At Gateway Church in Austin we continued our series called Adulting: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
Growing up physically and intellectually do not guarantee we will grow at the same pace (if at all) emotionally and spiritually. Charting a path of growth towards becoming our true selves requires that we take an honest look in the mirror. Are you ready?
Discussion questions for your life group or family dinner are here.
Audio of the Message Robb Overholt Shared at Gateway South:
Notes from the Message by John Burke:
Waiting for my time to come can be painful, but important. Many of you here today are facing trials and troubles of varying degrees. Some are in the trials of job loss, some in financial troubles, some are dealing with ongoing crisis or grief. Some of you are dealing with things totally out of your control.
The question I want to pose for you is “Will it take from you, or will you take from it?”
You can’t close your eyes and wish it away, you can’t go back in the past and redirect the river of life. You can’t escape it by pointing the finger of blame. If you take nothing else from here today, take this motto. “If you can’t get out of it, get into it!”
Take advantage of the crisis and grow through it!
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” John 16:33
If you haven’t had to go through trials, or heartache or pain or loss—just wait! It happens to everyone at some point–it’s the nature of living in this fallen world. That’s the bad news…
But there’s Good News too.
33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Despite the pains and difficulties of life that inevitably come our way…there’s a way through them that can make us overcomers too. In fact, it’s the path toward emotional spiritual maturity.
Do you know, when people are asked the question “When did you grow the most as a person?” Almost everyone points to some difficult period in life…during a trial or hardship or painful situation. Studies of character formation show, it’s in painful, difficult situations that we grow most—if we so choose. No pain, no gain.
Now obviously, you can’t program growth through pain. But we can be prepared to take advantage of it, and that’s what I want to do today. Help you see that The same sun that softens wax also harden’s clay—The same trials and sufferings can soften one Heart and harden another, produce deep love and compassionate character in one and produce bitterness and hatred in another–It has to do with the preparedness of your heart.
Paul points this out:
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:2-5
Love is the end—becoming people who experience and exhibit Love of Another Kind. We can’t grow into emotionally spiritually mature people without growing through pain. We need to understand the role of trials and how to get into them when we can’t get out of them.
Most American Christianity has not dealt with embracing the Dark Night of the Soul—those difficult, dark spiritual seasons. There are classically 7 stages of faith written about extensively by deeply mature Christ Followers of past generations. Most American Christianity talk mostly about the first 3.
STAGES OF FAITH
STAGE 1: Life-Changing Awareness of God
This stage, whether in childhood or adulthood, is the beginning of our journey with Christ as we become aware of his reality. We realize our need for mercy and forgiveness and begin our relationship with him. “Come as you are”
STAGE 2: Spiritual Growth / Discipleship
This stage is characterized by learning about God and what it means to follow Christ. We become part of a Christian community and begin to get rooted in the disciplines of the faith. We start serving, we get in a Life Group, learn to pray, study scripture, replace much Old Self behavior with New Self behavior—our love for God and people grows. “Live Connected, Be Transformed” we say.
STAGE 3: The Active Life
This is described as the “doing” stage. Our faith becomes more about God and others than what we can get. We take responsibility by bringing our unique talents and gifts to serve Christ and others. We become more other centered servants, leaders, we may lead others—we mark this season at Gateway with Commissioning, into that “Change Your World” season. It’s the beginning of maturity. We may lead whole churches as Pastors for years…and have never gotten to the Stage 4—Hitting The WALL or as the ancient Christ followers called it “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
The pain and trials of hitting the Wall or Dark Night of the Soul are not the consequences of sin or doing wrong. This is important to understand—there is pain and troubles that we cause ourselves—that’s Stage 2 growth. We mess our spiritual diapers, then blame God for the stench, that’s still spiritual childhood. When we go against God’s will and ways, we often end up in pain. God’s not inflicting the pain, he was trying to protect us from it by guiding us in His will and ways. So an important question is “Is this pain and trouble the consequences of me going my way instead of God’s way?” If so, just admit it—
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9
So just turn back to God. Grow through it so you don’t keep causing yourself and others pain. That’s where many of you are today—feeling the pains, trials and troubles of going your way instead of God’s way. It’s a stage we all go through—but grow through it.
