November 25, 2020

Introducing “The Liturgical Gangstas”: How Can A Person Grow Spiritually in the Next Year?

UPDATE: We have a Lutheran. Rev. William Cwirla, whom many of you know from The God Whisperers, etc. His post has been added to this one.

Welcome to “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Every episode of the Liturgical Gangstas will feature a question, and each member of the panel will make a response from within their own tradition. Then you and the Gangstas can interact in the comments.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Welcome to the Liturgical Gangstas, and here’s the first question: “A person comes to you and says “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year. Using the resources we all share and the specific resources of your tradition, what kind of guidance would you give this person? Be as specific as possible.”

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: You need to make sure to get into the habit of some spiritual practices. Read the Bible daily and pray. Read the lives of the saints. As you know, our Church has a daily lectionary that is hundreds of years old. As well, we have a tradition of morning and evening prayers that dates back a long time. A good plan for reading the Bible in two years, that roughly follows our Orthodox way of reading is found at and the Orthodox Study Bible, published by them, has a simple Orthodox-friendly morning and evening prayer in back. I would suggest that you start using that plan. A brief synopsis of one or two saints a day is found at the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese found at

2. You need to maintain a habit of community and sacramental life. Remember that for us Orthodox, the Divine Liturgy is an entry into heaven to be with God and His angels. We begin here and ascend to be with God. To be in the presence of God, and to receive His Body and Blood is to receive from the Holy Spirit that which we need to live the Christian life and to run the race. Do not forget the Mystery of Confession. That is a time of preparation where you can receive not only forgiveness, but also wise counsel for your life. Build relationships with others in the church, go visit them, and spend time with them outside the worship. We are a community and we grow and support each other as a community. Consider volunteering to help in one of the areas of church life.

3. Finally, commit yourself to service. “Faith without works is dead,” says St. James. If you want to grow, make some time and room in your life and chose a ministry to which you can devote a few hours in service of others. No, simple “altar boy” service is not what I am talking about. And, not even being a Sunday School teachers. Each of those is valuable, but if you want significant internal growth, then you need to look outwards. Consider volunteering at a hunger center, or a thrift shop, or being a nursing home volunteer, or a local soccer program for disadvantaged youth, etc. There is a synergistic relationship between faith and works. If you want your faith to grow, volunteer to do works which will help you to grow your faith. If you want your works to be meaningful, then pray, read Scripture, and participate in the Mysteries (sacraments). It is not either one or the other, but both that need to happen in your life.

Finally, may the Lord bless you this coming year as you strive to grow in the Lord.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: In many ways the history of the Methodist movement is richer than its present. Wesley was an evangelistic preacher who called people to faith in Jesus Christ and not content to leave converts with only faith, he organized them into groups that met regularly, holding each member accountable and taking care of one another. This is our Wesleyan DNA. We may have lost some of our evangelistic fervor, but one thing we continue to do well is organize for the sake of discipleship.

If a person came to me and said, “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year”, after I recovered from my initial shock I would guide them in one of several ways. The first thing I would offer is participation in a Disciple Bible Study. Disciple is a 32-36 week Bible study through which participants not only learn the Bible, they also get to know one another, pray for one another, and are called to act as disciples as a response to the weekly readings. In my last church, I saw a man wrestle with the Old Testament prophets and their call to watch out for the widows and orphans. Through those deep questions, his faith in Christ led him to active roles in caring for widows in the community and orphans in Guatemala.

If the interest or resources were unavailable to get a Disciple class started, I would try to get this person to start a Covenant Discipleship Group or check to see if there was already one in the area this person could get into. Covenant Discipleship groups encourage participants to be spiritually engaged on a personal level and in a group setting both in works and in piety. It is a well-rounded program that helps believers grow in many different areas.

If none of these were a possibility, I would take the time to disciple this person one on one in much the same way I was discipled by one of my seminary professors who is also a United Methodist elder. We would study Scripture together, pray together, and find some way for our growing faith to manifest itself in the service of love in this world.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: I am an Anglican priest so I answer from that perspective. To help this person grow I would suggest two central practices. First, assuming he is baptized, I would encourage him to go worship every Sunday. For an Anglican, that means hearing the Word of God preached and receiving Holy Communion. Anglicans believe the central thing a Christian should do is participate in this type of worship. It may sound strange, but we believe that it is in this kind of worship that what Christian teachers call the “mystical union” (the mysterious way Christians are connected to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit) happens. In other words, we really are nourished and strengthened by the very life and presence of Jesus. For an Anglican this is the most important thing one can do to grow spiritually.

