A couple of years ago I read a Mark Twain quote that really got me thinking. He said, “The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read.” In our world, the average person only reads one book in their entire adult life after leaving their highest form of education. It’s like we learned enough to get a job and that’s it. We either don’t have time, don’t like reading or don’t care enough to increase our knowledge in certain areas. No matter what it is, when we fail to continue learning through reading, we fail to even learn new things about God.
Several years ago I read “Primal” by Mark Batterson. In it, he breaks down the greatest commandment found in Luke 10:27. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (NLT). Loving God with all your mind is to never lose your sense of wonder with Him. Romans 11:33 says, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!” We could try to learn about Him more each day and never even scratch the surface of knowing God fully. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? No! We must learn to love God with all our mind, to search Him out and to be hungry for more knowledge of Him.
Proverbs 18:15 says, “The spiritually hungry are always ready to learn more, for their hearts are eager to discover new truths” (TPT). Are you spiritually hungry to know more of God or have you lost your desire? Our spiritual growth is dependent on knowing Him more and searching out the Scriptures. When we’re no longer spiritually hungry to know Him more, we fail to love Him with all our mind. We fail to meet the potential He built us with. We must stir up our hungry to know Him more by recognizing we don’t know everything about Him or enough about Him. God wants us to search Him out, to know Him more and to grow closer to Him, but we must do our part and recognize that we have a part to play in this. We must search Him out, find ways to increase our knowledge of Him and discover new truths for ourselves. You may never know Him fully while living here, but we shouldn’t let that stop us.
One of the things my wife and I feel is our duty as parents is to help to help our son become a mature adult one day who is equipped to handle life. To do that, we often give him the opportunity to make tough decisions. We help him think through rewards and consequences of those decisions to help him build a foundation of decision making principles. Instead of being grateful, he complains. He asks, “Why do you always make me have hard choices?” We answer, “Because life is full of hard choices. The sooner you learn how to make them, the better your life will be.” He is too young to understand that right now, but as parents, we want our child to have the tools necessary for maturity. We don’t mind putting him in tough positions that make him uncomfortable because we know that he will need those skills down the road.
Because you and I are full functioning adults on this planet, we forget that we are in a similar relationship with our Heavenly Father. You and I are His children, and His goal for us is spiritual maturity. Just like a good parent, He will often force us out of our comfort zone to teach us dependence on Him, to produce character or to prepare us for the future. It’s never convenient, sometimes painful, but always productive. His concern is for our growth more than our comfort. He will do whatever is necessary to help us become more like Him. We can complain asking, “Why,” or we can endure and grow.
Isaiah 30:20 says, “The Lord will make you go through hard times, but he himself will be there to teach you, and you will not have to search for him any more” (GNT). God doesn’t abandon you when the going gets tough. He’s right there with you teaching you if you’re listening. The more difficult the situation is, the more of His grace you get to experience. It is always sufficient for your circumstances. I’ve found that going through the hard times have drawn me closer to Him rather than farther away. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” He loves us enough to do what it takes to help us hear Him, to know Him and to grow in Him. Don’t discount the hard times. God may just be using them to help you know Him more.
If you ever see my son, most of the time it feels like he’s wearing high water pants. No matter what we do, we just can’t seem to keep pants that fit him. He’s constantly growing and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We always joke with him about it asking him if he can stop it or grow younger instead. Even as a child he knows that you can’t stop growth and that it happens naturally. It’s the same thing in the animal kingdom, with plants and most living things. They naturally grow and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. God designed physical growth to be natural, but he made other types of growth to require effort in order to create it. If you want to grow your knowledge, you need to apply effort in education. If you want to grow your muscles, you need to apply effort in working out. There are many things like this in life including your spiritual growth.
