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As I reflect on my own journey as well as observing the lives of many other believers, I have come to the conclusion that there are at least five major stages of spiritual development. I base this on more than three decades of church and marketplace ministry, which includes serving as a lead pastor since 1984.
The five stages are important for us to understand so we do not become confused when we transition from one stage to the next. However, there are some who stunt their own development through disobedience to their calling. This results in not experiencing anything past the second stage. Additionally, there is no set time for each stage, and since I am using a broad stroke, each stage may have overlap at times. That being said, there is truth in these general observations. My objective in this article is to encourage believers to press through to all five stages, no matter how difficult it is.
The following are the five stages of spiritual development:
1. Honeymoon Stage:
This is the stage when we are excited about our newly found salvation. Jesus told us to rejoice because our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:17-20). In this stage, we are not thinking about our calling; we are just excited about finding this new life in Christ. Nothing else matters except Jesus. Sort of like when you first fall in love with that special someone, the goose bumps and romantic feelings are so amazing you cannot picture them ever leaving you. However, as good as this stage is, God prods us along into the next stage.
2. Experience Stage:
This is the stage when we begin to figure out how to walk with God, we begin to learn how to process our faith in the midst of the challenges and minutiae of everyday life. This is the stage in which we learn how to apply our faith to our personal life, family, spheres of influence and our responsibilities. This is also the stage in which we learn how to respond and repent in the midst of our own shortcomings and sins. In this stage, we also begin to learn how to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12b). Generally, this is the stage that uses tests and trials to reveal our hearts, motives and level of commitment to Christ. This is the stage Jesus taught in the parable of the sower and the seed that illustrates how people fall away from Him because they have no strong roots because of persecution and a lack of understanding the word of God (Mark 4).
3. Discovery Stage:
This is the stage in which we first become aware that we have a purpose and calling in Christ. It is an exciting stage as we realize that we were not just saved to go to heaven but to walk in a divine purpose. This is when we first realize that God has called us to have a major impact in our spheres of influence, whether with a few or with many. This is when the Spirit of God challenges us to be responsible as His stewards to manifest His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Luke 11:2-4).
4. Passion to Walk in Your Purpose and Identity Stage:
After we discover the fact we have a purpose, we almost become obsessed with identifying that purpose through analyzing our natural gifts, abilities, personality as well as through what we sense God is calling us to do. This is the stage in which we learn to walk a "purpose driven life" and begin investing our time in learning and growing in our capacity as a Christ-follower. This is also the stage in which we begin to sift our time commitments and relationships, so that we can streamline our focus and hit the mark of our divine calling. Although this is an exciting stage, it is not the most important one. Up until recently, I thought this particular stage was the most rewarding and highest of all stages; however, the next one is by far the most important.
5. Unison Stage:
This last stage is when we experience such oneness with Christ that we no longer obsess over our purpose or identity since we have lost our functional life in Him (Gal.2:19-21). Jesus's prayer to the Father was that His followers would be "one" with the Father and with Him (John 17:20-24). Although there is a positional and legal element to oneness that has nothing to do with us, my experience has shown me that there is also an existential and experiential oneness. Some may even label this stage mystical.
I discovered this stage initially because I became concerned that I had become bored with thinking about my purpose and identity. It wasn't that I was disinterested in my calling anymore; on the contrary, I am even more passionate now than ever about serving Christ. It was that I found myself so consumed, enamored and identified with Jesus that I intuitively knew that my calling would unfold organically as I continued to walk in His steps. I have discovered that Christ is all (Col. 1:16-19). I have referred to this stage, as "unison" because it describes the reality of losing one's self in Him to the point in which our desires, plans and passions emanate out of His heart and will. In this stage, you are walking in freedom and an almost unbroken fellowship with Him while being even more acutely aware of your own shortcomings and unholy motivations and desires. In this stage, you not only treasure your times worshipping and adoring God, but you begin to learn to delight in doing His will, no matter how painful and joyless it may seem at times (See Heb. 12:1-2).
You learn that the highest expression of loving God is not just enjoying the person and presence of God, but in putting our flesh on the cross and obeying Him without complaining and remorse (Luke 22:42; Rom. 6:6-9). In this stage, you live to express Christ alone, and anything else, including your individual purpose, is boring and unappealing compared to His splendor and majesty.
In reflection, I also discovered when we are obsessed or passionate about our divine purpose, it could still be about us and not Him. Moreover, being passionate about our purpose is still showing more spiritual development than the first three stages, but it is not the highest level of faith and practice. Scripture informs us that the apostle Paul said that the high calling of God was to know Christ Jesus to the point that he even counted as loss all things that he might gain Christ (Phil. 3:4-11).
The temptation here, of course, is to think you are already in the fifth stage because your spirit leaps when you read about it and your rationale mind agrees with the concept; however, it takes years of brokenness, pouring over Scripture and emotional and spiritual growth before you begin to grasp this unison. Of course, nobody will fully arrive at this stage, because plumbing the depths of the knowledge and love of God will continue throughout eternity. All I am saying is, I am now aware of and experiencing this stage, because I am truly unimpressed and bored with all notions of self-significance, accomplishments and anything less than conforming to His image (Rom. 8:29, 30).
In conclusion, my prayer is that this article will encourage all of us to continue to "press on to know the Lord" (Hos. 6:3a) and "that He would give you, according to the riches of His glory, power to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:16-19).
Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, futurist, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). He also has a blog on Charisma magazine called "The Pulse." To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.
This article originally appeared at josephmattera.org.
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