Lt. Colonel Carolee Israel is the Territorial Secretary for Spiritual Life Development in the USA Southern Territory.
Email Lt. Colonel Carolee Israel
Please enter your name, email and zip code below to sign up!
Please enter your name, email and zip code below to sign up!
Please enter your name, email and zip code below to sign up!
The Salvation Army’s USA Southern Territory Spiritual Life Development department aims to provide resources and encouragement to foster the development of the spiritual lives of soldiers, officers, employees, and volunteers.
What do we mean by ‘Spiritual Life Development’? The phrase includes discipleship, Christian maturity, and/or growth. It is following Jesus and becoming more like Him as the Holy Spirit produces fruit and righteous living. I have taken the text of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus as a foundation for developing spiritual life, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:16-17 NLT) It is deepening roots in the soil of God so that the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives as we stay connected to the Vine – Jesus Christ.
How is this accomplished in our lives? We deepen roots and produce fruit through obedience, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and service – all centered around Christ and connected in balance. All must be developed in our lives to grow as God intended. These five aspects are individual relating to our lives and situations, but they are also developed in our communities and Corps. Prayer and Bible Study are the two vertical aspects looking to and receiving from God while fellowship and service relate to the world around us – horizontally. Fellowship deals with our relationships with the Church/Corps and Service (or ‘Others’) connect to culture and the world around us. All fall within the command in both the Old and New Testaments to Obedience.
Obedience is a foundational element in developing our Spiritual Life. Jesus says very clearly in John 14:15: “If you love me, obey my commandments” or in other manuscripts “you will obey” or “you should obey.” He repeats this idea in 14:21: “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.” In chapter 15:10, Jesus also says, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (See also Matthew 28:20, John 3:36, James 4:11, and 1 John 2:3-5, 3:24).
In the Old Testament, the first use of the words obey or obedience is found in Genesis 17:9 when God tells Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant.” In Exodus 19:5, God tells Moses on Mount Sinai, “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special people from among the peoples on earth.” The words obey or obedience is used 69 times in Moses’ sermon (Deuteronomy) prior to entering the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 30: 20 says, “You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” One of my favorite passages is about Ezra, of whom it is said, “the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” (Ezra 7:9-10) Joshua 1:8 says, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (See also Leviticus 18:4-5, Psalm 51:12, Ezekiel 36:27 and 1 Samuel 15:22).
Our spiritual lives will not develop until we understand that obedience is required and that we must live obedient lives. In our relationship with God, we can’t skip over parts that are hard or that we don’t like. Once we hear from God, we must respond in humble obedience before we are able to move forward in our walk with Him. The world, and especially our American culture, says, “Do what you want” and “Look out for yourself.” Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was, “Not my will but yours be done.” He gives us the example to follow for all who call ourselves Christians.
In order to develop our spiritual lives and to deepen our relationship with God, five factors are necessary – obedience, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and service. Relationships require communication and our spiritual life is no exception. People of God must be people of prayer!
Spiritual life for all of us begins with the same prayer, “O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”. A relationship with Jesus must begin with an acknowledgment that we are sinners and in need of his help. As our spiritual life develops, so must our prayer life. The first disciples asked Jesus to “teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples to pray.” (Luke 11:1) Prayer, or communion with our Lord, must be learned as our relationship deepens – much like our time with our spouse or a close friend. Spending time with God in prayer is essential for us to continue our spiritual journey – drawing closer and becoming more like Christ, restoring the image of God in which we were created.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is part of God’s response to Solomon’s dedication prayer as the Temple is filled with God’s presence in Jerusalem. It says, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” There are several lessons concerning prayer we can learn. First, by joining ‘humble’, ‘seek’, and ‘turn from wicked ways’ with prayer, we learn that prayer is more than communication. Prayer is humble acknowledging that we cannot live our own way, but we must turn, or repent, and seek God’s presence. This is the essence of prayer before we say our first word. The second lesson comes from the word ‘if’. Prayer is a choice – we can bow before God and call on him as Lord, or we can ignore Him and pretend that we are our own masters. The if/then aspect of this verse also teaches that God’s response is not a given, but that God has promised to ‘hear’, ‘forgive’, and ‘heal’. It is also true that without prayer there is no forgiveness or healing.
So then, why are God’s people praying less and less? Why is the ‘Prayer Meeting’ (if it is on the Corps calendar) the hardest event of the week for people to attend? Why has prayer in many of our services become, “bless us, bless the offering, bless our going out – Amen”? Every great movement in Church history has been preceded by prayer, but it is missing from our calendars. Ask anyone who has been on this spiritual journey if they have any regrets and the number one response would be, ‘we didn’t pray more’! So, in your personal life, in your Corps life, in your family, in your community – pray more tomorrow than you did yesterday. God is waiting for you to spend time with Him!
