Spiritual Edification: What has worked for you?

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In our spiritual journey, many of us have had mountain-top experiences and maybe some valleys, too.  Mountain-top experiences are pretty exciting and can fuel us for a while, but I’m not convinced that our spiritual journey should be based on one great experience.   But in those times in which you have grown the most spiritually, how did that happen to you?  Was it a personal Bible study?  Was it some sort of accountability?  Was it through a small group?  Was it listening to a pastor’s sermon series?  Was it because of a traumatic event where you had to daily seek God?  Was it the discipline of daily devotion?

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
 I call out to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain.

 I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
 I will not fear though tens of thousands
    assail me on every side.

Psalm 3:3-6

I have some spiritual hang-ups.  Sometimes I have to go through some mental aerobics when I pray or when I read the Word.  I have to remind myself of who God is . . remind myself that God is not like my angry earthly father was even before I can pray.  It just does not come easy for me.

For those who have been through spiritual abuse, I think there can be similar obstacles.   Some cannot pray, read their Bible, and many wouldn’t even consider stepping one foot in a church.  Boy, do I get that.  So, I’d love to hear from both those who have experienced abuse and those who haven’t.  What has been most beneficial to you in nurturing your spiritual walk with the Lord?

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22 comments on “Spiritual Edification: What has worked for you?

  1. After being too much of a couch potato I started exercising a few months back. After I had spent twenty minutes on the treadmill Kelly, my wife, said, “Don’t you feel great?” I didn’t; in fact I felt sore and even beat up. Spiritual growth can be like that for me.

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  2. After I had spent twenty minutes on the treadmill Kelly, my wife, said, “Don’t you feel great?” I didn’t; in fact I felt sore and even beat up. Spiritual growth can be like that for me.

    I can really relate with that, Craig. I wonder why this is?

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  3. Actually, I have started exercising and I can’t really call it fun.

    I have always been alone in my spiritual walk with God- no one to talk to.
    Every church I went to, pretty much, I was excluded; I think because I talked too deep and did not go along with the program. Very lonely, but God has been very good to me and I am thankful for those wonderful studies with Him and me.

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  4. I walk–whether it’s in the woods or around downtown Portland, or in a park; just getting out and moving around really helps me now, and was esp. a part of my recovery when we left our abusive church. That was not a time of great joy or spiritual power, but it was a time that I sensed His constant presence and deliverance in my life. It’s also important during the recovering time right after leaving an abusive church that you take care of yourself physically: watch the alcohol and tobacco use, don’t eat too much junk, exercise, spend time with positive-type people, etc. It was also a VERY powerful thing in my life to spend time and renew relationships with people who knew me before I was a part of the abusive church, and who I went to school with and grew up in the same neighborhood with, etc.

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  5. Being a part of a local congregation after conversion has been the catalyst for my spiritual edification more than anything else. It has been in this context that I have been forced to get to know people that are different from me. I have been exposed to their stories and points of view that differ radically from my own. It is is this context that I have learned to love unconditionally. It is in this context that I have learned to deal with disappointments and hurts patiently. It is in this context that I have learned to forgive solely because God has forgiven me. It is in this context that I have learned the irreducible value of each of us as individuals and part of the local body of Christ because of our different stories and different abilities and different views. These interactions both good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, and comforting and hurting have been the things that have helped to produce Christ’s likeness in me and enhanced my relationship with God and my neighbors. I know there is much room for growth and improvement in my relationships with God and my neighbors and I am confident that living with and ministering with the local church is the instrument that God will continue to use to conform me to Christ’s image.

