Thursday, May 14, 2015

Perseverance and Prayer

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” –Luke 11:9-10

Perseverance is a quality that we must develop in prayer. When a need arises, the natural tendency in prayer is to pray once or even to neglect prayer altogether. In the weakness of our flesh we often succumb to the pressures to start striving on our own apart from God. Our flesh wants to attempt to control the circumstances we face. God would have us pray and rely upon Him as we go through each trial. When things get difficult and we are tempted to give up in prayer, we are to keep on praying and keep on relying on God.

The Bible has much to say about continuing and being constant in prayer. We are told that it is God’s will for us to pray without ceasing. We are commanded to pray. In another place, we are told to be watchful in prayer. Here in Luke 11, we are told to ask, seek, and knock when it comes to prayer. These verbs are in the present tense, which indicates that we are supposed to keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. Perseverance is continuing in that course of action with little or no indication of change. Prayer often feels this way. We pray and expect God to act immediately, but He doesn’t operate on our time schedule. We pray and then wait, and then pray, and then wait some more. Sometimes this results in us giving up on praying. But when we persevere in prayer, we begin to see God answer and fulfill our prayers in ways that we could never imagine.

Jesus is a prime example to us of perseverance in prayer. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed with perseverance. Remember, He was agonizing over the impending suffering that He would face on the cross. He prayed for another way but He also submitted Himself to the Father’s will and not His own. He didn’t leave the place of prayer until He had prayed three times and sweat drops of blood as He prayed. The disciples were not so diligent. They couldn’t even stay awake and watch as Jesus prayed. This is a great picture of the struggle we face in prayer. Jesus is the ideal. We want to pray with endurance and perseverance like He does, but we usually end up asleep like the disciples.

Lord, teach us to pray and to pray with perseverance.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Perseverance and Persecution

What does it mean to persevere? The word itself means to “continue in a course of action in spite of difficulty or with little or no indication of success.” Perseverance is an action word that describes the way a person lives. It is the action of the one who has the qualities of endurance and patience. It communicates to us that the one who perseveres has endured a task or trial for a period of time with some measure of difficulty or distress. We have many examples of perseverance given to us in the Scriptures or illustrated for us in society. It could be the marathon runner, the gladiator fighting to the death, or the soldier in battle. It also could be the mother raising her children, the father working hard to provide for his family, the pastor shepherding his church, the firefighter extinguishing the flames of a house fire, or the politician taking a stand for morality in a Godless culture. In the passage below, we have the idea of perseverance illustrated.

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” –Matthew 24:9-14

What you've just read is a small portion of the Lord Jesus instruction to his followers on the idea of persecution. Persecution means that Christians will suffer at the hand of unbelievers because of their faith. Jesus promised this to all those who would follow him. Paul echoes the same thing to Timothy by saying that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Here Jesus says that there is coming a time when the unbelieving world will be angry with Christians, they will hate them, and the world will will afflict them physically, and they will even kill Christians for their faith. There is coming a time when Christians won’t even trust each other. Instead professing Christians will betray and hate other Christians. There will be deception by false teachers, and Christian love will grow cold. There is suffering in store for Christians in the world. Jesus says here that the one that endures to the end will be saved. Jesus is not advocating that in order to be saved eternally you must endure to the end. This would be a works-based salvation. Rather, he is describing a future time of persecution called the great tribulation. During this time persecution will become so intense that there will be many professors of Christianity that will apostatize and leave the faith. What Jesus means here is that those who endure—those that persevere through this time of intense tribulation—shall be saved at the second advent of Jesus Christ. Jesus will return to the earth and put an end to all the fighting and persecution that will occur.

While this passage describes for us a yet future time of suffering for Christians, we can be encouraged right now to learn to persevere. Perseverance is connected with the Christian life. After all, once a person trusts in Christ for salvation, they begin a journey that will last the rest of life. Perseverance means that you will continue in your Christian faith until your dying breath. It means that you will remain faithful to the Lord your whole life. Perseverance is the idea of continuance. It is the idea of moving forward, running the spiritual race, walking with the Lord with patience and endurance. In the Scriptures God clearly communicates that He wants Christians to persevere. Peter tells us to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul told Timothy to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews urges us to go on to perfection, to keep moving forward and not to draw back. James tells us to let the trials of life perfect us by giving us endurance.

Think of the coming tribulation and of those who will suffer to the point of death for the Lord Jesus. Christians we need to pray that we will gain that sort of perseverance in our faith. Are you persevering? Are you gaining the qualities of endurance and patience in your life? Let the trials of your life and the suffering at the hands of unbelievers encourage you to keep moving forward and not to draw back. Don’t be discouraged. Be a good soldier. Endure hardship for the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Legacy of Spiritual Growth

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." -Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of the nations. He commanded baptism, and teaching with the goal that these new disciples would be able to observe everything that Jesus commanded. In the early church we see this in action. On the day of Pentecost Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, preaches the good news about Jesus Christ and three thousand people were added to the church. In subsequent days, weeks, and months many more were added to the number of believers. But it wasn't just numerical growth that occurred as a result of Peter's preaching and the ministry of the other apostles. We also see spiritual growth in these people. Consider that just a few short chapters later, we see believers all praying together, giving of their possessions to support each other, distributing to widows, more leaders are chosen, and believers--not just the apostles--go everywhere preaching the word of God. This is the result of believers growing into spiritual maturity.

