by B. Jeffrey Anderson
Set up road signs; put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway, the road that you take.
(Jeremiah 31:21, NIV)
Note from Linda Schubert: As I read and review Jeff’s book, one of my favorite scriptures comes to mind: “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever” (2 Peter 3:18). Jeff’s book is really a wonderful resource for personal growth, for prayer groups and for little home groups that meet together with a theme for each gathering. Take it a chapter at a time and let it expand your understanding of God’s working in your life. On page 11 of his book he speaks of the simplicity and goodness of the work of the Holy Spirit. My heart sings when I read that, because in my own life and ministry I have found this to be so true. I cherish the interesting and unique and simple and amazing and loving way the Lord works in our lives. As you go through the book you will grow in the recognition of the hand of the Lord in your life. And then want more! So here are some thoughts from Jeffrey about his book.
by B. Jeffrey Anderson
“I don’t see how people can stand it, not knowing the Lord” or “Oh, what a… ah… a blessing!” are samples of expressions I hear relatively frequently from many of my friends, usually those associated with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The expression is always a bit awkward; you can tell the words don’t quite carry the deeper expression of love or gratitude that the speaker really wants to express. Indeed God’s love, when it is experienced directly and deeply, is always a little beyond the power of words, but you can sense it in the expression on the face and the emotion in the voice.
Unfortunately, far too seldom do I observe this type of emotion, this expression of knowing God’s deep and very personal love, among the many day-to-day Catholics I encounter within the parish. Rather, the most common expression seems to be one of hope, sometimes even a stubborn “I’ve-got-to-hang-on” type of hope. There appears to be little confidence that they know much about God, and even less of a sense that they know him directly and personally. There is a belief that prayers are answered, but less that their prayers will be answered. Also, there is an amazing lack of interest in knowing God or more about him; attendance in adult education programs is uniformly poor in Catholic parishes. I know I am not the only one who sees this pattern. In her 2012 book “Forming Intentional Disciples, The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” Sherry Weddell, based on her own observations and various survey results, notes that there is a very large flow in and out of Christianity and the various churches; not a sign that people are confident they are in the right place. In 1972 there were 8.6 marriages per 1000 Catholics. In 2010 the number had dropped to 2.6 per 1000; a clear sign of erosion in appreciation of the importance of this sacrament. From Pew Research survey results, Weddell notes that only 60% of people who identified themselves as Catholic believed in a personal God. In fact, only 48% were absolutely certain that it was possible to have a personal relationship with God.
For someone like myself, who a) has had a personal relationship with the Lord for many years and, b) is deeply involved in Catholic education of adults, plus planning and speaking at parish missions, several questions become very important. One is, “Why? How did this happen?” More important, at least for me, is, “What should we do about it? How can we encourage spiritual growth in those who are looking for it?” Given a lot of prayer and concern, and drawing from 40-plus years in the Charismatic Renewal and teaching, and, gradually I put together a list of things that help. In fact, the list became long enough that I was able to write a book about it. It is called “The Narrow Road, A Catholic’s Path to Spiritual Growth”; find it at RegnumDeiPress.com. Here is a sample of key elements from the list. You will note that all of them are right there within the body of Scripture and official Church teaching. The real trick is in understanding them correctly and in giving them the correct priorities.
- The importance of personal witness: Hearing directly and often how God has worked in another person’s life is very important. It not only builds faith, it also teaches us how God works and how to recognize that work.
- The Sacraments: The Sacraments are not like a vending machine; put a dollar in and your soda pops out. Rather, each is an encounter with Jesus; what happens and when it happens depends both on us; our attitude, faith, and needs, and on God and his plans for us, as well as the graces assured by the Church’s intercession. (Catechism Catholic Church, para 1153)
- Our position in the household of God: All too often we are like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32, especially verse 29). We grit our teeth and follow the rules as best we can, but we never enter into a relationship proper to our position as sons or daughters of the Master.
- Obedience and identification with God’s work: We are all called to be servants of God. We are not called to run our own franchise for him, we are called to be servants. “Yes, like the eyes of servants on the hand of their masters, Like the eyes of a maid on the hand of her mistress, So our eyes are on the LORD our God, till we are shown favor.” I love this image from Psalm 123. A true servant just stands, ready and waiting, until a slight motion from the hand of the Master tells him what to do. Then he responds quickly.
- Discernment: Discernment and the other spiritual gifts are there for the asking, to help us understand what to do and when to do it. God hungers to have us to walk closely with him. (Luke 11: 9-13)
- Jesus is our model: The Holy Spirit enables us the work in the same pattern as Jesus; we hear God’s voice and then respond (John 5:19-20 and 30). Importantly, often it is spiritual works we are called to do, calling forth God’s intervention in a situation. The gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are spiritual gifts, above and beyond the mere natural.
- It is joy, pure joy, following God. Well, you can also throw in the other fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)
Clearly, there should be no surprises here. The crux of the matter is in making it work in one’s daily life. That is why my book relies on many personal examples to give a practical, day to day sense of how these ideas work together to help a person grow closer to the Lord. Of course, in reality we cannot make ourselves grow spiritually at all; it is a gift from God. However, it is a gift God yearns to give. What is important on our part is to be ready; to have the right attitudes and expectations, faith, patience, prayer, and to be able to recognize it when God is working with us.
A Prayer for Spiritual Growth
Loving Father, you but spoke to your son Jesus and he fulfilled each word.
We ask you; grant us that same grace.
When Jesus speaks, may we, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Hear his voice and carry-out his will.
Our dedication is weak; strengthen it.
Our hearing is confused; sharpen it.
Our love is imperfect; perfect it.
No matter the obstacle; heal or remove it.
Let Jesus be proclaimed, so all will see and know:
There is a God,
His glory is near.
A blessing to each of you,
B. Jeffrey Anderson,
Author: The Narrow Road, A Catholic’s Path to Spiritual Growth, Regnum Dei Press, 2014
For Parish Missions or for presentations to their group, contact me by email:NarrowRoad.firstname.lastname@example.org