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Spiritual Direction and Following Jesus

I have been a certified spiritual director for five years. I have served as a local pastor for 40 years. My undergraduate degree is from a fundamentalist Bible college. My master’s degree is from a conservative (but not fundamentalist) seminary. My doctorate is from a more progressive mainline university. I still consider myself not to have arrived on the path God is leading me.

I have, in recent years, become concerned about the direction spiritual direction seems to be leading. I no longer am a member of Spiritual Directors International. I have watched this organization move more and more toward the human potential (new age) philosophy rather than one that is Christocentric.

I am continually reading books on spiritual direction. I find very little of it grounded in any type of Christian orthodoxy and find it leaning more and more into a pseudo-shamanistic orientation. Very few of the spiritual direction programs I have examined pay much attention to classical Ignatian discernment or have a focus to draw a person into the Trinitarian relationship Jesus emphasized. I find recent literature (apart from that produced by Jesuits and from individuals who are products of the now-defunct program of Duquesne University) promoting a view of God that is openly relative and very subjective. I have found hardly any reference to dealing with evil or even the existence of evil. Even in my own training for certification the only concept of understanding the spiritual war that surrounds us was in the reading of St. Teresa of Avila’s works.

I am fearful that many people who turn to the spiritual direction offered will be exposed to a spiritual opiate that will lead them into a false sense of spiritual security and open them to spiritual deception (idolatry) and not bring them closer to the Triune God of Scripture.

Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. “If you know Me, you will also know My Father.” (Jn. 14:6-7 CSB). Spiritual direction is supposed to be a companionship of prayer that leads a person to be closer to God. Any relationship that seeks to bring us closer to God will face hostility and attempts of subversion.

Jesus also warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:15-16 NIV) I would be very questioning of a spiritual director who strayed from the words of Jesus.

I firmly believe that spiritual direction should be grounded in seeking to follow Jesus. Jesus understood the profound struggle we human beings would face. Jesus defeated humanity’s true enemies but also warned us that the struggle is not yet over. I believe that growth in prayer corresponds with our growth in our desire to love Jesus and be loved by Jesus. Anything that would distract, dilute, divide, or demean this desire is not spiritual direction but spiritual deception.

The enemy of humanity can and does promote a false consolation. A false consolation can lead us to believe we are drawing closer to God but in fact, it is leading us away from the truth. It is the truth that sets us free.

Having been a victim of false consolation I am very cautious of any spiritual advice that conflicts with the centrality of Christ in spiritual growth. This is why a sound understanding of the process of discernment is so important for us today.

John gives us good advice in his first letter, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:1-3 NIV)

In an age where lies are promoted for political, religious, economic, and cultural reasons we need to be continually cautious, humbly questioning, and solidly steadfast in our commitment to drawing near to God through seeking fellowship with Jesus who promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20 NIV)

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