For my daily (at least in theory) spiritual disciplines, I aim to do five different things: thanksgiving, intersession, scripture study, personal devotional and a family devotional or group devotional. I want to do at least four of them in a day. It used to be troublesome for me to have a lot of spiritual disciplines on my schedule. I used my journal like a mad man and at times behaved as if it was my spiritual magical wand.
Truth is, the disciplines do not call me higher. It's the relationship that does it. God calls us higher. About a week ago I was reading one of the books I use for personal devotional. (I hate to even use that word devotional because it's such Christianese word. To me this is hearing a testimony or experiencing something that leads to some prepared questions surrounding spiritual truth.) The book is called My Utmost for His Highest.
My Utmost for His Highest was written by a man named Oswald Chambers and the whole work can be found and worked through daily at utmost.org. As a disclaimer, this is really intellectual Christian study. Many of the daily devotionals are so deep and convicting that they can almost hurt a little bit. So it may not be the greatest entry level daily devotional reading.
Back on March 27th I pulled up utmost.org and this is what I saw:
Spiritual Vision Through Personal Character
A higher state of mind and spiritual vision can only be achieved through the higher practice of personal character. If you live up to the highest and best that you know in the outer level of your life, God will continually say to you, “Friend, come up even higher.” There is also a continuing rule in temptation which calls you to go higher; but when you do, you only encounter other temptations and character traits. Both God and Satan use the strategy of elevation, but Satan uses it in temptation, and the effect is quite different. When the devil elevates you to a certain place, he causes you to fasten your idea of what holiness is far beyond what flesh and blood could ever bear or achieve. Your life becomes a spiritual acrobatic performance high atop a steeple. You cling to it, trying to maintain your balance and daring not to move. But when God elevates you by His grace into heavenly places, you find a vast plateau where you can move about with ease.Compare this week in your spiritual life with the same week last year to see how God has called you to a higher level. We have all been brought to see from a higher viewpoint. Never allow God to show you a truth which you do not instantly begin to live up to, applying it to your life. Always work through it, staying in its light.Your growth in grace is not measured by the fact that you haven’t turned back, but that you have an insight and understanding into where you are spiritually. Have you heard God say, “Come up higher,” not audibly on the outer level, but to the innermost part of your character?“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing…?” (Genesis 18:17). God has to hide from us what He does, until, due to the growth of our personal character, we get to the level where He is then able to reveal it.
After reading this I was reminded about a few things. I read it at my break time at work after an especially trying morning. Things did not go as I expected, and my attitude was poor. Right away the title of the days reading hit me hard. Here I was, partially thinking as I did back in college, that my spiritual disciplines would help me feel better in my personal work day, and the title completely flipped that around.
Chambers says "If you live up to the highest and best that you know in the outer level of your life, God will continually say to you, 'Friend, come up even higher'", and living up to the highest is this continuous sharpening of character. This is our responsibility. What I put in I get out. The cliche you reap what you sow rings true here. Chambers always seems to hit on some kind of resounding truths.
I have experienced this directly. So much of my life has been spent crying out to God why things are a certain way, but these were things I simply hadn't done anything about. Complaining isn't going to help us take the next step higher or find any advancement. We do have the right to lament and cry out, but doing helps. Character is about what we do. And growing takes hard work and action.
I can look back at my life and see it like a terraced mountain. I started as a child on the bottom and as I grew I look up and called out to God, "I want to be up there!" not down here. Or why is everyone else able to be at that place in life while I'm still here? I always felt behind and mad about it. Eventually I just learned that in order to move up you have to ... move up.
Spiritually, we are in control of our growth. Philippians 2 is a great example of this. There Paul tells his readers to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose." This means that while we have work to do, we have been given means.
I find this last sentence extremely fascinating and honestly, it's a pretty astonishing statement for Paul to make. But if anyone is an expert in the matter, isn't it Paul? Saul of Tarsus and his remarkable repentance followed by his selfless and diligent efforts to spread the Gospel, is probably the best witness of the character and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This guy, says that the Spirit enables us to desire and to work out God's good purpose. What does that mean? I say it means that because we are God creations, he made us with a good purpose in mind and when we do the kind of things that Chambers is talking about, we find our desires aligned with his way.
I think that's pretty cool.
Still, it's convicting. "Never allow God to show you a truth which you do not instantly begin to live up to, applying it to your life. Always work through it, staying in its light." I read these words directly after working an entire morning with a childish self centered attitude. Honest, it felt pretty terrible. Having just finished a post about selflessly putting the desires for others and then having an bad attitude through three straight hours of work. It's not exactly living up to a truth God has shown me.
But nonetheless, but when I look back at this week last year and the year before that and the year before that, I've climbed quite a few terraces up that metaphorical mountain like pictured above. But I want to climb more, I want to "boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing." That is what we have to do to be a fruitful branch. We have to keep sharpening our character and more quick to turn the nudgings we get from the spirit into life application. That way we can continue to keep being called higher and higher and higher.