The second thing I would urge this disciple to do is practice daily prayer using The Daily Office. This is a set of prayers (typically morning and evening prayer) and scripture readings that are connected to weekly worship. They are best prayed with others, but even if prayed alone, they constitute the prayers of the Church. They root a Christian in the common prayer life of the Church and the Christian year as they act as a slow but persistent transformative agent in a Christian’s life.

These two practices comprise a kind of rule of life or pattern of discipleship for Anglican Christians. In fact, our worship source book, the Book of Common Prayer, is built around the rhythm of these two practices. They serve as the bedrock from which daily life is lived. Things like loving one’s spouse and children, being plugged into Christian community, exercising diligence and integrity at work and being a witness to one’s neighbor are cultivated and nourished by these two central practices.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: If someone asked me that, I’d assume they were ready to hear the answer I’d give – so I’d tell them to have a seat and not expect me to say anything near quick enough to take home and put on an index card or a post-it note.

The first thing I would address is the first part of their question – the “grow significantly… in the next year” part. I’d have to ask what they meant by “significantly” first of all. OK, I’ll switch gears to addressing this person… I wonder, why is it you want to grow, what you call significantly, in the next year? What does that mean to you? I would encourage you not to look at spiritual growth as something that can be done by leaps and bounds in a specific frame of time. A year might even seem long to our Western minds, especially our American minds, but as I have come to see it, a year in spiritual growth terms is a drop in the proverbial bucket. We’re on a looong journey and we need to not forget that. Short cuts produce a “short cut” kind of growth.

You may want to re-evaluate the kind of growth you want to experience and not look so much at time. If you look at time at all, I’d suggest looking at it liturgically. I mean, one of the “things” you can do is to place yourself inside the traditional Christian calendar. There is something very formational about simply living your life within the liturgical rhythm of the Church. And this is an intentional thing. I’m not talking about auto-pilot here. I mean, intentionally place yourself in it – Advent, Christmas (not just the day), Lent, Easter, feast days, Ordinary time – it’s the rhythm of our life as Christians, as members of the Body, the Church. As we breathe it, we take in some of the spiritual “oxygen” we need to survive, to grow. This can be a big change for some of us if we haven’t been used to this kind of rhythm, but I believe it would be worth whatever time and effort you have to put into it.

Again, the kinds of things I’m talking about here aren’t to be equated with something like a high-protein diet that you go on for a while to shed some pounds. You have to look at this as long-haul life change. And you may not get where you think you want or need to be in a year. I bring this up again because I believe it’s crucially important to understand that this is how things work.

Now for a few more concrete things you can do… Understand, first, that in doing these things, what you’re doing is tapping into an ever-flowing river of God’s Grace, into His very Life. It’s there, all the time. He loves us, all the time and has provided for us this New Life in Christ, and there are many ways to tap into it, into Him. So, what we’re doing when we engage in these activities is simply putting ourselves in the river, getting under the flow, and that’s what produces any kind of “growth” in us.

Be in the community of faith – worship God with and in the Church – if you’re Catholic, there’s a Mass every day, not just on Sundays – this include the Sacraments – regular participation in the Eucharist especially. Also, in the community vein, find some kind of Spiritual Director – a person you trust, who’s mature, with whom you can talk about your spiritual life and struggles, etc. Pray always – back to liturgical rhythm, I’d encourage you to pick up the practice of liturgical prayer of some sort (Psalms, prayers, other Scripture readings) – also something like praying the rosary (some kind of rosary/prayer beads) as a tangible and tactile way to pray when you’re idle. Find a way to get a steady diet of Scripture. The Liturgy of the Hours provides some of this – maybe also read the lectionary readings each day. Find some time for quiet – quiet for your mind, for your soul – this is restful and allows you to hear better. Try to make time for a retreat (maybe at a Monastery) at least once a year, maybe a shorter day retreat every now and then – this will help you rest, which promotes growth. Wrap yourself in these things like a monk’s habit. Let them weave their way into the rhythm of your life. These are the things that keep us focused “on that which is above.”

