Today is the first in a 7-part summer sermon series called “Going Deeper.” This series is intended to inspire worshippers to proactively go one step deeper in their walk with Jesus Christ. Today’s message identifies five different phases of spiritual growth/depth.
READ: Luke 5:1-11
Raise your hand if it’s your goal is be a “shallow” person? I didn’t think so; my guess is that none of us want to live a superficial life. Most of know that living only at the surface is ultimately unsatisfying.
Deep is good, right? As someone has observed, friends want to have deep conversations; coaches want to have deep benches; fans want their teams to go deep into the playoffs; investors hope for a deep recovery; gardeners and farmers want their plants to have deep roots. Deep is good.
Deep implies substance. If something is deep, it’s profound, it’s sufficient, it’s real, it’s enduring. Am I right to assume that all of us here would much rather live a deep, fulfilling life than a shallow, ultimately unsatisfying one?
To be honest, I’m less concerned about us choosing the spiritually shallow way than us choosing the spiritually not deep way – because there’s a difference. As a pastor, what most disquiets my spirit is the idea that the good people under my spiritual care will settle for spiritual mediocrity; that in regard to our spiritual maturity, we’ll park ourselves in waist-deep water and call it ‘good.’
Discipleship coach Phil Maynard identifies five phases of spiritual growth. Every person starts at the first stage and progresses forward at their own pace. His five stages are:
In the book “Deepening Your Effectiveness,” authors Claudia Lavy and Dan Glover identify six stages of spiritual growth and illustrate using this beach image to the left. You’ll see that at stage 1 a person is on the beach; they’re not even dipping their toes in the water yet. This corresponds to Maynard’s searching phase. This is where people are either not interested in anything spiritual or they’re asking big questions like, “Is there more to life than getting rich?” “Is there really a higher power out there?” “How can I find meaning in life?”
Stage 2 corresponds to Maynard’s exploring phase. If the water represents the Christian faith, the person (in the image) has moved to the water’s edge. In essence, they’re “testing the waters” to see if it’s something that might interest them. There’s no commitment to go any further, or to even keep testing it. In fact, this is the phase where many folks will show up here on a Sunday morning and “test” us out. When we talk about the importance of providing radical hospitality every week, it’s for the sake of these people, not. As I’ve said before, many first-time guests will decide whether or not to come back again within 15 minutes of their first visit.
Stage 3 corresponds to Maynard’s beginning phase. Notice the man in the image is now in the water. The beginning phase is really the first stage of spiritual growth. The Bible refers to them as “babes,” and their spiritual food is equated to milk, which are the basic teachings and tenets of the Christian faith—Christianity 101, if you will. It’s important to note that there’s a large spans within the beginning phase. One goes from being ankle-deep being waist-deep. It’s my assessment that the great majority of American Christians are in the latter part of this phase, where it’s waist-deep. It’s comfortable there because it’s safe.
Stage 4 corresponds to Maynard’s growing phase. In the image, the man appears to be floating and his feet are not touching the bottom. Personally, I would include in the growing phase those who have ventured out to chest and neck-deep waters; their feet are still touching the bottom, but they’re getting to the place where the waves lift them up off the bottom, where their starting to float. The growing phase is where Christians are taking their Christian faith much more seriously than before. It’s here that they’re taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth, and looking for and availing themselves of opportunities to grow beyond the weekly worship service.
Finally, stage 5 and 6 correspond to Maynard’s maturing phase. This is definitely the spiritually deep waters, where one partners with God and invites others to explore the life and teachings of Jesus.
Assuming that your presence here indicates you’re no longer in the searching phase, where do you see yourself between the water’s edge and the deep water? Spiritually, how deep do you think you are?
As a pastor my greatest concern is people getting stuck in waist-deep water. It’s not shallow, but it’s not deep. It’s safe, because you still in control. When waves come along, you’re not likely to be lifted off your feet. If you get knocked over, it’s easy to stand back up. It’s for this reason I believe most Christians reside in this place. And I’m becoming increasingly motivated to help people pick up their feet and begin taking steps out into deeper water.
Why? Because as you go deeper in your walk of faith, so will you experience an increase in your personal sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy in life. But, of course, life isn’t all about finding personal satisfaction, right? It’s ultimately about being a part of fulfilling the will and purposes of God. And those who have ventured into the deep waters will tell us that when we make God’s will our will—when we align our life goals with God’s purposes—we discover that we’re way more satisfied than ever before. But the motivation is others more than self.
So two questions for us today are:
- Where do you see yourself today?
- Are you open to going one step deeper in your relationship with Jesus Christ?
I’m not asking anyone to jump right into deep water. Rather, I’m simply encouraging you to consider moving one step deeper from where you see yourself right now. From ankle-deep to calf-deep. From calf-deep to knee-deep. From thigh-deep to waist-deep. And for most of us, from waist-deep to mid-chest deep. To quote Dr. Leo Marvin, the Psychiatrist and author played by Richard Dreyfuss in the film, What About Bob, I’m talking about taking “baby steps.”
There’s a story in the Bible that illustrates the impact of going deeper. It’s Luke’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples to himself. It’s what prefaces the call that is pertinent to this message. Jesus tells the fishermen put out into deeper waters. But they resist because they’ve been up all night and caught hardly anything in their usual place of fishing. But they do so and, to their astonishment, haul in such a large catch that the boat begins to sink under the weight.
Again, note what happened when they rowed out to the deep. That’s where the fish were. That’s where the catch took place. Not closer to shore in the shallower waters, but out deep, where things were probably a bit more challenging and maybe even a little more frightening.
Based on his response to Jesus’ initial request, it’s clear that Peter had no interest in putting out to the deep waters. It sounds like they’d been up all night, so he was probably tired. Who knows, maybe the small catch they hauled in that night was typical, and so they were satisfied with what they brought in. The point is, Peter balked at the idea of going beyond his comfort zone.
But Jesus wanted to make an important point to them. He was about to give a shout out to Peter and a couple of others to come and follow him, but before doing so he needed them to know something vitally important.
- He would be taking them deeper and further than they were used to going, even if they were uncomfortable doing so
- Deeper is where it’s fruitful.
Aren’t we a lot like Peter? We put up road blocks and resistance and ask, Lord, do I have to? It may very well be that quite a few us of can honestly say that we’d like to go deeper. But I wonder if more often than not, we like the idea of going deeper than actually putting out to deeper waters. It’s the same thing with any significant lifestyle change. For example, we like the idea of getting healthier, but taking the necessary steps to do so and then to keep going is altogether different.
The fact is, taking that next step toward deeper spiritual waters is a good thing to do – it’s a healthy thing to do. And I can honestly say that it’s what Christ is calling us to do. Individually, and as a church. First UMC is being called to go deeper.
My hope and prayer is that over the course of the next 6 weeks the Holy Spirit will convict, challenge, and inspire each of us to follow Peter’s lead and go deeper – even if you don’t feel like doing so; even if you don’t necessarily see where it will benefit you; even if you think you’re perfectly content with where you are right now on your path of discipleship.
So, what will this look like, and how might you actually do this? These will be just a couple of the questions I hope to answer in the weeks to come. Today I’m merely asking you to consider a new possibility. I’m asking each of you to do a bit of self-assessment and mull over the idea that it’s a good time to intentionally grow in your faith and practice. But please know that in the weeks to come I’ll be inviting you to take action, to purposefully implement some concrete activities into your life which will help you live into God’s call to grow.
I’ll close with a quote from New England Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady: “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” May the same be said of us Christ-followers. We haven’t gotten this deep only to stay this deep.