Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Known Causes of Spiritual Growth

Some causes of spiritual growth are mysterious and known only to God. Spiritual growth usually takes quite a bit of time. Unfortunately, some people do not progress very far in spiritual growth over a long period of time. I will proceed to describe some causes of growth that can be easily identified.

One cause of spiritual growth is good spiritual food. Physical babies must have enough healthy food, or their growth will be stunted. The same thing is true for spiritual babies. For one thing, they need adequate Bible study to grow spiritually. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible is the only objective source of spiritual truth that is always reliable, and therefore it is much more authoritative than religious leaders or religious traditions.

A person can obtain spiritual food by studying the Bible as an individual or in a group. Both types of study are necessary for the healthy growth of a Christian. Individual Christians are able to interpret the Bible for themselves and do not require another person to interpret it for them.

Individuals, however, can make mistakes while interpreting the Bible, and for that reason group Bible studies are also important. People can gain new insights about the Bible by hearing or reading the interpretations of other Christians. For that reason, we should not forsake “assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25) because we can encourage one another and gain further understanding about the word of God. All Christians should handle the Bible accurately: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Groups of Christians should test what they hear and determine if a person’s interpretation of one passage is consistent with other passages in the Bible: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

A second cause of spiritual growth is spiritual exercise. In order to experience healthy physical growth, young children must exercise. Muscles exercised will grow. Unused ones will atrophy. This principle is also true in the spiritual realm. If Christians neglect certain spiritual exercises, their spiritual growth will be hindered. According to Hebrews 5:14, mature Christians have acquired skill through being spiritually exercised or trained (gumnazō in Greek). The same Greek word (from which we get the word “gymnasium”) appears in Hebrews 12:11 which describes Christians being trained by God’s discipline (chastening): “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” The word also appears in 1 Timothy 4:7 where Christians are instructed to discipline themselves “for the purpose of godliness.” So we can conclude that God is like a coach or parent for Christians, but Christians are also to be self-disciplined in their spiritual exercise.

The Greek verb nēphō means “to be sober” or “to be self-controlled.” It appears in some verses that answer the question of how Christians can discipline themselves:

"But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation." (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

"But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:5)

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." (1 Peter 4:7)

"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)

Notice that the first and last verses refer to spiritual warfare for which Christians should prepare themselves. It is a reality of the Christian life and cannot be avoided. Preparation for spiritual warfare is a spiritual discipline (exercise). Christians should strive to maintain clean minds and bodies, and they should also strive to stay in proper relationship with God and their fellow human beings so there will be fewer weaknesses for Satan to exploit during the inevitable spiritual battles. These spiritual battles can be won only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second verse above refers to doing the work of an evangelist. All Christians may not have the gift of evangelism, but all Christians are evangelists and should share the gospel on a regular basis with non-Christians. Witnessing is a spiritual discipline.

The third verse refers to prayer, another spiritual discipline. Christians should regularly pray, and their prayers should include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession.

A third cause of spiritual growth is a spiritual family. Not only do young children need good food and exercise; for healthy development they also need a caring family and help from more mature people. Spiritual children have been adopted by God and are part of His eternal family: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). There is one kingdom made up of all Christians, but God also desires that His children be active parts of local churches. The family helps to hold us accountable for spiritual disciplines, and it encourages us when we need it. Every Christian should be an active member in a local church.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dealing with Discouragement

Even the greatest servants of God have sometimes been discouraged. An example was the prophet Elijah. After being used by God to gain a great victory over King Ahab and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah became very discouraged. Elijah sounded suicidal when he said the following in 1 Kings 19:4: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” Christians can learn about some of the causes and cures for discouragement by examining 1 Kings 18-19.

The first cause of Elijah’s discouragement was fatigue. He was psychologically and physically exhausted. Elijah had run from Mount Carmel to Jezreel when “the hand of the LORD was on Elijah” (1 Kings 18:46). Elijah, however, also ran from Jezreel to Beersheba when “he was afraid” (1 Kings 19:3). Later he left Beersheba and went a day’s journey into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah had likely been under a lot of stress during his encounter with King Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal, especially when he killed the prophets (1 Kings 19:40).

The second cause of his discouragement was isolation. Elijah had been running for his life, but after leaving his servant in Beersheba and going alone into the wilderness, he wanted to die. Twice God asked Elijah what he was doing (1 Kings 19:9, 13), and twice Elijah said, “I alone am left” (1 Kings 19:10, 14).

The third cause of his discouragement was the realization that there was a continuing, perhaps unexpected threat from his enemies after a great victory. Elijah probably hoped that everyone, including Ahab and Jezebel, would repent after God displayed His power at Mount Carmel, but that did not happen. Instead, Jezebel sent a message to Elijah in which she promised to kill him (1 Kings 19:2). He became afraid after hearing her words from a messenger.

Like Elijah, Christians can become discouraged due to fatigue, isolation, and continuing, unexpected threats from a committed enemy. Let’s look at the cures for discouragement.

The first cure for Elijah’s discouragement was proper nutrition and rest. When he was at his lowest point and ready to die, an angel touched him and spoke to him (1 Kings 19:5). Did the angel tell Elijah to pray or sing? No. Did the angel tell him to study his Bible or attend a worship service? No. The angel twice told Elijah to eat (1 Kings 19:5, 7). Amen! Christians must realize that even though they have the supernatural Holy Spirit living inside them, their bodies are not yet supernatural, and they must be good stewards of them. Christians must balance work and exercise with proper nutrition and rest.

The second cure for his discouragement was the reception of clear instructions from God. Elijah had fought some major battles, but God indicated that He was not finished with Elijah by giving him some new assignments during a time of personal revival (1 Kings 19:15-17). Christians are happy when they are doing the work that they know God wants them to do.

The third cure for his discouragement was the realization that he was not alone in God’s service. God told Elijah the following in 1 Kings 19:18: “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Christians must realize that they should work as part of a team—a local church. God did not design them to be spiritual “lone rangers.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Starbucks and You Know What

I had a cup of Starbucks coffee today. It was delicious, of course. In the Commercial Appeal (the Memphis newspaper) this past Sunday, there was an interesting Associated Press article about Starbucks by Allison Linn. She described Starbucks’ ambitious goal of “having 40,000 stores worldwide,” but two statements in the article particularly caught my eye:

1. Joshua Sanders of Seattle was asked why he preferred Starbucks over a competitor. He answered, “It’s the coffee.”
2. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz “said he thought the company had been vastly underestimating the worldwide demand for its items.”

Can you see where I’m going with this? I don’t need to say more, do I?

Addition to This Post

One of my buddies told me today that I need to explain the above comments. My point is this: Starbucks coffee is the main thing at Starbucks. The atmosphere is great for conversations, witnessing, etc., but people go there for the coffee. There is a great demand for it worldwide. Compare this situation to our churches. We worry about the atmosphere and how we will adapt to the surrounding culture, and this concern is important, of course. The main thing, however, is Jesus. If He is being strongly reflected in our lives, people will be drawn to Him. There is a great demand for Him worldwide.