Lastly, don’t try so hard to measure your growth. This can be very counterproductive. When you do this, you’re possibly focusing on yourself a little too much. Don’t make a tick-list and go about ticking things off. This can build a sort of inward “see there, I did it, look at me” mentality. Pride, by the way, is a bit of a growth killer. I’ll end by saying, again, to make sure and look at this as a life thing, not just something to do for a year to get somewhere. Long journey. There is no such thing as “spiritual miracle-grow” – let’s stay “organic” in this thing.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: To begin with, I’d likely ask the person to make sure he/she understands what he/she means by the word “significantly.” I think we oftentimes set ourselves up for spiritual frustration and disillusionment by trying, in one fell swoop, to be the next Saint Francis, or, for Baptists, to achieve William Carey status in a week! Now, the questioner isn’t necessarily implying such a thing, but I’d just want to make sure. I think I’d want to point out that, in the economy of God, “significant” is often small in the eyes of the world. So I’d encourage the person to relish the small victories and not get frustrated when, 2 days into 2009, you’re not seeing the progress you want to see.

Secondly, I increasingly find in my own life that loving my neighbor as myself is ground-zero for my relationship with Jesus. I’d encourage the questioner to make a deliberate, intentional plan for being Christlike to his or her “neighbor,” whoever that might be. By Christlike, I mean acts of service and the giving of time.

Third, I’d encourage the person to break what Calvin Miller called “the sensual thrall.” This is the obsession with creature comforts. Here’s where a little St. Francis might help, by the way! We don’t talk enough in Baptist circles about the devastating effects our consumer culture has on our walk with Christ. So, I’d encourage the person to give something that they have and that they value away…possibly each month and maybe even preferably to a complete stranger.

And finally, as a Baptist, I’d like to take the opportunity of this question to strike at the root of what C.S. Lewis called “the heresy of Jesus and me” (Letters to Malcolm). I want to challenge, a bit, that first word in the question: “I”. I’d want to encourage the brother or sister in Christ certainly to strive for advancement in his/her personal pilgrimage with Christ. That’s essential. But I’d like to also encourage him/her to work hard to make that “I” a “we”, especially in a Baptist culture that seems to have a diminishing ecclesiology.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: This is a great question and one that comes up often. First, letʼs be very clear. Spiritual growth comes from God who works by the Spirit through the Word. Growth, as we experience it, is our perception of what God is doing with us. So the first thing I would say is donʼt focus on growth but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of your faith. Donʼt look inward for growth, you wonʼt find it there. If you start looking at your feet as you run the race that is set before you, youʼre going to trip and skid on your chin. Look outward to Christ.

Having said that, I will add that there some things we can do to sharpen our spiritual senses. The first and foremost is to be in the Word. By that I mean be in church regularly in a disciplined way, hearing the Word (faith comes by hearing) and receiving the Sacrament of Christʼs Body and Blood. This is our spiritual food, Living Bread come down from heaven, our Manna in the wilderness. You canʼt expect strength if you donʼt eat and drink. In addition to regular corporate worship, develop a rhythm of daily prayer, morning and evening if possible, including the psalms, hymns, readings from Scripture and the church fathers, the Creed and the catechism, and a pattern of prayer that centers on the Our Father and intentional prayers for the various needs and circumstances of those around us. Our church body has recently published a Treasury of Daily Prayer which is a great resource.

Our of my pastoral experience, I will warn that certain vices and habitual sins can quickly dull our spiritual sense. This is especially true of the appetites – sex, food, and drink. Drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual sin war against the spiritual life and are a snare for many in our society. If you are weak and tempted in these areas, pray for strength and pursue the discipline of fasting. By fasting, I donʼt necessarily mean going hungry, but being intentional about what you eat, drink, and do and when you do it, consecrating everything with the Word of God and prayer. In my Lutheran tradition, Advent and Lent are special seasons of fasting and restraint to exercise our self-control. Self-control is among the fruit of the Spirit, by the way, so you canʼt say you donʼt have it.

