Building the Body – Colossians 1:9-14

Prayer Is The Fuel For Spiritual Body Building

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Foundational Fuel

Everywhere you look in scripture, people are praying.  They are praying to worship God in praise.  They are praying to petition God for assistance.  They are praying for God’s will to come about.  And here, Paul and Epaphras are praying that the seed that was planted in the church body located at Colossi would flourish.

Prayer is the fuel and only offensive weapon we have in our spiritual warfare:

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Jesus definitively recognized that His disciples should pray.  Notice the words He uses when He talks about prayer:

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “If you pray…”, or, “Should you decide to pray…”, or, “Perhaps you should pray…”.  Jesus says, “…when you pray…”.  One of the reasons that we are so weak is that we are not doing what our body-building trainer tells us to do – P R A Y!

Body Building

In this passage, there are several tips to successful spiritual body-building.  And just as Earthly body-builders need to practice and have workouts to keep their physical bodies in top shape, spiritual body-builders need to complete their workouts to keep their spiritual lives in top shape.  God is all about relationship.  Prayer is communication, which is a vital part of the relationship process.

Here are some of the tips and tricks provided to us to up our game in spiritual body-building from Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ:

Dominion of Darkness

Before God the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus Christ to us, we were in the dominion of darkness.  Satan was our father, for our deeds were evil and we neither sought out God, nor gave Him glory.  The world, the flesh, and the devil were our constant companions and our advisors.  We were born with a sin nature passed down to us from Adam.  It’s no wonder that we were slaves in bondage to sin.

Crown of Christ

Jesus came to rescue us from our bondage to sin and from sin itself, and reconcile us to the Father.  When we confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, we were moved into the Kingdom of Light.  We have been adopted as children into the family of God.  Jesus is our brother; we are his brothers and sisters.

This seems very basic, but it has profound meaning and implication in our lives.  No longer are we prohibited from experentially and relationally knowing God.  No longer do we look in confusion or bewilderment at who God is; God is revealing Himself to us through His Son in His word and through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

To those who have been given much, much is expected.  How much has God given you?

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I being faithful in my spiritual body-building exercises?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, the knowledge that You have adopted me into Your family is too wonderful for me to comprehend.  Just as an orphan is stunned after being adopted into a loving family, I am still stunned as I ponder the implications of being adopted into Your family.  You have done great and mighty things on and for my behalf.  You have given me an eternal future with You, access to You in Your throne room any time I need or just want to be there, and you have given me access to the royal treasury by blessing me with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  You have said that to those who have been given much, more is expected.  Father, what do you expect of me?  Show me that I may do all that you desire for me to do and become in gratitude for all that You have done for me.  Help me to remember my brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray fervently for them that they would be built up in Christ.  Give me Your love, so that it will be on display for all to see.  Help me to yield myself to you completely.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Discernment and God – Philippians 1:9-11

Perfection In Love Provides Discernment For What Is Good

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Lengthening Love

Paul was given, as part of his gifting by the Holy Spirit, a heart to see the people of God grow in their knowledge and discernment. Paul recognized that since God is love, increasing in the very defining characteristic of Almighty God would provide the perfect place for the development of knowledge and insight into the wonderful character of our Creator.

As we grow in love, we grow in the understanding and capability to actively participate in the character of God, and therefore to know Him experentially. This gives us the opportunity to increase in our discernment of what is good and proper. Love fulfills the law, and love shows us the way to what is good. For of every good giving and every perfect gift, love is the most powerful and lasting of them all.

Increase Insight

Paul desires that we develop the insight into the character and experiential knowledge of God. It is not merely enough to learn about something. To truly understand it, you must embrace it and experience it. It them becomes real for you, and as you practice anything, its nuances and the depths of its virtues become apparent.

For instance, it may look wonderful to jump from an airplane, free-fall for a while, and then pull the cord to release the parachute to glide gently to the Earth. This all looks good, fun, and liberating, but until you actually do it, you won’t experience the thrill of free-fall, the wind against your face, the buffeting of the air against your body, the temporary feeling of liberation from gravity, and the majesty of seeing the land beneath you from a great height.

You won’t experience the nuance of controlling the parachute with your controls, moving left and right, leveling and directing your glide, working with and against the currents of the air, and the moment of truth as you try to gently end your flight without causing harm to your body as you either suddenly or slowly decelerate your fall with your feet and legs. It only becomes real to you when you do it. Words cannot truly describe what the body must experience. And words cannot truly describe what the spirit must experience as well.

