I recently had an email discussion with a pastor I know. I was aware of this pastor’s connection with the denominational education structure we are associated with and wondered if there was a possibility of including a study program in spiritual direction in the curriculum of these institutions. The pastor’s response was, “It would be a new path.”
I have come to believe new paths are sorely needed. The heresy of Christian nationalism (the title itself is an oxymoron) has corrupted many churches. Racism is still a struggle within the church. Materialism is the dominant worldview being adopted by culture after culture. Fear and anger are the motivators behind much of our politics. The church, despite its attempts to be more “relevant,” is continuing to lose members and fail in its directive to be salt and light. Yes, new paths are needed.
Spiritual direction, not the new age version that is a mixture of pop psychology and esoteric desires, but spiritual direction grounded in orthodoxy and practices that have stood the test of time is not a new path but a neglected ancient path that can provide a deeper understanding of the will of God. Spiritual direction that is Christ-centered and Spirit-empowered has so much to offer our age. People may have lost confidence in the church and its clergy but our inborn need for God has not changed. That need for which we are created is not going to go away. Personalities cannot fill it. Styles of worship cannot satisfy it and “relevance” will not deepen the relationship God desires to have with us. Only true seeking, within the context of willingness rather than willfulness, will lead us to find that which our hearts are longing.
Many people memorize Romans 12: 2, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2 CSB) Yet, I wonder, do they understand what that word discern means? How do we discern what is the will of God? The Apostle John counsels and warns us, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits 1 to determine if they are from God.” (1 Jn. 4:1 CSB) How do you test the spirits? This is where the practice of spiritual direction can help.
We human beings have an amazing ability to self-deceive. We can be easily misled and manipulated by spirits many do not even believe in. Much of what we find in the New Testament is Jesus battling against such spirits. There is a spiritual battle going on around us. The enemy is not any particular human group or conspiracy. Our enemy is not other people. The Scripture, God’s word, tells us, “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Eph. 6:12 CSB) We can be certain that our being destroyed by these forces is not God’s will but is happening due to human ignorance and arrogance. Spiritual direction is about humility. It is about helping one another journey through the valley of the shadow of death. It is about equipping the saints.
I can only hope that a new path will include an ancient path that can help us to live in the power of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.