Excerpted from Bob Whitesel, Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (2010).
Personal Problem Recognition
Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 10
Feelings of rejection or despondency that can result in depression and/or excessive self-reliance. At this juncture the personal failings of a wayfarer can become so overwhelming that the traveler suffers from one or a combination of four maladies: rejection, despondency, depression and/or excessive self-reliance. Let us look at each of these characteristics that often accompany travelers at Waypoint 10.
Rejection arises from lack of acceptance. A person may feel that they are not accepted due to background, personal habits, status, lifestyle etc.. Though people usually yearn to be accepted, they may view themselves as not living up to community standards, and thus see themselves as unacceptable and an outsider. Subsequently, they often feel they must rely only upon themselves for survival.
Despondency signifies a hopelessness about the future. Psychologist William McDougall coined the classic definition that “despondency drives out hope.” A person suffering from this malady will view the future as uncontrollable, bleak and unwelcoming.
From rejection and despondency can result two debilitating reactions: depression or self-reliance.
Depression is a sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. A depressed person sees little chance for change in their failings or in their outsider status. Thus, the person gives into despondency, gloominess and/or mood swings. Because the magnitude of these outward behaviors makes the person socially unacceptable, depression is often easier to spot than the underlying forces of rejection and despondency.
Excessive self-reliance is another reaction that can arise from feelings of rejection and/or despondency. While moderate self-reliance is laudable, excessive self-reliance can be dangerous. An excessively reliant person may feel they can tackle unreasonable tasks, and will set about to do so with frenzied energy. Excessive self-reliance eventually leads to grand failures, which can devastate the exceedingly optimistic traveler. O.J. Simpson’s quote that began this chapter may be an example of over self-reliance.
Actions That Help W10 Travelers
Action 10.1: Good News From Fellow Travelers.
Biblical stories of optimism and divine accompaniment can provide a starting place for helping travelers experiencing rejection, despondency, depression and/or excessive self-reliance. Let us just look at a few illustrations that can provide a introductory understanding.
Others have felt like you.
The story of Samson (Judges 13-16) yields a powerful story of a failed leader, who once was brimming with leadership potential. Peter Northouse says that leadership is made of our five elements, let us look how each is manifest in the life of Samson. Leadership traits are inherent and natural qualities with which a leader is endowed according to Northhouse. Samson was given enormous strength to deliver Israel from their enemies (Judges 13:5, 14:5-6). Leadership abilities are aptitudes developed by experience. Samson political savvy was developed by his keen understanding of ancient customs and politics (Judges 14:12-20). Leadership skills are the means and methods of carrying out leadership responsibilities. For example, “a skilled leader in a fund-raising campaign knows every step and procedure in the fund-raising process.” Samson too knew every step in the process of leading Israel (Judges 15-16), though he subverted the process for his own gain and sensuality. Leadership behavior is what leaders do with the traits, abilities and skills they have been given. Here we see Samson’s shortcomings, as his great skills, abilities and traits were squandered by a behavior of excessive self-reliance. His self-centered and self-reliant behaviors were exhibited in his peevish demands to marry a forbidden Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-7), to frequent prostitutes (Judges 16:1-3) and to marry an alluring, yet avaricious Delilah (Judges 16:4-22). Samson’s end came while captive by his enemies, where in a final act of protection of Israel, he brought down the Philistine temple upon his captors (Judges 16:23-31). Samson’s story is a Biblical tale of self-reliance that evolved into selfishness, self-serving, and ultimately shame.
You are not alone, God promises help.
The story of Samson’s failings is dwarfed by Biblical examples of women and men who overcame their temptation to be self-reliant. Paul was a great example of this, noting that his elite religious status was compost in comparison to the benefits of knowing Christ.
You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. Philippians 3:4-9 (The Message)
Others have felt like you.
Even in small doses, depression is a part of the journey of life. F. F. Bruce says describes the bitterness and difficulty of Biblical life, even beyond what most modern readers can comprehend. The Biblical times were not an idyllic time of tranquility, but times of oppression, starvation, abuse and depravity.