Develop Discernment

As we exercise our spirit through the practical application of love, we will have the wonderful opportunity to increase our capacity to discern what is good. Exercising love provides the circumstances in which we can more fully understand and discern what is good and right. This gives us the perspective of wisdom – the practical application of knowledge – that helps us to grow spiritually wise.

Discernment is a vital tool in the life of a disciple of Christ. Discernment provides the filter through which paths can be assessed to end in good or evil. Discernment give the disciple insight to grow in love and the character of Almighty God. Without discernment, we will fall for every trick of the enemy, and find ourselves ruined, and possibly find our faith shipwrecked:

1 Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

4 “But let no one bring a charge,
let no one accuse another,
for your people are like those
who bring charges against a priest.
5 You stumble day and night,
and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother-
6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.

“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.”

Filled with Fruit

The fruit of righteousness comes from and through the experiential knowledge of following Jesus Christ – obeying His commands.  When we obey Jesus, we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit has He did when He walked the Earth two thousand years ago.  And when the Holy Spirit of God indwells us, and we give Him permission to work in us and through us, we will be filled with the fruit of the Spirit:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Producing Praise

When we are walking in the spirit – being filled with the fruit of the Spirit by the One who provides the fruit, we live a life that bring glory and praise to Almighty God.  As we bear fruit in accordance with the will of God, we develop discernment concerning both how to bear fruit, and what we should avoid in order to bear more fruit.  Just as an arborist prunes trees so that the dead wood no longer burdens the tree, and increases the available nutrients for the good branches, so does discernment help us to stop feeding the dead wood in our lives.  It is only when we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit that we are living a life that is correctly modeling our divine calling and nature as image-bearers of Almighty God.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question: Am I increasing in the insight and discernment by allowing the Holy Spirit of God to bear fruit through me?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, it is the greatest honor to bear fruit for You.  You have given me life as a branch unnaturally attached to the vine, grafted in for Your pleasure.  You prune my dead wood, and help me to grow and bear even more fruit for You.  Help me to recognize the dead wood in my life, and to deny it any thought or energy.  Help me to let it die, and be pruned off, so that I would grow in grace, wisdom, and discernment of what is good, proper, and holy.  Help me to be sustained by Your nourishment, for You provide for all of my needs.  Guide me in the way I should go, and help me to do all that You have planned for me to do in Your will and Your way.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Bearing Fruit for God – John 15:6-8

Remain In Christ To Bear Great Fruit For God’s Glory

6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Wasted Wood

God is the master gardener.  He carefully prunes His vines, removing the dead portions of branches to make them more profitable, and when necessary, removing the dead wood from the vine.  Just as any gardener will tell you, it is never good when you have to remove entire branches from your plants.  Although necessary in order to ensure the survival of the plant, it impacts the plant and lowers the productivity of your investment.  Branches that are dead to the vine become a liability, and are good for nothing except to be burned in the fire.  We need to keep this in mind, for most of us are wild branches grafted into the vine.  And if God will prune out the native branches, how much more so will he for the grafted ones!

Favors Fulfilled

Jesus says something very profound here.  If we remain in Him, God will grant whatever we ask of Him!  Part of that is because when we are in Christ, we are walking in the same way that He did – in complete submission and obedience to the Holy Spirit of God.  As such, we are in the position to be used by Him to execute the plans and purposes that God desires to accomplish. We are other-focused, with our eyes on Jesus and the cross.  When we are focused in that manner, the requests that we make will be to ensure that God’s will be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven.  God certainly would grant any request that fulfills His plans and purposes.

The second part is that when we are submitted to God as Jesus was to the Holy Spirit, we will only be seeking what is good.  Self-centered prayers and desires will not dominate our thoughts, and we will put down the attempts by the enemy as he attempts to distract and derail our efforts by placing selfish thoughts in our minds.  If the enemy can distract us from fulfilling our purpose that God has planned, he is successful in doing the only thing that he can – to keep us from properly bearing the image of God.  And when that happens, we are not bringing glory to God.

