A new year gives us a fresh start to find ourselves by connecting with the One who created us and connecting with others in a meaningful way. When we are overwhelmed and lacking hope, we can borrow it from someone else. Discover how we can use moments of failure to actually help us move forward.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
What we need most is a New Start with our Spiritual Growth, because let’s be honest—physical fitness is good, important, but it won’t last forever. That’s true of everything but one thing—your spiritual growth lasts forever. Who you become spiritually goes with you. So set the goals for debt-relief, weight loss, better shape—but don’t neglect Spiritual Growth.
That’s why we’re starting a 4 week series called Vintage Faith to help you Thrive, not just survive, in the season you find yourself in right now. But here’s the problem with Spiritual Growth:
What’s the goal?
And how do you get there?
Most American Christians can’t answer both of those questions—and many miss in significant ways, and so become very disillusioned or frustrated and give up.
This series is loosely based on a book called Mansions of the Heart by Thomas Ashbury, a former engineer turned pastor. Ashbury looks at the Ancient understandings of the Goal and Path of spiritual growth, hence Vintage Faith.
This may confuse you at first because you may have had a false goal taught to you.
1. Some of us were taught the Goal is God wants me to Be Good / Moral / Holy.
Without a doubt, if you grow spiritually toward God’s ultimate Goal for you, you will be a better, more moral, ethical, good person. But if that’s the primary goal, first, it’s all about you…which means it’s all on you too.
And the Bible is clear that Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20.
We all sin and fall short of God’s standard for us. If God just wanted people to do right things—he could make us do right—so why allow so much done against his will…unless He has another ultimate Goal than just being Good or Moral?
2. Some learned God’s Goal is for me to Be a Better Worker.
God wants me to serve God and people—and without a doubt, God does want us to serve and use our gifts, seek justice, show compassion and love others by doing for them—but if this is the Ultimate Goal, first—again it’s all about us…and all on us. And it makes God needy—he needs servants to do stuff for Him. But that’s not who God is—God needs nothing. And it makes God into a taskmaster or CEO who just wants productivity from us—but that’s not God’s goal or Character.
3. Some learned God’s Goal is My Wholeness / Happiness – to make me whole, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and a happy person.
With the rise of Christian therapy a lot of good has been taught and learned, and it’s true God does want us whole and happy—it’s just not the ultimate Goal. All you have to do is read the Bible. Hebrews 11, God’s faithful, who went through severe suffering at the hands of an evil world, some of the prophets would definitely NOT be featured on Oprah for their well-balanced life. Jesus, God’s Son, was despised, rejected, suffered—so how could this be God’s Ultimate Goal for us?
God’s Ultimate Goal is this—and you’re gonna say “I knew that.” But stick around for 4 weeks because I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the “How do we get there?” part.
God’s Goal For Us
God’s Goal: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment…. Matthew 22:37-38
But there’s a caveat: We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19.
Here is a picture of the Goal Jesus gives us. “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” – Rev 3:20
This is God’s desire—and it’s an ever deepening movement toward greater intimacy with God that all our relationships (Parent-child, best friends, married lovers) all these are lessor reflections of God’s goal.
Two of the Vintage Sages of Spiritual Formation were Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I don’t agree with all their doctrine, but there’s a lot we can learn from these 15th century saints. They give a visual picture I adapted to guide your understanding of God’s Goal across all seasons of life.
Think of your Soul like a Huge Mansion with 7 large Dwelling places all circling an interior Dwelling.
In the 7th center Dwelling is the Light of God illuminating outward.
The walls of all these dwellings are like crystal as the light filters through to barely reach the outer dwelling.
Teresa imagined us as pilgrims, journeying through these dwellings toward the Lord. The King of Glory lives in the seventh dwelling, at the center, and with great splendor illuminates all the dwellings as far as the outer ring.
As we grow in our spiritual relationship with Christ, we are drawn closer to this divine Son at the center. The nearer we journey to the center, the greater the light and Love of God we experience. We are transformed into His likeness and enter a deep intimacy and cooperation with the Trinity.
Over these 4 weeks we will explore this journey, which is not linear, we live in New Beginnings for a while, live in Failing Forward, then as Good Disciples, but we may find ourselves back in Failing Forward, then into Finding Love. It’s not linear, and it’s the journey of a lifetime. So we will talk about What God’s Doing, What the Enemy is doing, and What We can Do in each of these seasons or dwellings in our journey.
Dwelling 1 – New Beginnings
We all start with Dwelling 1: New Beginnings, when we sense the God of Creation drawing us to himself, and we respond in faith. This is a monumental beginning of a lifelong journey toward God. It’s monumental in this sense: God doesn’t need our good deeds, service, giving or sacrificing, but God wants our love. It’s the very purpose for our creation—to live in God’s Love.
God is love 1 – John 4:8.
But Love is a tricky thing. Obedience can be forced. Service can be conscripted, but love must be free. And as we will see, learning to fully receive God’s love and freely give that kind of love is a life-long journey. And there are many things diffusing the love and light of God.
So this first stage of New Beginnings is monumental in that it changes everything. God woos us and pursues us, even in the pains and difficulties of life, to draw us into relationship. All He needs is our “Yes” to His proposal, and everything changes positionally for us.