One of the main concerns of the writers of the New Testament was our spiritual growth. It’s not the type of growth that occurs naturally like physical growth. It’s like the others where it requires effort and discipline on our part. They wanted us to know that there’s more to Christianity than just accepting Jesus as our savior. That’s the beginning of a lifetime of growth. Sadly, for many Christians, the stop there or just past that point in their growth. They fail to adopt spiritual disciplines that will help them grow closer to Christ and to become more like Him in their life. The writer of Hebrews, Peter and Paul all addressed Christians to encourage them to move from milk to meat and to go from infants to mature believers (Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Peter addresses is again in 2 Peter 3:18. He wrote, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growing into mature believers is our goal, but it requires that we do more than go to church once a week. It requires reading the Bible, doing Bible studies, spending time in prayer, reflecting on Scripture, sharing our faith and applying what we’ve learned. If we do these things, we will grow in God’s grace and in our intimacy with Him. The point of sending His Son to save us was the restore the relationship between us. Growth in relationships don’t occur naturally. It requires that we spend time getting to know the other person. The more our relationship grows with someone, the more we adopt parts of their personality into our life. The same is true when we grow our relationship with God. We become more like Him and that’s His desire for each of us.
When I was a kid, my favorite record was “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” sung by Barry McGuire. We played that record so many times that I’m sure we wore it out. The theme song lyrics said, “Bullfrogs and butterflies we’ve both been born again.” It’s a catchy tune that sticks in your head the rest of your life, but when I was a kid, I didn’t realize how profound that lyric was. When you think of a tadpole or a caterpillar, they undergo a complete change. Tadpoles not only go through a physical change, they go from only being able to breath under water to amphibians. Caterpillars change from having to inch everywhere they go to being able to fly. While their outside changes, their insides remain. I wonder how long it takes to mentally convince themselves they can leave the pond or fly away from the branch.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT) When we give our life to Jesus, just like bullfrogs and butterflies, we undergo a change. It’s not physical like theirs, but rather it’s spiritual. This new creation is housed in the old body which creates some problems, but with this new life comes a change in how we think, live and act. We don’t do the things we used to do because they are no conducive to a healthy spiritual life. We were set free from having to remain in the pond of sin and selfishness and are free to breathe in God’s breath of life doing the things His Spirit leads us to do. We become free to live the life we were created to live, but many of us struggle to adapt to our new life.
It can be difficult to reconcile our faith with our public self that everyone knows. The metamorphosis that God does in our life starts on the inside and works it’s way to the outside by how we live. For some people they get an instant change, while most of us spend our lives growing and maturing in our faith step by step. As Jesus moves closer to the center of our life, we will become more like Him in how we think, live and act. Don’t compare your growth and spiritual metamorphosis to someone else’s. Let God do His work in your life as you continue to pray, read the Bible and live in your freedom. Remember that Romans 8:1 reminds us that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Your new life will continue to be at odds with your old one. Don’t beat yourself up when the old life rears its head. Seek God’s forgiveness and ask Him to continue to help you to become more like Jesus.
I was helping my son prepare for a science test recently. His class was learning about seeds, germination, the parts of a flower and roots. I was going down the study guide asking him questions and he was doing pretty good. I then read a question that said, “What is dormant?” He replied word for word what the study guide said. It was, “Alive, but not growing.” I kept reading the other questions on the guide, but my mind kept going back to that definition. I asked him to define it again. I started thinking how so many of us live dormant Christian lives. We’re alive in Christ, but we’re not growing. Then I started to think about areas in my life that are dormant according to that definition. I believe God wants to wake us up from dormancy and begin the germination process in each of us where our roots grow.
I researched how to wake a seed up from dormancy. I found that the process is called breaking dormancy. I believe it’s pretty similar to how we break out of spiritual dormancy too. The first thing you have to do is soak the seed in water. The water has to penetrate the seed coat that is keeping the seed dormant. For you and i that means we need to saturate ourselves in the water of God’s Word. We have to let it penetrate into every area of our lives removing the things that so easily beset us. We can’t just read the Bible for content. We have to read it to connect with a God, to hear what He has to say and to declare it over the dormant parts of our lives. God is faithful to complete the work He began in you (Philippians 1:6).
In order to break dormancy, a seed also needs oxygen. I can’t help but think of Adam, having been fully formed laying on the ground. He had everything he needed to sustain life, but was laying there. It was then that God breathed the breath of life in him and man came alive. I believe God wants to breathe His breath of life into the parts of our lives that are dormant and bring them to life. Like Ezekiel had to prophesy to the valley of dry bones for breath to come in them, you may need to speak to those dormant areas of your life and speak life back into them. Once we do that, the germination process can begin and the primary root will come out and begin the growth process. Colossians 2:7 says, “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (NLT). Growth is around the corner. You can break out of spiritual dormancy.