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  6. For me, it was cutting out a lot of activity, particulary spiritual activity. Going through what I now know to have been spiritual abuse had my mind in such a foggy, disoriented place that I could barely think straight. Satan was really having a field day with me in my mind, and unfortunately my church was no help. I really began to see how much of a premium the church puts on performance. As long as I was trying to perform and jump through all of the hoops I stayed in a place of heaviness. I think in churches where you have soooo much going on all the time, people become addicted to activity, and/or feel pressured to increase their own involvement even when God may not have called them to do it.
    While I didn’t cut out everything, I did cut out a lot just so that I could REST. I switched up my exercise routine, got outside of the house more (walking, going to various performances, doing some fun volunteer work, taking up a dance class which I have always wanted to do, etc.) I can tell you that when I compare myself to where I was a year ago, it’s like night and day. During this time I have gained a better understanding of who God is. I thought I had a good grasp, until I hit a situation that took me to the edge, and shattered all I thought I knew and believed. I have spend a lot of time reading. Reading the bible, going into various books that I previous hadn’t spent much time in like Jeremiah and Ezekial, and going even deeper into those I was familer, like the Psalms. I love to read, so that has been a life line for me as well.
    I would advise anyone in a long, hard valley season to aim to lead a balanced life. Even if you are not in one, aim to do this. God is not in the heavenlies keeping score of how many ministries you are involved in, how much church services you attend throughout the week, how many bible studies you sign up for, etc. More importantly than that, he CARES for you, and he knows when you need to rest, so don’t feel guilty about that. There is so much more that I have learned, and continue to learn.

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  7. For a long time I wasn’t just in a valley. I was in a ditch at the bottom of the valley.Today I’m walking the plains, looking at those mountains.

    From the perspective of an abused person… having a therapist who doesn’t think the way a typical fundamentalist thinks about abuse has been the biggest help to me; Without this I don’t think I could have even started to recover. When I meet with other Christians I spend much of my time filtering, and processing all of the messages that I receive, anticipating triggers, building defenses against them in my mind. It’s all kind of exhausting.

    By the way, if you happened to have visited my blog recently for the first time, the top menu was inadvertently turned off, but now it’s back. My story is there now. It’s long winded I guess, but it was cathartic to get it out). http://www.stumblingupward.org/

    I was a die-hard performance driven Christian, and I’ve now resigned from almost everything I used to do. I avoid reading Bible commentaries not because they are bad, but because I used to read them just to get prepared for the next hoop to jump through.

    I have a really hard time praying out loud with people, even my wife. Working on that.

    It’s really hard for me to gauge my spiritual growth. If it’s according to the metrics I used to live by, then I’m not really growing. But if it’s according to how my attitudes and thoughts how become more compassionate towards the down trodden, then I guess I’ve grown quite a bit.

    I do need some exercise. I really need to do that. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  8. Randy I do the same thing when I go to a new church or meet other Christians- I filter quite a bit. On one side of me my attennas are alert and ready, but then on the other side I don’t want to always be so cynical. I will check out your blog.
    I, also, was a driven Christian, now it is hard for me to get back into Bible study and fellowship with other Christians, except for a few Christian friends that I trust.
    I do know, though, Jesus Christ knows my struggle and works on me despite the failures and hardships of ME. It is ok. He promises that He will be with us til the end- I believe that.

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  9. If spiritual growth is measured in terms of being in close fellowship with others, the times for me have been infrequent, yet significant. On those occasions when I was privileged to participate in close fellowship, when barriers were dropped and people were vulnerable, it was always in small to medium groups of 4 to no more than 12 people. Either nobody acted as leader or, if somebody did provide some leadership, they remained unobtrusive and largely in the background. There was NEVER a professional minister present. There were a couple of occasions where a pastor would insert himself into a close knit group, and in each instance the group became just another series of meetings. This is not to be critical of the particular pastors. Each of them were pastors for whom I have high regard and with whom I remain in contact. It’s just that there was something about having an “expert” present that seemed to change the dynamics of fellowship.

    Based on experience, I have this theory that one very good way to foster barrier-free fellowship (which I suppose would by synonymous with being able to be vulnerable) is to spend significant amounts of uninterrupted time together, sitting face to face. I’m talking about planning on 3 to 4 hours, but under circumstances such that the planned time can extend, if it happens naturally and without manipulation, until physical strength simply fails. Nobody needs to make anything happen. There is no need to have a planned Bible study or any other agenda. It is O.K. if somebody brings something they want to share, but the emphasis is on sharing, conversationally–no lectures, monologues or other form of monopolization allowed. I have one caveat. In a mixed gender group, it is O.K. for singles to participate, but couples should probably participate as couples. This has to do with the way openness tends to lead naturally to bonding.

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  10. What a great question JA. This is one of those questions that is going to be so different for everyone and that is a good thing. It tells us something about our Precious Lord who meets us where we are.

    For me it was literally removing myself from the white noise clamoring around me in Christendom. All of it started to sound like banging gongs. Away from the celebrity Christians wanting your ear and your loyalty. To sell you a book or a conference.

