Spiritual Growth

I have written to you who are God’s children because you know the Father. I have written to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning. I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong. God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one.“– 1 John 2:14. 

As Christians, we recognize that maturity is the goal of discipleship. While that is the stated goal, reaching the goal is not all that easy. Working toward the goal inevitably surfaces our shortcomings, in essence, our immaturity. So how do we grow in maturity to become the person we want to be in 5 years? 

In the 1 John passage above, John says “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” In that line John revealed one of the secrets to spiritual growth: the Word of God abiding in him.  There are numerous things that can and do prevent maturity because they divert the attention of the believer from the very thing that will bring it about; knowledge of the word of God. I am not talking only about Bible study. That in and of itself is not enough. In the 1st John passage, John says, ”God’s word lives.” It is deeper than reading the word. Maturity is where the word takes hold of us. It “lives”, it penetrates the heart and controls the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12)    

The prophet Jeremiah understood the importance of making God’s Word part of his life by digesting and assimilating every morsel. “When I discovered your words, I devoured them.They are my joy and my heart’s delight…” (Jeremiah 15:16). Peter writes, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment.” (2 Peter 2:2). The spiritual milk that Peter is talking about is God’s word. And the more we feed on it, the more we will grow. 

So how can we get the Word of God more involved in our lives? There are many ways to do this and all of us should be involved in more than one: Quiet time (Just a few minutes each day in the Word and prayer can help us make that personal connection with God), Bible reading, Bible study, and attending a church where you will hear the word preached.  

When we became Christians, it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of God’s work in us. As a result, our constant goal should be to grow more into the plans and purposes God has for us. There are always new levels of faith, and growth that can help us mature in our relationship with God. The goal is to reach new levels over the next five years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If your goal is to grow spiritually over the next five years, where do you start? 
  2. Where do you want to be spiritually in 5 years?  

Fear Less

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” –  Isaiah 41:10.   

Fear is a strong motivator and very difficult to resist. We allow it to paralyze us when we know we should act, to work us into a frenzy when we know we should remain calm; it causes us to stretch the truth, to dictate relationships and to guide our interactions with each other. Fear can drive us to do things that we otherwise would not do. As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we deal with fear? How are we to respond to fears in our past? In our present? And how can we prepare for fears we have yet to face?

Jesus knew that we would be afraid. That is why we read “fear not” over and over again in the Bible. God knows that we alone cannot overcome our fears. Fortunately His love and grace enable us to conquer our fears. The good news is God does not want us living in fear. 

If we are going to do and be all that God intended, then we have to decide to silence the negative voices of fear and instead listen to and speak the truth of God’s Word.  The devil will try to fan your fears with “what if you fail?  What if you embarrass yourself?” In those times, concentrate on the promises and reassurance of God. Remember His power, love, presence and trustworthiness. Remember His faithfulness.  The reality is that Christ is with us and He is at work in and through us. He is on our side, protecting us always.

Jesus asks us to turn our fear over to Him.  Replace that fear with the love, power and sound mind that He did gives us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) His presence is the answer to our fear.  Fight fear with a faithful, indescribable God.

The only way to deal with fear is to face it head-on before it takes over your life. Trust that God is for us and if God is for us what do we have to fear?  “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What fears do you have in your life today? 
  2. What can we do this week to give those fears to God?  

Parable of the Sower

“Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. – Mark 4:1-3. 

Unfortunately, it seems that many of the stories told by Jesus (the parables) have lost their power to surprise and inspire us. One reason is that they often include images and anecdotes from everyday life that are significantly unrelated to most of our day-to-day lives. After all, how many of us have any first-hand experience with sowing seeds in a field and understand what goes into cultivating a fruitful harvest? Another reason is familiarity: With the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed is among the best-known of these stories of Jesus. 

To understand the parable of the sower you need to understand the farming techniques of the days of Jesus. In our western civilization we prepare the soil prior to planting the seeds. In the times of Jesus they spread the seed before the soil is prepared. That is why Jesus gives four types of soil that the seed falls on. In this parable, Jesus does not tell the sower to judge the soil or decide what soil is ready for planting and what soil is not ready. He says that the sower sows the seed. It is not our job to judge, discern, or decide what soil is ready for a seed to be planted. It is our job to sow the seeds regardless of soil condition.

