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Stalled Spiritual Growth: Conclustion

Conclusion to the series, “Stalled Spiritual Growth” 


In this 3-part series I have addressed:

  1. The problem underlying lack of spiritual growth
  2. The ultimate goal of our spiritual lives
  3. Suggestions for catalyzing growth

Now I would like to suggest that Reflective Prayer  is a wonderful means of catalyzing growth because it brings a needed balance to the different extremes of Christian spirituality today.

Any analysis of the problem of stalled spiritual growth must include a look at two extremes of a continuum that exist within the church today and how Reflective Prayer is relevant to both. (Remember, I am talking about extremes; most of us fall somewhere in-between.) One extreme is represented by those Christians that are very familiar with the Bible but do not pray. They love the Word of God but are cautious about anything that could be labeled “mysticism.” Their faith is intellectually based and their experience of God’s presence is limited. The affective side of their relationship with God may even be avoided. The potential weakness of this group is that they are so busy knowing about God that they fail to have any kind of personal relationship with him. This dilemma can be heard in the words by David Benner, “For many years my knowing of God was primarily a matter of knowing about him. I began to feel dissatisfied with my limited direct experience of God’s presence. I longed to know him personally and experientially, not just know about him.”[1]  This group’s strength is in their knowledge of the Word.

The second extreme among Christians today is represented by people who have an interest in “spirituality” but not one that is informed by Scripture. They may be intrigued by the mystical aspects of religion but lack the biblical roots to discern true Christian spirituality. The potential weakness of this group is to become unbiblical or heterodox in their beliefs and practices. Their strength is in their emphasis on the heart and on experiential knowledge of God.

Interestingly, these two extremes can be seen as loosely representing the nature of Protestant and some Catholic forms of spirituality respectively, although there may be groups that do not fit neatly into this categorization (e.g. Charismatic Protestants may tend to lean toward the second extreme and many Catholics are very biblically oriented).[2] The beauty of Reflective Prayer is that, when properly understood and used, it addresses the weaknesses of both extremes and gives voice to their strengths. Because it is biblically informed, Reflective Prayer sets a solid foundation for prayer and contemplation because they emerge from reading and meditation on the Word. And, because the goal of Reflective Prayer is relationship and communion with God, the affective nature of spirituality is also validated and encouraged to grow. This kind of prayer has stood the test of time, and I believe that it has great potential to be an effective solution to the problem of believers being stalled in their growth.

[1] David G Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Books, 2002), 30. 

[2] It is impossible as well as undesirable to try to categorize all Christians into a neatly defined position. These two extremes are generalizations for the purpose of making the point that there is a tendency to lean in one direction or the other.

Excerpted in part from my doctoral thesis, Lectio Divina as a Catalyst for Spiritual Growth:  A Case Study Among Mature Believers.

Copyright © 2012 by Katherine Mills Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

Taking It Deeper

1. Where do you fall in the continuum mentioned above?

2. What can you do in your prayer life to strengthen your area of weakness?

Coming up: a 3-part series on What is Scripture-based Reflective Prayer?

Stalled Spiritual Growth: Part 3

This is part 3 in a series in which I will be addressing:

  1. The problem underlying lack of spiritual growth
  2. The ultimate goal of our spiritual lives
  3. Suggestions for catalyzing growth

Suggestions for Catalyzing Spiritual Growth

Scripture-based Reflective Prayer

All of us as Christians are called into a dynamic transforming relationship with God. Prayer is central to spiritual growth because it is personal communication with God and a time when we open ourselves up to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  My research has shown that the spiritual discipline of Scripture-based Reflective Prayer (Reflective Prayer) is an effective means of catalyzing personal spiritual growth especially among those who have been believers for some time.

Reflective Prayer is reading Scripture and praying in a way that transforms our hearts, and disposes us to deepen our relationship with God. Reflective Prayer naturally takes the reader from reading to reflection to responding and resting in the presence of God. It is actually a very simple way of praying. It is attractive because it is all about nourishing our relationship with God and allowing him to take us to a deeper place in that relationship.

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity–Like a tree planted by streams of living water

Encountering God Leads to Transformation

This kind of encounter with God is seen with David in the Psalms (Ps 27:4; 63:1-5; 84:10). This very fruitful kind of prayer focuses on spending time meditating on and praying the Scriptures and allowing God to speak to us and transform us into his image. Most importantly, Reflective Prayer includes the component of encountering God; this is what can move us from feeling stagnant to growing spiritually. It has the potential of being a means to help answer the longing to know God personally and experientially. Reflective Prayer has proven to be catalyst to help move people beyond their perceived state of spiritual stagnation into a direct experience of God’s presence.

A Word about Spiritual Disciplines:

Today, many are talking about spiritual disciplines.  All spiritual disciplines are valuable for growing in spiritual maturity.  Adele Calhoun explains their benefit and helps to clear up potential misunderstandings:

Spiritual transformation comes from partnering with the Trinity for change. We bring our ache for change, our longing…our desperation…. Then we keep company with Jesus by making space for him through a spiritual discipline. Our part is to offer ourselves lovingly and obediently to God. God then works within us doing what he alone can do.[1]

Scripture is at the Heart of Reflective Prayer

While there are other spiritual disciplines that can lead to spiritual growth and transformation (Calhoun lists a total of sixty-two[2]), I chose Reflective Prayer because I believe that it combines the best elements of many of the disciplines. Moreover, it is especially attractive because it is based on Scripture and is thus less prone to excess or error. Reflective Prayer has also stood the test of time and has been practiced by Christians since the third century.

Many of the disciplines from Calhoun’s book come into play at one time or another in Reflective Prayer. For example, the four stages (reading, reflection, responding and rest) can incorporate solitude, silence, detachment, confession, self-examination, discernment, humility, journaling, practicing the presence, praying scripture, slowing, rest, secrecy, submission and teachability.  There is enough flexibility to allow each individual to concentrate on what they need the most.

Taking It Deeper

1. How do your spiritual practices lead you into encountering God?

2. How do you regularly “offer yourself up lovingly and obediently to God allowing him to work within you, doing what he alone can do?”

Coming up: a 3-part series on What is Scripture-based Reflective Prayer?

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook:  Practices That Transform Us. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 19.

[2] Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 11-13.