Glory to God

Jesus points out that the purpose for granting our requests IS to bring glory to God.  It is not for our comfort, self-fulfillment, emotional happiness, material enrichment, or any other purpose than to bring glory to Himself.  God and God alone is worthy of glory.  We have been tasked with doing His will to bring glory to His name.  God will do everything He can to make sure that we are successful in our attempt to submit in obedience to Him for this purpose.  Anything that we ask that God has planned and desires will be granted:

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Decidedly Disciples

When we are submitted in obedience to the Holy Spirit, we will bear much fruit in season:

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither-
whatever they do prospers.

Since we are the branches and Christ is the vine, we are expected to bear fruit for Christ when He wants us to, in or out of season:

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

God is full of grace and mercy.  But if/when we continually refuse to bear fruit for the one who gives us nourishment and provides for our every need, eventually He will prune out the dead wood.  And for those who respond to His desire to bear fruit, He will prune the dead portions of the branch so that the rest of the branch will grow and bear fruit, thus honoring and bringing glory to God.  And when we bring honor and glory to God by bearing fruit for Him at His request, we show that we truly are His disciples.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I willing to bear fruit out of season for God?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have shown great compassion towards me in bringing me to Your Son.  Grant me the strength and desire to bear much fruit for You.  Help me to be prepared to do all that You require of me so that I may bring glory to Your name.  Help me to be a better disciple, and grant me the ability to submit and obey Your word more and more each and every day.  Forgive me when I fail and succumb to selfishness desires.  Guard my mind and my heart against the plans of the enemy, and give me the character to consistently turn towards You in every circumstance that You permit in life, for You are Sovereign Lord over all creation.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Sanctification by God – John 15:1-4

The Gardener Prunes The Vine To Make It More Productive

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Pruning for Profit

God the Father is pictured here by Jesus as the gardener.  He is in the role of vine-dresser, and as such, has the responsibility for the vine bearing the greatest amount of fruit.  And just like a gardener, He removes the branches that are consistently unproductive.  When a gardener does everything that he can to get a particular branch to bear fruit, and it does not, it must be culled so that it will stop taking the sap from the vine that the other more productive branches need to bear their fruit.

And when a branch of the vine IS productive, He removes the dead wood from it, pruning it so that the productive part of the branch becomes even more productive, and grows to its maximum potential, bearing as much fruit as possible, and honoring the gardener with its produce.  Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.  We must take these things to heart, for although we cannot earn our way into Heaven, we are expected to bear fruit once we receive the nourishing sap from the vine.  Whether the branch is grafted in, or grows from the vine, the gardener expects it to bear fruit.  After all, faith without deeds is dead.

Washed White

Jesus reminds us here that He has already cleaned us up.  His blood has washed us white as snow, as white as wool.  We only need to have our feet cleaned as we walk in the dirty world.  In the same way, the Father prunes us as branches, cleaning us from the dead wood that is weighing us down, sapping our strength, and not producing the fruit of righteousness as we are intended to do as His image-bearers.  God has already joined us spiritually to the source of life – the vine.

Sap from the Source

It is the sap that provides the life and nourishment that the branches need to live.  Jesus uses this illustration because it for the agrarian society in which people lived, this would have had immediate recognition and understanding, as this is how they lived their lives.  The stories would have had significant impact, and immediately have been understood.  It is important to remember that without the life-nourishing sap from the vine, the branch is dead or will die.  If we are not joined to the source, we will not be able to bear any fruit.

Becoming Bountiful

The only way to bear much fruit is to be firmly attached to the vine, drink up the life-giving sap, and use that to grow fruit.  Any branch that cannot – or refuses to – draw life from the vine is removed.  Once removed, it will surely dry up and die.  We are, like the vine and branches, to do what we were intended to do.  We are to bear the fruit of righteousness:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

When we are bearing fruit in accordance with righteousness, we are able to be used by God to bear other fruit as well.  Whether we are spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, building God’s kingdom by building God’s people, or whatever other activity God intends for us to accomplish, we are only able to do them through a solid relationship with God, and relying on His strength and wisdom from His word, which is our sap, to nourish us into becoming the most bountiful fruit-bearing branches that we can be.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I bearing fruit in accordance with the purpose that God has intended me to bear?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have taken great pains to ensure that I am firmly attached to You, and drawing strength and nourishment from You and Your word.  Help me to bear as much fruit as possible for You.  Prune me of anything that would impede my growth and usefulness.  Help me to do that which You intended for me to do from before the foundation of the universe.  Guide me and empower me to honor and glorify Your name.  Sanctify me that I would draw close to You in holiness.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?