You recently said to me something like, “We can’t go any faster than the Lord is taking us.” This is very true. But it's also true (and important to understand) that we can go much SLOWER than He is trying to lead us, and we do this whenever obedience doesn’t keep pace with knowledge.
I believe this was my problem for years, though I was far from understanding it. When I began to understand that true Christian growth was a work of the Spirit of God, and not a work of man’s discipline, effort, or learning, I assumed that I was therefore being led along just as fast as the Lord desired. I had a desire to grow, to follow the Lord, and didn’t want to waste my time (like Israel) doing circles in the wilderness. And because I felt a zeal to move forward, and a willingness to learn, I supposed that any lack of change in my heart, or lack of growth, was simply due to it not yet being the “Lord’s time”. But I have since been enabled to see that I was operating under a great misunderstanding (or deception) with regard to this point.
Spiritual growth is indeed a work of the Spirit, but there are many ways that man can work against the Spirit, and perhaps the most common have to do with the HUNDREDS of “little ways” that our heart or will does not humbly and sincerely submit to and obey the measure of spiritual understanding that we currently have. I mean, the various ways that we don’t really live according to what we already know.
It’s important to realize that the reason God teaches us is not primarily so that we possess correct information. He teaches us so that we see the correct path and then walk in it, with a humble and resigned heart. There is great confusion on this issue. Man naturally and almost universally assumes that his primary problem is a lack of spiritual knowledge or understanding. We can feel that something is wrong, or that we should be further along, and so we read and study and listen to teachings, thinking all the time that our increased understanding is also increased spiritual growth. But the truth is, our primary problem usually has nothing to do with needing more spiritual information. Our problem, and the reason for our lack of growth, is that we haven’t truly surrendered our heart and lives (inwardly and outwardly) to the things that we have already been shown.
Now, upon hearing this, man is very quick to defend and justify himself, either insisting (like the rich young ruler) that he hasn’t broken any of the major commandments of God, or that he is patiently waiting for God to speak to him or show him what he is supposed to do. But this is usually a great deception. Because, again, while man waits, and wants to put the blame on God’s timing, or on his own lack of understanding or revelation, there are generally a multitude of “little” ways that man is not living up to what he already knows to be right. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, there are a multitude of ways that his will has not yet given up to the revealed will of God. It’s not really that he doesn’t know enough; it's simply that he wants something else.
Now, I am not suggesting that man, by the exertion of his will, can produce spiritual life or growth. No. As Paul says, only “God gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:6-7) But though man cannot create spiritual life, he can and must submit to spiritual life when it appears. Man cannot create real righteousness, goodness, virtue, or purity in the strength of his flesh, but he can (and must) submit his will in humble surrender to absolutely everything that the Light makes manifest, and to everything that the Spirit desires to put to death and to make alive in him. This is a little like saying that man cannot create the wind, but he can put up his sail and be driven by its power… or he can drop his sail and drift in a contrary direction. And in this sense, man is either carefully and vigilantly following the pillar of fire towards the Promised Land, or he is falling behind, losing his way, and then often complaining that the fault lies in “God’s timing,” or in God not making His will sufficiently clear.
What I’m trying to say is that when we don’t actually turn at His rebuke, surrender our hearts, wills, and lives to the multitude of little ways that God shows us our contrariness to Him, then we stop moving forward. And at that point it doesn’t really matter how much we want Him to show us His power, or teach us something new and exciting. When obedience doesn’t keep pace with knowledge, our eyes grow dim, our ears become deaf, our hearts get hard, and we stop crossing the wilderness. I mean when God makes manifest something in our lives, in our words, desires, pursuits, in our religion, our behavior, our relationships, etc. that is wrong, dead, empty, hypocritical, selfish, proud, or is in any way opposed to His truth and purpose, etc., this is not so that we just understand or recognize what is contrary to God. No. We are given an ability to feel these convictions and see these things so that we “obey the truth through the Spirit,” (1 Pet 1:22), “practice the truth” (John 3:21), and “hate even the garment that has been defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 1:23). We are shown what is unclean so that we will no longer touch it. We are shown what is dead so that we will bury it; that is, end our relationship with it. We are shown what is Babylon so that we “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” God’s light shines in the heart and manifests all sorts of things and ways and words that are not of the Father, but of the world, the flesh, and the devil. “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatever makes manifest is light” (Eph 5:13). By His light we are enabled to see, and by His grace we are empowered to leave behind one thing after another that we have inherited from Adam, until we have parted with all for His sake. And this is the only way to continue growing.
I mention all this only because I don’t want you to fall short of God’s desire for you, or for your church. For the sake of your own heart, and for the sake of your group there, it is extremely important that your obedience keep pace with your understanding. I know you preach things that are true, but it is even more important to LIVE the truth in everything. I know you preach the cross, but it is much more important that you carry the cross in your private and public life, in all things. If you are able to see things in your life, in your words, in the way you run the church there, etc. that are not right, or that are empty words, lifeless traditions, ANYTHING that does not manifest your current knowledge of the truth, then these things will hinder you from moving forward. I write to you in love, and with a strong desire to see you and all the people there continue to grow in the Life of truth.