About 15 years ago I convened a meeting of missionary leaders from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Cairo seemed a good place to meet and a friend there offered to take care of the logistics. When I arrived everything seemed to be in order; we gathered at a flat in Cairo and from there were due to travel to the Western Desert area where there was a prayer centre awaiting our arrival. Then there was a knock on the door and our host hastily explained that he had invited a Coptic Orthodox Monk to speak to us on the history of monasticism. I was so irritated!! This was my meeting and I had not asked for a guest speaker! We had many issues to discuss and to pray about; how dare he take precious time from us without asking!
I think I managed to conceal my irritation, although my wife, who knows me best could see through my façade.
I said hello to the “monk”, actually a Coptic Celibate Priest, though I am still not sure I understand the difference. He was a very slight man—probably not more than five feet tall and very thin. His black cassock, which reached to the floor, made him look even smaller; his voice was quiet and rather high pitched. In addition, his accent was pronounced so I had to strain to understand him. I did not look forward to listening to this man who seemed to be from another world. My host explained that he had spent many years of his life in seclusion and that he ate and slept very little because he gave himself to prayer. My private thoughts were that we had only one thing in common—we were both human beings.
The next day we made the trip to the Western Desert and got settled into our very basic accommodation, then gathered for this man to speak to us. When he opened his mouth the Holy Spirit spoke to me, even before he finished his first few sentences. Deep in my spirit, I knew that this man would become very important in my life; it felt as though God had joined my spirit to his at some deep level. Amazingly I later learned that he felt the same.
So it has proven to be. Most of us who know him call him Dr. Atef. His life and his life-message is about continually growing closer to Jesus and becoming more like him.
I need that message more and more. It seems to me that spiritual growth, at every stage of life, is the foundation upon which all else rests. I am currently reading another set of teaching notes by Dr. Atef; Spiritual Growth is the title and he has urged me to focus more of my own teaching on the subject, so the articles that will follow will draw on some of what he has taught me in recent years and also will draw from the rich heritage I have been privileged to have. Some of the articles will be about subjects the earliest days in ministry, when I attended a School of Evangelism in Switzerland in 1969-70. My life was transformed through the outstanding teaching and example of men and women of God during that year. Others will arise from experiences in this much later phase of life. Whether we are new Christians or living in our sixth or seventh decade of following Jesus, we need constant reminders about the essentials of spiritual growth.
The next post will be about an overused word. Integrity. Perhaps you can think about that subject with the help of a great quote I read recently,
“Persons have integrity when their inner being is transfused by harmony; when their decisions and actions flow from their honest judgment; when they faithfully pursue the values that they comprehend as means to their perfection.”