You are not alone, God promises help.
The Scriptures promises:
- “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” Psalm 34:17-19.
- “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
- “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” Romans 5:5
- “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” Hebrews 6:19.
Others have felt like you.
Jonah was a prophet called by God, who wallowed in racial prejudice to the point that he wanted the Assyrians in Nineveh to die. So disappointed was Jonah with God’s love, mercy and forgiveness toward Nineveh that Jonah protested, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Judges 4:1-3). In despondency over a loss of racial pride Jonah sat down to die. Here he exhibited the first of two characteristics that often accompany despondency: thoughts of death. Yet, God would not let him die, reminding Jonah of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness (Judges 4:5-11). A second sign of despondency is to withdraw and even run from responsibility. Jonah’s exemplified this as he set sail to Tarshish to avoid going to Nineveh, only to find God chasing him first through a storm and then through the belly of a whale (Judges 1:4-2:10). English poet Francis Thompson has called God, the “hound of heaven” for God sees our potential and chases His offspring with love and call.
You are not alone, God promises help.
Scriptures that explain God’s assistance in battling despondency include (but are not limited to):
- “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul…. But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.” Psalm 94:18-19, 22.
- “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.” 2 Samuel 22:17-19.
- Especially helpful for envisioning how God helps when things look bleak is the story of Abraham. The writer of the Book of Romans retells the story:
“We call Abraham ‘father’ not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody… When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!” Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said.” Romans 4:17-22 (The Message)
Others have felt like you.
Jesus experienced rejection as the throngs that shouted “Hosanna … blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matthew 21:9) would soon shout “all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’” (Matthew 27:23).
You are not alone, God promises help.
Rejection is best addressed by a community of love and acceptance. The Scriptures describe the faith community as a new kind of extended family (Ephesians 2:19) where inter-reliance, cooperation and clemency are hallmarks (Acts 2:42-47). The community of Christ is the abode of imperfect humans where affronts and failings still occur. But it is also a community which reflects God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. To understand this, Luke chronicled the expansion of the Good News in the Acts of the Apostles. This is another good starting place to help those feeling rejected recognize that God can reform and transformation ordinary and fallible fishermen, tax collectors, Pharisees and contentious siblings into tenacious leaders who will adventurously spread the Good News across the world.
Action 10.2: Three Lanterns to Illuminate the Route
Al’s view about self-reliance changed the night a church leader explained three simple, yet weighty lines of reasoning. Al had felt all along that there must be “something more to make sense of life,” but he felt outside forces, such as God or others, were unable to navigate him in his plight. He thus sought to become self-reliant, even though within him there was a thorny feeling that help was available.
At Waypoint 10, where a personal problem is recognized, three foundational principles will illuminate our path. These are the three philosophical lanterns that illuminated Al’s life that night.
Lantern 1: God is real. The leader Al heard did not seek to rationalize or confirm this statement, he simply stated it. Too often Christians spend inordinate amounts of time validating God’s existence, but my experience of over twenty years studying evangelism is that most people deep inside sense God’s presence. Most people by the time they have reached Waypoint 10 are not questioning God’s existence, but like Al are wondering what that existence means for them. By stating the certainty of God’s existence, the church leader affirmed what Al had already been feeling inside. And, then the leader began to take Al to the next step: what does this mean for Al?
Lantern 2: God can be known, in the person of Jesus Christ. God sent His son Jesus Christ to be the supernatural yet personal guide and rescuer for humankind. The relational nature of Christ, who experienced every temptation that humans have experienced (Hebrews 4:15) creates a unique and compelling bond between God and humans. And, with the empowerment and inner accompaniment of His Holy Spirit in each believer (Acts 1:8), God has created the ultimate relationship. This relationship is so dynamic, celestial and supernatural that it can only be described as birthing a new “being.”