The gift of confession and absolution – Iʼm speaking of the personal one-on-one variety – is a great tool and one that is not understood or used well in Protestant circles. Lutherans still maintain the confessional, at least on paper, but the takers are few when it comes to regular use. I believe that personal confession with a father confessor leads to a much deeper awareness of oneʼs sinfulness and of the magnitude of Godʼs undeserved kindness to sinners in Jesus.

Last, as I indicated above, I would encourage active use of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These gifts are always other-directed, looking to the neighbor, the ones God places in your path. Expect these fruits to be there as a Christian. Baptized believers have the Spirit, they may was well enjoy His fruit.


  1. this is refreshing. often when I hear people talk about their ‘christian walk’, what it seems they usually mean by that is the collection of “things Christians do”, and to what degree they are/are not keeping up with them. And it can be (and often is) Christless.

    its refreshing to hear so much more than the disciplines and ‘being at church’, but more connecting personally with Jesus and with his people.

  2. …i was hoping to read at least one of them say something like “you really dont need to worry yourself about that”

  3. If someone came to you and said I’d like to grow in Christlikeness, you’d say “Not something you should want to do?”

    Worry about- I agree. Desire- I disagree completely.

  4. The other day I was reading John 1:14 from The Message and it said…

    “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the (neighbor)hood.”

    Sounds like The Liturgical Gangstas are instructing me how to let Jesus move into the ‘hood’of my life.

    Bring it on bros. I need the reality of the incarnation more than ever.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. Really found it encouraging. Having grown up in a Evangelical tradition, I’m finding the Book of Common Prayer so important in my journey. Never even knew it existed until a couple of years ago. Love the history, the fact it has been so vital to Christian faith for centuries. Love the “Liturgical Gangstas”!

  6. cool – hey wait, no reformed “Gangstas”?

  7. rasselas: the reformed pretty much dominate the blogosphere. they aren’t suffering from a lack of input.

  8. Thanks so much. This series looks to be very cool.

  9. I don’t have anything significant to add to this discussion in terms of the content. I just want to mention that this is a very refreshing post in it’s format. I would love to see more of this kind of “conversational” perspective approach.

    good idea here,

    paul del signore

  10. Cool topic. I would like to point to a sermon and hymn by A.B. Simpson the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which sums up his response to this very question. In short, “The Christian journey is not about seeking after new experiences, it is about seeking Christ “Himself”.” This is what I really appreciated in Michael’s new blog. Jesus shaped spirituality.

    Here is the text of the sermon and hymn.

    The language is a little old (early 1900s), but it is certainly worth the read.

  11. These are all very good recommendations. Thank you for this innovative post.

    Thanks again to Father Ernesto, and thanks to Peter Vance Matthews for mentioning the role of the Holy Spirit.

    Yesterday, I read in Bonhoeffer’s “Ethics” where he describes the difference between formation and conformation:

    “Christ remains the only giver of forms. It is not Christian men who shape the world with their ideas, but it is Christ who shapes men in conformity with Himself. But just as we misunderstand the form of Christ if we take Him to be essentially the teacher of a pious and good life, so, too, we should misunderstand the formation of man if we were to regard it as instruction in the way in which a pious and good life is to be attained. Christ is the Incarnate, Crucified, Risen One whom the Christian faith confesses…The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature.”

    My concern is not with the methods recommended in this post. My concern is with the recent evangelical writers who have borrowed liberally from ancient traditions and attached them to their own, very modern, self-help, principle-based improvement programs. I don’t think the ancient writers ever strayed far from Philippians 1:6 and Philippians 2:13. Don’t embrace liturgy and breviaries to become a better person; do so to draw near to Christ, where new life is to be found (Hebrews 4:16). Drawing near to God will also draw you to your neighbor. If not, it may not have been God but ego and self-righteousness that you embraced.

  12. I would tell him to shut up because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You don’t grow by focusing on trying to grow. You grow by regularly spending time with Jesus and experiencing him daily. You grow by staying close to Christ and developing an intimate relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit. If you want to grow don’t focus on yourself and your weaknesses and your sins and all the other b.s. Above all other things focus on Jesus and experiencing intimacy with Him. Everything flows out of ones intimacy with God or lack of intimacy with God.

