A spiritual dad.
John describes both of the first two spiritual cycles…
…with three relatively clear, distinct markers.
Not so this 3rd cycle of a spiritual dad and spiritual grandpa!
“Him who is from the beginning!”
I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning (1 John 2:13-14, emphasis).
So cryptic. So indefinite (“Him who” rather than specifically “Father” or Jesus like with “beloved child”). What a glimpse into the unfathomable debts of the vastness of an eternal Being (“Him who is from the beginning”). So inadequate for an inquisitive mind that wants everything spelled out in detail, like me. Yet so right on!
John did not identify these developmental cycles as “novice,” “intermediate,” and “expert” like skill training in sports or video games. He is family-oriented in all three of his descriptions, pointing towards the ideal culture in which to grow. Genuine spiritual development and growth is highly relational and life-on-life.
…think of this cycle as a “father of teens,” in contrast to pre-teens. Perhaps this is one reason why it seems rare for a person to enter this 3rd cycle before they reach an age to parent teenagers. I wish I had a wise mentor come alongside when we were raising our teens to model these differences for me. The skills to raise pre-teens are more directive, “warrior” type skills. To raise teenagers demands that our perspectives change, becoming more collaborative, drawing out more than putting in.
…this became even clearer to me as I watched our four children raise our fourteen grandchildren, eleven of them now teens. In John’s culture, the word “father” represents multi-generational relationships, including grandfather or great-grandfather. As I relate to my grandchildren as “Poppo,” I have now better learned to adjust how I respond to them.
This 3rd cycle of a spiritual dad is like a spiritual “father of teens” and “grandpa.”
Encountering the “Warrior Wall”
Think for a moment on the cryptic description John provides. “Him who is from the beginning.” In your mind’s eye, follow John’s pointer to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created….” Now think on Him who is prior to creation (God is “from the beginning,” before the “beginning” happened, i.e. eternal). Now in your mind’s eye, go back to before creation. What do you see?
God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, lovingly relating with one another in joyful, freeing community as they serve the highest and best of each other from all eternity. Eternity has no beginning or ending. God sees everything simultaneously, with one sweeping glance at one “time” (before time was created).
This seems to be what John points to.
For me, this haunting vision is God’s invitation wooing me into “more,” a deeper and fuller experience of the eternal God. I’m certainly not implying that I grasp this intellectually, yet I am encouraging us to experience this personally. Such a vision of our relationship with the eternal God will take up all the rest of our lives on earth, and on into eternity (Philippians 3:20).
At first glance, one thing strikes me clearly in this 3rd cycle. As we get a fuller glimpse of the vastness of the God we serve, we bump up against a choice. We either temporarily lay down the containers of our past accomplishments and failures to enter in or retreat to the certainties we have grown comfortable with in our life to date. I wonder if the so-called mid-life crisis stems from this. Most though respond to this crisis with outward counterfeits that never satisfy the call God has embedded into us of Deep calling to deep.
In my imagination,
I picture the “Warrior Wall” as a nearly transparent, indestructible barrier…with a specific doorway designed uniquely for each of us. Each doorway is low and very narrow. To enter, we must temporarily lay aside all the packages and containers from our past, the good and the not so good. If we don’t, we are unable to pass through the narrow door. Then on the other side of the “Warrior Wall” we pick up our ministries and occupations again, We continue most after reevaluating, yet from a radically changed perspective.
I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, …I press on (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul encourages God’s people to learn to live on our journey in humility as lifelong life-learners (also see Philippians 2:3). We realize we have not arrived and are still very much in-process. And also focused on the exquisite allurement of following Jesus in sweet surrender into “more.” We willingly leave behind all (the good, the bad and the ugly) so we are stripped for intense action moving forward (I like the word picture in Hebrews 12:1b-2).
I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain… (Philippians 3:8, emphasis).
It seems when believers bump against this see-through “Warrior Wall” and glimpse the stunning indefiniteness of the vastness beyond, fear of the unknown often stops them from pursuing. If we don’t move forward on our journey, we tend to drift downward into our comfort zone.
“Warriors,” and especially “warrior-kings,” have learned to control much of life around them (or become satisfied with the illusion of control). Many successful people grow impatient with the imminent threat of loss of certainty. I wonder if we are able to enter into this 3rd cycle of a spiritual dad without temporarily laying down our confidence in what we have accomplished in the past.
…is the source of the following paragraphs. This meditation (available on Amazon.com) is on John 15, the divine Vintner pruning branches. God not only prunes diseased tissue, but also healthy past growth. Are you surprised? This includes many activities and pursuits from which we have experienced spiritual fruitfulness in the past.
