Spiritual Development

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”   

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Do you ever feel like your spiritual life is not making progress? It can happen when we get discouraged, exhausted and overwhelmed. You’re not alone if you’ve felt that way before or you feel that way now. When I feel that way, I’m reminded of the promise in this verse, and it gives me hope and confidence that God is not finished. He hasn’t given up on me, and He hasn’t given up on you! If spiritual development were solely up to us, we would be in trouble. The Bible tells us that the very God who began His good work within us is the same God who will continue that work until it is finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns!  That takes the pressure off. There’s joy in knowing that spiritual development is His business. He does the work in us that He may do a work through us. It’s a process that will continue until it is finished on the day Christ Jesus returns. That reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw one time that said, “Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet!” We are all under construction as God shapes us into the very image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And God promises to finish the work He began. When you feel incomplete, undone or distressed by your hurts, habits and hang-ups, remember God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 to continue the GOOD work He began in you when you trusted Jesus as your Savior. Even when I feel like I am not making any progress, God is still at work. Let God complete what He began and rejoice that it is His business.

Bullseye

My aim is to know Him….”

Philippians 3:10 (NET)

What are you aiming at in life? Living a more focused life means aiming at the target God has for your life. The problem is that many people find themselves shooting at the wrong target or they just shoot randomly and, then, draw a circle around it like the guy in the cartoon comic. When he was asked, “Why do you do that?” he said, “Because, that way, I never miss!” To hit the target that God has for your life, you must narrow your focus to the one thing that changes everything. For years, Saul of Tarsus was aiming at the wrong target. When he encountered Jesus, Saul’s focus changed! His name even changed from Saul to Paul. Paul narrowed his focus to one thing. He said, “My aim is to know Jesus.” Paul wasn’t satisfied with just knowing about Jesus nor was he content with a single encounter. The Amplified version offers some more clarity as to his focus. “…that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly….” For Paul, the one thing that changed everything was a growing intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The circumstances of life didn’t matter. Whether he was preaching or in prison, well fed or hungry, having plenty or in want, his aim remained the same, to know Christ. What are you aiming at? What is your bull’s-eye? When your aim is to know Christ, it takes the pressure off of trying to achieve some particular goal or end. Oswald Chambers said you discover that God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process. You begin to experience the joy of the journey as you share it with Him. Every circumstance that arises, regardless of the situation, is one in which you have opportunity to experience knowing Jesus in a new and vital way. Peace replaces the stress of having to make something happen. He offers His strength for our weakness and turns even our messes into miracles of grace! God created you to love you and for you to know Him. Imagine your life right now with that kind of aim.

The One Thing

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”      

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

Steve Uzzell said, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at the time.” Studies show that trying to focus on more than one thing causes a 40% drop in productivity. (That’s 2.1 hours a day that’s lost due to interruptions or distractions.) Jesus told us that if we would focus on one thing, it would change everything! In other words, if you want to broaden your life, you must narrow your focus. By focusing on this one thing, we could reduce our stress and increase our productivity while at the same time having all our needs met. What is the one thing that changes everything? It’s a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds great, but how? How do I have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ?”   Great question! The answer is two-fold:

  • Let Christ love you.
  • Give Christ the first and best of your life.

These sound so simple. The problem is that life happens, and we are easily distracted. This was the case of a woman named Martha. You can read her story in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus came to her house to visit her and her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. While Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him speak, Martha was distracted with all her preparations. When you read their story, you quickly see the contrast between a focused life and a distracted life. It wasn’t long before Martha became upset that Mary wasn’t helping her. She vented her anger to Jesus when she asked Him, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me.” (Vs. 40) I love how Jesus responded to her. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only ONE THING is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Vs. 41-42) While we all want to have a heart like Mary, most of us get as distracted as Martha, and our stress levels show it. A lot of what we think is important is really a distraction, and what we think are distractions may be divine appointments! If we are to have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, we must let Christ love us; to do that, we must sit at His feet, as Mary did, to listen to what He has to say. So many people know about Jesus but do not really know Him. I think it’s fascinating that of all the disciples, Mary was the only one who took His words to heart about His death on the cross. We find her in John 12 anointing Jesus’ body for burial with expensive perfume that was worth a year’s wages. This extravagant gift was an expression of her love for Christ and evidence that she heard what He was trying to tell them. She didn’t need to go to the tomb with the other women to anoint Him after His death because she sat at His feet and understood the depth of His love for her. I wonder what Jesus would like to say to you and me if we would just let Him love us. To let Christ love you like that, you must sit at His feet and listen.

Conquering the Enemy Within

“For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.”   

Psalm 125:3 (NKJV)

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide.” You can apply that personally as well. A Pogo comic strip put it like this, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” We are our worst critic and our worst enemy at times. If you are a Christ follower, you face three lethal enemies daily. They are sin, self and Satan. Theologians will refer to them as the world, the flesh and the devil. The good news is that the Bible assures the believer in 1 John 4:4 (NKJV) that, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Will-power alone is not enough. We need God’s power. However, with the will, we can choose to put God first, to yield our bodies, minds and souls to His control. Romans 8:13-14 tells us how. It says, For if you live according to [the dictates of] the flesh, you will surely die. But if through the power of the [Holy] Spirit you are [habitually] putting to death (making extinct, deadening) the [evil] deeds prompted by the body, you shall [really and genuinely] live forever. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (AMPL)

We all fight a battle within. Conquering the enemy within is possible through our union with Christ. He is the powerful ally we turn to. He conquered death, hell and the grave at the cross! “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world!” Someone once described the battle within like two pit bulls fighting for domination. Which one will win? The one you feed. Feed your soul with the Word of God. It’s the Sword of the Spirit! The victory is yours, and the battle is the Lord’s! He’s already won it! Because we live in a fallen world and are born with a sinful nature, we will fight this battle within until Jesus comes again. Yet, we are not defenseless. He has not left us to fight alone. Choose to follow Christ and be led by His Spirit. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 NIV)

Fully Developed in Christ

“Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”   

Galatians 4:19 (NLT)

The goal of every good parent is to see his children grow up into healthy, mature adults. Years of prayer, training and nurturing are part of the process. When Paul was writing to the Christ followers in the region of Galatia, he knew they were struggling in their spiritual growth. As he writes this letter to them, he expresses the goal that God has for their lives – for Christ to be fully developed in them. The Amplified Bible translates his concern like this:

My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is completely and permanently formed (molded) within you.”

Another translation puts it this way, “… until Christ may be seen living in you.” (CEV) Can Christ be seen living in you? It’s easy to “put on Christ” at church on Sunday. What about Monday at work or school or home? In the mundane duties of life, can Christ be seen living in you? One of my favorite Bible teachers used to say that for Christ to be fully developed in me is not the consequence of my capacity to imitate Christ – but the consequence of His capacity to reproduce His life in me! That’s exactly the point Paul was making to these Galatians. They would never achieve that measure of maturity in their own strength by following rules and regulations. Christ would develop their characters and shape their lives from the inside out through His indwelling presence. Their task, as is ours today, is to remain rightly related to Him. As we do, we will grow in the grace of God until we become men and women of mature character reflecting the very life of Christ.