7.6 Finding Spiritual Direction
A review of Finding Spiritual Direction: The Challenge and Joys of Christian Growth
by Douglas D. Webster
Contribution to my understanding of spiritual direction
Webster uses a study of the book of James to provide a basis for the essential practices of anyone wanting to provide spiritual direction to others who seek to grow in maturity. He sees spiritual directors as “physicians of the soul” (14), as “parents” (16) and as “farmers who love the land and understand their work.” 171
Webster says that anyone seeking to be a spiritual director should not be looking for publicity and promotion. The work of spiritual direction is slow and requires patience and yet it “makes the difference between life and death.” 172 He says that the essence of spiritual direction is trying to help people turn away from evil and turn to God—that is bring them back to spiritual health. Thus, it is built on the basic work of “repentance, confession and humility.” 176 Webster says that spiritual direction is the “ongoing work of grace within the body of Christ to preserve the integrity and vitality of the Christian life.” (174)
As other writers have said, I can only guide others to the extent that I myself have been obeying the Word. Spiritual directors seek to see others live out the Word of God and so see the organic nature of spiritual growth as the Word is integrated into people’s lives. 65 Webster points out that all the help that we provide for people is built on the finished work of Christ. (174) One of our goals is to help people identify problems that need are not in line with God’s will. Webster says that spiritual directors help Christians when they are apathetic; assist others to discern evil motives and selfish pursuits within the body; challenge the angry and yet themselves are righteously angry when God’s word is being violated (James 5:1-6); call people to action when there are issues of economic oppression or social injustice. Spiritual directors base their direction upon the revealed will of God in the Bible; seeking to provide concrete actions for people’s obedience; with patience seeking to lead people to genuine repentance. Spiritual directors ask their directees, “Will you live for yourself or will you take up the cross and follow Jesus?” 130
The spiritual direction of James says a lot about the tongue. Silence is good and necessary in order to hear and receive the Word of God. However, Webster says that silence is not enough; people “must use the tongue wisely and for good.” 96 Along with silence, he suggests that people eliminate distractions from their life and exercise self-discipline in order to grow as they practice the spiritual disciplines.
Impact on my present call and commitment to shepherd others
Webster says, “Pure joy is found in a life of growth, not in a life of ease.” (36) This encourages me that I am on the right road in ministry. Material wealth can be a problem for people living in our area. Webster suggests that spiritual directors are called to address the conspicuous consumption of our culture. This is a challenge when many of those who need challenging provide the financing for our ministry as missionaries. Yet, I also know that the problem is not all the “stuff” people own, it is when those material possessions become an idol and require vast amounts of energy and time to keep their wealth intact.
As I teach about spiritual formation, it does seem that in our busy world prayer and silence are not valued since the time required appears to be unproductive since there are no immediate results seen. People always think they should be doing something. Yet, Webster says, “Prayer sustains the resistance of the soul against an undertow of evil . . . Prayer does not tidy up life and arrange it in labeled folders. It focuses and intensifies life. Prayer orients our thinking, directs our actions and prepares us for God’s work.” 40
Strengths and weaknesses
Webster gives a needed but devastating critique about present day leaders and churches. Following are some activities that need to be corrected:
§ Ministry is viewed as a performance 24
§ The pastor is seen in a public relations role 24
§ Leaders are put on a pedestal 27
§ Leaders care more about saying something cute than communicating truth 28
§ Churches equate human success with God’s success 48
§ Church worship is often similar to a sporting event in which people are entertained 61
§ The Church should be a competition free zone 69
§ There is open minded tolerance of everything in society by the church 93
§ People confuse being nice with being wise 101
§ There is a selective social agenda in the church 145
§ People blame the church for their own disobedience and spiritual apathy 150
There is an excellent section on the wisdom in James 3:13-18 that if followed, would enable pastors to be better spiritual directors. (105-108) Webster notes that people receiving spiritual direction can be helped to see that “control” is an illusion based upon James 4:13-14.
Webster is concerned that those in Christian ministry can give a self-serving slant to the truth. He says we tend to present a carefully monitored report of what we want other to know. I know the truth of this since as a missionary, I am hesitant “to be honest about our reservations, disappointments and concerns.” 160
I do disagree with his assessment about pastors who are “transparent, self-revealing and vulnerable”. (29) Rather than compromising their message or watering down the truth of the gospel as Webster says, I think self-effacing pastors are able to connect with people and the truth of the gospel is able to be heard. Transparency should not be used to manipulate people’s hearts but to show that the pastor is a fellow struggler in trying to live out Biblical truth. Webster rightly says that spiritual direction rests on the known will of God (122). He wants to avoid a subjective view of the will of God. However, he seems to demean others means in which God communicates to us today when he says, “We depend too heavily on personal impressions, inner urges and fuzzy feelings to justify dubious actions as God’s will. There is an inherent conflict of interest in looking to our own feelings for direction when we should be following the straightforward counsel of God’s will 129
Scriptural and use of the masters
Webster is seeking to give a biblical model of what a spiritual director does through limiting his statements to the teachings of the book of James. Therefore, as one would expect, there are Scripture quotations and citations throughout the book. He limits his reference of the spiritual masters to Bonhoeffer. I wonder if he considers some of the ancient tools and practices are “devised by men” and bring confusion to people.