Spiritual growth is never meant to be exclusive to one person. And it is not meant to be contained to the span of your life. It is meant to be spread to others and to be carried through many generations. Your spiritual life is designed to reach out to others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As you grow into spiritual maturity, you are to pass the truths you have learned on to others. Paul commanded Timothy in this way: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." -2 Timothy 2:2 Spiritual growth is passed on through the teaching of the doctrines of Scripture and the instilling within believers to teach others also.

This growth should span generations. Not only are we to find those faithful men that Paul said to Timothy, but also fathers and mothers are commanded in the Scriptures to teach their children the word of God and bring them up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The family can and should be a powerful tool for promoting spiritual growth. Parents teach children to know and love the Lord, then children get married, have children, and teach their children to know and love the Lord. It is an ongoing process. Spiritual growth is as much a legacy that you can leave behind after you are gone as it is a process that you should see in your life. If we stop and think about it, all believers today are part of a spiritual legacy that has been left by those who have lived spiritual lives before us. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," -Hebrews 12:1

Believers, your spiritual growth can be passed on to others by faithfully proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and by teaching believers to observe all that He has commanded. May we all "..grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." -2 Peter 3:18

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Context of Spiritual Growth

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity...for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore." -Psalm 133:1, 3

Spiritual life is not meant to be lived alone. Christians are not supposed to live in monasteries and seclude themselves from other Christians. Neither are Christians supposed to stick to themselves and try to 'go it alone' without going to church and fellowshipping with other Christians. No, Christians are supposed to dwell together. We are supposed to live this live in unity and oneness. We are supposed to growth spiritually in the context of community. David says that this community is pleasant. In fact, David concludes that when brethren dwell in unity is when the Lord commands blessing. The blessing described is life for evermore.

Your spiritual growth hinges upon your involvement at church with other believers. In Ephesians 4:15 the Apostle Paul speaks of not being children any longer but speaking the truth in love to each other so that we can grow to maturity in Christ. Christianity was designed by God to be a community made up of people who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and who are striving to live like Jesus in every aspect of life.

There are scores of passages in the New Testament that point to the spiritual life in context of community. In fact, most of the epistles of the New Testament are written to churches, not individuals. So the instructions given within those epistles are in the context of community, not singular life. Consider the instruction to the Thessalonian church to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Most people, myself included, often think of these three verses as instructions for the individual Christian's life. But when we stop and think about what it means in the context of the community of believers, it takes on a whole new level of understanding. How does a church rejoice always? How does a church pray without ceasing? How does a church give thanks in everything?

Even in the earliest beginnings of the church we learn that spiritual growth was meant to happen in a culture of community. Acts 2:42 says, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." Here in the early church where the majority of the church had only been saved for a matter of hours, we learn that they continued together. They learned the apostles' doctrine together. They had fellowship--community--with each other. They ate together and prayed together. They were a church that was growing together.

So how about you? Are you growing in the context of community? Or are you attempting to go it alone and do this whole spiritual growth thing by yourself? Remember, you might increase in knowledge on your own, but you will not grow spiritually on your own.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Lifestyle of Spiritual Growth

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” -Romans 12:1-2

We’ve considered where spiritual growth begins and the foundation upon which spiritual growth is built. Now let’s turn our attention to the lifestyle of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is not so much an event as it is a process throughout the course of your life. I think this is a point of frustration for many. A Christian might expect to follow a few steps from the Bible and then—poof!—spiritual maturity is yours! After all, so much of our society operates this way. Eat this pill—poof!—you lose weight! Buy this new deodorant—poof!—everyone will like you! Pay this new tax—poof!—the country’s problems will be solved! There are even false teachers and so-called pastors today that proclaim that you can have your best life right now! But that is not how God has designed our spiritual growth. God designed growth to be much slower. Growth in your spiritual life is comparable to physical growth. Just as we don’t grow to be physically mature in a day or in a week, we don’t grow spiritually in an instant either. Yes, there may be times of rapid spiritual growth where we have great victories and successes towards maturity. But there are also seasons of slow plodding that may seem to drag on and on. But don’t get discouraged, God is still at work, even in the slow seasons.

Here in Romans 12:1, Paul suggests here that spiritual growth is, in fact, a long process. He urges believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. We would do well to notice that Paul is encouraging us to make a decision that has ongoing effects. Make a presentation of your life to God, then live daily in service to Him. How long should we serve God with our lives? Paul doesn’t put a time limit or a number of days on this command. He simply says, “Do this.” All the days of our lives are to be lived in service to God. Whether it be 5 more days, 5 more years, or 5 more decades, we are to live in service to the Lord.