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:10-12.
God entered humanity in a relatable form—because that’s the goal–relationship. And when we say “Yes” to His offer, Jesus’ payment on the cross gives us the new position of being Children of God, forever. It changes everything between us and God, even if it doesn’t FEEL like anything changed. And notice, God didn’t say “do more good than bad and I’ll adopt you as my child.” “Shape up and prove your worth to me, and I’ll accept you.” No, just as you are, sinful, broken, wounded, struggling, doubting—he doesn’t care—“to all who believed him and accepted him” they are adopted into God’s forever family.
When we say “Yes” to Christ, our position changes from relationally Dead to Alive with God in Christ.
The apostle Paul explains this positional change:
[God] raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:6-10.
Notice a few very important things—this is not about us doing anything except saying “Yes” to God. Salvation (or being set right-related to God) is not something we can earn, so we also can’t lose it—it’s not about you at all. It’s God showing forever his incredible grace and kindness toward all who want God’s forgiveness and relationship.
So here’s the picture: Before we invite God into our lives, we are spiritually dead. But when we say “Yes” to God’s offer of forgiveness, adoption, and a love relationship—God comes to live with us—the Light at the center.
Jesus said this before his crucifixion:
No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you…Since I live, you also will live. 20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you…All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. – John 14:18-23.
So the God of Love comes to live with us at the very center. God makes his home in you. Your Spirit is born, united with God who is life and love. When you die, you live—death has no power over you because you belong to God.
Now, that’s where things get confusing too, because some get the idea that when you “Say Yes” to Jesus, then it’s all done—it’s all good, so just hang out, do your thing, wait for Heaven. But there’s so much more to the story. God’s goal of life is not to wait for eternity to move intimately closer to Him, but to experience more of eternity now as Jesus prayed:
This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3
And eternal quality of life grows in us as we move toward intimately knowing God.
When a couple gets married, they stand up before witnesses and say “I do.” It’s an act of faith, trust. It’s the same as saying “I do” to God’s proposal of relationship. Some may stand up there and feel chicken skin, spidey-sense-tingly feelings, overwhelming tears of joy–others may feel nothing. But you’re still married, not from feelings, by faith. And “I Do” is not the end, but the beginning of growing in love. You’ll have weeks and years of feeling overwhelming joy, and weeks and years of feeling nothing or really struggling—but those feelings are the caboose of relationship, not the engine. Faith and Love that perseveres up and down feelings–that is the engine. Same with relating to God.
What Is God Doing in This Season?
Sometimes in this Honeymoon season with God, God will give little gifts of His goodness to show He’s with you, gifts of joy, freedom, coincidences–little God winks. He’s assuring you and preparing you for what you’re about to face in the second stage or dwelling.
But God treats us as individuals—his gifts in the honeymoon season are based on what that person is like and needs. I have a friend who didn’t believe in Jesus, yet while visiting Jerusalem at the spot of the crucifixion, God just opened her eyes and she was flooded with a love that overwhelmed her with the knowledge “He did this for me.” Why did God let me struggle and flood her with His love? Can’t answer that—yet He led me into the same discovery, just a different path, because I’m a different, unique person. So are you.
What Can You Do in This Season?
Have you invited God into your life?
If so, have you done what it takes to know Him?
Read God’s Words which Jesus promised. It’s truth and Light.
Pray daily like you’re talking to a friend.
Trust more. That’s what you can do.
Understand that in this first season, God’s light is within, but there’s a lot getting in the way of that Light in this first dwelling. Our relationship with God is mostly focused on us—getting the things we were always trying to get, but now through God. God is incredibly kind and patient with our me-focused relationship. We pray mostly about what we want or need or are bothered by. I’s not wrong. It’s just like little children only think of what they want, need or feel, we are like that early on. God is like a good and loving Parent. We can ask for anything, but we are very attached in our identities to many things blocking God’s Light. We are safe eternally, but our lifestyle is probably not that different and blocks God’s Light. We have habits we have been sewn into the fabric of our soul for years that feel automatic—addictions, lusts, envy, explosive anger, impatience, easily offended or hurt. The Light of God is in us, but these things make it hard to experience His Light which is why God will help us change as we trust Him and follow Him toward the center of His Light. He patiently waits for us to let go of these things and trust him more.
What Does Evil Do in This Season?
In this dwelling, darkness tempts us to doubt God’s reality or goodness. We are tempted to focus on how important people’s opinions are. He tempts us with false pride about worldly honors. He tempts us with FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) as we follow God. Shame is usually a big tactic of the enemy and temptations are relentless. While the New Beginnings can last years, some find themselves very soon dwelling in the second dwelling.
Dwelling 2: Failing Forward
Thomas Ashbrook says of this 2nd Dwelling, “now we enter into a mysterious wilderness. The second [stage] of spiritual formation is little understood or seldom taught in typical discipleship material. Life took a major turn for the better as we entered the first [stage] of new life with Christ, but the second is a dark valley for which few new believers are prepared. We have all experienced this season, and still do at times, though it is rarely seen as “spiritual growth.” We have come to realize that God’s way is right, and we want to live according to God’s desires more and more. But the pull of the world, with its false pleasures and gratifications, comes in new waves of spiritual attack.” We may find ourselves feeling schizophrenic—wanting to please God more, yet being even more aware of our failures—and understanding this as part of growth is critical.