Every spring, the earthly vintner cuts the vine branches back to a few stubby limbs, every new season. If I were that branch, what pain and despair…and confusion! He is cutting the beautiful runners and luscious green leaves that produced so much fruit last season!
A vine left to itself always favors size and length over more fruit. Long runners and green foliage from last year’s activities and choices divert from God’s one purpose in this season. Our heavenly Vintner yearns for abundant fruit to bring joy to others. God’s purpose is neither busyness nor bigness nor a wide ministry nor popularity. We can either have beautiful green leaves from last season’s growth or sweet, juicy fruit in the next season.
We just cannot have both.
A low, narrow door as the only pathway into “more” seems to align with the idea of pruning even good things from our past, leading to becoming a 3rd cycle spiritual dad.
Paul and Barnabas as Examples
Luke gave us a superb example of the difference between a “warrior-king” and a spiritual “grandpa” in the book of Acts. Barnabas was Saul/Paul’s spiritual mentor, demonstrating in spades the marks of a spiritual “grandpa.” He championed the Apostle Paul in every way, even when others were skeptical. Barney even turned his team leadership over to Paul when he saw God’s hand on him in Cyprus (Acts 13:13).
Paul’s First Missionary Journey lasted about a year, although dating is not an exact science. The church at Antioch had launched the team with Barnabas as team-leader. God blessed their strategy as they traveled to the larger population centers, evangelized, moved on, then cycled back for a short time to strengthen the fledgling churches. After reporting back to their home church, in Acts 15:36-41 both men felt the nudge of the Spirit to go on a Second Missionary Journey. The text continues…
They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company (Acts 15:39a, emphasis).
What happened to teamwork?
Here’s my take, based on Scripture and some of my imagination. You decide! John Mark was the spark for the “sharp disagreement.” He bailed on the team on the First Missionary Journey (13:13). Barney stood his ground when his younger friend, Paul, responded from what he saw as a narrow mindset: evangelism and revival without in depth DiscipleMaking.
The younger Paul…
…took a part-for-the-whole approach (a legitimate part lifted up as if it were the whole). As a young spiritual “warrior-king,” Paul viewed only his mission call to evangelize Gentiles and gather the new converts into churches. Legitimate, yet only the partial (Acts 9:15-16). His refusal to work with John Mark dishonored him as a ministry partner. “The mission is too crucial. I must have faithful, loyal team members who meet my standards. Mark must not come!”
Paul’s narrow-focus on his call led him to erroneously practice a worldly “end justifies the means” strategy. He closed his mind to Barnabas’ contrary view, refusing counsel from his wise spiritual father. Even when a call is direct from Jesus, if our vision is no broader than our ministry call, what we call unwavering perseverance may be obstinacy. What we call faith may have a heavy dose of arrogance. These can often be earmarks of spiritual “warriors,” and especially of “warrior-kings.”
Barnabas, the older sage (spiritual “grandpa”)…
…approached all of ministry more like this. “Both the mission and the man are so crucial that we must also patiently develop maturity in future influencers. Mark must come!” Barnabas, “the son of encouragement,” a true spiritual “grandpa,” would not quit on the potential he saw in John Mark, even with his failure at Perga. Barney risked wider ministry influence and rapport with Paul to bring John Mark alongside. He practiced the same restorative ministry with Mark as he had previously with Paul.
Give Paul his kudos. God used Barney’s responses as a spiritual dad seemed to trigger Paul’s heart to see God’s broader vision of both evangelism and DiscipleMaking. The Spirit hemmed Paul in from pursuing ministry in the same way he had in his successful past…thrice (Acts 15:6,7,9), sending Paul to another continent. From this point on, Paul seemed to spend more time at one place, more thoroughly discipling the new converts and working more collaboratively with others. Read Philippians, the warmest of Paul’s letters, later written to the first place he landed in Europe. In 1 Thessalonians, especially note the highly personal, family-based ministry focus in 2:7-13, relating “with each one of you as a father” (1 Thess 2:11).
Paul changed and matured as a leader and walked as a spiritual dad…
…with a wider Both/And vision of both the man and the ministry. Later Paul highly valued John Mark, asking his friends to bring Mark when he was jailed, “because he is helpful to me” (2 Timothy 4:11b; Colossians 4:10). Wherever Paul went, he now brought a team, training them life-on-life (over thirty different companions). Without Barney, Paul may not have broken through and broadened his ministry approach. And Mark may have slipped through the cracks. Paul was approximately fifty when this happened (probably born between 5 BC and 5 AD). I hypothesize that Paul experienced this radical change as he entered through the “Warrior Wall” through his unique narrow and low doorway.