  13. whoa: I don’t see Jesus in the Gospels telling people who came with a sincere (albeit perhaps misguided) question “to shut up.” The person you tell to shut up will do just that — he will shut up his ears to anything else you may have to say to him.

    The Gangstas got it right, anyway, encouraging the person to draw close to God and love their neighbours in a tangible way.

  14. Whoa: I should moderate your first sentence, but out of deference to Wolf Paul’s reply I’ll leave it. Don’t expect to be in pastoral ministry too long telling people to “shut up,” then using evangelical jargon like “spend time with Jesus.”

  15. Michael,

    What does it say that Alan and I both began in the same way? (I had not read his when I typed mine.) Perhaps the SBC should re-open those talks with Rome? 🙂


  16. Yeah, I thought the same thing when I read yours Wyman. See, the Holy Spirit is crankin’ out the same stuff all over. Good stuff. 🙂

  17. Great, great post. Thanks a lot, Michael, I’m looking forward to the next posts in this series.

    Speaking of Bonhoeffer, could someone offer a Lutheran perspective on the original question?

  18. This is all nice and there is wisdom here to be followed, but “significant” growth in Christ comes ONLY by trials and tribulations. Don’t worry, they will come. The more you seek to serve the Savior and the people he loves, [all the people of the world],
    the more trials you will find. With all love and respect the leaders above mostly mention activities to do on the sidelines while warming the bench, getting ready to get into the game, but the operant word is “significant”, and that happens when you follow Fr. Ernesto’s advice and seek a work, seek to really serve. Won’t be easy, but you will grow. Success is not gauranteed either, not the first time, or the next, but run the race to win, really fight don,t just box at the air, and when you find you can’t do it, you just can’t do it, on your own, then you will find His strength to go on. That is the story of the Saints. That is when Confession [in my case to God or a Brother}, Communion [when you are working hard for him you need to be fed at His table}, Community[be with the saints],Prayer, Worship, Study, really take meaning because you will DIE without them, they are not an option they are your air and bread.
    We must preach to encourage people to want this growth more than any other objective in their lives. This growth is truly the meaning of life.

  19. “Shut up” + “spend time with Jesus” = “Shut up” + “Go away”?

  20. Just for comic value, I wish the LG’s included an ultra-liberal pastor and a prosperity dude. I would love to hear them answer this question!

  21. Patrick Lynch, I can’t resist, forgive me,
    “Just Name that growth, and Claim it in the name of a Jaysussa!”
    I know, penance required.

  22. A paradoxical side of truly desiring growth in Christ is that it is common for the pilgrim who begins the journey to increasing become aware of the depth of their sinfulness and lack of holiness. Spiritual hopelessness and depression, along with an increasing disconnect from other believers not similarly struggling often greets the seeker. A sense of reverse-growth is possibly more common than one of positive forward movement.

    The pastors and priests responding to Michael’s question offer answers that would help to guide the pilgrim away from such experiences by suggesting involvement away from self and toward the involvement and care for others.

    The largest problems I have found in my personal desire to grow as a disciple is that it has mostly had to be done alone. Our churches don’t very often know what to do with a passionate seeker. God does not abandon us, but without a spiritual guide, the sense that He has is a common feeling.

    My wife teaches gifted children. It is very much the same situation for gifted students. Teachers and schools are well organized for the average student and those with learning difficulties. They do not understand well the needs of the gifted and severely gifted student. These children often become “problem children” and fail to grow into their promise because their unique needs are not understood or provided for.

    Both spiritual seekers and gifted children are seen as not needing help, or negatively, as irritations that interfere with the regular work of the church and classroom.

    Thank God for those who see the needs and potential of such people as worthy of investment of time and energy. The blessings these men,women, and children will later return to us is worth the effort, even if we are unable to see them as anything other than pains in rear at the first.

  23. Willoh, I can remember being a guest preacher at a church where they allowed people to “share” impressions, prophecy, etc. Right before my sermon, a woman came up and crying shared about how difficult it had been to work at a camp for “problem” youth, and the emotional pain she had suffered while doing so.

    It was yet summer and another camp was about to start in a week. At the end of her sharing, she talked about going back and invited people to volunteer to come and help her. As I heard her, I thought I felt that still small voice telling me to modify my sermon (yes I was a priest and yes priests do get those feelings too, GRIN).

