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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.

Stalled Spiritual Growth: Part 2


You may be among the increasingly large number of Christians today who feel that they are not growing significantly in their walk with God. Many describe their spiritual growth as stagnant or stalled.  They long to grow and may even be active in their church, but they do not know what to do about it. This is part 2 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

The Ultimate Goal of Our Spiritual Lives

Love Relationship with Jesus Christ

Because of the recent emphasis on activity and programs as a means of spiritual growth, church leaders have inadvertently conveyed to their members a misunderstanding of God’s primary goal for the life of a Christian. As R. Thomas Ashbrook points out, goals such as holiness, usefulness, wholeness and enlightened understanding are worthy and desirable but focus on the self, while the real goal of our Christian life is a love relationship with God. He states, “A restored relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ is more than a means to another end; it is the primary and foundational goal [emphasis added] of spiritual growth.”[1]

Focus on God

This goal of having a relationship with God is focused on God himself and what he is doing, not on what a person is accomplishing. The goal must not be activity and the goal cannot be accomplished in one’s own strength. Relationship is the goal. It is in this relationship of loving intimacy that Christians experience the transformation so longed for in the rest of their lives. Our role as believers is to position our hearts for God’s transforming work. Many believers have the misconception that spiritual growth and maturity can be measured in terms of activity or ministry effectiveness.

Becoming Like Jesus

Good works, fruit of the Spirit, and love of neighbor will always flow out of an authentic loving relationship with God. As a person grows closer to Jesus, he or she will become more like him as they cooperate with his work in them. Ashbrook’s definition of spiritual formation is helpful at this point because it connects the goal of the Christian life with the process and sets the stage for the suggestion that Scripture-based Reflective Prayer can be a catalyst for spiritual growth. He says that spiritual formation is “The process that takes place in us as the life of the Spirit of God transforms our life through deepening love and intimacy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, remaking us in the likeness of Jesus Christ, in His love for the Father and the world.”[2]

Therefore, a growing love relationship with God has to be the essential characteristic and primary end of any personal spiritual practices that are employed. If the goal of spiritual practices is not growing in that love relationship, then a Christian’s best efforts to grow spiritually will result in disappointment instead of spiritual growth.

Taking it Deeper

How does your spiritual life demonstrate a priority of deepening your relationship with God?

What is the longing of your heart as you reflect on your current relationship with God?

[1] R. Thomas Ashbrook, Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 26.

[2] Ashbrook, Mansions of the Heart, 32.

Stalled Spiritual Growth: Part 1

2 chairs at lake purchased shutterstock_84094621 MEDIUM NARROWER

You may be among the increasingly large number of Christians today who feel that they are not growing significantly in their walk with God. Many describe their spiritual growth as stagnant or stalled.  They long to grow and may even be active in their church, but they do not know what to do about it.  In this three part post, I will be looking at:

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

Underlying Problem

Prayer Misunderstood

Many factors contribute to the problem of stalled spiritual growth in the Church today. Some are cultural in nature while others are unique to the Church in general. At their core, however, many of them have in common a lack of understanding of what prayer can be and a lack of experience in life-transforming encounter with God in prayer. There is a great need for the prayers of Christians today to be informed by Scripture, to be a means of listening to God and to lead to life transformation.

Activity vs. Growth

One very significant problem arising out of today’s “program-based” churches is the growing assumption that activity equals spiritual growth. This is not always the case. The authors of the Reveal study wrote, “we wanted to find evidence of spiritual growth in our people, and then figure out what types of activities or circumstances triggered that spiritual growth” [emphasis added].[1] Research was done among 14,000 current attendees of Willow Creek Community Church and 500 former members. Results revealed that there is no correlation between increased activity and spiritual maturity. Even so, outward activity that is visible tends to take priority over inward spiritual growth which seems invisible.

This emphasis on activity is a reflection of our western culture that measures a person’s worth by what they do and how much they produce. It is easy for this value to be carried over into the Church and for members to equate involvement and activity with spiritual growth and maturity. Even the fact that the Willow Creek research was looking for the “activity” that triggered spiritual growth is evidence of how this cultural value has been absorbed by the Church. A result of this emphasis on involvement is churches that are full of people outwardly participating in various programs but inwardly feeling a lack of personal spiritual growth.

Taking it Deeper

How do you feel about your spiritual growth lately?

How do you tend to evaluate or measure your own growth?

[1] Greg L. Hawkins, Cally Parkinson, and Eric Arnson, Reveal: Where Are You? (Barrington, IL: The Willow Creek Association, 2007), 29.

Copyright © 2013 Katherine Mills Johnson. All rights reserved.