November 16, 2022
Many years ago, I had occasion to travel to France for business. While there, I stayed in Paris, ate most of my evening meals there and managed to sight-see a little between meetings. Now, you should also understand, that while I took some classes in junior high school, my speaking proficiency in French is next to non-existent. I quickly memorized two phrases and used them often. One meant, "I do not speak French," and the other, as you might guess, meant, "Do you speak English?" And to get around, I relied heavily on my tourist maps and the subway system. So it came as a bit of a surprise one evening, as I walked along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees after dinner. A mini-van pulled up near where I was walking, and a Japanese man jumped out. Since there was no parking place there, the van, which appeared to have a woman driving and a couple young children in the back, drove away (driving around the block, I would later learn). The Japanese man approached me, somewhat frantic. It turned out, he also did not speak French, but because I was carrying my tourist map, thought I might be able to help him. He was lost. He and his wife had been driving around the city looking for their hotel for a couple of hours with two small children in the back seat, getting more cranky by the minute. They had tried asking directions several times, but each time the language barrier had proved too much. My first reaction was to believe that I could not help the man. I did not understand his first words, and I barely was able to find my own hotel - and that, only because it was close to a subway stop. But, we persevered and after a few abortive attempts, we discovered that I could understood just enough of his broken English to figure out what hotel he was looking for. And, it just so happened, that one of the handful of landmarks, identified on my trusty tourist map, was his hotel - clearly marked at the other end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Then, through a series of oddly pronounced words, hand gestures and pointing, you could see the panic in his eyes being slowly replaced with a sense of peace and gratitude, as the recognition of where he was, relative to his long sought hotel, began to settle in his mind. When his wife returned with the car a short time later, his previous panic was completely gone and replaced with much bowing and "arigatos" which I could only interpret as "thank you, so much." When I reflect back on this experience, I see similarities to the process by which some of us find our way to God. We are like the Japanese man looking for Heaven Hotel, often driving around in circles. We seek directions, but there seems to be a "language barrier," where those we ask do not understand the question we are asking, or we do not understand the answer, when given. When we finally find help, it seems like an unlikely source. It comes from someone, who does not seem to know much more than we do, and in fact, it may turn out, that the only thing they could provide, was that one last road sign pointing the way. But that was just enough. Sometimes the person providing the last link, may not even be aware of how crucial it was in leading you "home." If I push the analogy just a little bit further, I then ask the question of whether securing our reservation for the Heaven Hotel is the end of the process? Is coming to a state of belief in Jesus a final destination? I think the answer is no. I believe we are meant to keep growing.
We are not meant to be merely guests in the Kingdom, but intended to become part of the staff. Marshall McLuhan used to say,
"On planet earth there are no passengers, only crew members."
The same is true of church and the kingdom of God. Kay Warren expresses it this way:
"When you give your life to Christ, you put on an apron and begin to serve from that day forward."
If you are a Christian, you are called to minister in some way - it is part of the deal. And that requires spiritual growth. Paul advised Timothy.
II Timothy 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Paul would also remind the Corinthians that when they were mere infants in Christ,
I Corinthians 3:2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.
The implication being, that they ought to aspire to grow up spiritually and learn the deeper things of God, the meatier things of God. And in Hebrews 10:25 and others, we ought to be encouraging each other along the way in this process of growth.
As we observed in our discussions on How To Become A Purpose Driven Church, this spiritual growth process happens differently for each of us, partly because of our situations, and partly because we each have different learning styles.
Many people have written on this subject, but my favorite analogy is to liken it to learning to play a musical instrument. It has some key fundamentals, that are common to all learning styles.
I tend to think that a good music program has four distinct elements of developing one's talent for playing a musical instrument.
Appreciation - the first element is music appreciation. In this part of the program, the student listens to professional musicians to learn to appreciate all that music has to offer, once mastered. You appreciate the beauty, the symbolism, the emotion, the skill, the love it can engender. The spiritual development analog happens mostly in worship. Here is where we develop God appreciation. We hear what God has done, what He has promised, we feel His presence, and we bask in His love.
Instruction - the second element is instruction in the basics. For music, it may cover the basics of reading music, some music theory, and the fundamentals of how to play your choice of an instrument. In essence this is where the student is taught facts and techniques - knowledge about the playing of music, often in a group setting. The spiritual development analog is a small group, like a Sunday school, or a Bible study. Here the student might learn what the Bible says and what it means. He learns facts about God and how He interacts with us. He may learn some useful techniques, or what Dale Edwards might call classical Christian disciplines, like how to study the Bible and how to pray, etc.
Application - this element is where the music student has some private lessons. In these lessons, the focus and teaching style is very different. There is very little in the way of presenting facts, and more encouraging the student to explore, and apply what they have learned to new songs and music styles or genres. The teacher acts more like an encourager, helping the student discover what they are capable of - how to go beyond what is printed in the score, so they begin to emote through the music. The spiritual development analog is when the teacher becomes a private mentor, helping the student discover and develop their spiritual gifts and how to apply them in ministry. Here the student goes beyond mere knowledge and deepens their relationship with God, learning to listen and serve in ministry.
Live - this final element is where the music student puts it all together and initially performs a recital or concert, full of feeling and emotive nuance. As they continue to grow, music becomes a part of their life, as a way to communicate outward, but also a kind of inward therapy, soothing the soul. In the spiritual development analog, their relationship with God becomes what some call incarnational. This is where we have come to understand the Holy Spirit within us and allow that Spirit to guide and minister through us to those around us.
John tells us that Jesus told His disciples,
John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, he can do nothing.
Your Brother in Christ, Warren Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester