Posts Tagged 'Spiritual Growth'

GROWING SPIRITUALLY: THROUGH GOD’S WORD

A lot of us refer to the Bible as our “instruction manual” for living. For committed Christians, the centrality of God’s Word is a given. The idea of the importance of the Bible is expressed in the New Testament in verses like these:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Dedication to “sound doctrine,” or following the “instruction manual” for your life, is not an option. Sound doctrine literally unleashes the power of God in your life. Take careful note of what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:16; he does not credit salvation to the power of a sermon or a worship service but to sound doctrine that is observed by others. The unsaved will see for themselves the presence of God in your life if your life is measured by the the Word of God and sound doctrine.

Also, paying attention to the Bible and understanding sound doctrine will enable you to exercise discernment when it comes to spiritual matters. The fact that the Church is rife with false teaching and false teachers is evidence that far too many Christians have forsaken sound doctrine.

The great early Church leader, Peter, wrote this about the absolute necessity of knowing the Word of God:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (2 Peter 3:15)

Knowing the Word of God is a must if you want to effectively share your faith with the lost. They are looking for answers, and the Bible has them. Knowledge of the Bible is a debt we owe the lost.

1. Meditate on the Word of God, Psalm 119:145—152

Psalm 119 is an “alphabetic psalm.” It is made up of 22 stanzas, each consisting of eight verses, each verse in each stanza beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The subject of the entire psalm is the Word of God. In all, the psalmist uses nine words to describe the Word of God:

  • Torah, “the Law.” This is God’s Law in the broadest sense; His revealed will to man.
  • ‘Edvoth or ‘Edoth, “testimonies” to God’s commands, which are considered to revelations of His character and will.
  • Mishpatim, or “judgments.” These are divine pronouncements by act or word against bad behavior and conduct.
  • Kjuqqm, “statutes” or “ordinances.” This often refers to God as the great Legislator, referring to God written and spoken Law.
  • Dabar or Debarim. This refers to God’s literal Word; the words He spoke or wrote.
  • Piqqudim, “precepts,” referring to God’s instructions to man to direct his conduct.
  • Mitsroth, “commandments.”
  • Imrah, “promises.” These are God’s promises to man.
  • Darek or Derakim, translated “way” and “ways.” It refers to proper conduct.

This gives us an idea of what the message of Psalm 119 is: the excellence of the Word of God. And the theme of verses 145—152 is that the truth of God’s Word helps us overcome any trouble.

In the previous group of verses, 137—144, the writer is convinced of God’s righteousness, and because of that conviction, he is comfortable in crying out to God for help. Verses 145 and 146 each begin with the phrase, “I cry.” Here was a deeply troubled believer who promises obedience to God’s Word in exchange for His help. This person was “up before dawn” and “awake all night” in prayer and meditation.

The psalmist’s lament is positively feverish: he is desperate for God’s help in adversity, and he is not above pointing out a number of positive things about his conduct and character to the Lord in hopes that the Lord will notice and act on his behalf:

  • I will obey your decrees.
  • I will keep your statutes.
  • I have put my hope in your word.

The psalmist prays with great intensity; an intensity that is equal to his loyalty to God in living in obedience to His Word. He prays “with all his heart” and obeys “with his whole heart.” Early in the morning and late into the night, prayer and meditation occupies his mind. Notice the focus of his hope:

…preserve my life, O LORD, according to your laws. (verse 149)

The thought is one of revival: “revive me” is what the psalmist wants from God, but above all else, the psalmist wants his life to line up to God’s laws.

2. Crave spiritual food, 1 Peter 1:22—2:3

Doctrine was the key focus of the early church. We can understand why when we consider how the early church wrestled with false teachers in those days. Paul, John, and Peter all wrote letters condemning false teachers and false teaching and Peter especially sounded the clarion call in his letters to hold fast to the true Gospel.

a. The enduring Word, 1:22—25

Christians are called to live lives marked by holiness, which is initiated through the work of the God in salvation. However, verse 22 informs the reader that they play a part in their own sanctification:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

This is totally in line with the famous prayer Jesus prayed shortly before His crucifixion:

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

Purkiser comments:

The Word of God, functioning in the believer’s heart as truth and light, is the formal cause of sanctification.

While this is undeniably true, the “purification” process began when the believer accepted the truth about Jesus Christ as Savior. Either way, the “truth,” the Word of God, is what makes a believer holy.

The question may be raised: Why and how? Simply put, the Word of God sanctifies the human heart for two reasons: (1) While the Bible is a book, it is unlike any other book ever written because it is spiritual in nature. Behind, under, and in-between every word of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. We are assured in Isaiah 55:11—

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

(2) The Bible’s truths are timelessly objective, as noted in 1 Peter 1:24, 25a—

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

b. Growing in maturity, 2:1—3

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation… (verse 2)

This is Peter’s summation of his letter. If you want to live like a real Christian ought to live, then you must—you have no choice—but to divest yourself of bad attitudes or worldly attitudes and “crave” the Word of God. A believer must long for the Word of God as if his very life depended on it, and it does! The Greek word translated “crave” means a very strong desire. It’s not a negative word but a positive one. Christians should strongly desire more and more sound teaching of the Word of God. But notice the qualifiers: “pure” and “spiritual.” The spiritual food believers should be consuming must be the right kind; it must be free of deceit and fraud. In other words, it must nourish the spirit, not tickle the ears.

It is only when believers are getting a steady diet of the Word of God they grow in their faith. This admonition reminds us of the words of David:

Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

The Word of God never disappoints those who partake of it.

3. Receive and obey the Word, Luke 8:4—15

This parable is found in all three Synoptics. We might call it “God’s soil analysis,” but really it’s cold hard look at the kinds of “hearts” the receive the Word of God. The thrust of parable is simple: a lot of people hear the Gospel, some will take it heart and make it part of their lives, others won’t. The preacher well knows the truthfulness of Jesus’ teaching on this matter.

Probably the most important part of this parable is found in verse 18, which is technically part of the following parable:

Therefore consider carefully how you listen.

Listening to the Gospel is not a spectator sport! We should be engaged as we listen. Hendriksen offers this wonderful observation of the different kind of people who “listen” to God’s Word:

Some people listen hardly at all, Isaiah 40:21—

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

Some listen to be entertained, Ezekiel 33:31, 32—

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

Some listen in order to find fault, Mark 12:13—

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.

Some listen in order to obtain true wisdom and to put it to good use, Acts 17:10, 11—

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

It’s amazing how one seed, which is always the same, by the way, can have a such a different effect on different hearts. But it’s up to the individual how they choose to hear and obey the Word of God.

Babies don’t stay babies forever, thankfully. They do grow up. Christians cannot remain spiritual babies forever. They grow up as they nourish their spirits with regular doses of the God’s Word.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

GROWING SPIRITUALLY: GROWING THROUGH PRAYER

“Prayer” is a word and a concept everybody is familiar with. Muslims, Buddhists, those who practice Hinduism and Satanism all pray. But of all the people in all the world, only Christians connect with the Creator when they pray. Prayer is, or it should be, the centerpiece of one’s faith. Many Christians believe that nothing happens apart from prayer. Jesus Himself advised His friends to pray that God’s will would be done earth as it is done in heaven.

Prayer is more than merely talking to God; it is a relationship with God. In fact, praying to God is the most intimate thing you can do in your faith. As we pray, all is laid bare before our heavenly Father. There is nothing you can hide from God when you pray.

But prayer is also educational. When we pray, God reveals Himself to us. As we pray, the Holy Spirit brings long-forgotten Bible verses to our minds that strengthen and encourage us. No wonder our Lord said this:

Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. (Luke 18:1 KJV)

1. The necessity of prayer

Given that prayer is so important, it’s curious that a command to pray is not in the Ten Commandments. In fact, much of what we know about prayer comes from studying the people who prayed in Scripture, not necessarily from individual verses that give us detailed instructions. We can learn a lot prayer by looking at how the heroes of the faith practiced it.

a. Jesus, Luke 5:15, 16

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

This innocuous incident occurs at the end the story of the healing of a leper. Matthew puts this story immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, but Luke is doesn’t localize it like Matthew did:

While Jesus was in one of the towns… (Luke 5:12)

Though Luke isn’t interested in details (for a change), being a physician himself, he adds a tad more detail to what Mark wrote. Luke makes sure his reader understands that the leper was literally “full of leprosy.” In other words, for this man, the end was near; the disease had eaten him up.

In faith, this very sick man begged Jesus to heal him. Notice what Jesus did:

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.I am willing,he said.Be clean!And immediately the leprosy left him. (verse 13)

The act of touching this man is significant. Usually lepers were isolated from the general population and kept at a distance. In touching this man, Jesus went against the teachings of his religion. To be obedient to God demands that we do things like that sometimes. Much has been written about why Jesus touched the man. Some think that healing power flowed from Jesus into the man when Jesus touched him.

But what is significant here is verse 14:

Then Jesus ordered him,Dont tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.

Why would Jesus tell the leper to do that? Scholars note that the healing of lepers is one of the Messianic signs that John the Baptist was reminded of while he was in prison. Also, Jesus had a lot of work to do in a short period of time. The last thing He needed was to be descended upon by throngs of lepers and sick people all applying to be healed. Instead, the healed leper needed to show himself to the priest, a ritual taught in Leviticus 14.