Lantern 3: God loves you, and in Jesus Christ laid down His life for all humankind. Sacrificing oneself for others may not a popular action. But travelers sense that assistance is needed, as did Al. Thus, the church must help wayfarers understand that though humans can’t solve life’s problems, God can. The magnitude of God’s sacrificial action must be carefully explained to the wayfarer. The community of faith must recapture in word and deed the enormity of Jesus’ death and resurrection where graves opened, departed saints reappeared (Matthew 27:511-53), and Sheol spewed forth her wrath and eventually her captives (Ephesians 4:8-10).
Christ’s regeneration of Al did not supplant his passion to help the needy, but empowered it. Al’s sensitivity to the oppressed had been a pre-conversion characteristic. Though Northouse would call this a “trait,” it can also be thought of as a God-given gift. The New Testament lists approximately 26 gifts which are given by God to bring a focus to ministry. One of these is the gift of mercy, which has been described as:
“The gift of mercy is … to feel genuine empathy and compassion for individuals (both Christian and non-Christian) who suffer distressing physical, mentor, or emotional problems , and to translate that compassion into cheerfully-don deed which reflect Christ’s love and alleviate the suffering.”
There is no Biblical reason why these gifts could not be given in some measure before conversion, awaiting the regenerative experience for them to then be supernaturally empowered and expanded. Thus, God did not supplant Al’s gift of compassion for the poor, but after regeneration He empower it. In the following interview we will look at Al’s current ministry and see how God is using Al Tizon to infect thousands of people with a passion to share the Good News in word and deed.
Waypoint 9 – Decision to Act
Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 9
Caught in a gap. One of the most common sensations at Waypoint 9, is a feeling of hopelessness and suspension between two lives, two worlds, two monarchies and two calls. Interestingly, church altars in the Middle Ages were often painted with scenes of Heaven and Hell, with many people perched precariously between both. This may have been an attempt to portray sensations of being caught in the middle. But, once the person who is tussling in this gap grasps a glimpse of their rescuer in Christ, they have an uncommonly strong urge to identify and escape. And, this leads to the second sign that can accompany travelers at Waypoint 9, an urge to act without delay.
An urge to act immediately. At this waypoint the traveler often has a strong desire to do something, though what that something is can be vague and foggy. Still, the traveler feels an overwhelming impulse to act. Engel describes this as “a firm intention to act one way or another.” This compulsive urge has been brought on by the many waypoints that have led up to this juncture. The traveler now feels that he or she is on the cusp of a new awakening, a new life, a new destiny … and they are. But, if the traveler rushes too quickly into this decision they can do so without full understanding what they are embracing.
Vacillation due to the magnitude of the gap. At the same time a traveler can also be intimidated by the magnitude of the gap that separates the traveler from an all powerful God. And, if the traveler is accustomed to having others make decisions for them, they may reel from moving forward, being brought to a standstill by the magnitude of the gulf. The community of faith must help the traveler see that God understands this gap, and that God, Himself, has erected a bridge to span it.
Therefore, it is important for the faith community to gradually, yet steadily, help the traveler perceive the gap, the one bridge, and the necessity of a decision to cross it. The following actions that will examine this assistance in detail.
Actions That Help W9 Travelers
Action 9.1: Understand the Trekker’s Feelings
The feeling of being caught in the middle.
As the soldier in Shane’s story came to grasp, Christ understands the travels and travails His offspring have experienced. Jesus experienced both the wayfarer’s frailty and defenselessness:
- “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (The Message).
- “The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun. They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga. They plaited a crown from branches of a thornbush and set it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said. “Bravo!” Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick. When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him. Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.” Matthew 27:27-31 (The Message).
Yet, in many Protestant churches the image of Christ that is portrayed is that of a victorious and/or everyday Christ. There is nothing wrong with such imagery, but the images within Catholicism of a Christ on the cross may be more helpful for the traveler at Waypoint 9. Often before arriving at this waypoint, the traveler has undertaken an arduous journey, and before they make a decision to act, the traveler needs to know that Christ understands the traveler’s predicament and journey. Thom Rainer’s research discovered that most people visit a community of faith because a crisis in their life has driven them there. When they visit our churches because of a crisis, they may be looking for a Christ (as well as His followers) who can identify with their calamities and afflictions. The community of faith must understand that although for many mature Christians the image of a victorious Christ overcoming all enemies is exhilarating, for the traveler at Waypoint 9 who is often pleading for help to overcome their own inadequacies, the images of a Christ who suffered as they are suffering is obligatory.
