Which of these 7 Steps are you on?
Our spiritual lives are an ever progressing journey.
While it might feel that we can stagnate or settle comfortably into our lives, the reality is even that is a journey to somewhere—much like the moving walkways at the airports, you may not do anything but it is still taking you along.
As it has often been said: every journey begins with a single step. The same is certainly true in our spiritual lives.
Imagine yourself walking into the door of a split-entry home. You open the door and find yourself on a landing with a staircase leading upwards and one leading down.
A decision must be made.
And this decision, spiritually, will have eternal consequences.
Several years ago I came across a statement, actually a mere phrase, talking about the “Seven Steps Upward.” I was curious and so I researched it out. What I discovered has been a profound illustration in my life ever since.
The Stirring Backstory
In 1934, John and Betty Stam (aged 27 and 28 respectively) left American with their 3-month old daughter to become missionaries in China under the China Inland Mission (which Hudson Taylor started in the mid-1800s). As they settled into their work in Tsingteh (today called Jingde) in Anhui Province, the local magistrate warned the Stams that they should leave the area for the Communists were nearby and coming. During this time of the Chinese Civil War, it meant as a missionary, if they were caught, it would likely mean their deaths.
As they were preparing to leave, the Communists caught up with them, demanded all their money, and took John to their headquarters. The next day they came back for Betty and their 3-month old daughter Helen.
In a ransom note John wrote that was later found (but never delivered) it said that he and his wife had been captured and were being held by the Communists for a ransom of $20,000 (about $350,000 in today’s currency). He also wrote: “Philippians 1:20: ‘May Christ be glorified whether by life or death.'”
The Stams were transferred to a local prison where, because of lack of space, several prisoners were let go to make room for John, Betty, and baby Helen. It is reported that during this time Helen was crying and frustrated several of the guards who talked about killing her to remove the bothersome baby. One of the prisoners who was just released asked why they should kill an innocent baby. The soldiers asked him if he was willing to die in the place of a foreign child—and was then hacked to pieces in front of the Stams, thus allowing baby Helen to live.
The next day the Stams began to march the twelve miles to the place were they were going to be executed. When they stopped for the night, Betty hid Helen in a sleeping bag, hoping someone would eventually find their 3-month old child.
On the next morning, they finished their journey and were marched through the streets of Miaoshou to head to their deaths. Along the way a local shopkeeper pleaded with the soldiers not to kill the Stams. The soldiers invaded the shopkeeper’s house and upon investigation a Bible and hymnbook was found—and he was taken with the Stams to be executed for being a Christian.
When they arrived at their execution site, John Stam was ordered to kneel, and was beheaded. Betty and the shopkeeper were killed moments later.
Eventually their bodies were found by a small group of Christians and they were buried upon a hillside. This small group of Christians wrote on their gravestones:
John Cornelius Stam, January 18, 1907, “That Christ may be glorified whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20
Elisabeth Scott Stam, February 22, 1906, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
December 8, 1934, Miaosheo, Anhui, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
For baby Helen, a Christian pastor found her two days later and took her home to take care of her. Eventually this pastor (Reverend Lo Ke-chou) took the child to her maternal grandparents, who were also missionaries in China at the time. Helen was later brought back to America and was raised by her uncle and aunt.
Much like the deaths of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the others killed by Auca Indians in Equator in 1956, the lives and deaths of John and Betty Stam inspired countless numbers of people to become missionaries in the 1930s.
7 Awful Steps Downwards & 7 Glorious Steps Upward
John Stam, this brave and honorable missionary, once wrote what he called the “Seven Awful Steps Downwards and the Seven Glorious Steps Upward.”
The concept is that all stand in front of a staircase, much like the split-entry staircase mentioned earlier, with a decision that must be made. We either will move upwards or downwards, and this decision will change the trajectory of our spiritual lives.
If we take a single step downwards and begin to truffle with sin—a careless and carefree attitude of “it’s not THAT bad!” or “it doesn’t hurt anyone” or any other excuse for why we allow sin to remain in our lives—then its a slippery slope to the lower levels (steps) until we find ourselves not just engrossed with sin but promoting it and living in a state of “hell.”
But the opposite is also true, if we take a single step upward and begin to take sin seriously, we find ourselves ever progressing to greater heights of love and affection with Jesus Christ, being used by Him in the lives of others around us.
What I found interesting is that the first step—either up or down—is contingent upon how we handle temptation and sin in our lives. If we take it seriously and throw ourselves upon our Savior for hope and rescue, we move upwards. If our attitude and interaction with sin is lighthearted and we play around with it, we find ourselves moving down.
The question before each of us is where am I? How do I handle temptation and sin?
While it may be true that you took a careless step downward recently, have you repented, turned, and made a purpose step upwards? One thing I appreciate with the staircase metaphor is that I am never stuck on a single step—if I have been progressing downward, I can turn, repent, and allow Jesus to enable me to climb upwards. What a glorious reality!
Where are you? And if you are not moving onwards and upwards, why not? Embrace Jesus today and surrender yourself afresh and begin the climb!
Here is what John Stam wrote about the seven steps downward and the seven steps upward—taken from The Triumph of John and Betty Stam.
7 Awful Steps Downwards
There is a platform known as exposure to temptation, and all men stand there. From it, each one goes either up or down.
- Trifling [adopting a careless attitude] with sin.
- Yielding to sin.
- Habitual yielding to sin.
- Abandonment to sin. (Ephesians 4:19).
- Abandonment of God to sin. (Romans 1:28).
- Entering into alliance with the devil to tempt others to sin (being a tool in the hands of the enemy).
- Hell: and you do not have to die in order to get there. Hell is character, as well as a location. The man who hates everything that God loves is in hell now, and hell is in him.
7 Glorious Steps Upward
- Resistance as an attitude: determining that sin shall not have dominion over you [taking sin seriously, having a fear and hatred of sin].
- Overcoming sin by faith in Christ.
- Habitual victory over sin. The strength that comes from the victory helps in overcoming the next temptation.
- Learning the secret of a victorious life, a life “hid with Christ in God.”
- Taken up by God into deeper fellowship.
- Made a succorer of others [that which gives assistance or relief]: like “the Shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (being an instrument of righteousness in the hands of God. You are set apart for His enjoyment and for His service).
- Heaven: And you do not have to die in order to get there. Heaven is character as well as location. The person who devotedly loves everything that God loves is in heaven now, and heaven is in him or her.
- John and Betty Stam: Missionary Martyrs (Amazon Link)
- John and Betty Stam (Women and Men of Faith Series) (Amazon Link)
- The Triumph of John and Betty Stam (by Mrs. Howard Taylor) (Amazon Link)
- Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Amazon Link)