If you read my last article you will know that I spoke about my early life experience that brought me to breaking point. In this article I want to talk about the spiritual and theological implications, what I learned and how I grew. If you are reading this, then I hope God can speak in his own unique and personal way to you.
After this first big breakdown I found that I had broken through to something new, but strangely familiar. Having this experience in a Pentecostal church in the 90’s there was very little explaining or guidance from leadership. People were obsessed with church growth and revival. You were either ‘on fire for God’ or you were ‘backslidden’.
These are very limiting terms without much theological, psychological and spiritual insight. That insight, for me, would come much later and at a high price. All I knew is that I had tasted something - glory, anointing, presence of God; whatever you wanted to call it, I took to it like I had to my previous addictions.
Instead of driving to secluded places to smoke weed, I would gather willing people to go out and pray and worship in my car. I had to ‘stay on fire’ because if I ‘backslid’ I knew I was dead. I had faced too many close calls to test this.
I am writing nearly 20 years later and I want to share how I have progressed from here. Our journey with Jesus and the transformational process is called sanctification in Protestant churches, Theosis in the eastern Orthodox, and the unitive life in Roman Catholic (Carmelite Spirituality). I have found it really helpful to understand this process coming in developing stages.
We as humans are on a journey, from infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and maturity. This is a physical, psychological and spiritual development and transformation of consciousness. These stages are to be appreciated and lived out to the full. There are no shortcuts and maturity is not achieved overnight.
Finding eternal value
This first stage I experienced would be called the purgative stage or the dark night of the senses. It is a stage when God orchestrates circumstances in our world where no longer can find pleasure in sin, or the things of this world that have no eternal value. When I looked into the stobie pole during my car accident, I saw my life in light of eternity, and it had no meaning, value or purpose.
Now this stage, this stage of purging, repentance and purgatory, is a place of energy, zeal and action. We see things clearly and throw ourselves in ‘doing’ this Christian thing we way we know how.
We don’t know much, we have no real sense of bigger picture, we tend to reduce people, behaviour and situations to a dichotomy – good vs evil, God vs Satan, right and wrong and so forth. This is the stage that is the most known and publicised – it sells books and has sermons aimed at, it builds numbers in churches and has outward attributes of success.
This is a necessary step in the journey to maturity, but it must be lived through, there is so much more to come. I have seen contemporary churches that seem to get stuck on this point and try erect altars to this stage, it is so passionate and zealous, and that they think there can’t be more.
People become addicted to this level, but God wants us to go deeper and further with being transformed into the likeness and character of Jesus Christ. These changes are irreversible and progressive, once you go beyond this first stage, you can go back to visit, but you cannot live there.
I have seen people not understand this process, and in an effort to stay in this state they have had breakdowns instead of breakthroughs. The breakthrough into each progressive stage will usually precede times of darkness, depression, disappointment, trials and tribulations. It doesn’t feel nice. It requires patience, blind faith and surrender, sometimes even a deep repentance that can look quite like giving up on your Christian faith itself – and yet that is what is required sometimes.
Even Abraham had to put Isaac on the Altar – his only tangible, living sign of God’s promise. This process of sanctification will cost everything, our very lives, and the sooner we understand the cost, the easier it is.
The less we will resist God’s process, dig our heels in. This valley of the shadow of death needs to be walked through. God saves us through trials, not from them.
Mark is married with 3 kids. He has been a youth worker for 10 years. He has worked in lay and paid church roles in various denominations for 15 years and is currently a member of the Adelaide Anglican Diocese. Mark has a B.A from Tabor College Adelaide.
Mark Flippance’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-flippance.html