Staying Babes in Christ – Hebrews 5:11-14

We Are To Mature, Not To Stay Babes In Christ!

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Spiritual Splendor

The word of God is full of the spiritual meat.  It provides guidance for every aspect of life, in every situation.  And while the word of God does not specifically say, “I want you, <Your Name Here>, to go to such and such a city and get such and such a job and do such and such a ministry…”, it does provide guidance for every area of our lives.

Psalm 119:105 says that the word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.  There is just enough light to see the cliff, or where to put our next foot.  We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit through faithful and fervent prayer to God to get anything close to a longer-term indication of what we should be doing (further than our next footstep).

In the word of God, as we mature, we begin to understand the deeper truths of walking in step with God in our spiritual life.  God reveals wonderful nuggets of truth that help to transform our lives from merely adoring children into prepared adults, making mature decisions, walking confidently in His guidance and being resources to those who are still maturing in Christ.

Stop Shuffling

Everyone who has been walking with God for more than five years (and for many, perhaps even fewer years…) should begin to mature in Christ.  Paul says something very interesting here.  He gently scolds the Hebrews (and us!) for their passivity in failing to pursue a more complete understanding and comprehension of the spiritual truths of God, and even says, they are no longer even trying.

Many people believe simply that since they are saved, God will take care of their spiritual feeding through divine revelation through the Holy Spirit.  But God says to seek Him with ALL of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  God greatly desires that we mature, just as parents everywhere, wish that their teenagers WOULD JUST GROW UP ALREADY…

There is a great frustration among parents when they watch their 18, 19, 20, 30 year old children act exactly like that – CHILDREN.  There is an expectation that their children would mature, and then do something productive with their lives, not live in their parent’s basement until they are 50 only eating junk-food, watching TV, and playing video games all night with their friends.  In the same way, God desires that His children mature, stand strong, and do the works that He has prepared for them to do since before the foundation of the world.

Fabulous Feast

The good news is that as we mature, we have a veritable feast available to us to feed upon.  As a child, we grow and develop feeding on the rich milk of our mothers.  But there comes a time when we need additional nourishment in order to grow our bodies.  ONLY drinking milk (or not eating or drinking anything else at all…) will eventually cause malnourishment in our bodies.

In the same way, by feeding upon the “meat of the word”, we become nourished, strong, and able to do the work that we need to do.  Those of God’s people who are not seriously seeking him through prayer, reading his word, and seeking out an understanding of his word (its meaning and application in our lives, as well as implementing it as part of our daily routines) are on the path to spiritual malnourishment, as well as being weakened for the enemy of our souls, to pounce upon us, overpower us, and devour us.

As we feed upon the word of God and pray, we grow strong.  There is an amazing cornucopia of delights as we delve deeper into the word, and our lives are transformed by its principles and guidance.  Cheetos and milk duds may taste good for a snack, but what is better than a ten course meal with all of the trimmings to satisfy your hunger?  The word of God is like a good Amish buffet – wholesome, tasty, satisfying food, always with new varieties, to fill us, tantalize us, and give us strength as it satisfies our hunger.

Delightful Discernment

Those who truly are babes in Christ should feed on milk until they begin to mature, being able to distinguish the difference between what is good and what is evil in the sight of the Lord.  Just as adults don’t exclusively drink milk, we don’t feed steak to a baby that has no teeth!  As we train ourselves, though the transforming and renewing of our minds in the word of God, we are better equipped to understand and implement the deeper truths of the word of God.

We should all seek to want to feed upon the meat of the word, so that God would be able to use us in a greater capacity.  God is able to use anyone in Him in any way that He chooses.  He, however, is more easily able to use those who are mature in greater ways than the infants.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I as mature as I should be for the length of time that I have spent as a child of God?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Thank You for your patience, mercy and grace.  Give me a heart that constantly seeks after You, and greatly desires to grow and mature towards holiness.  Help me to get out of any spiritual ruts that I may be in, and to pursue You as the cheetah pursues its prey.  Provide me with strength, guidance, resources, and good mentors so that I can become who You desire me to be.  Help me to overcome any strongholds in my mind that may be keeping me from seeking to grow.  Help me to turn my eyes more fully upon Jesus, and look full in His wonder face so that the things of this world will grow strangely dim.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

People Pleasing and God – Galatians 1:10

By Being God-Pleasers, We Can Stop Being People-Pleasers

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Appropriate Approval

One of the greatest desires of humanity is to feel accepted by others.  We go to great lengths to be in the “right” jobs, “rub elbows” with the “right people”, say the “right things” so no one is offended, and do whatever it takes to be accepted and recognized by others.

