The Third Mansion: Following Jesus

March 21, 2014

We continue our study of the stages of spiritual growth, as first pondered by sixteenth century Christian mystic Teresa of Avila (The Interior Castle) and more recently unpacked by Thomas Ashbrook (Mansions of the Heart). So far, we have appreciated the fresh new life that comes with conversion and the inner struggle this life introduces as we feel the tension of forsaking the old life.

In the Christian life, moving successfully through the tug-of-war stage of the Second Mansion means the question of whether I will fully commit myself to this life with this Savior is settled. Or mostly. The prayer, “Lord, make me wanna wanna” is largely answered, so that when temptations rise or trials unfold, there isn’t a serious danger of me running out of the house and back into the world. Not that Satan doesn’t try to derail the Christian in the Third Mansion, but rather its tactic becomes subtle, encouraging the development of pride and presumption as a person masters the disciplined life.

The Third Mansion is characterized by balance in the spiritual life between Bible study, prayer, church involvement, and ministry engagement. It is a period known for its doing, and for many believers it is the most “productive” and even prolonged phase of their walk with Christ. Ashbrook observes that “ministry is often focused on the requests of others, as well as attempts to meet our own needs.” This can come across as drivenness, as the Christian easily confuses working for God as relationship with God (Mansions, 98f). Jesus, meanwhile, is wooing us into deeper personal intimacy with him which can be experienced if the believer allows time in a busy schedule for reflection.

Prayer becomes more reflective in this phase as we take time to remember and appreciate God’s presence and power. Whereas earlier prayer majored in personal requests and intercession, now we are more apt to use something like the ACTS pattern for prayer, starting with Adoration and Confession, and moving into Thanksgiving and then Supplication. There are moments of thrilling spiritual “consolation,” enough to build faith and expand vision, but these moments are infrequent, even rare. Nevertheless, learning how to listen to Jesus becomes more important, and wise pastors recognize the necessity of teaching their people how to be attentive to God’s presence and activity within.

I would say that the vast majority of my life has been lived in this mansion. I became a fully participatory church member shortly after graduation from college and marriage. Within six months of membership, a staff leader snagged me for an administrative assistant job in the church’s music department. This first exposure to the inner workings of a congregation opened up new opportunities to serve, and gradually I discovered and developed a primary spiritual gift of teaching and preaching. Seminary studies not only fed my mind but also facilitated deep reflection in my soul, as I experienced inner healing that resulted in my overall spiritual transformation. After several years as a lay specialist in adult discipleship and equipping, I was ordained in 1987 to the Presbyterian pastorate.  Meanwhile, I was gaining both broad and deep exposure to Scripture, learning how to trust God, acquiring ministry skills, and otherwise aligning my life to God’s will and way.

Many church ministries are thrilled when their parishioners arrive at this stage. Because of their enthusiasm, commitment, and productivity, they are hot commodities in the congregation. Pastors love to recruit them and unleash their talents for the benefit of the church body. As the designer of many a church program in my day, with the overachiever tendencies of my youth still nipping at my heals, not to mention my prowess at engaging just the right saint for a particular ministry, I know the temptation to keep people busy with church activity. You see, if it were up to churches and their pastors, nobody would grow past this stage, because these are the folks that get the jobs done that make worship happen, children taught, and buildings maintained. This thwarting of course is not intentional, but we were taught to believe that a productive Christian is a growing one; an active participant is maturing in faith. What Teresa tells us is this: if people are flourishing in this active phase, it is only a matter of time before a certain holy dissatisfaction takes hold and makes them search for Something More. A wise counselor will be able to usher them into the next Mansion.

Tomorrow: The Fourth Mansion, Discovering the Love of Jesus

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One Response to “The Third Mansion: Following Jesus”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    This message conjures up longing for the next. So grateful for this series. Spiritual fitness, indeed!

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