One of the things we love to do is to sit at our table and watch the birds eat out of our feeders. There’s something mesmerizing about watching the different birds fly up, get a couple of seeds, then fly off into the trees. Recently my son asked me, “Why do you have to take down the feeders every year?” I explained, “Our feeders are an unnatural source of food for the birds. God designed them to find their own food. Normally, when their natural source of food dries up, the migrate south for the winter. If I keep this food out, they possibly won’t migrate like they’re supposed to and could die here.” My son was satisfied with the answer, but my wife said, “Did you hear the deep spiritual truth in there?”
In 1 Kings 17, Elijah declared there would be no rain in Israel until he said so. Then the Lord told him to go east to a certain brook where he would give him water from the brook and have ravens feed him. Verse 7 then tells us that the brook he had been drinking from dried up due to lack of rain. In verse 9, the Lord said to Elijah, “Now go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay there. I have commanded a widow who lives there to feed you” (GNT). When he arrived, he found a widow collecting sticks so she could build a fire and have her last meal. Instead, she gave it to Elijah and God blessed her with a supernatural source of flour and oil.
I believe God is constantly migrating us from one place to another. We’ve all been through dry seasons where we seem to search for God and can’t find Him. I believe those are migration season where God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. We have a choice in those times. Are we going to stay put looking for unnatural food sources or are we going to follow where God is leading us? The Christian life is not a stagnant one. There’s always more for us to find and grow into. Even Paul said he had not yet attained perfection in Philippians 3. He followed that up with verse 14 saying, “So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” He kept moving, and so should we. Where is God migrating you to next? It’s time to leave the unnatural sources of food.
Thanks to @inuetc for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
From the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that God is a gardener. It says in Genesis that He planted a garden in the middle of creation. He didn’t simply speak it into existence like everything else. He took the time to plan and decide where He would plant each tree. He carved rivers around it to water it so that it would remain fertile. He walked in it every evening to enjoy it and to care for it. Then He placed Adam in there to be its caretaker. I think growth occurred naturally in that time because when Adam and Eve were removed from the garden, God told them that from now on they would have to sweat to get growth. There would be thistles and other things that would compete for the resources that he would grave to remove in order to achieve optimum growth. It then says that Adam began to cultivate the ground as soon as they left the garden.
God put the desire to create growth in each one of us. Some of us grow gardens. Some of grow families. Some money. In any case, if you look at your life, you’re spending a considerable amount of energy trying to achieve growth somewhere in something. Where we focus our time and energy is really what’s important to us since time and energy are our most precious commodities. What is it that you’re trying to grow? Will it matter for eternity? Is it only for your benefit? Each of us have to look at our lives to see if we’re growing the right things, and if we are doing the right things to create that growth.
2 Peter 3:18 says, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growth in maturity of our faith is required of each of us. Your Faith is not your pastor’s garden to tend. It’s yours. This message was from Peter, who was the head of the Church at the time. He was telling believers everywhere to own their growth. What are you doing daily to own your own growth? We must make sure we’re watering our lives with God’s Word. We have to pull the weeds of doubt constantly. We need to have a plan for the areas we need to grown in. If you’re going to own your growth, you’re going to have to start cultivating new ground in your faith and do the work of a gardener. Your pastor can give you the tools, but you must do the daily work.
When my son was a new born, my wife and I decided we didn’t want him to learn the behavior of crying for what he wanted. That started with the very first thing that babies learn to cry for – milk. We began to pay attention to his movements and sounds around feeding times so we could anticipate when he was hungry. As we noticed them, we would begin to warm up some milk and feed him. However, there were times when we were busy and missed his cues. In those moments, he would let us know he was hungry and ready for milk through his only means of communication- crying. The best part was when he began to hold his own bottle. Later, we was able to crawl to the bottle when he was hungry and began the maturation process of feeding himself.
As Christians, we go through a maturity process as well. When we first accept Jesus as our savior, we are merely spiritual infants. We need the milk of God’s Word to help us grow. We need to learn simple concepts that are easily digestible. As we mature, we should graduate to more difficult concepts and spiritual disciplines. Just like a baby, there is a transformation that takes place in our lives. Our inner faith should grow as we mature and learn how to reconcile our inward faith with our public life. As we drink the milk of God’s Word, it begins to change how we live so that our lives become more Christ like.
