Grow Deep Part 1: The Flame of Experience
To grow deep in Christ you must add to your intellectual knowledge of Jesus, actually encounters with Jesus that results in experiential knowledge of Jesus.
Grow Deep Part 1: The Flame of Experience
Grow Deep Grow Up Grow Fruit that’s the task of a disciple of Jesus. As a follower of Jesus as you grow deep, grow up and grow fruit you are living your life to the full. Today I want to start considering what it means to grow deep.
Growing deep means you are developing a life that is no longer ruled by egoism, instead, you have chosen to live your life by faith.
Egoism is our biggest problem when it comes to growing deep. Egoism is placing your self, your concerns, your interests, your will, before everything and everyone else. Egoism is the blinding habit of not seeing beyond your self. Egoism is the desire to rule, and be served, never to follow another’s orders, never to take the place of the servant. Rules and procedures are for others to follow, you make your own up as you go. As you grow deep you overcome egoism.
Growing deep means that you have chosen to live a life totally “committed to following after Jesus, to be more like Him, to think like Him, to act like Him, to love like Him (A.W. Tozer, The Crucified Life, p. 17) and that is the one all-consuming passion that motivates your life. This is how egoism is overcome.
The Apostle Paul points us in the direction of growing deep:
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Notice the goal, to be made perfect. Paul is pressing on to perfection. Paul also describes what he means by perfection. In previous verses, Paul says perfection is “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8). Growing deep is pressing on towards perfection and perfection is knowing Christ.
This is not an easy quest.
In order to have such a passion, you have already decided that the good news of the gospel is for you. You’ve acknowledged that you are a long way from home, things are not the way you feel they should be in your life, you feel you’re just part of the scenery, lonely days turn into lonely nights, you’re never seeing what you want to see, you’re wondering if your life is becoming a catastrophe, relationships are messed up, basically you realize you’re headed nowhere good. These are all symptoms of what the Bible calls sin.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died to take care of your sin problem and you don’t have to run against the wind anymore. Empowered to go home, empowered to begin again, empowered to make amends, empowered to get it right this time, comfortable in your own skin, coupled with a new purpose, creating a whole new life. When you believe this, that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life Christ (Romans 6:23), there is only one thing to do, that’s commit yourself to grow deep, to know this Jesus more.
There is a trap we can fall into when it comes to actually growing deeper. I hope that I am escaping it. The trap is thinking that growing deep is solely an intellectual pursuit. The academic study of the scripture, theologizing, philosophizing about God, is really appealing to me. But sometimes I wonder if I just end up “repeating what I have heard from somebody who heard it from somebody else” (Tozer, p. 18). Even if your teachers are the best, what they profess is only hearsay. Its second-hand knowledge to you and often the same ideas have been handed down to them, filtered through them, given their own twist, but nevertheless, the original source can be centuries of history ago. Intellectual knowledge is helpful but not sufficient, and some would say not all that necessary when compared to an experiential knowledge of Jesus.
To press on to perfection in knowing Christ is not only being convinced in mind, it involves a spiritual experience in which “I listen, I identify, I admit, I devote, I dedicate, I follow Jesus with my heart (Tozer p 29), because I encounter Jesus as the only way, the only truth, the only life (John 14:6). Firsthand experience comes through your practice of the seven habits of a disciple because it is through them that you have personal encounters with God. It’s in those encounters that you grow deep. It’s in those encounters that intellectual knowledge becomes heart knowledge and it’s in heart knowledge that you will discover the passion to grow deeper, to know Jesus more intimately.
There was a time when I passionately read the writings of the Mystics. The mystics wrote about God in a way that was experiential. They wrote about their encounters with God and how as they grew deeper, God became that much more real to them. Maybe if a mystic was writing today they would say that God and I text, we email, do facetime. Yeah, that sounds pretty outrageous, but their lives, how they lived, backed up the stories of their encounters with the living Christ. Say goodbye to objective truth and hello to subjective truth. I was soul hungry for those kinds of experiences, those kinds of encounters, so I was constantly spiritually experimenting, using their methods in an attempt to duplicate their experiences.