Paul challenges our culturally induced bondage by asking a challenging question:  From whom are we trying to win our approval?  Is it man, or God?  Many people struggle with identity issues.  Many women have emaciated their bodies, trying to lose that extra pound so that they won’t be perceived as “fat”, when they are – literally – on the brink of starvation and malnutrition.  Men try to earn enough money, power, and respect to be accepted by other men and to attract a mate, especially when they are not perceived as “attractive” by the people they want to notice them.

The question on everyone’s mind is, “am I good enough?

Pleasing People

Culture tells us that we should be people-pleasers.  By conforming to the expectations of other people around us (or the people we want to be around us), we will find contentment, community, relationship, and happiness in life.  Pleasing people generally leads to one outcome – the surrender of your personal identity and purpose.  When we allow others to dictate and determine the circumstances in which we will be accepted, and doing “whatever it takes” to conform to those expectations, we are, in effect, surrendering our autonomous control over to those whom we seek to please.

Paul challenges this by saying that we need to be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers.  The order of importance with whom we should please should form the acrostic JOY:

  • Jesus
  • Others
  • You

When we follow this rule, we will have JOY in our lives!

Doubtful Doulos

Paul then suggests that if he was trying to please people, he would not be a servant of Christ.  The word servant, in the Greek, is doulos.  It means a person who voluntarily is the bond-servant of another because they love the other person so much.  When we seek to please people, we are placing them above God.  The doulos places his master’s interests above his/her own interests, as well as the interests of others.  By placing Jesus in the place of authority over our lives, and placing His interests and desires over the interests and desires of everyone else, we are able to overcome the bondage that people-pleasing introduces into our life.

Objectively Overcoming

So, you might say, I am a people-pleaser.  I have been doing it for so long, I don’t know how to do anything else!  My life is miserable, and I want to be free of it!  I read the Bible, pray, and plead with God to remove it, but I keep failing, almost every single time. What can  I do?

Spend more time in prayer with God

This is a sin that is deeply ingrained in many people.  Prayer is the opportunity to place God above other people as you seek relationship with Him and acknowledge that He is the one who is most important in your life.  Soak this concern in prayer with tears.  Mourn over your sin. Confess your need to have this broken in your life to God.  And ask God to remember you.  When God remembers a person, He acts divinely on behalf of that person.  It was once said that when God remembers you, “Batten down the hatches, grab hold of something sturdy, because here comes God in a mighty way!”

Confess your sins to other Christians

Find Godly, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ, and confess your sin to them.  Ask them to pray for you that you may be delivered out of this sin.  God wants us to be free, not in bondage!

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, we are being accountable to one another and supportive of one another.  God desires this in community, and this makes us real to one another.  Let us put aside the fake smiles and facades that we present to each other and be real, without guile.  Let us not be judgmental, but supportive and encouraging.  It is time for the church to step up as we advertise ourselves to others in TRUTH.

Remember who you are in Christ

Many times, we forget who we are in Christ.  Rather than be drawn to people in our time of loneliness, pain, suffering, abandonment, or any other situation that leaves us feeling disconnected from others, we need to embrace God, and remember who we are in Him:

  • Jesus died on the cross for you while you were still a sinner
  • God loves you because He sent Jesus to die for your sins
  • God has given you the Holy Spirit to indwell you, empower you, comfort you, console you, admonish you, and glorify Jesus
  • Read Ephesians 1-3.  Remember who you are in Christ
  • God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you
  • God has promised to always forgive you and restore you when you repent
  • God is omnipotent.  He can fix anything, and even move Heaven and Earth to help you
  • God redeemed you because He wants to have a relationship with you!
  • God never changes.  He loves you more than your parents every could, and loves you unconditionally, as an act of His will, and does so sacrificially (both through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as His continued support today and throughout eternity)
  • It is God who will always be there for you
  • Feelings are not facts (even though that is what culture teaches).  They are just feelings.  With your renewed mind, force your will to take them captive and place them under the authority of the Holy Spirit.*

A Qualifying Question

Let’s as a question:  Are we people-pleasers, or God-pleasers?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, it should be You and You alone that I seek to please.  Help me when I feel obligated to please people.  Give me the strength and desire to set You above all, and to place every obligation I make, and every decision under Your guidance and care.  Help me to weather the criticism of others as I seek to honor You in all things.  And if honoring You in this manner causes difficulties in my relationships, help me to endure the emotional pain that ensues.  Give me Your peace in my heart that transcends understanding, and overcome the bondage that I am in.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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


Notes: This blog has been edited for spelling errors, formatting, and clarity

*Taking every thought captive to Christ in the mind is a difficult thing to do if you are not proficient in this skill.

