. Attacks will come. Obstacles will come. Persecution will come. Dismissal will come. Abandonment by some will come. It happened to Jesus. He told those who followed him that it would happen to them, too, and not to be surprised by it. If one is overly compromising or people-pleasing in personality she will be less likely to be hurt in the process but use by God will be limited, as well. When does judicious caution give way to courage? When does honesty become indiscretion? When does speaking truth to power become recklessness or impertinence? When does servanthood become martyrdom? When does self-disclosure toward teaching and connectedness become self-serving or bragadocious?
There are lessons in all of these “boundaries”….the ones observed, the ones protected, the ones pushed, the ones inadvertently violated, and the ones broken down. Jabez recognized the need to push a boundary and said yes to being the one to push it. He recognized the need for God to go before him, to keep God’s guiding hand upon him, and for God to protect him. When one is called to establish a beachhead, to break new ground, to blaze a trail…..there is no guarantee that the battle will be won, the territory taken, or the road built by the one initiating the action. But one who is committed to God’s purpose will not look beyond the next step, the immediate terrain, or the foreseeable obstacle that needs to be addressed. That is faithfulness. “Do the next right thing,” as Elizabeth Elliott often said. The outcomes are God’s domain. He will determine the results. That is not my job. When Elizabeth Elliott’s husband and his missionary companions were murdered by natives in South America, they had no way of knowing the redemptive way in which God would use their deaths to bring about their families’ involvement in ministry and the forgiveness that would be used to bring many to Christ.
Unless one is willing to take risks, to step out in faith, trusting God’s blessing, guidance, and protection, not much will get accomplished. If one requires that every step of the way be measured and perfectly executed, the journey won’t get very far. “Perfect is the enemy of good, in that if you want to be perfect, you’re not going to do much good.”
In the process of going forth in faith and pushing boundaries a lot of what you see, you can’t un-see. Unlike a film rendered to tell a pretty story, you can’t go back and edit life. That’s okay. Don’t let the ambushes, resistance, persecution, disregard, or lack of understanding grind you down until there’s no heart left to persevere in the battle. Trust God. No pain is wasted. No tear drops unobserved. No injustice will go unaddressed. It may not come in the time one wants. It may be …..years, generations, millennia. That’s the truth of the Gospel. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t turn to the left or the right. As Habakkuk said, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:2) God’s ways and timing I cannot understand “yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:18-19)