I’ve become interested in spiritual thresholds, that point of entry that leads us from one spiritual “room” to the next. Thresholds mark our progress, and they represent forward movement in our spiritual maturity. It makes sense, then, that it would be precisely at the thresholds that we experience the most pressure. After all, the enemy of your soul has a vested interest in keeping your interest low in moving forward. The enemy of your soul is not a fan of break-throughs (he prefers spiritual lethargy). So it seems to me that it is as I approach the threshold from one level of intimacy with Christ to another, deeper level, that I begin to encounter greater pressure. Right at the threshold itself, just before the break-through, that pressure can sometimes seem overwhelming.
How interesting that the Hebrew word for threshold captures this very idea. The word is caphaph (pronounced “sa-faf”). The word literally means “to wait at the threshold,” but it can also mean “to snatch away.” Those two definitions together tell a fascinating story. There we are, waiting at the threshold of a new spiritual place, hearing God’s invitation to come on in. Meanwhile, some devilish force is luring us backward, creating pressure against our progress. The enemy of our souls does not want us to make these moves from one room to the next and while he is always tempting us away from growth, it seems to be precisely at the doorways that he becomes most desperate and most forceful. I don’t think of the enemy as being particularly strategic so much as reactionary, so it makes sense that the real pressure would be at the threshold.
Years ago, a team from our church hosted a thing we call Cowboy Church in several inner-city settings. I was with one of those groups who ministered to about two dozen precious children who live pretty rough lives. I think the take-away image for me from that week was opening the door one night to the room in which I’d been working to find my husband, Steve, holding little D’Marcus by his armpits. Little D’Marcus had one foot on one door jam and the other foot on the other door jam, and he was screaming, “I don’t want to go in there!” And Steve was so patiently smiling and saying, “That’s fine … but we are going in there!” And you’d think that a kid being shoved into a room by his armpits would not bounce back but five minutes later, little D’Marcus was having the time of his life. The next day little D’Marcus was right there with us again. Evidently, it was the threat of a new room that most rattled him, not the reality of it.
I think of Steve holding D’Marcus by the armpits and I think of that passage in Isaiah where the prophet says, “In his love and mercy he redeems us. He lifts us up and carries us through all the years (italics mine).” And I wonder if God might have meant that kind of lifting sometimes? Because sometimes I think the way we get in there, into that next spiritual room where God is able to do a deeper work, happens less like the gentle lifting of a baby and more like the way Steve lifted little D’Marcus.
You know, probably, there is a little D’Marcus inside each of us, crying out against spiritual progress when we reach those doorways. It is the pressure of it that confuses us. It calls us backward, and because we don’t understand it we fight against it. Learning which voice is which becomes critical, so we can navigate these doorways when we reach them, so we can fight less against the Holy Spirit and press through to something new.
This is a very “Methodist” phenomenon — central to our doctrine of sanctification — but I’ve found the most help in understanding spiritual thresholds from Catholic mystics and Pentecostals.
Barbara Yoder writes this:
“Gates are where we win or lose. That is why Scripture uses gates as the place to be broken through. We must break through intimidation, faithlessness, fear, hopelessness, despair, or whatever else looms like an unconquerable foe at the gates. The threshold is where we either leap forward or back out. Yet once we leap, it is where we meet the incredible supernatural power of God to break through before us victorious over every obstacle. It is after we leap that we begin to possess our inheritance for the current season. It is where increase and abundance come in whatever dimension we are crossing over into. It is there we meet God in a way that is new.”
Is it possible that the resistance you sense in your life right now is actually an indication that you are ready to move forward into a new spiritual room? And that God is inviting you into greater life, more life … maybe even wanting to push you through from death to life? Here’s the kicker to this whole concept. The right response is not to fight, but to do nothing. The mystics have the best advice on this: “To fight these storms directly is to rivet our attention on them or on ourselves suffering them, rather than on God” (The Spiritual Journey, p 113). Rather than fight, we should simply let God lead. “What God wants us to do is to undergo them, suffer them, let them run their course,” Nemeck advises. Let God’s power do the work. The only part we play is to cling to Christ, who owns that power. He will finish this work, pull us through, force open the door if necessary. And once we’re on the other side, we will find the joy we receive is worth it.