Three brothers who lived alone in an isolated valley, heard a tale from a wandering hermit about a cave where you could sit and talk with God.
The oldest brother made the journey first. On the way he encountered a large tree limb blocking the path. He was unsure how to proceed but eventually he managed to pull the limb to one side and journey on.
A week later when he returned he spoke to his brothers about the wonder of being in God's presence.
The middle brother decided that he would make the journey to the cave so he asked his older brother for advice. "If you reach an obstacle in the road know that God will give you the strength to move it to one side" he was told.
As the middle brother hiked to the cave he discovered the path was blocked by a fallen tree. He remembered what his brother had said and he grabbed the tree and pulled. He prayed loudly 'God, give me the strength to move this obstacle!'.
He began to fear that his faith was useless as the tree trunk would not move. He sank into despair and and leaned back against the trunk and sobbed. When he finished crying he noticed that the limbs of the tree had broken during the fall, and the remnants stuck out from the trunk like a ladder. He was able to climb over the trunk and continue his journey to the cave.
A week later he returned and spoke to his bothers about the wonder of being in God's presence.
The younger brother decided he would make the journey to the cave so he asked his middle brother for advice.
"If you reach an obstacle in the road know that God will give you the strength to climb over it" he was told.
As the younger brother hiked to the cave he discovered the path was blocked by a sleeping mountain lion. Remembering what his middle brother had said he carefully began to clamber over the lion. The lion awoke with a snarl and tried to bite the brother. Fortunately he was able to grab a low tree limb and pull himself to safety. Eventually the lion gave up trying to reach him and wandered away and he was able to continue his journey to the cave.
About a year later the hermit wandered back through the valley and came across the three brothers. He asked them to tell of the journeys.
The oldest brother spoke of the tree limb.
The middle brother spoke of the log.
The youngest brother spoke of the mountain lion.
The hermit looked at the three brothers and said "Oh my sons, you will encounter many obstacles in your journey towards God.
Always remember that everyone's journey is different. Their obstacles may not be
your obstacles, and their solutions, are not your solutions."
The spiritual life can be overwhelming and confusing. I go through seasons where God is closer than my next breath, and other times where I feel like an Atheist in all but name. I find it helpful to read other people's journeys, but there is a danger. Like the brothers in the story I think I can turn other's experiences into formulas to help me past my own spiritual roadblocks. If it worked for them, then it will work for me.
I would even argue that some Christian Bestsellers and sermons derive from this premise.
This can be dangerous.
As the Psalmist laments the destruction of Jerusalem in Psalm 137 he cries out 'Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks'. I do not know if the psalmist is expressing an experience or giving voice to a desire, but this is not a formula for spiritual blessing.
Jabez prays in 1 Chronicles 4:10 'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' I'm glad I was not Jabez' next door neighbor as that would mean my territory was diminished. Just because God answered Jabez' prayer does not mean God will answer you in the same way if you use the same words.
I believe there are common experiences in our spiritual journeys, but there is not a one size fits all mentality to spiritual development. We all grow uniquely because we all are unique. God relates to everyone of us as individuals.
I berated myself for years before I understood this. I heard many talks on how a morning Quiet Time was vital to spiritual health. I've never been able to focus on God early in the morning, and reading the bible and prayer after just waking up usually sent me back to sleep....but I tried. I tried because this was the formula for spiritual growth and that was something I longed for.
God works beyond our formulas and preconceptions.
Despite our incomplete theologies and limited understandings.