    So, I started out by pointing to her testimony and saying it was the oddest call to service I had ever heard. I characterized it as, “I hurt; I hurt; please come hurt with me.” I then went on to talk about service and about growing through your service and pointed out that her call to the congregation was one of the most Biblical calls to serve the world I had heard in a long time.

    She came up afterwards and thanked me. I heard later that at least some people volunteered to go “hurt” with her at the camp. That is Christian growth in service.

  24. amen!

  25. Wyman,

    I’d love that idea. We Catholics could use some push to witness.

    Patrick I do like your sense of humor.

  26. I think Willow said it well, growth comes from trials, usually something that forces you to leave your comfort zone. The Gangstas described the usual things, like Bible study, prayer time and communal worship. But in the NT when someone hits a wall,it seems to me that Jesus emphasizes something else. He gives them active options that often remove them from their comfort zone – give away everything you have to the poor and follow him, or fasting, or help some smelly total stranger that is beat up, or carry a cross, or be persecuted.

  27. No Lutheran included?

    Concordia Press just came out with the “Treasury of Daily Prayer” — everything you need in one book. Beyond the lectionary, chant settings for the Psalms, complete services (including chants) for the hours, etc. It’s a real treat for “prayer-book” novices.

    And just to be clear, I have no connection at all with CPH — I bought one myself some weeks back. It’s a really great resource.

  28. Gentlemen,
    iMonk is groaning right now and doesn’t know why…

    … but I found something missing from your responses. I don’t intend to be nitpicky, but no one stated that they would stop to ask or discuss with questioner where he or she is at, spiritually, right now. Wouldn’t the starting place be very important in mapping out a direction toward the destination?

    I guess I should give Mr. Creech credit for coming close to this in his asking the question “why”. Maybe it’s egotistical problem, but why not stop and get to know the questioner a little deeper before piling on the suggestions, and perhaps tailoring the methods a little more toward what needs come out in the conversation?

    I like all the suggestions, BTW… good things to consider.

  29. … my egotistical problem… as in Justin’s…

  30. I was blown away that the orthodox priest picked worship, prayer, Bible reading and ministry (which are the items that instantly came to my mind), while the Baptist did not. Weird! I feel like I have entered the twilight zone. I knew that corporate worship would be on their list, but had no idea read the Bible would be on the EO list.

    I guess that shows my ignorance.

  31. My faith formation plan this year included a heavy dose of “Jesus Take The Wheel” and trying to make myself feel sorry for poor people.

    Did I do something wrong?

  32. One thing I keep thinking as I read through the comments is that we should realize the nature of the responses we all gave to Michael’s posed question: We’re obviously not expounding the entire nature of the Christian spiritual life. The nature of a question like this and our blogged responses is not conducive to the kind of “completeness” that it really deserves. We have to boil our answers down a bit, and therefore, will not hit every point that might need to be touched on with an individual inquiring about such a hefty subject.

    And there’s a sort of impersonal nature to a generic question coming from “no one” or “everyone” too. You can only really give general answers that will lead anyone into the kind of lifestyle that will put them on the path of a growing union with God in Christ. All our responses seem to lead in that direction. I imagine any of our preference would be to have a relationship with the person who asks us something like this. I’d rather give on-going advice than touch-and-go advice. Of course that can be much more effective.

    So, in responding to the question as asked, in this context, we can’t really open up the whole wide world of Christian experience (or experiences) that will lead a person to “growth.” I suppose you have to answer like you’re some monk in a cave who has the occasional visitor asking for guidance. Of course we all wrote far too much to be desert Fathers – you’d probably be lucky to get a sentence out of them back in the day. 🙂 Peace.