Isaiah 55:10-11 adds some insight into this parable: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” Isaiah reminds us that God’s word produces fruit and always achieves the end for which he sent it. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that, “the word of God is alive and powerful” (4:12). God scatters the seed whether we’re ready, paying attention, or willing to receive the seed at all. This is part of God’s gracious self-giving. God is always speaking to us and the seed is always being sown. 

God continually sows the seeds of His Kingdom today. It falls on all kinds of “soil.” It is up to each of us to look at our heart, and determine what type of soil we are and whether we allow that seed to put down root and begin to change your life today and five years from now.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the “soil” of your heart and soul at this time in your life? 
  2. What can you do this week to fertilize the soil of your hearts? 

Idle Rest

“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.” – Mark 4:38-39.  

Our lives have gotten so cluttered up with things we think we “should” do, we can’t figure out what we were meant to do. Getting our evening to morning priorities right is the only way to ensure we stay healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. Jesus Himself set boundaries around His time as we see in Mark 4. The passage goes on to say: “Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:40-41)

This story is well-known to most Christians, but think about the scenario for a second. Jesus sees the crowd and knows there is work to be done. He knows people need to be healed, demons need to be cast out, and lessons need to be taught. But yet Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat, and once there, He falls asleep. Yes, the needs of the people are urgent, and their pleading for healing must have been compelling, but Jesus knows that He needs to stop and rest. If even the Son of God needs to stop and rest with all that is going on around Him, and with all of the important things He has to do, don’t you think we need rest, too?

While Jesus needed to stop and rest He was never idle. He packed his life full of more activity than was possible to record. Read through the Gospel of Mark and you will see that the word “immediately” appears some 40 times.  Mark 1:29: “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” Mark 1:12: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Jesus was always on the move from one activity to another. 

It sounds like I am suggesting that we both rest and run at full speed. What I am suggesting is that we follow Jesus’ example and set boundaries on our time, in order to get the rest we need, but also to live full lives. In order to do both we need to again follow Jesus’ example and do what we are meant to do rather than what we are supposed to do.  We usually will not burn out doing the right things. We burn out because of what you don’t do. We don’t say no to unimportant things so we can concentrate on the important things in our lives. We can work all day and all evening doing what God calls us to do, but in order to keep doing that we need both rest and the time to connect with Him on a regular basis.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is is possible to rest and be productive in the same day? 
  2. What can you do this week to connect to find a better balance between the two? 

Time Management

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” – Romans 13:11. 

Whether we assign a dollar value to it or not, time is valuable to us. Think about it: How much of your time do you spend stressed about not having enough time to do what you need to do. We all want to get better at time management. There are lots of different ways to help us better manage our time – you can download apps, adjust your sleep time, create lists, etc. 

Some people have the mistaken idea that time management is all about cramming more stuff into an already overloaded schedule. But that is not good time management. Good time management is all about finding the right balance in all the different areas of life. When thinking of how we view time and time management, we should start with Jesus. 

Jesus uniquely maintained a balance between worship, prayer, family, friends, work and rest. Jesus regularly spent time in prayer and in studying the Scriptures. After a long evening of healing that extended after sunset we read that,  Mark 1:35 (ESV) says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” The more Jesus worked, the more He prayed. He recognized the need to spend time communing with God to refresh Himself.  Similarly He was immersed in the Word of God – so much so that when the Devil challenged Him in the wilderness, He answered using three passages from Deuteronomy.

Jesus fulfilled everything He set out to do, but the top priority is found in Luke 4:43.. After a busy day of healing and casting out demons, people pressed Him to stay, But He said, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” Jesus also put a high priority on people. He spent a disproportionate amount of time with those who would carry on His ministry. Even so,  Jesus made time for individuals. In the midst of Jesus’ busy ministry, he did not let the urgent crowd out the important. The Gospel encounters are made up of a string of accounts of individuals whom Jesus paused with. He did not pause with everyone; He spoke only to one Samaritan at the well, only one rich young ruler, only one tax collector, but He found time for these individuals. As Christians, we should be managing our time because it is not ours. Just as we should think of our possessions and money as on loan to us from God, so is our time.

We also need to remember that our time is limited. We have been given a certain amount of time here on earth for our lifetime. When we rightly view all time as belonging to God, then we see how we fill that time in a different light. Remember that no one gets it all done, we only have to do the things God wants us to do—no more and no less.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If your time belongs to God, ask yourself these two questions: (1) What will be the result of this activity in five years? (2) What will be the result of this activity in eternity?