STAGE 4: The Wall and Journey Inward
As we grow through our failures, we will experience seasons of great love, joy, new peace with God and others. And the confusing part is when we’re truly maturing and we hit The Wall or Dark Night of the Soul. A painful emotional/spiritual season that compels us into the Journey Inward. The Wall is not pain caused from consequences of our bad behavior—the Wall is a time when we might be doing all the right things, yet we go through emotional/spiritual darkness. It’s probably the most important catalyst for Growth to loving maturity, but many run from it rather than grow through it. Many turn from God and don’t grow. It’s real, and it’s painful, and if we aren’t prepared with hope for the deeper love, joy, and peace on the other side, we will run from the Wall.
God allows The Wall, or Dark Night of the soul to give us more of Himself. It is a season of internal soul searching, purging, like the way a metal worker heats up the silver to make the impurities come to the surface to scrap them off and leave the pure silver. God takes us through the same. He allows the pains and troubles of life—not to harm us—but actually to draw us closer in love. Which may seem weird at first, but I’ve experienced it multiple times, and here’s what I’ve said on the backside every time: “I’d never wish it on my worst enemy, but I’d go through it again to get the depth of joy and love and strength I feel right now.” I’ve heard that from many.
The Wall or Dark Night may appear through a crisis that turns our world upside down–perhaps through a divorce, a job loss, the death of a family member, a cancer diagnosis, a disillusioning church experience, a betrayal, a shattered dream, an inability to get pregnant, a deep desire to marry that remains unfulfilled, or when life just doesn’t work like it used to–a long season of dryness or loss of joy in our relationship with God. We question ourselves, God, the church. Faith does not appear to “work” like it used to. We have more questions than answers. We may feel the foundation of our faith is on the line. We don’t know where God is, what he is doing, where he is going, or when this will be over. See why no one talks about it?
But we can’t get to the next two stages of faith unless we go through the wall—it’s a time when the hidden idols, the God-supplements, are getting scraped off so we can have what we long for—a deeper love and joy than we’ve known possible—but it only comes from God, and these things get in the way. What Mature, loving, Godly Christians of the past like St. John of the Cross who wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul” discovered, is that we often interpret the Wall as a punishment from God—like we must be doing something wrong—when in reality, it’s that God loves us and trusts our spiritual strength so much, He’s taking us through the only path possible to greater intimacy and experience of His joy and love.
Paul said it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
– Galatians 2:20
This is what happens when we lean into the Dark Night and seek God, wait on God, listen and learn even when God seems quiet… Because it leads to this Inner Journey of Growth you can’t get any other way, and it’s better than anything life offered before. So if you’re in that dark night, if you can’t get out of it, get into it. Don’t give up, walk by faith not by sight—there’s a depth of joy coming that will make it all worth it.
STAGE 5: Journey Outward
Having passed through the crisis of faith and the intense inner journey necessary to go through the Wall, we begin once again to move outward to “do” for God. We may do some of the same active external things we did before (e.g., give leadership, serve, and initiate acts of mercy toward others). The difference is that now we give out of a new, grounded center of ourselves in God. We have rediscovered God’s profound, deep, accepting love for us. A deep, inner stillness now begins to characterize our work for God. We’re not doing it to prove ourselves, feel valuable, prove we’re good, or because we “ought to” or “should” but because we experience so much life and love, we long to share it and help others find it. God can use us to spread Life and Love and Freedom even more because we now possess more of it.
God allows the Dark Night to come, to draw us closer to himself, so what we have to offer the world is not about us, it’s about Him and his great love for all people. And that leads into…
STAGE 6: Transformed into Love
God continually sends events, circumstances, people into our lives to keep us moving forward on our journeys. He is determined to complete the work he began in us, and the truth is, we may have to go through other Walls to keep growing deeper in His love and joy. That was not the last wall I had to go through. But remember, God’s goal, in the language of John Wesley, is that we be made perfect in love, that Christ’s love becomes our love both toward God and others. We realize love truly is the beginning and the end. God knows the way to take us there if we will follow. So remember when there’s pain—no pain no gain—if you can’t get out of it, get into.
Take more from it than it takes from you.