SETTING OUT ON THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
As Christians we are all continually called to enter into a closer relationship with God through Christ. Yet many ask how exactly do we respond to this call? What steps do we take, like the Prodigal Son, to begin that spiritual journey of return to the Father?
When we read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) we encounter a young man who wanted to live independently of his father. So he left his father’s side and set out to do his own will but eventually found himself tending swine for another and without even the husks which the swine ate to feed himself. The parable then makes a very important statement: ‘And when he came to himself’.
Spiritually we are all like the Prodigal Son. We all want to do our own will rather than God’s will. We think that this will bring us inner joy, happiness, peace and love but it does not, although many may try to convince themselves and others that it does. So we are left like the Prodigal Son, with barely the husks of spiritual nourishment to eat. Yet his story does not end there, and neither need ours.
‘And when he came to himself’ he decided to set out on the journey of return to his father. Before we can take the first serious and constructive step in answering the call to enter into a closer relationship with God through Christ it is necessary for us to make the decision that we want to do so. Each of us needs to be ready and willing to actively respond to that call; we must take the initiative. If you are ready to do so, let us set out with the Prodigal Son, Arise with him and say Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight. The Father will see us when we are still a long way off and have compassion.
There are two aspects to the initiative we need to take. One is to deepen our life of prayer. There are various degrees of prayer to be encountered and there are different ways of praying and a number of spiritual exercises which can be used to enrich our spiritual lives.
The second is to seriously set to work and take active steps to cleanse our sins. If we are honest many of us will see these as tremendous challenges because no one really likes encountering personal sins and we often feel guilty that we do not pray as often or as deeply as we should. Yet neither of these is really as difficult as they may seem because once we start we begin to realise how one helps us with the other. Then, before long, we begin to realize, in fact to experience, something even greater than this and this is that we become aware that Christ, the divine indwelling, is really there helping us with both!
A practice is to adopt (if you have not already done so) a Rule of Life. Living by a rule of life has been a monastic practice since the early centuries. It consists of a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. Adopting such disciplines may be a bit difficult to begin with. However, once you have got into the routine the advantages of doing so are soon discovered. A good way to begin is by starting with a simpler discipline which you can make stricter later on.
Not only focusing on deepening our experience of prayer but proactively working to overcome our errors are soon seen to bear positive fruit, not only in our spiritual but also in our mundane lives. This is because it does not take long to begin to feel our inner burdens lifting and a song of joy breaking out in our hearts.
In addition to this, once we realize that overcoming past sins and learning how to sin less are not negative and doleful activities, we recognize that each step forward in this regard marks overcoming another hurdle to heaven. Our spiritual journey, our progress towards heaven, does have hurdles along the way to overcome but there are also many delights to encounter and, in the light of these, we come to welcome the challenges along the way.
In setting out on the journey of return there are three steps to take: Learning how to sin less often, learning how to become reconciled to past sin, and learning how to pray more deeply.
Undoubtedly there are challenges to be faced on the spiritual journey but it is one that leads to a greater inner experiences joy, peace and love. True and lasting benefits which can be found in no other way than by journeying deeper into God.