“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet, and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105 NLT
In these dark days, it is comforting to know that God has provided light so that we can see where we are going. In this column, we are exploring ways that we can deepen our walk or relationship with God. We continue to develop roots that will sustain us through the storms that will come our way.
Our first and foundational doctrine says that “We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.” All Salvationist soldiers know this in our heads and repeat this with our mouths. But if we never open, read, study, meditate and listen to what God says to us – then we don’t really believe that God has inspired his Word and that it is our only guide on how to live.
A problem in our Army (and the Church) is a lack of Biblical knowledge. God has revealed, or unveiled himself to us by the Word, Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:16) and His Word, Old & New Testaments that “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
We will not grow in our Biblical knowledge by only hearing a sermon on Sunday morning. In order to develop our spiritual lives, we need to encounter (read, study, meditate on) God’s Word daily. Fortunately, we live in a time when there are many ways available to study God’s Word. With the wide range of translations and paraphrases to reading guides, commentaries, devotionals, etc. we have no excuse for neglecting God’s Word. I would encourage every Corps to make sure there are multiple options available for your Soldiers to study together with the Bible every week.
When Joshua was promoted upon the death of Moses to lead God’s people, he was told, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so that you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” (Joshua 1:8) God has made it very clear that He has something to tell us and that we need to listen. The Bible is a precious gift from God that we have not earned but is freely given so that we can know Him better. Don’t pass up this opportunity to grow in the Lord, establishing roots deep in the soil of His love by digging deep into His Word. You will be abundantly blessed.
I believe General Booth captured the heart of Christianity with the one word ‘others’. (With apologies to Lt. Colonel Satterlee, I still credit our General.) In a world that continues to advocate self-interest and applaud selfishness, followers of Jesus Christ stand against this avalanche of living unselfishly.
Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi these words, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (2:3-4 NLT) It is an interesting reality that the development of our relationship with God includes our relationships with others. Jesus makes it clear that it is not just how we relate to those who we like but also to those who give us a hard time or make life difficult. “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” Matthew 5:46-47
In exploring obedience, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship/community; each is a part of maturing in our walk with God. These deal with our vertical relationship with God through prayer and Bible study as well as our horizontal relationship with fellow Christians and our obedience to God’s will for our daily lives. For many, it would be comfortable to develop our Spiritual lives within these parameters, but God requires more. The Salvation Army mission statement states, we are called to “preach (Proclaim) the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ and meet human need in Jesus’ name (the way Jesus would) without discrimination. Far too often, Christians have misunderstood that becoming a child of God through repentance and regeneration is just about us and our making it into heaven. As Jesus told His disciples when He ascended into heaven, “you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.” (Acts 1:8) Paul, in talking with the Ephesians elders said it this way, “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) This was not just Paul’s work, but it is the command for all who call Jesus Lord. We are not given the luxury of looking only to ourselves and our walk, but we are tasked with reaching out to ‘others’ with the love God has shown to each of us.
The roots of our spiritual lives will not grow deep and provide the needed strength for the storms of life unless we incorporate a sincere desire to serve others. It is not an option to rest on the marvelous history we have as Salvationists in this regard, but each generation needs to take up the responsibility to meet human needs.
Fellowship is a critical aspect for developing our Spiritual lives – the process of becoming the people God wants us to be.
In the Old Testament, we read that Enoch and Noah ‘walked in close fellowship with God’. (Genesis 5:24, 6:9) In Acts, it says “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals, and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) It took me several years of Corps ministry to understand that fellowship times and meals together as a Corps family were as important as sermons. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it was only in my last couple of Corps appointments that I understood the critical importance of visiting our Soldiers. It was on these visits that I was able to connect and establish a fellowship that doesn’t happen in a large group one hour a week.
The writer of Hebrews says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25a) As we have explored new ways of getting together through social media and the internet, it could be very easy to think that we have discovered a new way to ‘meet together’. While this may be useful in many settings, when this pandemic is over and we are allowed to meet in groups larger than 10, I pray that we will embrace meeting together. The lack of human contact during these chaotic days, in both ministry to our Corps and service to our communities, should make us value fellowship even more. Continue to use social media to encourage one another – especially those who cannot attend public gatherings. There will be ways to use media to connect in better ways than before. Streaming our services and Bible studies will continue to be valuable but be careful that these do not replace fellowship and human contact.
While admitting to using this verse out of context, Psalm 55:14 seems to fit our current situation when David writes, “What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.” Developing our Spiritual lives is not something that we do on our own. We are designed to need each other in fellowship. “If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
Spiritual Life Development Officers are available to speak at your next event.
Please send prayer requests and inquiries to SpiritualLifeDevelopment@uss.salvationarmy.org.