What Is God Doing in This Season?
Some new Christ-followers get derailed for years in this season—not realizing it’s a stage of growth. When we didn’t follow Christ at all, we didn’t feel any grief or conviction about sin, we didn’t care—if it felt good, we did it, who cares about God’s thoughts if there is a God? But now our awareness of our failures—grief over going against Gods will—is actually a positive sign that the Holy Spirit is growing us. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will convict you of sin. We’re growing, but it feels like increased failure. There’s a war raging for our souls—evil’s throwing 1-2 punches trying to knock us to the ground and keep us there, God’s trying to help us grow stronger by failing forward—learning to trust more with each fall.
Sophia, my 11 month-old granddaughter is living with us, and she’s learning to walk. I say “walk” but really it’s just 4 seconds of standing—she puts her hands up and smiles—then falls. Walking has been way more falling than moving forward. Maybe we should just declare her a failure at walking, what do you think? I hope that’s a ridiculous thought—what do you expect infants to do as they learn, take off running? We will help her, and encourage her with every fall to get up and go again, because it’s strengthening her, teaching her—she will walk, then run if she doesn’t give up.
God’s like that with us in this season. He’s a good parent, reaching a hand to help us up, teaching us with every fall how to spiritually walk with Him.
What Does Evil Do in This Season?
To tell you about this season of my growth is a bit vulnerable, but I hope helpful. I was raised with pornography—literally. Before the internet, all my friends fathers had it, and the sins of the fathers pass down until someone breaks that chain. So our tree-fort was decorated with it in 2nd grade (that’s 7-8 years old), we didn’t have a clue what sex or sexuality was—this was evil sewing habits of lust leading to addiction and slavery. For some of you, evil abused you or beat you down sewing lies and habits in other ways. For me, after following Christ for a year or two, I read in the Bible lust wasn’t God’s will. And then the war began. Being convicted to not treat women like sex objects, I decided to stop, yet when I tried to stop I couldn’t—I kept failing, vowing to stop, failing, over and over. You might not relate to my issue, it could be any sin-pattern God makes you aware of. You try to stop, you can’t, you fail, vow, fail, try harder, fail—is a shame spiral satan loves because he can drive you away from the Light of God. He can’t remove God’s light, but he can get you to turn away and stay there for years. But this is not failure—it’s a part of growth—if you’ll fail forward. Evil loves the 1-2 punch. He jabs with the left by tempting you—”one won’t hurt, you can stop any time, what’s wrong with looking, search this key word and see what happens.” You fall, you sin, then comes the 2nd upper-cut condemning you “You’re such a sorry excuse for a Christian, look at you, God’s disgusted with you—He doesn’t want to hear from you until you can get your act together and stop this.” I’d hear this. And it worked. I’d hide from God for days or weeks, sometimes months…but you think I’d get better? No, because we need God’s help to grow. But here’s what I did….
What You Can Do in This Season?
Memorize Romans 8:1.
“There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus….“
When condemning thoughts try to drive you away from God, it’s evil’s 1-2 punch, don’t fall to it. Speak the truth “I’m not condemned by God, I belong to Christ” I can fail forward. How? Don’t stay down, take His hand and get up—walk toward His Light.
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:5-9.
Two important things here.
First, join a Community Group or Life Group for spiritual support. It says when we live in the Light (being honest with God and a few other people—why we say No Perfect People Allowed—because honesty is living in God’s Light, and it says Jesus’ blood cleanses US—notice it’s plural. We need spiritual community and honesty.
Second, we don’t deny our sins or failures, we immediately confess them to God. See, Jesus already paid for your wrongs—all of them—He took your condemnation so you can live loved by God. But the goal is not to keep sinning or stay stuck cause it hurts us or others, fail forward. Our sin doesn’t remove God from our lives—it muddies the windows of our dwelling blocking the Light and Love—and confession cleanses them every time. I did this, I had a small group of men and we were honest about our stuggles and failures, prayed for each other, encouraged each other. And I practiced Spiritual Breathing, and over the next 2 years God truly set me free of that bondage.
An Exercise: Spiritual Breathing
Take a deep breath right now.
Inhale, you take in Life, you need Oxygen to live. Now exhale—it’s death, carbon dioxide can kill you if you don’t exhale it. God is Life, Love, Light. As soon as you become aware of sin, of going against God’s will—don’t beat yourself up, don’t let shaming or condemning thoughts take hold.
Exhale—confess it. Confession is just agreement—God I agree I did wrong. Now Thank Him “God thank you that in Jesus you paid to forgive my sin—thank you I’m forgiven.” That’s it—you Exhaled (breathe out), now Inhale—God is the Oxygen of Life, say “Holy Spirit lead and guide me—help me learn from this so I fail forward. What do you want to teach me? What do you want me to do now?” This week, let every breath remind you to Breathe Spiritually.