The Feeling That They Must Act Immediately
A traveler at this juncture will have a resolute determination that they must act. But, the seemingly impulsive and rash nature of this act, is really due to this being the culmination of a long process. This does not mean however, that a person should be rushed through this stage. On the contrary, the faith community must let the traveler know they appreciate and understand their impetuous feelings and that they are normal. It is important that the community of faith does not chide them for this impulsiveness, but rather acknowledges it as a natural part of the process, and to slowly lead them to the next area of assistance.
The Feeling of Vacillation Due to the Magnitude of the Gap
Because many travelers will find this decision intimidating, the community of faith must help the traveler move forward neither in haste, nor delay. This is a decision of eternal destiny, and thus a choice cannot be put off indefinitely even if it needs to be slowed down. The community of faith will want to take into account each traveler’s predicament and then help them navigate Waypoint 9 at the pace that is right for them.
Action 9.2: The Gap, the Only Bridge and the Decision
Subsequently, the community of faith will want to let the trekker know that there are three important works of God that must be grasped to fully understand the importance of the act they are about to undertake. These three understandings will be discussed in each of the following two chapters. But, here it will be important for the traveler to be introduced to an overview of three critical Scriptural truths: the gap, the only bridge and the decision.
- The gap: There is a gap that separates humankind from God. The community of faith must slowly help the wayfarer grasp that every person who travels this journey makes mistakes, and falls short of God’s ideal. In theological terms, every trekker is a sinner. Scriptures that emphasize this gap include, but are not limited to:
- “There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you. Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God. Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.” Isaiah 59:2 (The Message).
- “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” 1 John 1:8-9 (The Message).
- “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
- The only bridge: The traveler must also understand that a sympathetic and compassionate God has erected a bridge to span their gap. And, the traveler must grasp that this is the only bridge that can cross this chasm. The following are some representative Scriptures:
- A Bridge was built by one who understands and has experienced the traveler’s anguish and suffering:
- “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted…” John 3:16-17 (The Message).
- “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24 (The Message).
- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
- “But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” Romans 6:23 (The Message).
- “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Hebrews 2:9-11.
- There is only one bridge. Sometimes travelers wonder if there is another bridge spanning the same chasm. They wonder if perhaps Buddha, Mohammed or Shiva has built a bridge. While other religious personages may claim to have spanned the chasm, Jesus clearly states that though others may claim else wise, no other bridge exists.
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.” John 14:6.
- The Message translation adds traveler imagery: “Jesus said, ‘I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!’” John 14:6. (The Message).
- The Decision. Yet, with all of the usefulness and convenience of the bridge, some find such a decision daunting. For some it seems easier to stand on the cusp of the gap and gaze at the future from afar, than to actually cross the bridge and reach it. Thus, the community of faith must help the traveler cross this span not in haste, but not in delay either. Remaining perched on one side of the gap is not crossing it, nor getting the traveler any closer to their designation. The scriptures accentuate the importance of decision:
- “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
- “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20.
- “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13
- “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” John 1:12
- To the young businessman, Jesus replied. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” Matthew 8:22 (The Message).
It is important the community of faith introduce, discuss, and receive questions about these three truths in an unhurried manner. These are world changing truths that take time to digest and absorb.
Waypoint 8 – Faith and Repentance in Christ
Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 8
A traveler mistakes belief with following. As a youth, I had been confused into thinking that mental assent was all that was needed to go to heaven. Living a changed life seemed optional. But, as a fuller understanding of God’s words emerged, I began to understand that God requires holy living to emerge as well. Scriptures that underscore this include, but are not limited to, the following:
- “As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy” 1 Peter 1:15-16 (The Message).