  33. I agree with Willoh’s sentiment if I can add a caveat.

    I came to the conclusion about four year ago that to be a Christian is to suffer. I had a child that became addicted to drugs when barely a teen and fell into deeper levels of darkness as time went on. In the darkest of times, after my wife and I concluded this child may well kill them self before long, this person (I’ll say B) entered treatment. B struggled free and it began to look as though they might finally begin making positive choices for their life. Then, after a never-ending series of bad relationships, they met someone one evening and immediately declared they would be married withing a few weeks. I was devastated. I had felt they were beginning to finally making positive choices for their life, but now were reverting back to non-thinking and destructive behaviors. After much anger and prayer, I felt that God spoke to me saying, “All you can do is love B. That is what they need from you. B must live their own life now. Your blessing to them is to love and support them. That is all you can do, and it is enough”

    That is when I began to understand the love and suffering of Christ. It was also the beginning of my understanding of what my role as a parent to my children was. What I had done prior to this time was to, in effect, express my love and concern through the withholding of my love. To grant open love would be, it seemed to me, to say “I support you in your bad decisions. When you become the child I raised you to be and make better choices, I will grant to you my love. Until then, I will keep it from you. But this is not what Christ did. He loved us even as we nailed Him to the cross, and cried to his Father “Forgive then, for they know not what they do.”

    To love, then, is to suffer. It is feel the pain for what those we love do to and against themselves, but not to inflict that pain upon them in retaliation. It is to hold it silently within, and to love them through it. It is to withhold the pain we suffer through the child’s bad choices, but not our love.

    And so, to be a Christian is to suffer. We suffer for those we love or are learning to love. And we suffer for our own failures and choices. We enter through these things into the sufferings of Christ, and learn through them to love as He loves.

    The caveat is that it is not our business to aid others in their suffering. By that, I mean that the individual is quite capable of finding their own appointed level of suffering without our adding to it. Our call is to walk beside them in their suffering, to disciple them, pray with them, love them, and to suffer with them.

    Let me add that B is happily and blessedly married four year now. B and spouse have a gorgeous 8 months old who just began crawling yesterday. They are together reborn, and it is as if those dark days had never happened. I call B my miracle child. The healing and grace of God are mind blowing.

  34. Alan is right. But, in reply to Justin, as this hypothetical person’s pastor, if I don’t know where they are starting from then I’ve been spending more time online than with my people.

  35. Steve Miller, back in 67, wrote a song called Gangster of Love. How ’bout we be “Gangsters of Love”. I could get into being a gritty, dirty, down in the gutter, gangster of love.

  36. I’m so surprised that none of them suggested the latest fad, if we can call it that, of having sex with your spouse for an appointed number of days in a row. Geez!

    In seriousness now, I did find the suggestions helpful.

  37. OK analytical types. Restrain yourselves. I restricted the question and even suggested a length. Your comprehensive volumes on spiritual direction will all be reviewed here at IM when you send me a copy plus a generous check. 🙂

    I am glad for the Lutheran recommendations, but I’d like to talk with one.

    Jim: The Treasury of Daily Prayer was reviewed here at IM twice. I also asked CPH to place an ad here, but they don’t do blog ads. Too bad, because we’d sell some for them.

  38. Shaun et. al,

    What I’m personally trying to avoid as I read and learn from these comments is a kind of defensive posture about what we posted. I appreciate the feedback. For instance, the lack of suffering from my own post shames me a bit, for I truly believe that suffering is indeed the school of growth like no other. I think that’s a great point.

    I do want it noted for the record, however, that the Baptist respondent does think that Bible study and worship are crucial to spiritual growth, even though I didn’t include it! I was more thinking along the lines of things outside of the typical Baptist pat answers, as important as they are. I was trying to emphasize the living of Scripture in tangible ways. The average Baptist seems to have a high view of Scripture (that says nothing about his/her commitment to studying it, though!) but a rather low view of his/her neighbor unless his/her neighbor is likeable.

    If I get up and preach inerrancy, I get “Amen’s”. If I preach selling one of your cars and giving the money to your struggling neighbor, I get blank stares.

    BUT, it is an ommission to be sure!

    I do not, personally, find it odd that the Orthodox would encourage Bible study.


  39. Wyman: I’d like to apply for the money from the car sale. I’m well below the poverty line.

  40. “And so, to be a Christian is to suffer.”
    And yet the prospect of joy is not diminished.

    “Our call is to walk beside them in their suffering, to disciple them, pray with them, love them, and to suffer with them.”

    And yet the prospect of joy should not be diminished.