This brings us to Jesus as an example of one who prayed correctly. The immediate effect of such a dramatic and obvious healing was that more and more people would take notice. You can’t keep a thing like that quiet! Jesus was becoming a popular preacher; lots and lots of folks, sick and healthy, were beginning to coalesce around Him. But in the midst of this popularity, Jesus did an unusual thing: He withdrew to pray in private. It’s never easy to resist the pull of popularity, but Jesus in great wisdom, knew He needed to get away from the people. We would do well to put into practice this kind of prayer. Instead of doing what would seem natural: preach and teach to the crowd, He left the crowd to “recharge His batteries.” This is wise to do, for when we practice prayer like that, it becomes the priority and when we return to the crowd (or the real world) we will be better able to minister to them for having spent time in God’s presence.

b. Jesus’ teaching on prayer, Matthew 6:6

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Jesus preached what He practiced. This admonition comes on the heels of a longer teaching about ostentatious prayer. Instead of making a big deal about praying in public, it’s better to pray in secret. Obviously, Jesus is not forbidding public prayer; the early church prayed in public and we continue to do so. It all boils down to one’s motives. When we pray in private, we are seeking only one Person’s approval; the One that counts: God’s. Secrecy is the key to intimacy, even in prayer. Richard Foster comments:

Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence. And He is inviting youand meto come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created. His arms are stretched out wide to receive us. His heart is enlarged to take us in.

c. Paul, Colossians 4:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Paul wrote a lot of letters, and the last few verses of all his letters usually were written to encourage his readers; to build up their faith. After having written about the Word, the great apostle now stresses the importance of prayer. The Word and prayer work together in our relationship with God. Through the Word, God speaks to us. Through prayer, we speak to Him.

Paul first says to “devote” or “persevere” in prayer. Prayer the perhaps the most important aspect of our new life in Christ and as such it should never be neglected. Prayer is an amazing thing. It is a means of obtaining both spiritual and physical satisfaction in life. Prayer helps us focus, thus it helps us mentally. It is also a weapon against spiritual attacks. And it’s a way for thankful, grateful, and needy believers to pour their hearts to God in praise, adoration, worship and supplication.

The apostle also tells his readers to “be watchful.” In other words, when we pray we need to be alert and awake. It’s a discipline, no doubt about it. Most of us have a hard time getting past a few scant minutes in prayer before our minds start wandering. When we pray, we need to be completely engaged with our hearts and our minds. Like any worthwhile thing in life, learning to stay alert (or even awake) during extended times of prayer takes practice and discipline.

Lastly, Paul says to be “thankful” in prayer. We may be very needy people, and while we should never be afraid to “cast our cares” up God, we also need to take time to thank Him for all that He has done for us.

2. Pray for spiritual growth

Some people like to say, “prayer changes things.” That sounds good, but it’s not really sound theology. In fact, prayer ought to change us. Prayer in absolutely vital to spiritual growth. Most Christians erroneously think that prayer should always change circumstances. But the fact is, prayer should transform us; prayer should change us.

a. Paul prays for his churches, Philippians 1:9—11; Colossians 1:9—12

The congregations at Philippi and Colosse were two that held fast to the Gospel of Christ. A lot of first century churches wrested with false teaching and schisms, but these two were different.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christto the glory and praise of God.

This church had a special relationship with Paul; they supported him in his missionary travels and he makes the point to mention that he prays for them. Notice the things he prays for:

  • That the congregation may grow in love for each other;

  • That the members of the church may grow in knowledge and depth of insight;

  • That they may learn how to exercise spiritual discernment;

  • That each member of the church may grow spiritually.

What an excellent list of things to pray for! When was the last time you prayed those things for your church? Really, if you keep alert when you pray, you should have no problem coming up with things to pray for!

If we look at how Paul prayed for the church at Colosse, we’ll see that he prayed about the following things:

  • That they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will;

  • That they live lives that please the Lord;

  • That they may bear much spiritual fruit;

  • That they may learn endurance, perseverance;

  • That they may joyfully praise the Lord for what He has done for them.

Again we see how “common sense” Paul’s prayers for his friends were. And we also see what was important to Paul. We can be sure that he prayed for their material and physical needs, but it’s probably significant that went out of his way to make sure they know that he was vitally concerned with their spiritual health.

3. We never pray alone

When we pray in secret as Jesus said we ought, we may feel like we are alone but we really aren’t. Prayer takes discipline and practice, but it’s not just the work of the person praying. When we pray, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the whole Body of Christ is working right along with us.

a. Jesus prays with us, Hebrews 7:23—25

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Notice: Jesus is still working for those He died for! The work of salvation is a finished work, but now—right now—Jesus is in heaven praying for those He has saved. What a glorious truth!

b. The Holy Spirit prays with us, Romans 8:26, 27

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with Gods will.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray for. Sometimes we get tired or we are so emotionally involved in a situation that it’s almost impossible to pray objectively. At moments like these, the Holy Spirit steps in and enables us to pray as we should. The Spirit knows far more than we do, so we should not be afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to take charge of our prayer life from time to time.

Spiritual growth takes place during times of prayer.  You may not feel like you are growing, but just as infants grow when they sleep, so you grow when you take the time, not to sleep, but to spend quality time in God’s presence.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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