- “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4:8
- “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10.
A traveler is struggling with surrendering their will to God. C. S. Lewis once wrote “there are only two kinds of people in the end, those who say to God ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.” The traveler at this waypoint may be struggling with the thought of relinquishing control of their life. They may have grown up in an environment that required they be self-sufficient. Regardless of the genesis, they now find the thought of relinquishing control to an unseen Deity unnerving. Yet, Jesus reminds us:
“What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here’.” Matthew 7:21-23, The Message.
A self-centered aspiration for impersonal ministry. The Good News travels best over what Donald McGavran called the “bridges of God” or the natural relationships that God has brought into our lives. While is seemed to me somewhat romantic and impersonal to be called to a mission field far away, God knows that we can best reach out to those around us. For example, it must have been embarrassing for Peter to preach his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Many in the crowd would have known the hot-headed fisherman, and some would have heard about his swearing and denials only 50 days before. Yet, preaching in Jerusalem, the social center of his world, was where Peter would have the greatest impact. A key to understanding the life changing magnitude of the Good News is to understand the role of the heart, the seat of the emotions, and the mouth, through which we proclaim our emotions. As Paul says “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” Romans 10:9-10. Thus the journey into the Good News is a public excursion, because God wants more people to join the journey.
Actions That Help W8 Travelers
This waypoint, and the following Waypoint 7, address conversion which is a topic of great interest to both religious and secular scholars. Among such scholars, psychologist and philosopher William James’ definition remains one of the most accepted:
(conversion is) …the process, gradual or sudden, buy which the self hitherto divided and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy becomes united and consciously right, superior and happy in consequence to its firmer hold upon religions realities.
Let us briefly recap the three most recent waypoints that have led up to this definition. They are:
Waypoint 10: Problem recognition with “a sense of intolerable discomfort that compels the individual to make a choice.”
Waypoint 9: Christ is who he claims to be and is the only way to God. As Jesus says in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Waypoint 8: In Engel’s words, the Holy Spirit now works to “intensify the perceived gap between what is and what might be, thus leading to a firm intention to act one way or another with respect to Christ. No human persuasion enters into this process.”
To understand how this process unfolds at Waypoint 8, let us look at four actions that communities of faith can undertake to help travelers at this juncture.
Action 8.1: Embrace the Supernatural
Much of the research on conversion by psychologists and philosophers has ignored or downplayed a supernatural connection. Yet, Scripture makes it clear that a supernatural intersection is at the heart of this experience, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship” (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Message Bible paraphrases this passage to make God’s participation even more blunt:
Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. Ephesians 2:8-10.
Therefore, a faith community helps wayfarers by allowing the supernatural to participate and to guide the process. Yet, this does not mean sanctioning spiritual anarchy. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, a church struggling with spiritual disorder and chaos, emphasizes that God works in a logical and reasonable manner, stating “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
Action 8.2: Authenticity and Relevance
Human manipulation should not enter into this process. As seen above, human manipulation is inauthentic and ultimately fruitless. God’s Holy Spirit is working, and only an all loving God could ensure that this process is free of manipulation and coercion. The process is organic, with dialogue and intersection with a loving Heavenly Father guiding the process. Christians must pray, support and aid, but let the Holy Spirit guide.
Relevance and free will are involved. Though there are different theological options regarding the degree to which choice is involved in human decisions, free will does exist at the point of decision. The Scriptures make it clear that a human must make an individual decision regarding the relevance to them of God’s declarations (Romans 3:23), their personal estrangement from God (Romans 6:23) and a willingness to accept God’s rescue plan through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
Action 8.3: 3 Fallen, Imprisoned & the Ultimate Solution
The Holy Spirit now works to “intensify the perceived gap between what is and what might be, thus leading to a firm intention to act one way or another with respect to Christ. No human persuasion enters into this process.” This takes place as the traveler grasps three “realities.”
