I read something a while back that shocked me. It said the average person only reads one book after they leave school. One book for the rest of their life! That’s crazy to me, and I’m not a person who devours books. That means that the average person will mature physically once they’re out of school, but not intellectually. They do very little to grow their mind, improve their understanding of the world or learn something new. I realize we have a ton of information at our fingertips with the internet, but articles aren’t books. They give you the Cliff Notes, not the full tools that will truly help you improve. It should be worrisome to us that the average person peaks intellectually between 18-24 years old.
Paul spent most of his entire adulthood traveling to young churches and writing them letters on the importance of growing and maturing in their faith. He was constantly telling them and Timothy, his understudy, to grow their roots down deep, mature their faith and produce fruit. He understood that we’re not supposed to stop once we’ve accepted Jesus and are baptized. There’s a lifetime of growth and learning ahead of you. Yet, somehow, the same mentality that affects our learning growth, infects our spiritual growth. It tries to remove our drive to learn more about Jesus, change how we live and mature in our faith. When that happens, we miss out on the abundant life God has for us. We become like the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years. We’re out of the bondage of sin, but we fail to reach the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.
Ephesians 4:13-14 says, “This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (NLT). Maturity in Christ perfects the Body of Christ from false teachers, builds unity in the Body and makes us more Christlike. Take time to read this full chapter today. God has so much more for us. We can’t be satisfied with milk when He has meat waiting for us. We must be intentional about our spiritual growth and maturity. It requires us to learn more about Him and to live out our faith more than one day a week. It requires us digging into God Word ourselves and relentlessly pursuing Him. God has more to this life for you. Don’t be satisfied with where you are.
When I was a teenager, I had a shirt that read, “Second place is first loser”. When I watched “Talladega Nights” and Ricky Bobby said, “If you’re not first, you’re last,” I laughed pretty hard. He expressed my mentality pretty well. I’ve always been on the competitive side. Part of that must come from being the middle child. I honestly can’t stand losing, and now my son has it. He got a 99 on a test this year. He came home disappointed and said, “I might as well have failed.” Not being first is a hard pill to swallow, but it is what Christ has called us to. When we accept Him, we are to get off the throne of our life to make Him number one, putting ourself in second place.
On the night before Jesus was to be crucified, He knew what was coming. For 33 years He knew what He was born to do. Even though He knew it, and was willing, His flesh fought back. In Mark 14:36, we hear Him pray, “Father, my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want” (GNT). He made a conscious effort in the most difficult circumstance to submit to God’s will and place His own in second place. He was demonstrating to us that we must yield to God and constantly offer Him first place in our lives. Anything less is not true submission to Him.
1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord” (AMP). Becoming a mature Christian is the process of giving up the throne of your life to Jesus. It’s willfully taking second place, which is a very hard thing to do. When we accept second place, and allow Him first place in our lives, we fulfill God’s will for our lives because we have life in proper order. If you’re struggling to give up first place, you’re not alone. It’s a daily process of taking up our cross, crucifying our flesh and following Him (Matthew 16:24). Spiritual growth and maturity happen when we accept second place.
Several years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I would fall asleep, but never get rest. I would also stop breathing for up to a minute before popping up gasping for air. The doctor said that having my heart go from a resting rate to the sudden fast beat could kill me, so he put me on a CPAP machine. He explained that I had a negative pressure where the pressure outside my body was greater than the pressure inside my body. The CPAP, which stands for continuous positive air pressure, would force air inside my body to push against the negative pressure and keep me from not breathing. Ever since I’ve been on it, I’ve been able to get rest when I sleep.
In Matthew 4, Jesus had just been baptized and was led into the wilderness for a 40 day fast. While He was hungry and weak, the enemy brought negative pressure in order to tempt Him. He was first tempted to turn stones into bread, but He pushed back by quoting the Word of God. He was then tempted to test God, but again He pushed back with what the Bible says. Finally He was offered earthly kingdoms in exchange for eternal ones. Just like before, He was able to overcome by the Word of God. In doing so, He taught us how to overcome the negative pressures we all face.
Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do” (NLT). Having God’s Word in our heart provides a positive pressure inside us that pushes back against all the negative pressures from people around us. Without having it in our hearts, we can have the life choked out of us spiritually. Reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture and studying it are all ways we create positive pressure inside our spirit in order to overcome.
During the drought this summer, my yard started to die. I began using the sprinkler in the evenings, and I moved it around every so often. Wherever I placed it, I would turn the water faucet on full blast in order to cover the most ground possible. Little by little, the grass began to turn green again. When I looked at my neighbor’s yards, many of them had started doing the same thing. I can honestly say that i didn’t see anyone watering their yards with the water barely turned on. Can you imagine how ineffective that would be? Yet some of us only open the flow of Jesus into our lives a little, and we wonder why we’re not growing.
When you accept Jesus as your savior, you are saved and begin your relationship with Him. However, you and I control the valve on how much we allow Him to influence our life. If we restrict the flow of Him into our life, not much is going to change in how we talk, act or live. We will remain in spiritual immaturity. Those who open the flow, will grow and be changed. The more of our life that we give Him access to, the more we become like Him. The more we move toward spiritual maturity. Our lives will bear the fruits of the Spirit as well. There are clear differences between those who restrict Jesus in their lives and those who don’t. Your spiritual life will always grow in proportion to the amount of influence you allow Jesus to have in it.
Colossians 1:10 says, “We pray that you would walk in the ways of true righteousness, pleasing God in every good thing you do. Then you’ll become fruit-bearing branches, yielding to his life, and maturing in the rich experience of knowing God in his fullness!” (TPT) God desires that each of us would yield all of our life to Him. When we do, we open ourselves up to His fullness. How much of your life have you yielded to Him? If you’re not bearing much fruit in your life or are not experiencing all He offers, surrender everything to Him. You’ve trusted Him with your eternity. Why wouldn’t you trust Him with this life? How He sees you has to become more important than how others see you. Open up the flow of His presence in your life and watch the growth take place.
Some of my favorite shows to watch are obstacle course ones. I used to watch “Wipeout” pretty regularly. My new favorite is “Floor Is Lava”. I love watching the creativity and bravery the people use to take on the obstacles. However, there are a lot of people going through these courses who never make it to the end. The obstacles prove to be too much for them to handle, and they’re knocked out of contention for the grand prize. If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen to us as we follow Jesus. There are obstacles that are constantly trying to knock us off course and to interfere with our relationship with Him.
In Mark 11, Jesus was in His final week. He was facing obstacles that were trying to throw Him off course. At one point He was hungry and approached a fig tree, but it didn’t have fruit on it, so He cursed it. The next day, as they walked by, Peter noticed it was dead and pointed it out. In verse 23, Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart” (NLT). Some scholars believe he was using a Hebrew colloquialism referring to obstacles that impede progress, and that we shouldn’t let any obstacles stand between us and our faith in God.
We all face obstacles that sucker punch us and try to come between us and God though at some point in our lives. For me it was the untimely death of my mother and a divorce. For you, it will be different. The important thing is to identify the obstacles standing in your way so that you can remove them. It’s going to take some faith in order to move these obstacles. You’re going to have to trust God when you can’t see Him or feel Him because of the mountain in your way. Don’t give up, and don’t believe the lie that God doesn’t care about you or your situation. Speak to your mountain in faith. Cast it into the sea and begin growing in your faith once again. You don’t have to stay where you or or succumb to the obstacle. There is more life and growth ahead for you.
I read recently that you can understand almost every spiritual principle through understanding farming. I grew up hearing that you reap what you sew, but there’s so much more. There’s faith that when you plant it, things are growing where you can’t see. There’s understanding the right soil and the right season to plant in. The list goes on and on. The more I learn and understand the concepts of farming, the better steward I can be with the spiritual realities God has entrusted to me. These concepts were obvious to people until we became a modern society where we get our produce from a store.
