Once upon a time there was a church minister faced with a great dilemma. He had successfully built up the size of his congregation. Because of this growth the minister had the funds necessary to help those who were less fortunate in society. This goodness in turn brought in new members into the church.
He had preached that everyone was loved and important to God. He improved everyone’s self-image, esteem, confidence and self-worth. Everyone in his church had a strong sense of belonging and community.
But he had noticed over the years that when he wasn’t telling people how wonderful they were, or constantly helping to improve their external conditions in life, he would lose members.
So he began to wonder what real spiritual growth was actually taking place in his church. He knew that heaven and its eternal blessedness went much deeper than seeking social justice or making people feel good. Was church just a place for people to come together, observe ritual and hug? Or should it also be a center for spiritual challenge and evolution?
So he put his head down, closed his eyes and prayed.
Suddenly a beautiful angel appeared in the minister’s rectory, lighting it up like the mid-day sun! “I am here to help you out of your dilemma,” said the smiling angel.
The minister was only momentarily shocked, since he believed that God had responded to his prayer. “I know that my church helps people. I just do not know if I am offering them deeper spiritual help,” questioned the minister.
“What you are doing is correct. All love starts from the level of self-interest. Self must be cared for first. Similarly, the first step towards true spiritual growth is to help others regardless of their inner character or quality. The next step is to provide help for those who want to change the qualities of their hearts and minds,” answered the caring angel.
“Isn’t that why people attend church?” asked the minister.
“Maybe,” quipped the angel. “Many people see spirituality as simply feeling good. But few people take the time to contemplate their darker side. It is much easier to cover up one’s darker side with image-reinforcing get-togethers—like church.”
“If I concentrate on people’s darker side, I will scare everyone away and lose all my members,” responded the minister.
“Yes, you always have to be careful. There are people who will always require that their hands be held. Some will even hold your heart hostage until you meet their subjective demands. But some, having inner sincerity, will notice that their behavior in the world—even after hearing one of your sermons—is still less than angelic,” pointed out the wise messenger from heaven.
The angel became quiet and thought some more, then said, “Spiritual growth is not adding good behavior on top of one’s negative aspects. That would be like painting over rotting meat with gold paint. The purpose of religion is to allow God to give each of us a new heart and mind. This means total ‘destruction’ of our former self.”
“I would like my church to help God do that,” said the minister excitingly!
“It isn’t a pretty process. So start to write sermons that not only comfort, but also challenge your parishioners. Those who resonate with your challenge will make themselves known to you. These individuals will be glad to form special groups to discuss and take seriously their individual character faults and the real obstacles to genuine happiness and spiritual goodness.”
Hearing these words, a big smile grew across the minister’s face.
Then the angel paused and made a final statement. “The world fails to see that even those who have adequate clothing, food on their plates, a roof over their heads, an education and a good job, can still represent the poor, the sick, the crippled and the blind.”