Gradual Growth or Radical Conversion

I was raised in a revivalistic Christian culture with a strong emphasis on radical conversions and dramatic testimonies.  I often felt left out, having been at least externally a “good boy,” never having fallen into drug addiction or crime, or never having been a slave trader like John Newton, or a member of a street gang.

I knew I needed to change, but as much as I sought a “big experience” to make me an altogether new creature in Christ once and for all, these seemed to elude me. I responded to many evangelistic invitations. I felt that God was calling me, and always felt a little better.  God had heard my prayer and forgiven my sins, but it was nothing like what I heard others describe.  I did have many special moments of real encounter with God during my personal Bible study and prayer, but these tended to be far more gentle than violently transforming.

In my frustration the paradigms of discipleship and “spiritual formation” brought hope.  Gradual change through practicing the spiritual disciplines over time was the key.  I embraced this pathway with the zeal of a convert.  But…  the transformation I craved still eluded me.

The sacramental life of the church adds an essential dimension to the spiritual formation approach. You know I believe in it and practice it.  But there is no denying that God often breaks in and breaks through the gradualist/maintenance modes of discipleship. Folks who have walked the sacramental way faithfully their whole lives often encounter God in a way that goes beyond it all.  I don’t quite know what to make of it except that He knows best and if I keep my heart open and humble, and I show up attentively and walk in the light I have been given, I can trust Him to move as He will.

Most of us prefer things to be gradual, but life has a way of throwing things at us.  You don’t gradually get a cancer diagnosis or the 3 AM phone call.  Sometimes we think we might have seen something coming, but that is usually clearer in hindsight.  Just when we thought everything was moving gradually along, something happens.  Or we become aware that the gradual is not going to work.  There is no gradual solution to this problem, this need.  We say, “This one is going to take a miracle.”

This video approaches this reality from a psychological perspective.  I think you will find it fascinating.  I did.

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