First, remember that God has freed you from the bondage of sin.  If there is unrepentant, unaddressed sin (apart from people-pleasing) in your life, confess it to God, turn away from it and turn towards God and His holy word (which is the final authority for these things – 2 Timothy 3:16).

Next, realize that God has healthy boundaries (for a good book on the subject, read “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend).  He cannot abide sin, because He is holy.  Sin damages our relationship with Him, as it places a wedge between us and God.  Set appropriate boundaries for others.  “No” is actually a good word!

Take a year off saying “Yes” to people.  Say “No” to anything and everyone that tries to involve you in anything that will take away from your devotion to God (call it a “fast” for your Christian friends, or a “sabbatical” for your secular friends).  Be reasonable – you probably still need to work to eat and have a roof over your head…

Spend ALL of this extra time in the word of God and in prayer.  Draw close to your Savior, and go deep with Him.  Let Him nudge you and change you and strengthen you.

Remember the J.O.Y. principle, and follow it.

Entrenched sin will take some time to overcome.  Don’t expect that God will (always) just flick the switch, and voilà, that aspect of your character is fixed (He does do that sometimes…).  Expect that as part of your training in righteousness, that he will place people in your life who will intentionally try to manipulate you by playing on what they perceive to be your desire to like them.  Anyone who does this is doing so at the behest of Satan, who uses deceit to get his way.  Good, righteous, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ will not manipulate you in this way, even when your answer is”no”, and may appear to cause them loss or difficulty in some way (disciples of Christ know that God will provide for their needs through another source).

Once you set healthy boundaries for people, don’t use this as an excuse to not do anything for Jesus.  You need a reset to get your life back in balance.  Once it comes back in balance (be patient – a week or two is not enough time for this to occur), you are in the position to say “Yes” only when it is appropriate (don’t overbook or overwork yourself, but don’t move to the other end of the spectrum and rest forever – Christ has good works that He has planned in advance for you to do.  Go do them and claim your reward from Him later!).

Now, reconsider that life, as viewed through your eyes, is like TV commercials designed to influence you to do things that you normally wouldn’t do.  We must be aware of these influences so that we can say “NO!” to them.  Satan can place thoughts in your mind.  It is up to us to recognize that those thoughts are not always Godly, even if they appear to be (for instance, if you overextend yourself in ministry, the toll that decision and resulting effects take will cause ALL of your ministry to decrease in effectiveness, even though you are doing “good things” for the cause of Christ).  We generally don’t think about our thoughts.  We just let them go, and think they are all from us.  They aren’t!

We need to set up barriers in our minds against them.  The best barriers are the words of scripture.  When we have a bad thought (stealing something, for example), we should immediately tear down that stronghold thought by countering it with “You shall not steal” if there is a desire behind the thought.  Many of these thoughts are safely discarded as rubbish.  It is the ones that invoke desire in us to harbor the thoughts and act on them that need to be dealt with more immediately and with greater fervor:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (emphasis added)

This is just the start.  Rely upon and seek out the wisdom of God in His word and through reliance upon His Spirit to convict, exhort, and empower you as you work through the recovery from this dark pit.

Special Considerations:

Some people are in jobs where if they say “no” to anything, they’ll be fired.  Others may be single parents trying to keep it together, with no time for themselves, barely living and certainly not thriving.  There are people who are severely challenged physically or with severe health-impacting diseases.  To every person in these circumstances, I would counsel you to understand that God sees your plight and has a special place in His heart for you.  Seek Him, and trust Him.  Take your eyes off of your situation, and place them upon Almighty God, who is able to do even more abundantly than we could ever imagine.  Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.  And when the pressures of this life fade in the peace of God that transcends understanding, you will be in a better position to see clearly what God desires for you to do in your circumstances.

Wisdom and God – Psalm 111:10

Wisdom Is The Practical Application Of Knowledge In Truth To Determine The Right Course Of Action To Take

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.