REality 1: Fallen – the wayfarer has fallen short of God’s expectations. The traveler at this point is coming to the conclusion that he or she has fallen short of God’s expectation and is a sinner. Below are foundational verses for understanding this:
- “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
- “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2
Reality 2: Imprisoned – the wayfarer, imprisoned by self-seeking, can thus never please God and will ultimately experience spiritual death. Below are a few foundational verses:
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
- “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” Ephesians 2:1
Reality 3: The Ultimate Solution – the wayfarer becomes willing to go in a new direction, seeking the ultimate solution through an act of will to accept Christ’s salvation. Foundational verses include:
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16.
- “And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, The one and only true God, And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” John 17:3
Action 8.4: Cultivate Declaration.
Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). Here Paul is emphasizing that faith and repentance result in a conversion, “a turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else).” In addition, Paul emphasizes that such a turnaround should be conspicuous.
Thus, this declaration should be in public behavior, and not just words. Engel notes that when Paul says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,” (Romans 10:9) he is emphasizing that this is more than mental agreement. The reference to the heart means a decision “that penetrates to the very core of one’s being.” Engel notes that this is “betting your life” on the route you are taking. A public statement or action verifies this bet.
Faith communities must provide relevant, authentic and appropriate circumstances for such declaration and community accountability. Such proclamations in word and deed are not Biblically optional (Romans 10:9-10), but they must be culturally relevant. For example, for me an appropriate venue for declaration was the 100+ men who lived in the same fraternity with me. The common bonds, experiences and inter-reliance we shared had created bridges of God which I crossed for the next 35 years.
Waypoint 7 New Birth
Waypoint 7 may be the most important, and misunderstood, juncture in the journey. Subsequently, the reader will notice some overlap with the previous chapter, and this is intentional. The intersection of the Holy Spirit with the human soul is so critical that this is best observed from several perspectives. Thus, to understand this event, it will be necessary to look at several aspects.
What Kind of Conversion Are We Talking About?
Conversion to Christianity. I will limit this present discussion to conversion to Christianity. There is an abundance of literature dealing with different types of conversion and the author is indebted to Richard Peace for classifying these varieties. There are secular conversions, where a drug addict might be transformed from drug dependence to a drug-free lifestyle. There are manipulative conversions, where coercion is used by a cult or a government. There is conversion between religious worldviews, for instance the conversion from Sikhism to Hinduism that is taking place in India. And, there is conversion from one Christian denomination to another, for instance when popular Catholic priest Rev. Alberto Cutie (nicknamed “Father Oprah”) converted to the US Episcopal denomination. Though all of these areas are of interest to scholars and researchers, we will limit this discussion to conversion to Christianity.
What is conversion?
A look at Church History reveals that there are a wide range of experiences, tempos and progressions associated with conversion. However, there are common characteristics and elements that run through all of these conversations. Philosopher William James best summed up these common aspects when he defined conversion as:
“To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, interior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”
The Bible uses several Greek words to describe this conversion process. Each of these terms will help us more accurately understand conversion.
- Epistrophe is the most basic term, and means to “turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else).” Peace notes this is a “reversing direction and going the opposite way.”
- Metanoia often appears with epistrophe, and is the Greek word for repentance, which “conveys the idea of turning, but focuses on the inner, cognitive decision to make a break with the past.”
- Pistis is the Greek for “faith, trust, confidence in God” and conveys a reliance and assurance in God that can lead to conversion.
Combining these three terms is important to understanding the matrix of conversion. Peace sums this up stating, “Metanoia (repentance) must be combined with pistis (faith) in order to bring about epistophe (conversion).”
How and When Does Conversion Occur?
Does conversion occur in a flash, with miraculous transformations and heavenly encounters? Does conversion take place over time? Or perhaps conversion is a stumbling process, where the conversionary experience takes place in what Richard Peace calls “fits and starts.” Richard Peace, Scot McKnight and others have looked at the New Testament record and conclude that the answer is “all of the above.” Let us look at three basic categories.
