The Training Table: What is the Equation for Christian Growth?
Welcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing chow, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race (1 Corinthians 9:24), right?
Ever since my conversion thirty-one years ago in October 1983, the organic, up’s-and-down’s, yet inexorably ascending journey of my Christian walk has included various milestones—or as the Bible calls them “Ebenezers”—“Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12).
God’s “Ebenezer’s of my faith journey”, my spiritual milestones, have been, and will continue to be marked, miraculous, and yet “mundane” in nature: Occurring in the most ordinary life of a guy like me and yet are the unquestionable and universal attributes of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in my personal life…
And in your life if you have been “born-again from above” (John 3:3-5; Ezekiel 11:17-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17)—while taking careful note and “marking the miraculous” of how “the Lord has helped you”.
For the purposes of offering one of my “Ebenezer Stones” which has marked God’s universal yet personal hand in my life, I used the stone [inset picture] I found as a ten-year-old child, broke in half to discover what was inside… the stone and my own heart 23 years later… while I hid from heartbreak within my home.
Christmas Night 2002…
Thus far, certainly the most maleficent, magnificent, and “Ebenezer-manifesting” milestones of my faith journey was Christmas night 2002 when my father committed suicide—and I was radically changed in the time I spent with God and dad that night before he died and afterwards.
Amongst the handful of Ebenezer-milestones this event marked and affected to change my life there is one that stands above all the rest: A Heart for Theodicy. E.g., the universally- yet personally-plaguing question, “How can an all-loving and all-powerful God allow such horrible and widespread suffering in the world?”
Today’s feast of the heart at the Training Table is taken from the Preface of this workbook. I’m offering it as a very important reminder about the most universal yet personal plight of all humankind: The unavoidable suffering involved in living in a horribly broken world—and how COMMUNITY is an integral part of God’s redemptive plan for our suffering.
Please read this carefully…
If you want to find out something about the water, don’t ask the fish!
In our time… and in our day—immersed in the fishbowl of what has become the most INDIVIDUALISTIC CULTURE history has ever recorded—how God has mercifully made a plan and a way by offering those who place their trust in Him not just survival but redemption from and by the unavoidable trials of living in a shattered world.
It begins in the Trinity, is carried out in community, and ends in unity… as The Body of Christ is broken down and drawn together “not for ourselves…” (Romans 15:1) and by the cycle of redemptive suffering: Transformed so that we can then be increasingly effective in transforming the world!
What is the Equation for Christian Growth?
Trials + Truth + Togetherness = Christlikeness (Matthew 20:28).
No person—past, present, or future—can live as a repentant (2 Peter 3:9), justified (Romans 10:10), bona fide (Ephesians 1:11-14), born-again (John 3:1-8), newly created (2 Corinthians 5:17), dead and resurrected (Galatians 2:20), freed and free indeed (John 8:32)… A namesake of Jesus Christ… in isolation; without deep, committed, transparent, trusting, unashamed, and risky relationships; and in the unity deserving of Christ and required of The Church.
This God-made plan and process of “redemptive interdependence” is a mercy far beyond what those who trespassed against God in the beginning deserve, Beloved (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:12).
How much did it cost God to put this plan in place? Everything. What will it cost you and me to join Him in it? Just our lousy pride, egotism, pretense, and needless shame!
A Community Group Study Guide for The Weeping, the Window, the Way
Why This Journaling and Study Guide for Small Groups?
“This study guide exists for the purpose of maximizing the spiritual benefits of The Weeping, the Window, the Way—and in particular our suffering. God’s answer to the book’s subtitle should be obvious, but this study helps pay it off, “Will suffering make you bitter or better?” “Community and betterness” go hand in hand, just as “isolation and bitterness” do as well. What Scripture teaches is that there are three essential ingredients to our growth as a disciple: the Bible (truth), suffering (trial), and community (togetherness).
The Weeping, the Window, the Way takes truth to our trials, but this companion study guide for small groups takes truth and trial into the redeeming influence of Christian togetherness. The combination of truth, trial, and togetherness will produce an impact in your suffering far beyond what could be achieved outside the community of fellow believers. In fact, using the book with this guide in the context of community will offer the greatest opportunity for God to use your weeping to open a window in your heart and show you the way forward in the world—as an increasingly purposeful and powerful agent of Jesus’s redemptive person and plan. Devoid of community, bitterness is the only outcome to the unavoidable trials of life.
The power of Christian community or togetherness is a thread that runs through the whole of Scripture. Of course, this is not the place for a complete theology of biblical community, but a few key points are worth noting. As mentioned above, first and foremost, God has revealed Himself to us as a community that we call Trinity.