For instance, in one experiment I would get up 2 hours before dawn, read the scripture and pray. Instead of feeling closer to God and empowered for the ministry I felt tired and grouchy all day. Then one morning God did speak to me, He said, Mike go back to sleep, you’re not doing yourself any good and you’re doing more harm than good to others, besides nobody up here is awake at that time in the morning anyway. From that experience, I learned that you cannot copy someone else’s experience. You will encounter God in a way that is unique to you. The one common denominator across the board is a passion to know Jesus.
When I read the book of Acts what fueled our first spiritual ancestor’s passion to press on to perfection was Jesus resurrection. It is from that time period that believers began to greet one another with “He is Risen” and the response was “He is Risen Indeed.” We usually just say that at Easter. But those first believers lived with the knowledge, the experiential knowledge that Jesus rose from the dead and it was in their hearts daily. “They did not celebrate His rising from the dead and then go back to their everyday lives and wait for another year to pull them up from out of the mire” (Tozer, p. 31) of religious mediocrity. “They lived by the fact that Christ had risen from the dead and they had risen with Him” (Tozer, p.31).
What made the risen Christ fact was there encounters with Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (MSG)
The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.
To grow deep you need to encounter the living Christ, not just one, but continual encounters that fuel the passion. All my encounters with Jesus are right-brained, I sense what I have come to recognize as His presence. He has never audibly spoken to me yet has left me with impressions, with thoughts that I did not have before. He has encouraged me when I was troubled, afraid, depressed, worried. I can’t prove it, it is what I felt.
There is a hymn of the Church, the lyrics proclaim this right-brained subjective experience. Excerpts of the lyrics include
I serve a risen Savior He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see his hand of mercy I hear His voice of cheer
In all the world around me, I see His loving care,
I know that He is leading, through all the stormy blast;
The Hope of all who seek Him,
Left brain says prove it. Can you prove something is beautiful? Left brain says show me the evidence. Can you prove something is glorious? Left brain says just the facts. Can you prove that someone loves you? I don’t think you can prove it, I think the encounter subjectively renders its own verdict. The beautiful, the glorious, the love, touches something inside you, something right-brained, something intuited, something felt, and you simply know it to be so.
A long time ago I was given an illustration that placed truth through spiritual encounter on a solid foundation. Think of the encounter as a flame. A flame is alive, it gives light, it produces heat, it is passionate it creates an effect. But if untethered, if allowed to go where it chooses, like egoism, it becomes a wildfire. No longer the servant doing what you need it to do, a wildfire becomes a raging inferno bring destruction. The encounter is a flame and a flame needs to be confined. You need a candle. The candle consists of Scripture and Tradition and Reason.
The candle and the flame need to work together. Alone Scripture, Tradition, and Reason become totally left brained. There is no life, there is no warmth and there is no light, no really knowing of Jesus. The flame if totally right brained takes off on wild flights of fantasy in which you are sure you know Jesus and what is good and right not only for yourself but everyone else. You know because you’ve experienced it. The candle holds the flame in check, the flame brings life to the candle. You need both the candle and the flame.
Do you want God to ignite your life?
My tendency is to do left brain things to bring right brain results. It doesn’t work. You have to do right brain things. Right brain behavior displays itself in creativity, synergy, using visualization more than words to think, and listening. I have found that meditation helps me to invite encounter. Meditation is a form of prayer. Prayer, of course, is the second of our 7 habits of a disciple. Meditation that involves creative visualization works for me. You will have to do your own right brained experiments that help you leave the objective and move into the subjective. If you would like to try meditation let me suggest to you an app. Cell phones can be wonderful tools. The App is called Reflect Christian Mindfulness. A good place to start your experiment.
So what have we got—
Growing deep means that you have chosen to live a life totally “committed to following after Jesus, to be more like Him, to think like Him, to act like Him, to love like Him
Growing deep is pressing on towards perfection and perfection is knowing Christ.
Intellectual knowledge is helpful but not sufficient when compared to an experiential knowledge of Jesus.
Experiential knowledge involves a spiritual experience in which “I listen, I identify, I admit, I devote, I dedicate, I follow Jesus with my heart because I encounter Jesus as the only way, the only truth, the only life.
It is a passion to know Jesus that fuels
what fueled our first spiritual ancestor’s passion to press on to perfection was Jesus resurrection.
Encounter is a flame and a flame needs to be confined. You need a candle. The candle consists of Scripture and Tradition and Reason.
Meditation: Reflect Christian Mindfulness. Good place to start your experiment.