  41. If you are not growing you are sitting by the side of the road in your faith walk – at least that is what I keep telling myself. But I also realized recently that I have been doing just that, when my wife pointed out the way I had been interacting with others, my family, our relationship.

    So… I went on retreat this weekend – spent some time in prayer, meditation and contemplation. I spent some time doing the Liturgy of the hours and reading some of the eastern and western mystics. I attended Mass and pondered on some of Paul’s letters. And I communed with like minded believers.

    I feel renewed. I feel like I regained my focus to continue with what I did on the weekend. I feel again to be in the right frame of mind to reach out to others and live out my faith.

    This is a great topic. So how will I know if I am being successful in this growth? By being patient, kind, compassionate, and spending time in prayer EACH DAY, not stressing as much about those things out of my control and giving over to God and trusting when things seem so overwhelming, reaching out to help others even when it feels uncomfortable or inconvenient to do so… AND… listening to the feedback from my wife since she can see through the masks…

  42. I have a Lutheran. He’s mailing me information on his personality disorder.

    I’m kidding.

  43. Loved the responses, though they are pretty much what we’ve heard many times before. Want to grow? Pray, read, worship, and serve. It’s kind of like the advice we’ve all heard about weight loss: eat right and exercise.

    But we so rarely take this advice. Why?

    My question for the person (after I had affirmed them for even having a hunger at all which is all too rare these days) would be “O.k. What are you willing to give up in order to achieve this?” Spiritual life (and growth is an output of life) isn’t an add-on but rather a reorientation. In order to reorient we need to turn away from something.

    The first step (I would recommend) is to remove everything and begin with developing the ability to be still and listen. None of the excellent practices presented here is worth a hill of beans until we’ve come to the point where we regularly make/take *time* for them. Uninterrupted, undisturbed, unhurried, un-distracted, undivided time.

    Then I’d warn them that this will take a heckuva lot longer than a year–but God has plenty of time.

    Then I’d tell them that these practices are the “heavy lifting” of spiritual growth. Like diet and exercise, they aren’t always what we *want* to do. They aren’t always convenient. They aren’t always “moving spiritual experiences”. Oftentimes, they are blood and guts grunt work that we have to do whether we “feel like it” or not. And that is their power.

  44. Michael. You suggested that “analytical types” restrain themselves. I jumped right on this request and have analyzed all responses to your question thus far. I am in the process of creating a chart to diagram my discoveries and will post it for the benefit of all upon its completion.

    Humbly and analytically yours truly…….

  45. MDS, I think the original reference is hotter. Ini Kamoze is… well?

    My personal vision of post-Christian ecumenism includes, at least prospectively, a liberal amount of two-stepping.

  46. MDS my heart bleeds for your time of suffering with your child, praise God for the victory , but I must use this, since you offered it up. The worse suffering experienced, is 2nd person. Watching someone you love suffer is harder than suffering oneself.
    I was at an Ordination of Elders two weeks ago. The men testified about their walk with God. There were stories of sick children, stillborn babies, premature death of spouses, financial ruin and joy, yes joy.
    We are invited to pick up our cross and follow. Now that was Truth in advertising.

  47. Monk,

    Thank you for your brilliance in this post. Thank you leaders for your responses. There’s a glimpse of the Kingdom when separate branches of the church come together on an idea. I think the Church is going to come together– not in conformity but in community.

    Many parts. One Body.



  48. Alan, my apologies. My intent is not to be critical or to atomize the broad spectrum you’re talking about here. I’m only asking a question for consideration. I realize the difficulty in open questions like this.

    Matthew, being a sheep, I applaud you desire and standard to know the people you shepherd. In my [admittedly limited] experience, that is an exception rather than the rule.

  49. Michael,

    Why does your sentence, “I have a Lutheran.” have me laughing uncontrollably? It gets funnier and funnier for some reason each time I read that.

    “Habemus Lutheranus!!!”

    (Oh, and, believe me, if I sold my car and gave you the money you’d have just enough for an RC Cola and a moonpie…maybe.)


  50. I love this post. My first thought reading the title was, “Can I be a liturgical gangster? Can I? Can I?” (I was confirmed Anglican yesterday). Turns out the post was refreshing – a kind of mirror of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Disciplines, spiritual formation, liturgical rhythm…

    Thanks Michael!