Sudden Conversion. Sometimes conversion takes place “in a flash … a sudden point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus.” This is the experience of Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and has became the standard way the evangelical church looks at conversion. At the altar sudden and dramatic responses are often expected, door-to-door visits lead to a “prayer of commitment,” and mass rallies end with an appeal to come forward for conversion. While this may be required to facilitate a person on the verge of a sudden conversionary experience, not all conversions happen in this manner. Psychologist Lewis Rambo, in an exhaustive look at religious conversion, concludes that “for the most part it (religious conversion) takes place over a period of time.” Thus, the evangelical church may be limiting the number of wayfarers she can help by focusing too exclusively on sudden conversion.
Progressive Conversion. A closer look at the Gospel of Mark reveals that Mark was describing a different, more gradual paradigm of conversion. As Peace notes:
“What Mark sought to communicate in his Gospel was the process by which these twelve men gradually turned, over time, from their culturally derived understanding of Jesus as a great teacher to the amazing discovery that he was actually the Messiah who was the Son of God. In showing how the Twelve turned to Jesus, step-by-step, Mark was inviting his readers to undergo the same journey of conversion.”
Peace concludes that “what happened to Paul, and what happened to the Twelve was identical in terms of theological understanding, though quite different experientially.”
Scot McKnight describes how progressive conversion can take place in churches that practice infant baptism. McKnight states, “for many Christians conversion is a process of socialization,” meaning that nurture is confirmed later by personal affirmation. For example, an infant baptism or an infant dedication can be seen as a public affirmation that the church community and parents will nurture that child (i.e. via spiritual socialization). After growing up in this environment of spiritual socialization and religious community, the grown child will be expected to ratify this effort via further instruction (i.e. catechism) and confirmation.
Liturgical Acts and Conversion. McKnight also notes that in some liturgical traditions, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, while conversion is experienced, the sacraments are more involved. Thus, baptism, the Eucharist and “official rites of passage” are where conversionary experiences often take place for “liturgical converts.” There is nothing to preclude that God can use such spiritual rites as touchstone experiences where metanoia (repentance) is combined with pistis (faith) in order to bring about epistophe (conversion).
Signs of Travelers at Waypoint 7
Travelers at W7, the New Birth, are usually experiencing three growing yet competing feelings: metanoia (repentance), pistis (faith) and epistophe (conversion). Let us look at signs the traveler is wrestling with each.
Wrestling with repentance (metanoia). Travelers at W7 experience an inner, mental decision to make a break with their past. Mental gyrations are going on where memories of the positive attributes of the past are being superseded by visions of what an ideal future can contain. The traveler will often be vacillating between anticipation (of the future) and guilt (over the past). The church must be prepared to gracefully and gradually help the traveler make sense of these polar forces and to focus on God’s design for their future.
Wrestling with faith (pistis). At this juncture travelers often feel a new inner certainty and confidence in God and His Good News. Sometimes Christians are taken back by such passionate belief. This may be especially hard to understand if the observer has experienced a liturgical or progressive conversion, and the traveler is experiencing a sudden conversion. And the converse is true, if a person experiences a progressive conversion then this can often mystify and confuse the sudden convert, because that has not been her or his experience. We will talk more about overcoming this confusion under Action 7.1: The Church Must Recognize That Conversion is a Mystical Matrix of Forces.
Wrestling with conversion (epistophe). Travelers at Waypoint 7 are on the cusp of reversing course and setting about in a new direction. Phrases such as a new outlook, a new beginning or a new lease on life occur in their vocabulary. The traveler is encountering a powerful sensation that a new direction is warranted. But as noted above, this feeling can be lived out in a slow, sudden or even sacramental encounter. Regardless of the venue or the pace, the key to repentance is in William James’ words “…by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, interior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy.”
Actions That Help W7 Travelers
Actions 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 will deal with helping the traveler wrestle with repentance (metanoia), faith (pistis) and conversion (epistophe).
