Promoting Spiritual Growth

Fred Smith speaks frankly about the process of spiritual growth

By Fred Smith

Several years ago a friend was in deep trouble even with the possibility of bankruptcy. He asked a pastor friend to pray for him. Before praying he said, "I will pray if you will promise me you won't be mad at God even if you go bankrupt." My friend agreed to the request and has said many times later that that was the real start of his spiritual growth.

Not only should we avoid becoming mad at God in adverse times, but we must avoid the "spoiled brat" syndrome expecting God to make us an exception protecting us from the normal problems of life. An executive vice president of a bank asked me during a down time, "Why me? I've been a good Christian. I don't drink, smoke, or chase women." I'm not sure that we can define a good Christian by those negatives, but he felt that being a good Christian exempted him from the normal vicissitudes. A more mature attitude would be, "Why not me?" The Marines expect to be given the toughest jobs in the service. The mature Christian should also expect the same.

For troubled times it's important to develop a right image of God. Lecturing at a conservative seminary one of the students said, "God has got me right where He wants me——broke." I felt he had a poor image of God the father and so I said, "We have a son and if I felt he was saying I had him right where I wanted him-- broke, then I'd be very disappointed." Ray Stedman said his life turned around when he found out "God is for me."

Not only our image of God but our concepts of how He works affect our spiritual growth. A Jewish Christian attending a singles retreat where I was lecturing said he was so happy to hear that God had an overall purpose for his life rather than a specific detailed plan. Every time the business got bad he started worrying whether or not he was fulfilling God's plan for his life. God's purpose for us doesn't vary by the ups and downs of our business. God's business is in conforming and transforming us.

Learning to appreciate God's silence is part of promoting our spiritual growth. Oftentimes in deepest troubles we experience silence, not clear direction. God's delays are never God's denials; therefore we are to be patient. True faith does not require sight nor sound. In times of God's silence we know it is our faith that pleases him. Oswald Chambers, my favorite theologian, says "God honors us with silence." Faith is an act, not just a theological concept.

One of the most thoughtful books I have read is Phil Yancey's Disappointment With God. He wrote it after having an experience with a young man who got mad at God because He would not respond to him as he wanted God to respond. The young man, a theological student, got so frustrated at four o'clock in the morning after having spent a good time on the floor praying for God's presence, he went out to the barbeque pit, burned his Bible and his textbooks, and turned away from the faith. Phil has written an answer to those questions which people are afraid to ask out loud. "Is the father listening to me? Can He be trusted? Does He even exist?"

I am convinced that God is not afraid of these questions. Too many Christians think that they have to protect Him. His integrity is worthy of every challenge. The deep-rooted answers come through the struggle. God's goal for us is to grow in our likeness to Jesus. He is serious about our growth, so we shouldn't be surprised at the process.