“Barnabas had that rare and powerful quality of believing in people and seeing their potential” (Bob Logan).
A Catholic psychologist who has explored this extensively suggests that as high as 85% of Christians fail to move from “warrior” to become a spiritual “father.” This is especially difficult for “warrior-kings” who have had so much success.
Maybe these qualities would no longer be “rare” among God’s people if more of us spiritual “warriors” would choose to enter God’s Sabbath rest through our unique narrow, low door and cease from our own works. God’s invites all to become a spiritual dad.
[Anyone] who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest….For the word of God is alive and active [and] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight (Hebrews 4:10-13, emphasis).
Exploring the Vastness of “Him Who Is…”
So, be more specific!
I wish I could. To explain this 3rd cycle of a spiritual dad or grandpa to you in words that draw you into its unimaginable attractiveness would thoroughly delight me. I wonder, though, if anyone really is able to do more for you than to give a few pointers. This cycle seems to be something that must be explored personally, face-to-face with the living, Triune God, rather than vicariously through the stories of others. How high is your passion to press in?
In one real sense, this cycle is not new. God has probably already given you repeated foretastes while in the other two cycles. God always woos us towards “more” of Him. Not “more” we get. Our Family-of-Three gave us their all the instant we came to Christ. Yet we all possess “more” to experience. So explore your past and gather the glimpses of “more” God has given you as brief windows into this 3rd cycle. And dialog with your mentor or a wise peer friend about your insights. God’s Deep constantly coaxes your deep within to enter through your unique, low, narrow door into His Sabbath rest for you. Then we are even “more” fruitful ministering as we cease from our own works (Hebrews 4:9-10 and the larger context, 4:1-13).
God is infinite, endless, inexhaustible.
So no wonder I feel indefiniteness. God is Triune, which fries my mental circuits. God is incarnational, which defies my logic. And this One “who is from the beginning,” calls me now as His new creation in Christ to touch eternity with Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 3:20-12), part of a new race of people (Romans 5:15-19; Ephesians 2:14-15). All of which soars beyond my ability to fully grasp. Sit in Colossians 1:19 with 2:9-10 and 3:3 long enough so your head spins as you grapple with God’s intent for us. The depth and breadth underlying “one new creation” is breathtaking! Such a view draws me to commit myself to wholehearted allegiance as a lifelong life-learner and doer in deepening, ongoing self-renewal.
This also leads me to more of a Both/And/And approach to life, except for essential, foundational either/or truths from Scripture. God has given us absolutes. Don’t jettison any of these either/or essentials. And please don’t approach the rest of life with an either/or mindset when Both/And is called for.
Remember, each cycle is also recursive.
This niche word means that our experience from a later cycle also circles back, impacting and enriching previous cycles. With change, don’t swallow the deceit that the “new” implies a completely new start, discarding the old. Who we are and what we do now is connected with the next season and cycle. This freshness brings increased fruitfulness from continuity.
A gravity rests on this 3rd cycle as a spiritual dad and grandpa, accompanied by a deeper lightness. One writer calls this a “bright sadness and a sober” joyfulness. I like that! This cycle carries a larger vision of pain for particular people and for the larger world. Along with this is wishing that everyone enjoyed the brightness an authentic “3rd Cycler” regularly does in a growing way. This includes a deep grief when those we love settle.
In this “bright sadness,” we may also experience a real loneliness if we say “yes” to change, and our peers do not. The cure for this loneliness, however, is actually snatches of silence and solitude with our Father. As we reflect in solitude with “one foot raised” for action, we unite a contemplative stance with fruitful activity.
…the broadest and most flexible theological system to carry the weight of “Him who is from the beginning” returns to the beginning in Genesis 1 and 2. Focus on: (1) a relational Trinitarian, (2) incarnational, (2) new creation worldview of God’s restored image-bearers as one new man “in Christ.” Embracing the mystery inherent in godliness fuels a passionate commitment within me to keep on learning/doing and changing as His new creation “in Christ.”
I can only give you a few pointers to become a spiritual dad and grandpa, and follow them myself. Search for your own and pass along your insights to me. Sharing releases growth in both of us. Labor to enter into His Sabbath rest through your unique narrow and low door. His Sabbath rest releases a growing fruitfulness where we cease from our own works.
Regardless of the actual percentage that pass through the “Warrior Wall” door into the 3rd cycle, I choose to join Frank Laubach and Paul in their passion to rush into the presence of our Family-of-Three, Father, Son and Spirit.
“Can we think God’s thoughts all the time? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question” (Frank Laubach, 3/23/30 journal).
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).
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- For those who want more, I have written an unpublished manuscript, expanding on all these subjects with my musings. For the free downloadable PDF, click here