Read: Psalm 16; John 14:1 – 6; Acts 4:12
The 16th Psalm can be viewed through the lens of the stages of spiritual development suggested by Janet O. Hagberg and Rober A. Guelich in The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1989). Hagberg and Guelich suggested various stages that Christians pass through on the path of increasing maturity in the faith. They defined their stages on the basis of observations made in pastoral ministry experience; however, something similar to the pattern they suggest is reflected in the relationship between the bridegroom and the bride in the Song of Solomon, and also in Psalm 16.
Think About It: There is only one way to the Father, only one way to be saved – through Jesus Christ. There are, however, many ways through which people come to know Christ as their Savior. What are some of the different ways that people I know have come to know Christ? What could I do to help others come to know Christ?
Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for the way You found to bring me to Yourself!
Read: Psalm 16:1 – 2; Acts 22:2 – 16
The first phase of Christian spiritual development is that of coming to a personal knowledge of Christ as Savior. This stage is represented in Psalm 16:1 – 2 and can be summarized as “discovering God and taking refuge in Him.” This stage includes our “pre-conversion” experience of God, those times in our life when we realized that God was more than just a word. Then came the decision for Christ– truly “taking refuge” in God (receiving Jesus as Savior), acknowledging the Lordship of Christ (You are my Lord), recognizing our own sinfulness and God’s goodness (I have no good besides You). At this stage faith is knowing God and knowing you are forgiven. This is the “Christ for me” stage. Without this stage we would never be saved.
Think About It: Read Paul’s salvation testimony in Acts 22:2 – 16. What part of this testimony involves Paul’s pre-conversion experience of God? What in this testimony points to the moment in which Paul was saved? When was the first time in my life that I experienced the Lord as more than just a name—when I sensed that He was real? How did I come to know Christ as my personal Savior?
Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for my salvation.
Read: Psalm 16:3 – 4; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22 – 23
The next phase of Christian spiritual development, represented in Psalm 16:3 – 4, involves mutual commitment with other believers. We join a group and commit ourselves to a cause, and godly examples exert a powerful influence on us. There are many ways of experiencing this: 1) through the influence of Christian friends; 2) through the teaching or preaching or writing of a Christian leader – a pastor or conference speaker or author; 3) through commitment to a church program or para-church ministry that provides a clear-cut way of doing ministry – Young Life, Campus Crusade (now Cru), Inter-Varsity, Bible Study Fellowship, or a church youth group or ministry team. At this stage faith is about learning the right answers and following the leader. Without this stage we would never grow in wisdom and knowledge, we would not gain skills for ministry. Within the safety of the group, we are strengthened to reject the temptations of worldly idolatry (Psalm 16:4). A danger inherent in this stage of development is feeling that there is only one way – the way suggested by my group or my leader—to do real ministry for the Lord.
Think About It: What potential trap is there in the “follow the leader” aspect of this stage of development (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22 – 23)? When have I felt a part of a spiritual community? Who has had a godly influence on my life?
Prayer: Praise God for godly examples, and for the strength and encouragement that comes through spiritual community.
Read: Psalm 16:5- 6; 1 Corinthians 12:4 – 31
The next stage of Christian spiritual development, reflected in Psalm 16:5 – 6 in the psalmist’s expression of appreciation to God for his special lot in life, is the discovery of individual potential and development of personal spiritual gifts. At this stage we realize that we don’t have to follow anyone else’s cookie cutter formula of what a Christian is because God has given us unique gifts and abilities (and also limitations) that make our service to Him absolutely unique. We may continue to serve with the para-church ministry or in the program, but we move to positions of leadership or make unique contributions. At this stage, faith is work and ministry. Without people in this stage of development, the bulk of the work of the church would never get done. If the first stage is “Christ for me,” this stage is “Me for Christ.” A danger inherent in this stage is that we run the risk of defining ourselves in terms of what we do rather than in terms of our walk with Jesus.
Think About It: Where have the lines fallen to me – that is, what are my unique talents and spiritual gifts? Have I accepted responsibility for work for the Lord? What unique contributions can I make to the work of the Gospel?
Prayer: Lord, thank You that the lines have indeed fallen to me in pleasant places; thank You for my unique heritage in Christ.
Read: Psalm 16:7 – 8; Psalm 22; John 11:20 – 37; 2 Corinthians 1:3 – 7
Before the next stage of Christian spiritual development comes the phase of night, what the 16th century Carmelite monk John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Hagberg and Guelich refer to this phase as “hitting the wall.” It is a passage through darkness, something deeply disturbing and painful that tries to shake us away from God. Psalm 16:7 – 8 presents this phase from the perspective of one who has passed through the night and emerged victorious into the next stage of spiritual maturity. Other psalms (e.g. Psalm 22) speak from the midst of the darkness. During this phase of darkness faith involves asking the right questions, not necessarily having all the answers. Outside observers sometimes judge those who are in this phase as having suffered a loss of faith. But without passage through the darkness we would never experience the depth of God’s love and mercy nor would we be as effective in ministering to others in their suffering. An inherent danger in this stage is reacting with bitterness against God to the pain and darkness, and thereby getting stuck in the darkness.
Think About It: What implied question did Mary and Martha have of Jesus regarding the death of Lazarus (John 11:20 – 37)? Did Jesus ever answer that implied question? What question did Jesus ask? Read 1 Kings 19:1 – 14. What caused Elijah’s personal crisis? How did God deal with Elijah during this time of crisis? When has my life been shaken by personal crisis? How did I respond in the darkness?
Prayer: Lord, strengthen me for the hour of testing; may I be found faithful.
Read: Psalm 16:9 – 10; Genesis 45:1 – 15; 50:15 – 21; Psalm 46:10
The next phase of Christian spiritual development is rediscovering God, (Psalm 16:9 – 10), emerging from trouble full of hope and with renewed confidence in the grace of God and an ability to focus on God’s priorities, with the assurance that He will provide security. This phase restores to us the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). Without this stage, we would have no spiritual guides to encourage us in our times of trouble. The saints who have been through the darkness become the very ones who provide leadership and encouragement to those in earlier stages, and especially to those who are passing through the darkness themselves. At this stage, faith is joyful confidence in God. This stage is “Me for Christ, no matter the cost!” In our actual experience there will be many times of testing; in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to emerge from each one more hopeful and more trusting in God.
Think About It: Read Genesis 45:1 – 15 and 50:15 – 21. What were some of the aspects of the “dark night of the soul” through which Joseph passed? What did Joseph learn about God in the process? How did this enable Joseph to be a blessing to others? How is my deepening relationship with God being expressed in my relationship with others?
Prayer: Lord, make me a blessing.
Read: Psalm 16:11; Philippians 2:3 – 11; 4:12; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 12:10, 13:9; John 13:4 – 17
The final stage of Christian spiritual development reflected is reflected in Psalm 16:11 as the stage of total yielding to and joyful immersion of the self in God. This stage isn’t radically different from the previous stage; it is a further development, increasingly characterized by joy (Philippians 4:4; John 15:11; 16:24). From the biblical examples of the saints who have reached this level of maturity, we know that this life of joy is characterized by compassionate living for others (Mark 10:45), detachment from worldly things (1 John 2:15 – 16), freedom from stress (Matthew 6:25 – 34), and total abandonment of self for the sake of Christ (Galatians 2:20).
Think About It: What does Philippians 2:3 – 11 tell me about this deepest stage of spiritual maturity? What does John 13:4 – 17 add to my understanding of this stage of spiritual maturity? Who are some of the Biblical personalities who have reached this level of maturity? Who do I know that represents this level of maturity?
Prayer: Lord, may I learn to make You my only joy.