One of the things I talk with pastors about is spiritual growth and how to help people along the path. According to “Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth”, there are four places we find ourselves in when it comes to spiritual growth. They are: Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ and Christ Centered. There are different habits, behaviors and disciplines of people when they’re in each segment. The goal is to help people move from one segment to the next. The hardest segment to get people to move to is from Close to Christ into Christ Centered. One seeks God’s wisdom and direction for their life along with daily disciplines. The other is complete surrender to God allowing Him control over your life. It’s a hard jump for people to make.
In Mark 1, Jesus had just begun His earthly ministry. He had been baptized and was beginning to preach. As He did, people began to follow Him. There were some people though that He asked to be disciples instead of just followers. In Mark 1:17-18 Jesus saw Andrew and Simon Peter cleaning their nets and said, “‘Come follow me and I will transform you into fishers of men instead of fish!’ Immediately they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus” (TPT). These two, along with the other 10 disciples, left everything to give themselves completely to Christ. Most people simply took off of work, listened to Him preach, and then went back to work. These guys dropped what they were doing in complete surrender to follow Him. They gave up everything.
I’m not suggesting that you quit your job to be a Christian and have a better relationship with Christ. I am asking you to examine the things that you’re holding onto that are keeping you from complete surrender to Christ. It could be control of your schedule, your money, your time, your talents, etc. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 was called to move from Close to Christ into a Christ Centered life. He walked away sad because he wanted to hold onto things. It didn’t mean he wasn’t a Christian. It meant that he didn’t move to a Christ Centered life to experience all God had for him. Like him, we hold onto things that Christ is calling us to let go of. We need to be like Andrew and Simon Peter where we immediately drop those things, leave them behind and surrender to God’s will.
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I remember when my son was very young. A few months after he started crawling everywhere, he started pulling himself up and standing. When he would let go, he would wobble a little bit. My wife would be concerned that he was going to fall and hit his head. I would take him by the hands to help him balance, and then I would pull him gently forward to encourage him to begin to take steps. It wasn’t long before he would walk wherever he wanted as long as he had a good grasp on my fingers. Then I would let him hold something, I would move a few feet away and coax him to take steps by himself. Once he was good with that, he began to walk everywhere he wanted to go.
Imagine what we as parents would do if after all that, our kids decided to go back to crawling. It would be frustrating for sure because walking is the better way to move around. When the New Testament was written, there was an expectation placed on believers. Once they accepted Jesus, they were encouraged to grow and take steps in their faith. Their new life through salvation happened in an instant, but growth took time. To be saved was great, but it wasn’t the goal. Growth was. Moving forward in your faith and deepening it was. Becoming a disciple was. Paul, who wrote more books in the New Testament than anyone, wrote consistently to us that salvation should change how we live, speak and act. His letters were like a parent calling out to a child to let go so they could take steps forward.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like ignorant people, but like wise people. Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days” (GNT). Paul is encouraging us to live diligent lives according to God’s ways. We are to be continuously moving towards Christlikeness in our lives. We do that by examining ourselves daily to see what we need to let go of in order to step out in faith. We all have things that we need to let go of in order to live the way God called us to. God is calling out to you to move from where you are to your next step. He wants you to trust Him, to grow, to increase your faith and to walk. Make use of every opportunity to grow that you can. We need deeper faith to guide us in the days we’re living in.
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.