Action 7.1: Helping Those Wrestling with Repentance (metanoia)
Repentance is the process of turning that focuses on the inner, cognitive decision to make a break with the past. Here the church assists the traveler through prayer, support and by getting out of the way and allowing the Holy Spirit to work. The church’s job is not to convict of sin, for that is the Holy Spirit’s role (John 16:8-9). Usually at this stage the traveler is so riddled with shame and guilt due to the Holy Spirit’s working, that any additional derision lumped on by the unaware Christian, can thwart the process.
Also the church must help the traveler see that others have experienced similar remorse for the past. And, the church must help the traveler see that Christ can create a new creature “and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, The Message).
At this waypoint the traveler is summing up all he or she has known of the past and is now comparing that to an emerging understanding of God’s future for their life. The reality of the past is now being compared to the hope of the future, and overcoming the concreteness of the past will take some support.
Action 7.2: Helping Those Wrestling with Faith (pistis)
At this waypoint the traveler is often in the final gestation of a faith development leading to conversion. Thus, the traveler will be inquisitive, confused and befuddled because they are growing in faith, trust and confidence in God.
The church can thus help the traveler at this waypoint see God’s promises as reflected in Scripture. The Scriptures are filled with examples of stories, poems and songs given to a people or person that was struggling with trusting God in the midst of calamity. I have often found that at this juncture Psalm 23 and its emphasis upon trust in calamity is appropriate, for it emphasizes the positive future of God’s assistance, even over the calamity of the present.
Action 7.3: Helping Those Wrestling with Conversion (epistophe)
Travelers at Waypoint 7 will be ready to experience a “turn around … a change of mind … (to turn) from something to something (else)” (i.e. conversion, Greek epistophe). The traveler will seek help in reversing direction and going the opposite way, and this may require significant effort by the church.
For example, the church may need to help an abused spouse find a new place to live, if that spouse is to reverse their direction and go in a direction away from an abusive relationship. Or a church may need to provide housing, counseling, a job, and a host of other assistance. While this type of ministry was described as a congregational action at Waypoints 14, 15 and 16, it must be offered again here. At the conversion stage, the traveler is making a lifestyle change along with their spiritual decision. The traveler is deciding to turn in a new direction, that will be of such radical nature that the traveler will need significant help to reverse course.
Action 7.4: Conversion Is a Mystical Matrix of Forces.
Many churches today focus on one of the three variations of conversion. McKnight says that “each is aligned with a major component of the church and each appears to be allergic to the others.” Let us look briefly at each in Figure XX: A Comparative Look at Conversion.
Figure XX: A Comparative Look at Conversion
||Types of Conversion
|Evangelicals, c e
Pentecostals c e
Protestants c e
|Roman Catholics, c e
Orthodox Church c e
||Radical departure from the past.
||Point of conversion does not require a sordid past.
||Mystery and encounter with the supernatural.
||In some studies only 10 percent of these decisions “resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior.d
Mechanical tools can replace community. e
|The work of conversion can “drift from the center of one’s ecclesiastical vision.”e
Faith can become a matter of duty and obligation. e
|Liturgy has to be learned, as well as how to participate in it before conversion.e
||“Conversion is an individual experience that can be dated exactly.” e
||“Belonging before believing.” e
||“To arouse the sleeping faith in the nominal Christian.”e
||Raised in a secular environment. e
First generation Christiansa
|Raised in a Christian home.b
Second generation Christiansa
|Second generation Christiansa
- Charles Kraft, “Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin (Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 19740, Second Quarter.
- Scot McKnight, Personal Interview, June 2, 2009.
- Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels.
- Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium (Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172.
- Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8.
As noted in this chapter, the New Testament and experience tells us that conversion takes place in several ways and with different cadences. Scot’s story that began this chapter mirrors many of the people I have met over the years, as well as this author’s personal experience. While it seems tidy to categorize into neat categories the different types of conversion, the Holy Spirit appears irked to behave in such categorical fashion. Scot’s experience was a combination of personal decision and socialization. For Scott, this was a culmination of three personal encounters (ages 5, 12 and 17). God had been connecting with Scot for some time via the influence of friends, family and the Holy Spirit.
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