Awakening to the Almighty

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  When we come to realize that there is a God, and He is not us, we begin on a journey of developing wisdom – the practical application of knowledge in truth.  Obtaining wisdom should not merely be an academic pursuit; it should guide us into a greater understanding of ourselves, God’s creation, and God’s character so that we can be more fruitful in His service.

God gives us faith so that we would recognize that He exists and is working in our lives.  Fear, in this sense, is not merely relegated to the dread of reaping the consequences of our actions, but moving from a clear understanding of God’s Holiness to God’s Faithfulness.  Wisdom teaches us that God is not ONLY holy, not ONLY just, but also that He is love, and full of grace and mercy.  His perfect holiness is tempered in love through mercy and grace, and is evidenced by His willingness to allow His one and only Son to die on the cross for sins so that we could be reconciled to Him.

When we fear God, we begin to trust God.  And as we trust God, He joyfully moves in our lives to bring about His plan and display the beauty of His character through His wisdom in how He made everything and interacts with His creation.

Spiritual Strength

Wisdom is greatly to be desired.  Knowledge without wisdom is a trophy on a shelf.  A savant may be able to recite every fact known to man, but without the ability to collate that information into practical, useful direction, it is merely an interesting aside.

Spiritual growth and strength occur when we practically apply our knowledge of God’s word in wisdom in our actions.  As we being begin to be obedient, God reveals the reasons behind why He does what He does.  It helps us to better discern what actions to take when faced with difficulties, and to choose rightly in the moment of action.  Wisdom tells us that God knows everything, so we should FIRST go to Him if we need it.  Wisdom tells us to how and why to avoid evil, and how to embrace and engage in truth and righteousness.  And it is only as we are willing to apply wisdom in our own lives that we being begin to truly understand the benefit of it as we reap her rewards.

Wealth of Wisdom

As we grow in Godly wisdom, we are able to honor God in a way that pleases Him.  It has been said that we have two beasts within us.  And whichever one we feed will grow stronger, and the one we don’t feed will grow weaker, yet will grow more desperate in its cries in our life until it grows so weak that it quiets down.  We choose which beast to feed.

We can feed the evil nature within us, or we can feed the godly nature within us.   As we spiritually mature, God gives us not only the wisdom and knowledge to act, but also provides us with the strength to ignore the cries of our sin nature and our cursed bodies as we strive to walk more closely with God.  Paul likened this to an athlete’s training:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

We are to use what we learn so that we are not being hypocrites before the world.  Who wants a doctor who weighs 350 pounds, has a terrible cough, drinks alcohol on the job, smokes in the office, and then tells someone who weighs 200 pounds that they need to lose weight and exercise more so that they can become healthier?

Wisdom has great practical application in what is truly important – our spiritual growth and intimacy with our Creator.  But is also has wonderful application in other areas of our lives that appear more practical and have more immediate consequences.

Practical Protection

Wisdom tells us that we should lock our doors in areas with high crime.  Wisdom tells us that we should avoid physical intimacy with people other than our spouses (and to avoid it until we have a spouse).  Wisdom tells us that we should drive sober.

Why?

The answers seem obvious to people who have wisdom, but to those who do not, these general statements of conduct may seem genuinely odd, but make perfect sense once a person who has gleaned wisdom explains it:

  • Those who grew up in areas where there was great trust in their neighbors because they helped one another, and who don’t pay attention to the news, may find that living in Chicago or New York City or Baltimore to be a new experience…
  • Ask anyone who has AIDS, HIV, or any other number of terrible diseases that have a tendency to spread through physical relations with others, and they will tell you their wisdom in the matters of physical intimacy with others
  • Ask the man who lost his job, his family, his car, his home, and everything else he found dear in this life after he has taken the life of another human being while drinking and driving

It has been said that good judgment comes from experience; and experience comes from bad judgment.

Potential for Prosperity

When we apply wisdom to our finances, we may stop spending money on unnecessary items (or re-prioritize what is necessary and what is not) so that we have more money to save or invest.  Proverbs 31 tells of a woman who has great wisdom in many areas of her life.  She applies that wisdom in how she conducts the household while her husband is off at the city gates being an elder (the modern equivalent is being on City Council and the local Judge)

The practical application of knowledge in how life works helps us to make important decisions concerning how we conduct ourselves.  It is only valuable when we are willing to put the lessons that wisdom teaches us into practice.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices to employ all of the wisdom that God has provided for me in daily living?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You know the beginning from the end.  Nothing is hidden from You.  Even before a word is on my lips You already know what it will be.  With all knowledge, and Your perfect character, You are all-wise as well.  Father, help me to navigate through this day so that I honor Your name in all that I do.  Help me to make the necessary changes to how I act, think, and speak so that I can grow in wisdom and knowledge.  Show me how to better conduct myself through Your word so that it would benefit me, my family, and everyone around me.  Provide for my every need, and guard me against all influences that would seek to derail my efforts living for You.  This I ask in the precious name of Your One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

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


This blog has been edited for spelling and grammatical errors.

