I keep having similar conversations with my friends and students- so I wanted to write down some themes I’ve seen emerge in terms of inner life development. These phases of inner life growth are not scientific and I don’t think that everyone goes through them. But I have gone through all of them and have seen many of my students and peers walk through them, so I thought I would share.
Hey- What’s a Quiet Time?
At some point a Chrsitian finds out they should try to have an inner life and a regular personal prayer time. And for some reason it gets called a quiet time. Or Q.T. as really Christian people call it, because Christians love weird lingo that others don’t understand.
Usually it entails a little handbook that gives you a reading for everyday of the year ( for example Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest) or the discovery of journaling and doing something like ACTS ( from Bill Hybels Too Busy Not to Pray). I made a few attempts at this in high school, but really began in ernest in college.
If you haven’t moved towards this, then let me suggest that you try. We need to learn to show up to Jesus on a regular basis if we want a relationship with Him. And as much as we love a shortcut and wish there was a buzzfeed lifehack list for inner life growth- we just have to learn to show up.
Listening Prayer or Holy Crap- He talks back.
This was game changer. Realizing that prayer is not the most boring one way conversation in the universe was incredibly inspiring. Being given tools to hear the voice of Jesus brought a kind of dynamic excitement to prayer that I had never encountered before. Until I learned about listening prayer, intercession seemed about as interesting as talking to my shoe. I had guilt that I “should pray more.” But I couldn’t conjure words to pray- beyond “Hey Jesus, you should do something about this…if it’s your will.” I got bored. But now I could listen to Jesus for direction and there was a back and forth. It’s already hard to have a conversation with an invisible entity- so it really helps it the conversion is dynamic and interactive. I learned to see pictures, receive Scripture, and have a sense of guidance as I prayed. GAME CHANGER!
Lordship and Sin
For most of college, a lot of what I heard as I journaled, had my daily quiet time, and practiced listening prayer was connected to getting sin out of my life and choosing into deeper Lordship. I heard invitations to fast from dating, to confess my lying, and to repent from comparison and critical spirit towards my best friend.
I became more sensitive to the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin- pressing me not to gossip about people, not to twist the truth, and cut off unhealthy romantic relationships. I grew more sensitive to the Holy Spirit challenging me to obey the Word- to share my car and open up decision of how I would spend my summer break. Though challenging – it was awesome to have this type of connection to Jesus. It was intimate and dynamic.
Disappointment always catches me off guard. Often I don’t even know I have expectations until they don’t happen. And then I find out what an entitled person I am.
In college I had made a commitment not to date for a couple years. I assumed that at the end of that time I would date a close friend with whom I had had an on and off again interest. So when he started dating someone else just as my dating fast was coming to an end I went into crazy batshit mode. I was so disappointed and full of shock. I had assumed that my obedience not to date would lead to the reward of dating this great Christian guy. It didn’t mean that.
As I’m writing this I realize that disappointment deserves its own post. So I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Suffice it to say- disappointment will take your inner life to spiritual school at a whole new level. I’ll dedicate an entire post to this topic.
Grow Up and Take Responsibility for Your Life
At some point- usually mid to late twenties- all my friends and I went through a – “He’s not talking to me anymore” phase. This isn’t the Dark Night of the Soul kind of silence. I’ve come to interpret this season as the “grow the hell up phase.” At this point I had cleared most of the super obvious sin out of my life, and I had taken significant strides forward in Lordship and obedience. I was trying to make life decisions and seeking Jesus in prayer and hearing nothing. Over time I realized that Jesus had formed his character in me. And I didn’t need a specific word for each decision. My friend Jon Ball writes a great article about decision making where he uses a playground analogy. Jesus doesn’t care if you are on the slide, or on the swing, or in the sand box as long as you stay in the boundaries of the playground. Character that has been formed by Jesus should keep us within the right boundaries most of the time, from there we get to make choices about what we want to do.
I realized that I, and many of my friends, were afraid to make decisions because we didn’t want to take responsibility for the consequences in our own lives. Much easier to ask Jesus what to do and have Him tell us. Then we could sidestep the scary reality that we were going to have to make real adult decisions an take responsibility for those decisions.
In the way that you wouldn’t want to treat a 7 year old child the same as a 2 year old, in our younger days of discipleship we needed lots of guidance and specifics. But we should have internalized those lessons into our character and Jesus lets us grow up.
Phase 2- Turns out There’s more
Now this is one that I wish someone had told me about ahead of time. Somewhere in my late 20’s I got empty. None of the old tricks were working. I was in full time ministry, a team leader, supervising full time staff and interns, teaching, preaching regularly, and leading multiple leaders teams. I kept thinking that I needed to go back to my first love. I had been so in love with Jesus those first few years in college. I kept thinking that that was what was missing. But I couldn’t get back there. I felt stuck and burnt out.
At one point I took a leave of absence and went to Tanzania for 3 months to work with AIDS orphans. The complete change of pace, change of context, and isolation were incredibly refreshing. But I still needed a deeper paradigm shift.
A couple years later when I finally was able to go on Sabbatical- I realized I didn’t need to go back. I needed to go forward, somewhere new. The spirituality that had gotten me this far wasn’t going to get me further. As a college minister I had already recognized the tendency to stagnate as I kept walking students through the same phase of discipleship. They were in their Lordship/ Sin/ and Listening phase. But I wasn’t. I was an expert at that phase of development and oblivious to my need for a completely new phase.
Also, I didn’t realize that I had lowered my expectations of God. I didn’t know that there was a whole new way of interacting with God. This season was full of painful searching and a sense of aimlessness. I couldn’t read the Bible for the entire 6 months I was on sabbatical. And I couldn’t read one more evangelical book telling me to do something. I had spent the last 10 years doing something. My do something muscle was out of control. My ministry muscles were incrediably developed. But I had kept using the same inner life muscles I had gotten as a 17 years old. They weren’t big enough. And I needed to bring some completely new muscles into play. On sabbatical I discovered a whole new spirituality.
Again, the main lesson of this season was that the spirituality that gotten me this far was not going to get me through the next phase. I needed to make time and space to find something new. Many people find spiritual disciplines to be helpful in this season. Others find greater clarity through tools like the enneagram or vocational discernment, and many turn to contemplative disciplines.
For me- as someone who had basically started full-time ministry at 21 years old, I learned about a new way of interacting with God that was not based on the mission. It was based on being creative, being an artist, being the way the He had made me. Not every interaction with Jesus was about receiving ministry marching orders. Suddenly there was space for beauty and art. Not as a means to a missional end, but just to enjoy. I didn’t think that I would repeatedly, over the course of my life, experience profound paradigm shifts in my inner life. I didn’t expect I would discover whole new ways of knowing God and being known by Him. I didn’t have that expectation. Its sound obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t in the moment. Now I”m grateful. I feel more whole and integrated as a follower of Jesus.
I spent months learning to enjoy God, without a task to execute. I learned to be present to nature, to dreams, to the quiet quiet voice inside of me that wasn’t trying to prove anything through ministry. I experienced God as a woman and as feminine. I experienced invitations to be creative and not just productive. It was new, and different, and so life giving. And now I sense that I may need some new muscles again. But I’m still figuring that out. At least now I know to expect these shifts, even if I don’t know what they will be.
Well those are some thoughts. I would be very interested to hear your own reflections and experiences on this topic.