This offering that Paul speaks of is not like in many churches today where people might give of their money but they want a say in where it goes. That is not an offering. That is manipulation and a struggle for power and control. Presenting our bodies to God means that we place our life before God and leave it to be used at His discretion. An offering means surrendering something to another completely free of charge and without stipulation. We can’t put our life before God and then just as He begins to use it we take it back and say, “No Lord! This is not what I gave you my life for!” or “I’ll let you do this, Lord, as long as you compensate me fairly!” We must place our lives before the Lord and humbly live our lives in a holy and acceptable way.

Paul says living this way is our reasonable service. Some translations say here that it is our “spiritual act of worship”. I like this because it points to spiritual growth. If you want to be spiritual and worship the Lord, then you must present your bodies—your entire lives—to Him. If you want to be spiritual, you must live a holy life. If you want to be spiritual, you must live in an acceptable way before God. What does all this mean? It means that we surrender completely to God’s will in our lives and relinquish all rights and desires to Him.

Isaiah prayed, “Here am I Lord; send me.” We would do well to pray this prayer in response to Paul’s command.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Foundations of Growth

"The entrance of thy words giveth light; It giveth understanding unto the simple." - Psalm 119:130

Yesterday we looked at the beginnings of spiritual growth. Undoubtedly, spiritual growth begins with that desire for God to search us, to know us, and to lead us in the way everlasting. Now lets consider the foundations of spiritual growth.

God's Word, the Bible, is the foundation for our spiritual growth. It is the firm foundation, the solid ground. It is the revelation of God's instruction to mankind. It stands to reason that if a Christian desires to grow spiritually, that the Word of God is the place they must turn to find instructions on how to grow. God has chosen to reveal His instructions to us in a special way in His Word. While its true that God has revealed himself to us through creation in a general way, if we want to know specifics about who He is and what He wants from us as human beings, we must turn to his special revelation.

This verse in Psalm 119 tells us that the way to get understanding is through the entrance of God's Word. As you and I read the Bible and gain an understanding of what it means, we learn how to live. You don't need to know much to become a Christian. You need to understand that you are a sinner deserving God's punishment for sin, that Christ died for your sin and rose again, and that if you place your faith in what Jesus did you can be declared righteous and have eternal life as God's free gift. After salvation, God would have you learn and grow to understand much more than this. As a new Christian learns God's Word, he gets to see this verse in action in his life. God's Word gives understanding to the simple. This chapter also tells us that "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (v. 105). As Christians walk through life reading and learning God's instructions, the path to walk on is literally lit up by the Word of God. This process of growth that we desire and need as Christians is laid out for us in the Bible.

It is impossible to grow spiritually without the Bible.  Job said that he considered the words from God "more than my necessary food." That means that Job saw God's Word as more important that even the physical food that he needed to stay alive. Do you feel like you are stuck? Not growing? Frozen in your spiritual life? Let me ask you, are you trying to grow without the Bible? Are you trying to find instruction for your spiritual life outside of God's special revelation to you? Christians, we must read the Bible, study what it says, commit it to memory and practice in our lives. This is the foundation to build our spiritual life on. This is the foundation of growth. Neglect it and you neglect the source of your spiritual growth.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Beginnings of Growth

"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." -Psalm 139:23-24

Spiritual growth is an interesting concept. Most Christians would agree that they need spiritual growth. And most of us acknowledge that we are not fully mature spiritually. In fact, when we take a look deep inside our hearts, we have to admit that we are desperately far from where we often perceive ourselves to be.

Spiritual growth can also be somewhat elusive. How does one grow spiritually? Is there a formula to follow? Are there a set of clearly defined steps that, when taken systematically, lead to maturity? Or is spiritual growth more fluid, adaptive to your situation and needs? Can you grow spiritually on your own? Does it happen automatically? Is it a steady growth or rapid growth? These are valid questions.

These two verses in Psalm 139 strike me as the starting place for spiritual growth. The first step is a desire--a request: search me. The psalmist asks God to search his heart. This is a sincere request and an acknowledgement of imperfection. The psalmist lays his heart before the Lord openly and honestly acknowledging sinfulness and the need for change. "I'm not where I need to be Lord. My heart is wicked. My thoughts are inconsistent. I don't measure up."

In order to grow, we must desire to grow. Its not something automatic, as if we simply float along through life moving towards maturity. No, spiritual growth happens when we first desire it and ask God for it. We must humble ourselves. We must admit we need growth. Pride would have us close up our hearts from God's searching. Pride would have us hide the wickedness and sin that we harbor inside. This hinders and stops us from growing. Humility lays everything out on the table before God. Humility says, "Search me, O God."

Finally, in order to grow, we must pray for God's leading. "lead me in the way everlasting." God's initiative is required for our growth. God must bring us along in the process. We can't run ahead of God and expect to grow. We must follow his leading. Again, this requires humility. You cannot lead yourself to your own spiritual maturity. You must trust God's leading and follow him.

Can you see the starting place of growth? Desire it, ask God for it, and then follow his leading into the way everlasting.