    I got to the point that if this represented Jesus, then I really did not know Him at all. But I knew deep down it was not of Him at all. So I got out. I wanted to meet Him away from all that noise. So, I closed the blinds and read the Gospels over and over for 3 years. Nothing else. No Paul. (Frankly most of the celebs I was around stayed on Paul the most) But I started to wonder if they were allowing Paul to interpret Jesus instead of the other way around. I found I was right.

    Another huge revelation was the Holy Spirit which seemed to be missing in the instititutions as so many pastors try to be the Holy Spirit for us. What did the early Christians have besides the OT and the Holy Spirit? Some had some letters they passed around mainly focused on their particular situation. That was it.

    One thing that came to encompass Christianity for me was that I am responsible for my walk with Christ. Christianity is an individual relationship with Christ. And beyond that we are to encourage one another, help one another along, etc, etc. But most institutions get it backwards. In that man made construct, we are corporate Body first deferring to positions THEN individual relationship with Christ second. I find that problematic. We cannot mature without that personal relationship with Christ. Or else we might not grow past the guy in the pulpit. That is a tragedy happening all over Christendom. And sadly, still many do not even know that person well. Just their stage persona.

    Now, I long for the deep conversations which few are willing to have. I had a woman tell me just a few days ago, she only wants to deal with what Christianity makes her “feel”. She doesn’t really want to think about it. I was astounded at her honesty. Because what she was admitting is what I have found in most churches.

    Another big one is that I realized that we are to be the kingdom now. But the church tends to have this backwards too. We are not just Christians at church but everywhere we go. We love justice, we want to do right, be honest, help others, etc. We are to be wise yet gentle. We seem to have lost the morality that comes with being a believer in the world. Now all we hear is well, sinners sin. We cannot help it. We are born sinning. I don’t buy this at all and think this teaching is a horrible interpretation. And we end up looking worse than the world because we excuse sin and evil in the Name of Jesus.

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  11. If spiritual growth is measured in terms of character development, which encompasses becoming more Christlike, then I would be hard pressed to isolate particular circumstances or events that are of special significance. It seems that all of life is a training ground. For me personally, I find that what I perceive to be the hard stuff tends to be more transformative, in a positive sense, than any so-called mountain peak. I need to be careful though. I recognize that what I consider hard stuff is quite insignificant compared to the unbearable trauma suffered by many who read here. I do not speak to that kind of suffering.

    Still, insofar as my own experience is concerned, all the circumstances of life are contributing together to work that spiritual growth which consists of character development and becoming more like our Lord. Prayer is not to be discounted. Reading the bible may provide insight, even the occasional epiphany. The random sermon point might help. Fellowship is more important than sermons. There are many other disciplines and helps, but for me ordinary everyday life is the place where spiritual growth, such as might occur, takes place.

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  12. I grow best during tragedy, fear, and hardship.

    I wish there was another way for God to teach me, but I seem to be stubborn.

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  13. “Now all we hear is well, sinners sin. We cannot help it. We are born sinning. I don’t buy this at all and think this teaching is a horrible interpretation. And we end up looking worse than the world because we excuse sin and evil in the Name of Jesus.”

    Lydia, I have heard this soooo much from well meaning and not so well meaning Christians over the past 2 years, it is crazy. I have encountered some of the most mean-spirited, duplicitous, gossipy, back-biting, slanderous Christians in the church. Once you continually see and experience this type of behavior week after week, month after month, year after year, you begin to ask the question that either God has the power to transform, or otherwise we are living a lie. It’s all excused and rationalized because we are all sinners, and God knew we were gonna sin. However, I do believe that when you excuse sin, especially sin that has occurred over a long period of time, a sort of callousness sets in amongst the church. This definitely makes us look way worst than the world.

    This is one of the reasons why when Christians start pontificating about the evils of the culture, and the sins of the unbelieving world, I tend to press the mute button on them. We will drag these group of people through the mud (no grace, little to no compassion), but when it comes times to addressing our sins (gossip, backbiting, evil speaking, lying, etc) we are all sinners saved by grace. I find it very hypocritical and want no part in that.