Think back to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve took the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. They had access to everything, but they squandered it trying to take a shortcut. What was Adam’s punishment? Verse 17 says, “And he said to the man, ‘You listened to your wife and ate the fruit which I told you not to eat. Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you’” (GNT). What if his punishment was really about teaching him and us how to better manage and appreciate spiritual principles? Instead of leaving him in the dark, God created a way to understand Him better through having us work the land.
What lesson has God been trying to teach you? What concept has He been trying to get you to understand. I’m pretty sure you can better understand it through farming. Most of Jesus’ parables were about some form of farming. God wants us to learn more about Him and to understand spiritual realities better so He can entrust more to us. Take some time today to ask God to open your eyes to see what He’s showing you. God wants you and I to grow closer to Him and He’s given us the blueprint. We need to seek better understanding from Him so He can help us to be better stewards of all He’s entrusting to us. Don’t shy away or try to take the easy route. Lean in and learn from Him and His Word.
Where I live, there are lots of trees. Two of the most common ones are pine trees and oak trees. Pine trees are evergreens and oaks are deciduous. When it comes to burning wood, lines are considered a soft wood and oaks are hard. Another important fact is that the roots of pine trees go down deep while the roots of the oak stay near the surface. It’s a common sight to see a large, strong oak tumbled on its side after a storm. It doesn’t matter how healthy it is, if it’s roots aren’t very deep, it can’t stand during a strong windstorm. Christians are a lot like these two trees.
There are a lot of believers who stay true to their profession of faith in all areas of life, while there are others who are good at it on Sundays, but change around non-believers. They haven’t yet reconciled their private faith with their public life. There are some believers that no matter what they go through, their hearts remain soft before God. Others go through difficult seasons and their hearts harden towards God blaming Him for their struggles. Some believers realize that Jesus is their source of righteousness. They learn to depend on Him for everything. Others feel like it’s their works that create righteousness. They spend more time focused on doing rather than learning and growing. This mentality creates a shallow root system.
In Colossians 2:7, Paul reminds us, “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). We need to be like that first person who builds their life on Christ letting out roots dig deeper into Him. Our lives should be aiming for maturity in faith and a deeper relationship with Him. When that happens, our hearts will remain soft and no matter what storms come, we won’t be blown over. The depth of your roots in Him matters. Focus on building your faith and trust in Him and His grace will be sufficient for whatever you face.
If I needed to lose weight, without buying what you’re selling, what two things would I need to do? In almost every instance, you would tell me to eat right and to exercise. If I would do that, I would lose weight, but the benefits don’t stop there. Doing those two things would change so much more. I would begin to have more energy, feel better, have lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol and so many more things. By doing two simple things, I can affect many areas of my life. The problem is that there are so many options out there that I and so many others choose daily not to do those two things. Then we wonder why we have all these other problems.
In our spiritual life, we have the same choices that we have to make daily. Many of us struggle with poor discipline that results in the inability to hear God’s voice, no resistance to temptation, low faith, poor prayer life and many other things. We wonder why some people make living the Christian life look easy while we struggle. A lot of it boils down to choices we make daily where we choose other things over the spiritual disciplines God has called us to. The New Testament has many of these disciplines that we must follow. Dif you try to employ all of them at once, you can easily get overwhelmed. So start with a couple and add more as you grow.
Three disciplines that you can choose daily are found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. It says, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT). Choose joy every day. It’s not based on your circumstances. It is rooted in trusting God, and it’s the source of your strength. Being in a continual mindset of prayer will keep you connected to God throughout your day. It will increase your faith and increase your ability to hear His voice. Being thankful in all circumstances will create an attitude of gratitude. It will help you to see God’s hand in whatever you go through, helping you to trust that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Doing these three things daily will have a major impact on your life, your attitude and your relationship with God. Start choosing to do them today.
Earlier this year I went to visit a doctor. One of his 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 it, 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, but he had broken his new 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 often 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.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
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.