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.
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.
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.
James 1:19 says, “Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]” (AMP). Chances are that you’re doing well in at least one of these areas, but struggle at being good in all three. I’m not always quick to listen. I like to guess where you’re going with something and get to your conclusion before you do. The problem with that is when we’re not quick to listen, we’re telling the other person that we don’t value them enough. Being quick to listen is important for us as believers because we need to listen to what God’s Word and the Holy Spirit have to say as well, and for the same reason.
Being slow to speak can be difficult, especially if we don’t have much of a filter between what we think and what we say. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a [callous, arrogant] fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips he is regarded as sensible (prudent, discreet) and a man of understanding.” Being slow to speak changes how people perceive us. It’s tough to do, especially when we’re the type who listens in order to respond rather than to understand. Being slow to speak also gives us the opportunity to listen more. Before responding, ask yourself if that really needs to be said and if it edifies or builds up the listener.
Finally, being slow to get angry can be tough, especially when we view people through a filter of pains from our past. When we go from a 3 to a 10 quickly, we say and do things we later regret. This one can be difficult to learn, but it starts by getting better at the first two. When I listen well, and give the other person the opportunity to say everything and listen with the intent of understanding, with a patient, reflective and forgiving heart, anger slows down. The Holy Spirit is at work in each of working to produce these three things in each of us. If you’re not good at all three, don’t despair. Ask God to help you so that you can be a better representation of Him. We’re all under construction and have areas God is working on. Spiritual maturity comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to daily help us get a little bit better at following Him.
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.
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.
I have a friend with a Jeep and one of the things he likes to do is to take it off road. There are trails around the country that Jeep enthusiasts go to. These trails are rated by the package on your Jeep. To go on certain ones, you have to have a certain package or another with upgrades or you won’t make it. There’s one in the High Sierra’s near Lake Tahoe called the Rubicon Trail. It’s a grueling 22 mile off road trail that challenges even the most seasoned off road drivers. I’ve watched several videos of people doing some amazing driving on this trail. These drivers move forward on this trail confidently and help others along the way. It’s pretty cool to watch them navigate, learn and maneuver some rugged terrain.
When talking about our spiritual walk, we often refer to the good times as “mountaintop experiences” and dark times as “being in the valley”. However, like the Rubicon Trail, sometimes the challenging times of life are high on the mountain or on your way up. You may get some bumps and scratches on the way through the rugged terrain. Some of the toughest times in David’s life were after the high of being anointed king. He had to navigate through some rough terrain, but in the process, God was preparing him for the responsibility of what was coming. There were some emotional set backs on his Rubicon Trail to the throne, but he kept moving forward with the confidence of his calling.
I’m reminded of Habakkuk 3:19. It says, “The Lord GOD is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army]; He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my high places [of challenge and responsibility]” (AMP). I don’t know what your Rubicon Trail is, but I do know that God is your source of courage and your navigator through rough terrain. He will help you to keep moving forward towards your goal with confidence even when the roadway is seemingly blocked and you can’t see the end. He uses these times as part of His process to prepare you for the promise. Look around you to see who He has placed in your life to help get you through. Don’t travel this terrain alone. Find a strong believer to help guide you and pray you through.
I’ve watched the movie “Greater” a couple of times this year. It’s the faith based story of Brandon Burlsworth who is considered the greatest walk-on in college football history. He had everything working against him, but he persisted. One coach told him since he didn’t have talent, he was going to have to work harder than anyone else. He was first to show up and last to leave. At one point, he got a new coach and the coach found him practicing his footwork when the practice field was closed. The coach asked him if his previous coaches let him do that. Brandon replied that they never knew he did it. The coach said, “Well, they say character is what you do when no one’s looking.” Brandon quickly replied, “Someone’s always looking.”
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he was reminding them that they were going to go through hard times. In chapter 6, let them know that how they respond matters. Verse 4 says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times” (MSG). That phrase, “gets validated – or not – in the details” jumped off the page at me. In hard times, it’s more important than ever to focus on the details of our spiritual growth. We must continue to read and study God’s Word, spend time in prayer and fasting, share our faith and put into practice what we know. It’s those daily disciplines that help us to stay our post when times get tough.
Brandon Burlsworth was only able to achieve what he did because he continued with his daily disciplines no matter what. It’s easy to make excuses right now and to slack off on our relationship with Christ, but now is the time we need to go deeper in that relationship. People are watching how you and I respond to the crisis the world is in. Are we rising to the challenge or are we succumbing to “the new normal”? We must stay at our post, stronger than ever, giving people hope and pointing them to the One who gives peace in troubled times. Our work – our faith – gets validated in the daily details and exposed under pressure. Today’s climate is the time for us to step up, not back, and to stand firm in the power of His might. I believe God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him than ever before. The way to that relationship and spiritual maturity is in the details of your daily spiritual disciplines.