I remember as a boy in my early teens . . . through my later teens and into my 20s . . . those times I was pleading, begging, imploring God to give me a clear sign--some word--which spiritual path was the one He wanted I should take. At that time I had a lot of intense energy brewing and surging which I was eager to employ in the service of God. I would fast for days, weeks sometimes . . . meditate regularly . . . and read constantly different gurus, teachers and mystics, spending a great deal of time in spiritual contemplation. At one point I decided to become a renunciate and gave away all my personal belongings, going about in the orange-red garb of a "sannyasin", having given up ties and attachment to "the world" . . . determined to sit under a "Bhodi" tree like Guatama Siddhartha (Buddha) if need be. My longing and searching to know "the truth" was at such a fever pitch . . . that I was prepared to commit myself completely to the path or direction God would show me, if He only would. When it seemed that He didn't, I sometimes lost heart, but before long, I was back at, investigating and applying another alternative which I hadn't tried yet.
Those years of devotion and practice of austerities and meditation and contemplation were not entirely without value. I gained insight into the subtle workings of the mind, the subconscious and fallen ego--how thoughts are connected to emotions and how it is that what we "feel" (ie., fearful, anxious, jealous, angry) is because of identification with and attachment to certain ideas and beliefs and thoughts, deeply maintained within our soul--within our mind.
And my interest and practice in various "spiritual disciplines" . . . was not cursory. It wasn't enough for me, for instance, to take a class in "world religions" . . . or just attend some yoga seminar or meditation retreat for a week . . . or read "Be Here Now" and a couple other of the so-called "enlightened masters'". I didn't just study a particular spiritual philosophy/path . . . . I delved into it, tested it, practiced it, read and pondered everything word I could find written about it. Advaita Vedanta (a type of "Hinduism") I studied and applied for about 5 years . . . . Zen, 1-2 years . . . . Taoism, 9 or so months . . . Vaishnavism (a monotheistic type of Hinduism), 8 years . . . . Urantia Book, 5-6 years . . . . Mormonism, off and on 3-4 years . . . . Handed over to the realm of the demonic, 2-3 years . . . . Tantra/Left Hand path/Libertinism . . . 2 years . . . . "New Age" conglomerate . . . 1-2 years . . . .
And there were various months-long investigations and practice in things like Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism,Yoga, Shamanism and a few others along the way.
It may seem odd to some, but I never stopped praying to and believing in Jesus throughout it all. Generally speaking, it was the Biblical injunction to "test" the "fruits" of the spirit that I kept in mind always, and what propelled me to keep searching. Because my only experience with nominally "Christian" people was with Mormons, I was never exposed to true Christianity and had an aversion to it, because of what I saw and experienced in the L.D.S. church. A lot of us born in Utah, surrounded by Mormons, grew up with an aversion and distrust of "Christianity" . . . and the Bible because our only models of people who supposedly followed Christ and carried the Bible around . . . were Mormons . . . . And because Biblical Christian doctrine and devotion to Jesus alone is NOT in the Mormon church . . . I never knew what it was until much later in life.
Anyway . . . here is my main point in bringing this all up. One of the primary ways I used to finally determine if the "path" I was on was the correct one or not . . . was by judging the fruits of the Spirit in myself, whether they were developing or not. Was I becoming a holier person? Or was I merely practicing external spiritual disciplines . . . while remaining relatively unchanged in character on the INSIDE?
Each time, when, after much effort and continued pursuance, a philosophy or set of knowledge and practices . . . did NOT result in much or any real change of character, despite appearances . . . deeply disappointed and frustrated . . . I would move on, searching, testing again . . . . Oh how desperately I wanted to find "the truth" of it all . . . so that I could devote my life to God and serve Him in the Way He wanted me to! Oh what I would do for God, if only He would show me clearly the way!
Well, eventually, He did show me . . . O happy day! . . . . But what I find so extraordinary is this: Very simply, having my thoughts changed from . . . . What to do to find God, to do for God . . . VERSUS . . . realizing WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR ME!
I can take all those different, intense, earnest, endless spiritual disciplines and doctrines and pile them on one side . . . and they did little to nothing to truly change my character and produce spiritual fruit . . . VERSUS simply recognizing and believing what Jesus did for me . . . which recognition has made all the difference in truly changing my character and producing spiritual fruit (which fruit is LOVE primarily . . . then joy, peace, kindness, self discipline, faithfulness, patience etc.
Of all the techniques and knowledge and efforts tried . . . THIS ONE has blown them all away, in terms of how profoundly, how deeply, how literally, how blessedly, which is simply . . . looking at Jesus, reading His story and mission in the Word . . . and looking at and remembering what HE has done! It is not ever what I have done or do . . . but what HE has done and does. That's it! This truth, and the realization and belief thereof . . . is the key, the way, the "practice", the summa bonum!
And it's something a child can do!
What HE has already done! What God did for me, for you . . . . Not what we do for Him. This change of mind, of thought, of emphasis in approach . . . conquers all . . . . Please try it if you haven't yet . . . .
[ps i don't have time to proofread this for typos ... will do later :)