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?

Combat Training with God – Hebrews 12:1-3

Never Give Up, Never Surrender! (To Sin)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Discard Detritus

The author of Hebrews reminds us to throw off anything that would hinder us in our spiritual pursuit of Almighty God.  Each  of us have issues that are both unique and common, in that we each have trouble spots in our lives that not everyone else has, but that others similarly face and have faced. These issues impede us from our spiritual growth.  For some, it may be the temptation of alcohol.  Others may be sucked in by sports.  Still others by lust.  The list goes on and on.  And while not everyone suffers from these, many do and have, and struggle even to this day with them.

We are reminded to throw these things off.  Is there something in your life that just won’t go away, something that gets you in trouble each and every time that you encounter it?   It is time to bring it to the body, so that others can pray for your deliverance from it:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Run the Race

The Olympic Games were very popular during the time when the author of Hebrews wrote this letter.  The imagery of the games would have been known and understood by all who had read it.  They had seen the training and effort that the participants who entered the games had endured in order to prepare for their opportunity to win their events.

We need to have in our minds the same mindset that the athletes of that day had – a complete and total focus on the goal.  They trained not only their bodies but also their minds for the sole purpose of doing the very best that they could in their field of endeavor.  The proper term is discipline.  They disciplined their bodies and minds.

In modern Western thought, discipline appears to be a pejorative, something that impedes a person from obtaining the desires of their hearts, and interfering with their pleasure and self-fulfillment.  But it is quite to the contrary; discipline helps us to eschew that which does not intentionally drive us towards our goal.  We cull the desires and behaviors that are at odds with our intentions and purposes and distract us from our pursuits so that we will be positioned to reap success from our endeavors.

We need to apply these same techniques and recognize their effectiveness as we learn spiritual discernment so that we can set aside the things that hinder us from completing our objectives.  When we are willing to do this, and allow the Spirit of God to provide us with the strength and endurance to overcome the emotional pain that this type of loss generates, we are able to fully embrace our freedom from sin and say “NO!” to it.  Every time we say “NO!” to sin, we grow a little stronger in our resistance to it.

Ask anyone who has quit smoking tobacco “cold turkey” how difficult it was.  The body rebels against the intentional withholding of the chemicals that brought pleasure and comfort and order with it.  The body rebels, and we may get irritable, the physical being greatly desiring what it is being deprived.  Withdrawal is never pretty, and it is the same way with spiritual withdrawal.  But such courses of action are necessary in order to grow and to regain control of that which we ceded to external stimuli and pressures.  And when we come in contact with other people who are doing what we used to do, the body cries out in a desperate attempt to ensnare the person again.  That is why it is sometimes so difficult for ex-smokers to be around smokers, and for recovering alcoholics to hang around drinkers.

Guide our Gaze

In this case, we have our goal in our sight – Jesus Christ is the one with whom we fix our gaze upon.  It is His example that we need to keep in sight as we move away from sin and move towards righteousness.  When we take our eyes off of the goal, it is easy to become sidetracked, blindsided, and fall back to old patterns of behavior.  It is hard enough trying to break a habit without having people constantly offer the very substance or circumstance that you are trying to avoid.

With spiritual habits, we are constantly bombarded by the devil and his minions to go back to life that we were living.  His calls to return are like daggers that zap our strength and feed the monster we are trying to starve to death.  And like anything else in this life, what you feed will grow, and what you starve will die (eventually).  Some things die long, slow, painful, soul-crushing, whining, loud deaths.  But die they must.  Remember to keep your eyes upon Jesus, our Redeemer, the one who shed His blood so that we could be free from our monsters.  Put the monsters in the dungeon where they belong, and make sure you don’t feed them – the enemies of our souls will try to do all that they can to feed and water them when we aren’t looking or ready for it.  Carefully planned ambushes that we don’t see coming are often the demise of the most well-intentioned Disciple.  Discernment keeps our spiritual eyes aware of our environment as we allow the word of God to light the path for our feet.