Therefore, the very fabric of the universe is community-centered and such togetherness is intrinsic to our very existence—whether we acknowledge it and practice it or not. As people, made in God’s own image (Gen. 1:26–27), we are built for community and connection. We are built to work in harmony to glorify God and bless His people.
Second, God calls people to Himself as a community, not just as individuals. When God created humanity, He proclaimed that it was “not good for man to be alone.” As Dan Allender and Tremper Longman write in their book Intimate Allies, “God does not exclusively fill the human heart. He made mankind to need more than himself. The staggering humility of God to make something that was not to be fully satisfied with the Creator and the creation is incomprehensible.”
Similarly, when God called Abraham, he did it to create an entire people and bless all the nations (Gen. 12:13), and Jesus repeats this pattern by calling twelve disciples, a clear reconstitution of the community of Israel. Furthermore, the admonitions of the New Testament usually address the community of believers rather than individuals within that community (Romans 12:1 for just one example—most of the time you see the word you in Paul’s letters, it is plural like y’all, addressing the entire community rather than an individual). In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul argues that those who believe in Jesus are like parts joined together in one body, each one indispensible to the other.
Thus, anything that leads to our isolation from community works against the purposes of God and is ultimately destructive to us.
Third, the Christian life can only be fully realized as we are called together as Christians. The very meaning of the Greek word for church (ekklessia) is the “called together ones.” In Scripture, God calls us to the Christian life with “one another” to serve one another (Gal. 5:13), not to provoke one another (Gal. 5:26), to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), to learn humility and patience by being with one another (Eph. 4:2), to speak the truth to one another (Eph. 4:25), to be kind to one another and address each other with singing (Eph. 4:32, 5:19), and to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), just to name a few examples.
These examples all show that our suffering or our weeping cannot be fully redeemed outside the togetherness of Christian community. Therefore, we need biblical togetherness in order to reflect the image of God; to grow in grace, maturity, and effectiveness; to hear and speak the truth about our sin; to learn godly virtue; and to maximize the spiritual growth that comes through suffering.
The kind of community offered by this study will call you to be open, vulnerable, humble, and truth telling. To simply know the truth about ourselves, we need people we trust on the outside looking in with a willingness to speak the truth to us in love. When we are not willing to speak hard truths to one another with grace, we dishonor our calling and fail to truly love at a depth that produces change.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once aptly wrote that “there is no kindness more cruel than the kindness which consigns another person to their sin.” The glory of the gospel is that we can admit our messiness and trust one another with the gory details of our lives because God’s grace is real. C.S. Lewis comments further on the power of togetherness to transform us: “God works on us in all sorts of ways. But above all, He works on us through each other. Men are mirrors, or “carriers” of Christ to other men… That is why the church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important. It is so easy to think that the church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, services… The church exists for no other purpose but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.”
This study is personal, somewhat intensive, and the work will, at times, be difficult. In order to mature you and compel you to serve a fast-dying world as Jesus would, it will require you to think, to listen, to pray, to write, and to expose your heart and the sin therein.
It will be difficult sledding at times, but the payoff for those who remain steadfast will be “one hundred fold” their upfront investment. This study requires great personal risk, but the reward is far greater still, for it is the reward of Christlikeness in an understanding community of faith and Christ-centered impact in a world more in need of Him than ever before.
This study will cause you to die to yourself, but to the diligent, it will grant abundant life to you and all who you providentially influence. So when pride sets in, when fear takes hold, when laziness speaks loudly, remember the words of Jesus from John 12:24–25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
If you will take the risk, God will supply the reward.” (The Weeping, the Window, the Way—IN COMMUNITY)
To Recapitulate… In Order to Motivate!
Beloved of God, as I have stated so many times before in this and other forums, “By means of the Trinity’s immeasurable mercies in caring for my own sin-filled, redeemed, shattered, and re-made heart… I have a heart for the heart of the heart.” Even in the church today—God’s redemptive light and salt for a dark, decaying, and WEEPING world—the “equation for growth and Christlikeness” adds up to this:
“Trials + No True Truth + Isolation = Despair”. And so the world is hurting far, far worse!
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered reformation, revival, and constructive revolution so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
- Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth of the Bible.
- Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed.
- Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment.
Once the church returns to many seasons of Reformation, it can realize Revival, and then be the force of Constructive Revolution that Christ designed it to be… In the meantime, please, YOU be that form of The Church starting “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8)!
Begin the stewardship of Trials + Truth + Togetherness = Christlikeness without further delay. And may your weeping open a window into your heart that will offer the transformation needed to see the way of Jesus for your life… More and more and more each day.
Resources, Sermons by Pastor Timothy Keller
Christ Our Life