Jim (not his real name) had done everything that I had asked him to do, and still his personal spiritual growth was frustrated. He seemed legitimately stuck, unable to get over this hump. He consistently read the Word, prayed, attended worship, and sought to resolve conflict in a servant-like fashion. Yet, he was still frequently lashing out. The longer we talked the more I realized that Jim’s anger was actually rooted in his fear, and that he had certain fears he was simply unwilling to talk about. So long as those remained untouched he would remain stuck. Jim’s problem is actually a common one. A refusal to address certain types of struggles will prevent us from experiencing the specific grace we need to grow spiritually.
I call them “Grace Blockers,” a term I adopted from counselor Brad Bigney. Grace blockers are those unaddressed issues that will keep us stuck, that will keep us from experiencing the growth inducing grace of God. There are scenarios, perhaps you have experienced them, where you do all the things you’re “supposed” to do – read your bible, attend church, pray regularly, etc. – and yet spiritual health remains elusive. You remain stuck in your struggles, relapsing into cycles of sin. It’s important in these situations to seek understanding, to wonder at why we remain stuck. We have, after all, put ourselves in the very means of grace that God delights to use for our growth (Scripture, prayer, community, etc.). There is a likelihood that we remain unaffected because of the existence of a grace blocker.
Imagine grace like water gushing from a faucet. As we place ourselves under the faucet of God’s abundant grace we are bound to get wet. This is how spiritual growth and health happens: we place ourselves within the means of grace God provides and he soaks us to the bone. If you’re not under the faucet you won’t get wet. No growth, of course, happens simply and it takes time to transform a person and a life, yet without putting ourselves within the means of God’s grace we are sure to stay stuck. Grace blockers, however, work like an umbrella. We may be standing under the faucet and yet because of the umbrella we may never feel the waters of God’s transforming power. We are putting ourselves in the means of grace, but we have not addressed some major barrier to our growth and so we will remain stuck.
There are any number of grace blockers that might exist, but there are some common ones. As a counselor I’ve seen many of these, and as a Christian I’ve experienced some of them too. Common grace blockers include: bitterness, guilt/shame, addiction, fear, and control. When these remain unaddressed, either intentionally or subconsciously, we will remain stuck in our struggles and cycles of sin. We may be doing all the other right things to fight our sin, to overcome our temptations, to wrestle with our struggles, and yet because this umbrella is still up, we will be unaffected by the transforming grace of God. Note, that God’s grace never stops pouring forth. The challenges to our situation are not a result of God’s distance or lack of involvement. The challenges, in some situations, are directly linked to the inhibitors we have left in place to our own spiritual growth. To move forward we, like Jim, must evaluate what is keeping us stuck.
Do you have a grace blocker in your life? Consider the following evaluative questions as a starting place:
- Are there any subjects, attitudes, or situations that are “off-limits” to others? Do you refuse to talk about these or share these with others?
- Is there one thing I can think of that would make my life better? What is it? Why is this so important?
- What drives me? What am I passionate about?
- Am I being faithful to pursue spiritual growth in my own life? How do I know I am striving to grow?
- Do I consistently feel stuck in my growth? Do the same struggles plague me, even thought I know precisely what I am supposed to do?
- Where do I find comfort and encouragement?
- When nothing else is distracting me or keeping me busy what do I spend my time thinking about?
- Do I replay situations, conversations, or frustrations in my head? How frequently? Why?
- Do certain memories, situations, or potential outcomes consume my thoughts? Do I become anxious as I dwell on them?
- Do I struggle to believe I am forgiven even though I know and trust the gospel?
These ten questions can serve to spark some good reflection in your own heart about your own life and desires. As you evaluate your life ask God to reveal an unresolved issues that may be serving as a grace blocker. Seek to confront those with the help of a friend. In this series we are going to explore the five common grace blockers in some detail and seek to confront them with Biblical truth. I hope this will serve as a helpful series for you. I am hopeful that someday Jim will see this reality too.