Wave off Weariness

Finally, we need to keep our eyes upon Jesus so that we can remember the strength that He had through submission to the Holy Spirit to endure all that God had preordained Him to endure for our sake.  We must always keep heart, even when our flesh and emotions fail us.  For long after our physical strength is exhausted, it is only through determination of heart that we are able to hold on and endure, pressing forward to the goal.  Most of us have not resisted to the point of bloodshed.  Let us remember the price that was paid, and determine in our hearts that the One who endured all of our sins upon the cross is worthy of fighting until our very last breath leaves our body, and we go into glory.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I feeding or starving the monsters I am trying to slay?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Your Son Jesus Christ has shown me the way to victory.  Give me wisdom and discernment to avoid the circumstances that would overwhelm me and cause my spiritual demise.  Help me to starve the monsters of sin that seek to overcome my soul, and give me the strength to resist them with Your word and Your strength when I am faced with them.  Help me to avoid the pits and ambushes of the enemy so that I will be best positioned to grow in Your word and Your ways.  And when there is no apparent way out, help me to remember the option that Joseph took when faced with the overpowering strength of Potiphar’s wife – help me to flee the situation so that I may not become entangled in it.  This I ask and pray in the name of your Most Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

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

 

Spiritual Maturity in Christ – Hebrews 5:11-14

Crave The Milk, But Move To The Solid Food

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Move to Maturity

When the letter to the Romans was written, there was a serious issue going on with that body of believers.  Although they had been walking with the Lord Jesus Christ as His disciples for some time, they were not maturing.  While this may seem odd, we see the same thing today in the Western Church.  We have people who have been walking with God for more than a decade who still call themselves baby Christians.  They should be at a point where you should be able to call on any one of them to come up to the front of a Sunday School class and lead it, but instead, they barely know enough to keep themselves spiritually alive in Christ.

This is the equivalent of a child who is sixteen years old and is still obtaining nourishment from his mother’s teat.  Most people would find it odd that the child has not been weaned from his mother’s milk and onto solid food (it’s a bit creepy as well).  Paul saw Christians in that same position.  These people cling to the promises of God but are not challenged by the word to grow.  They memorize passages like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  However, they have not taken the time to dig deeper and to allow the word of the Living God to penetrate their minds and challenge them to be holy as their Father in Heaven is holy.

If the congregation is doing their job right (delving deep into the word of God and applying its principles and guidance in their lives) and the pastor is doing his job right (going deep and wide in the word of God, imparting the deeper truths about spiritual growth and development and how to implement them in everyday life), they should have the equivalent experience of a Seminary degree after five to ten years of instruction.

If your pastor is still preaching the milk of the word, and you desire the solid food of the word, talk to him and ask him to bring it to the congregation.  Most likely, the pastor will decline, citing that the congregation isn’t ready for it.  And that may indeed be true. In that case, ask that a course be developed that goes deep into the word, and be faithful in attending it.

If you have ever fasted for an extended period of time, coming off the fast requires a progression of dietary changes to prepare the body for the food.  First, liquids are introduced (broth).  After a while, more solid food is introduced with the liquid (such as well-cooked vegetable soups).  Then the body is slowly given solid food (meat is added to the soup, as well as complex starches such as beans and grain-based items).  Moving directly to solid food after an extended fast will cause issues with your digestive system (it’s bad on the Good/Bad scale).  In the same way, people who don’t want to eat solid food will try to maintain their liquid diet.

Develop Discernment

As people are weaned from the milk of the word to the solid food of the word, they need to develop discernment so that they can distinguish what is good from what is evil.  Romans 12:1-2 discusses this very thing:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we submit ourselves to the word and the Holy Spirit, we grow in truth and righteousness, able to test and approve what is good and what is evil.  Our minds are transformed, and we begin to see life from the perspective of a holy, eternal God, who is perfectly complete and balanced in every aspect of His character.  We will then be able to discern what is good and righteous from what is evil and offensive to God.

If we stay with the milk of the word, and don’t move on to solid food, we are like the sixteen-year-old who still suckles his mother, acting like a baby, when he should be growing into adulthood.  It is the trials of this period of life that enable us to take on additional responsibility and develop the ability to think and make well-informed decisions.  We learn about how actions cause reactions and what is needed to move forward in their life.  It is a harsh awakening for people when they are not prepared for the world and thrown out into it to survive.  Coddled young adults generally tend to continue to act like children, and when given responsibility and privilege, abuse it as a child would.

