As we near the end of another year, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on our lives. There are many metaphors and images through which to do so. One of those is through that of a journey. A journey usually has different sections, hills and valleys, twists and turns, and a few surprises along the way. That sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it.
On a journey, it is helpful to have a map of the terrain and a guide to give us a few pointers of things to look out for along the way. I’ve put together such a map for the stages of faith often experienced in the spiritual journey. This outlines what often happens for people, not what must or should occur.
Here are some of the stages of faith:
- Awareness – this is where we discover or recognise the reality of God. Everyone ‘wakes up’ at different times and in different ways.
- Growth – here we start to grow in our faith, often aided by being part of a faith community, spiritual experiences, and spiritual exercises.
- Contribution – here we discover our life purpose and start to live it out with fresh intentionality.
- The Wall – sooner or later our faith doesn’t work as it did in the earlier stages. Often due to a crisis, a challenge, a loss, or disappointment and pain, we start to experience questions, doubts, and uncertainty.
- Surrender – if we courageously refuse to deny that the wall exists or to defect on our faith, we can end up with a much deeper faith by surrendering to God in new ways, even when we don’t understand why we experienced our time at The Wall.
- Paradox – at this stage we embrace the mystery of life and become comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty and even contradictions.
- Love – at this stage we realise that life is not about us but about God and others. We lose our life only to find it again.
A few observations:
- This is not the end. Hopefully, we continue to move on to a greater awareness of God, as well as further growth and contribution. Inevitably, we will spend more time at The Wall and come to places of fresh surrender.
- The spiritual journey is often more random than ordered, more cyclical than linear.
- God is present and at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to God in each season.
- Various stages may be fuzzy and even overlap. We may also re-visit stages at times in no particular order.
- There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Unfortunately, we also can’t control the length of time we may spend in a particular stage or the time we spend transitioning from one stage to another.
- The most important thing is that we are more connected to God and we are becoming better people every day. That’s the ultimate goal of the spiritual journey.
- Where do you think you are now in your own spiritual journey and why?
- Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognize or identify with?
- What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
- What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage?
- In what ways can entire families or communities of people experience various stages of faith together (e.g. grief, joy, or awareness of God)?
- Many churches focus primarily on the first three stages of faith. How can church leaders better equip and prepare people for the full journey of faith will all its nuances and diverse experiences?
If you found this BLOG post of interest to you, here are some further resources that will be of help to you:
- Check out my new book on this topic: The Spiritual Journey – Understanding the Stages of Faith. It is available from WORD in Australia and Amazon worldwide (in paperback and Kindle formats).
- Watch the videos of a two part teaching series that summarises this material, which I gave at Bayside Church in Melbourne recently (see part 1 and part 2).
All the best on your own spiritual journey!