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  14. I grow best when I daily take time to pray through the Cherokee 7 directional prayers and meditate upon them. It keeps me centered upon what is important for each day. I seldom tell pastors that I pray “heathen” prayers because they tend to get their britches in a bunch over it.. But I can find absolutely nothing antithetical to Christianity in my ancestral prayers. They are so full of the heart and spirit of Jesus, it is almost as if the words encapsulate all of Christ’s teachings. The other thing that is vital to me is to spend time outside each day enjoying, listening and being observant. There is something about being in the midst of His creative brushstroke that pulls away all the false constructs of man and I can clearly hear his great heartbeat and love. Finally, I love to sing the Word. It makes it dance and come alive to me.

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  15. What has worked for me? Allowing my Father to: demolish my religion; free me from other people’s expectations; reveal the Jesus of the gospels (the one He calls us to emulate); love me outrageously – no strings attached; remind me that my trust is in Him; teach me how to rest.

    Simply letting God be God.

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  16. Randy: Thanks for sharing the link to your blog. I want to spend some more time exploring. We have some things in common with abusive childhood and a passel of kiddos 🙂 I was really drawn in to your story and how you have worked through your abuse to get to where you are now. You have great insight and I’m always fascinated how others who have gone through childhood abuse maneuver through their spiritual journey.

    These 2 comments in particular tugged at me:

    I have a really hard time praying out loud with people, even my wife. Working on that.

    It’s really hard for me to gauge my spiritual growth. If it’s according to the metrics I used to live by, then I’m not really growing. But if it’s according to how my attitudes and thoughts how become more compassionate towards the down trodden, then I guess I’ve grown quite a bit.

    The praying with spouse thing. I think I might like to explore that a bit more because that’s something I have difficulty with, too.

    The other thought – – – gauging your spiritual growth by how you have become more compassionate towards the downtrodden – – – wow, that fascinates me. I think you are on to something!

    It’s so goad to have you here, Randy. I’ve really enjoyed your comments.

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  17. trust4himonly:

    I, also, was a driven Christian, now it is hard for me to get back into Bible study and fellowship with other Christians, except for a few Christian friends that I trust.
    I do know, though, Jesus Christ knows my struggle and works on me despite the failures and hardships of ME. It is ok. He promises that He will be with us til the end- I believe that.

    I see grace and freedom in your comment, T4HO. I’ve had to work on some of the legalism aspect. I was just talking to my pastor about this very thing – – how I finally got to the point where I was giving myself permission to skip church guilt-free if I needed to. He was okay with that!

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  18. Lydia said:

    What a great question JA. This is one of those questions that is going to be so different for everyone and that is a good thing. It tells us something about our Precious Lord who meets us where we are.

    Yes, that’s exactly why I wanted to ask it. I know we are a very diverse group here. I have not been disappointed in the responses at all (and really enjoyed yours!).

    For me it was literally removing myself from the white noise clamoring around me in Christendom. All of it started to sound like banging gongs. Away from the celebrity Christians wanting your ear and your loyalty. To sell you a book or a conference.

    Amen! I’m so tired of that noise.

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  19. Anonymous2 said:

    I grow best during tragedy, fear, and hardship.

    I wish there was another way for God to teach me, but I seem to be stubborn.

    I am the same way! I think my stubbornness is because I have a lot of trust issues (very typical for abuse survivors). It takes a big ordeal for me to finally surrender and trust God. And then finally when I do surrender, I wonder why it took me so long – lol.

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  20. There have been seasons when I’ve had to work hard to turn off the tapes replaying in my head of how an abusive spiritual leader used Scripture to his advantage. I have to somehow read the Scripture with a new voice so I can hear it’s real meaning again, and not just relive the abusive situation.

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  21. @ JA~

    “I have to remind myself of who God is . . remind myself that God is not like my angry earthly father was even before I can pray. It just does not come easy for me.”

    I know exactly what you mean, Julie Anne. Different circumstances but same result. I had a good dad so I didn’t have a problem with an angry Father in heaven, but did have a mom that left our family. For me, it’s wondering if God is really going to stay there for me ’til the end or abandon me too. Staying in the word is vital for the reminder that God truly is for me and is not going to leave me forsaken and needy. I am the bruised reed He won’t break and the smoldering flax He won’t put out. I’m pretty sure I grow the most when I most intensely feel the pain of abandonment and can, with His help, lay that burdensome mess on His shoulders to bear.

    “And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.”
    (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

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