Perhaps one of the most neglected means of grace among believers seeking spiritual growth and maturity is mercy-showing ministry to needy people. Several things make me think this:
1. Wally Marais's messages to our church Sunday, where he talked about how the love of Jesus filled him when he went into a "squatter camp" in Africa and kissed AIDS orphans. He viewed this as a life-changing event and says he has never been the same since.
2. One of our dear old widows is in the hospital in frightfully bad condition. She is in almost constant pain and is not fully coherent. I've been stopping into see her briefly, and I'm amazed, humbled, and broken-hearted when I see on her face and hear in her broken sentences what it means to her to see me. Her being so blessed by it has brought blessing to me and has moved me to deeper compassion.
3. Last night I preached at the Berrien County Jail in St. Joseph, Michigan, which I try to do once a month and usually succeed in doing about every other month. For some reason last night the usual hour long session got extended to close to two hours. So Russ Simonson (the chaplain and a member of our church and good friend) and I fielded questions from the inmates. There was a level of connection with these men in dialogue that was greater than I had in simply teaching. The give and take, getting to know them, hearing parts of their stories, helped me understand them better.
What I am finding (and hearing from people like Wally who are light-years beyond me in this) is that ministry to needy people - talking to them, touching them, hearing their stories, kissing them on the forehead, feeling their pain - does something not just for them, but also for me. Showing mercy and sharing pain with others is a means of grace for my own spiritual life. It helps me get a little more out of myself by getting into someone else's life.
If you are hitting a brick wall in your spiritual growth - if you're not progressing in personal holiness - might it be that the missing element is self-giving, mercy-showing ministry to someone in need? Maybe you should consider dropping by the hospital, visiting the nursing home, volunteering at the pregnancy care center, getting involved in prison ministry, or serving at a soup kitchen. There are depths to knowing and loving Jesus that probably cannot be experienced in any other way.