1 Peter 2:2 says, “In the same way that nursing infants cry for milk, you must intensely crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word. For this “milk” will cause you to grow into maturity, fully nourished and strong for life” (TPT). Each of us need to own our own maturation process. It’s not the responsibility of the church to grow us. We must intensely crave spiritual food Monday through Saturday and learn to feed ourselves. Reading God’s Word daily puts food into our spirit. Meditating on verses is like the chewing process. It breaks it down and releases nutrients that are vital to your growth. Wherever you are in your maturation process, there’s always room for more growth that fully nourishes your soul and leads you into a stronger spiritual life.
One of the things I’m studying right now is the different stages in our walk with Jesus that we all go through. In the beginning stages, we explore Christianity and Christ to see if we want to be a person of faith. In the next stage, you make a decision to follow Jesus and want to grow your faith. However, you’re not sure that you’re ready to let that faith permeate your whole life, nor are you ready to be public with it. After that stage, you grow into a deeper faith where you begin to depend on Jesus daily. Your relationship with Jesus moves from a Sunday experience to a daily one. While you are moving close to Christ, you remain in the driver’s seat of their life. That leads us to the final stage where your life is centered around Jesus and what He wants. When you’re here, your love for Jesus is your driving force. You give tithes, serve in the church and evangelize more than in the other stages. You’re on the brink of spiritual greatness, but often there’s a gap between your love of God and your love for people.
Whatever stage you’re in, one of your greatest needs is to be encouraged and to be challenged to go deeper in your faith. You need people in your life who will, as Proverbs 27:17 puts it, sharpen you as iron sharpens iron. You need people who will encourage you to make a deeper commitment to Jesus, to love others the way you love God and to dig deeper into the Bible. It’s not enough at any stage to simply read the Bible. Each of us must meditate on what we’ve read. We need to think about what’s being said, why it was said and how does it apply to us. Our prayers can’t be just a once or twice a day thing. They need to be a running dialogue with God throughout our day where we seek Him for guidance, tell Him about things that are happening and express our love for Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (NLT). If you recognized what stage you are in, let me encourage you to grow into the next stage. There’s always more in Christianity. None of us ever have it totally made. We’re all growing. We’re all learning. We’re all being called into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus. We each need to find someone who has a greater relationship with Jesus and to ask them to help us grow. We each need to be finding someone who is in the same stage with us so we can encourage each other as we navigate this life of faith. Finally, we need to find someone less mature in the faith so we can encourage and guide them through the places we’ve already been. We all need encouragement, so let’s start with giving it to others instead of waiting for someone to give it to us.
Earlier this year I went to visit a doctor. One of first questions was, “How often do you fast?” I gave him a puzzled look since that is a church question and not a doctor one. He said, “I fast once a week and the health benefits are amazing.” While you do gain health benefits from fasting, I believe the spiritual benefits far outweigh the physical ones. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that seems to have been lost in today’s modern church. We’ve relegated it to a once a year thing instead of a regular discipline, and we’re missing the power that comes with it. God instituted it in the Old Testament, but Jesus validated it for New Testament Times as well.
In Daniel 6, there is a story that most of us are familiar with. Daniel was a person who practiced spiritual disciplines. I believe he was promoted because of them, but there were those who didn’t like his being promoted and they wanted to take him down. They convinced the king to put anyone who prayed to any being other than the king into a den of lions. When Daniel found out about, he didn’t stop practicing his spiritual disciplines. The men told the king and he had no choice but to throw Daniel in the den. The king liked Daniel and broke his own law. Daniel 6:17-18 says, “A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night” (NLT). As you know, God honored Daniel’s prayers and the king’s fasting.
When prayer isn’t getting you the answers you need, it’s time to fast. If you’re medically unable to fast, ask a friend to fast for you. God shut the mouths of lions because of fasting in this book. In the New Testament, spiritual battles were won and people were healed because of it. I recommend a three day, water only fast to people. It’s difficult and challenging, but very effective. Fasting isn’t supposed to be easy. We constantly give in to our body’s cravings and fasting helps you to learn to deny those physical cravings. It also helps when it comes to denying your fleshly ones too. If it’s been a while since you’ve fasted and you need an answer from God, begin the spiritual discipline of regular fasting and watch God Move in your life.