The law in the United States allows sixteen-year-old young adults (or so we hope) to apply for a driver’s permit.  Let us hope that when the time comes, and we are called upon to learn how to drive the more difficult vehicles of life such as marriage (and procreation by implication), operation of a motor vehicle, firearm ownership, and the rights to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, and vote for who will be in authority over us, that we will be mature enough to do these things responsibly.

In the same way, we should be learning and growing in truth and righteousness, learning discernment, so that we can rightly handle the word of God and mature into the people who God desires us to be.  One last thing to remember – milk is still good for us, but solid food is better.  Peter tells us to crave spiritual milk so that we can grow up in our salvation.  Milk is just the primer, the jump-start, and starting point.  Our goal is maturity in the solid food of the word.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I able to digest the solid food of the word of God?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have given us Your word to help us to know You and to guide us as we walk with Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Give me the ability to digest the solid food of the word, that my testing, I would develop discernment in righteousness, abstaining from what is evil, and growing in Your knowledge and grace.  Help me to mature, regardless of where I am currently in my spiritual maturity.  Show me how to better apply Your word to everyday living, and give my heart a great desire to be more obedient to You in all things.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

Spiritual Development with God – 1 John 2:12-14 (NASB)

Everyone Is In A Different Stage Of Spiritual Development

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Past and Present

John reaches out to three groups of believers in both the present tense (first part) and the past tense (latter part).  He is writing to remind them of their spiritual state and growth in Christ.  This may be due to the growth that has occurred in the church, and John wishes to remind those from where they came and where they are now.  He reminds them in both tenses of essentially the same thing for each stage of spiritual development.  He does this to encourage them in their spiritual growth.

Children in Christ

John first mentions the children – the babes in Christ.  He reminds them that their sins are forgiven.  As we throw off the grave-clothes of our old lives, and emerge freed from their restrictive effect upon our spiritual movement, we need to continually remember that we have been forgiven our sins.

The devil and his minions would continually remind us of the past, and try to get us focus on what was rather than on what is – that we are free in Christ.  Young babes in Christ must be reminded that God has forgiven them their sins for two reasons:

  1. We should no longer act in the way that we used to
  2. Now that we are free, we are capable of experentially knowing the Father through participating in His character as we walk with Him

Fine Fathers

John next addresses the more mature followers in Christ – the fathers.  In both tenses, he reminds them of their spiritual maturity in that they know the character of the living God.  Indeed, they have participated in His character and walk in it.  As they walk in God’s character, God reveals more of Himself to them so that they can walk even closer.

This is important to remember as we mature in Christ.  We are to be encouraged to seek out and experience God’s character more and more each day.  And we should remember that we have overcome the first two stages of spiritual development:

  • Childhood – learning to walk
  • Adolescence – overcoming obstacles through strength and discernment

Adolescent Achievers

John finally addresses those who spiritual development is in a state of great spiritual flux.  These are disciples who are learning to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.  They have successfully learned to resist the temptations placed before them, and are about to embark on the more difficult journey of greater spiritual maturity.

John reminds this group in both tenses that they have overcome the evil one.  That is no small thing.  The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to walk with God.  This group has been commended for yielding their lives in holy obedience to God’s word and development in discernment so that they can overcome the devil.  They are beginning to mature, but are not yet walking in full maturity.

Just as young men take on more responsibility and find out who they are as men, so these disciples are finding out who they are in Christ.  They are being proven as faithful and worthy, and will soon discover their place and purpose among the family of believers that they are attached to at present.  Sometimes, there is no substitute for experience that difficulty in life can present.  And once they are trained by it, they will bear much fruit in maturity.

 A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Where am I in my spiritual growth development?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, it is You who have graciously given me the opportunity to walk with Your Son, Jesus Christ, in holiness and obedience.  Without His sacrificial blood, I would still be lost in my sins.  For this I am eternally grateful – that although You are completely just, You have shown me mercy and grace.  Please extend your mercy and grace to all who do not yet know You.  Woo them to You as You have done with me.  Strengthen me in my walk with You that I would mature and be complete, lacking in nothing.  Help me as I walk to further grow spiritually and to be dependent on You completely without reservation.  Help me to be fully obedient to Your Holy Spirit.  Help me to die to self, pick up my cross daily, and follow You.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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