Jump In The Deep End

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” –  Luke 5:4

As Christians we are longing for a deeper and more meaningful Christian life. We sense that the answer is found with God and that the Holy Spirit has placed that passion within every Christian to know God and grow spiritually. But how does the Christian dive deeper into spiritual things?

The Christian faith is not boring, mundane, or safe. It is the greatest adventure any human being can ever experience. It demands all you have and are, and then it demands more. It demands that we be all in. The gospel costs us nothing. We can’t earn it or buy it. The gospel is a free gift because of God’s grace. But while it doesn’t cost anything, it demands everything.  

That’s where we get stuck. We get stuck in a spiritual no man’s land.  Most people struggle with total commitment. Yes, we have good intentions. And yes, for the most part we want to be “all in” at least until the reality of being all in sets in. Then we are not so sure. We have so many moving parts in life that we worry about what to let go and what to hold on to tightly. So there are parts of our lives that we are still trying to control. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer.  It’s not true.  The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer.   

No one has ever sacrificed anything for God.  You always get back more than you gave up.  The eternal reward always outweighs the earthy sacrifice.  At the end of the day, our greatest regret will be whatever we didn’t give back to God.

Being “all in” for Jesus is turning to Him again and again, not just in difficult times but in good times too because connecting with Him remains the first priority in our life.  Being all in is trusting His Word and promises more than life itself. It is willing to take risks for our faith—for Him—and step out to represent Him to those around us.   

It may take longer than five years to learn to turn to Jesus consistently from our heart and not just in our head.  It’s a process, similar to a toddler learning to walk. It is one step at a time. And when all those steps are completed you can find yourself all in and in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the idea of being “all in” for Jesus mean to you?  
  2. What can we do this week to begin the process of becoming the you, you want to be in 5 years? 

Asleep At The Wheel

The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!”” – John 11:12. 

Sleep is essential to life, yet most people think that life is too short to sleep all the time. But life is also too short not to sleep a large part of the time. The fact is, we need sleep but in many cases are not getting it. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control declared sleep deprivation a public health problem, with 30 percent of adults getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Yet God created you and me to require sleep for a healthy life.

In fact, we need sleep to survive. We all know that going without ample sleep has drastic effects on us physically and emotionally. There are many different reasons you might notice that you aren’t able to doze off to dream land. All of us wake up at times during the night, and the first thing that pops into our heads is a big problem we’re worried about. The best thing you can do is stop yourself from going there and redirect your thoughts to something less stressful. If you get caught up on the worry treadmill, you’ll stay awake much longer.

 Even as Americans trade sleep for other needs, researchers have discovered more than ever about the significance of sleep. Their findings agree with the age-old adage of the psalmist: “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127:2)  

Beneath a God who never slumbers, sleep is a great gift that points to a God who meets our needs and cares for us. God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious but should rest in him.  Psalm 3:5-6 says, “I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.  I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.”Then we read in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.”  

Commit to improving your sleep as you work through these this week. Realize that God created you as a whole person—spirit, soul and body. Those three areas affect each other. So as you are strengthening your spirit, strengthen your mind and body with better sleep. This will, in turn, strengthen your spirit and help you be the you that you want to be in five years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is sleep to you? What is preventing you from sleeping well? 
  2. What can we do this week to put away our concerns and trust in God? 

Good Evening Lord

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” – James 4:8. 

After a long day of work, most people envision an evening of relaxation and maybe watching some TV. But even though having the rest of the night to do whatever you want sounds amazing, there are ways to make the most of your night and be just a little bit more productive. While chilling and watching TV can be very entertaining, sometimes the best use of your time is to spend it doing something that makes you prepared for tomorrow and five years from now.

Rather than watching TV or working on your computer till midnight, maybe it would benefit you more to get some additional sleep. Or maybe you would be better served planning for the next day, or in Bible study or searching ways to better use your gifts. Maybe the time would be better served going deeper in spiritual, physical or creative activities and studies.  

But here is something to keep in mind: God can show up at any time. God will not limit Himself to your designated time for Bible study and prayer. You could be adding some structure to your evenings, planning the day or week ahead when the presence of God shows up. You could be sleeping when God jolts you awake. You may initially grumble that God does not respect your schedule. But if God shows up there is a reason. If God is trying to get your attention there is a purpose. 

It doesn’t matter when God wants to communicate with us. We need to learn how to recognize God’s still, small whispers to our hearts. We get so enamored with our schedule, we expect God to be enamored with it as well. The truth is we should never be too busy for God. God loves us enough to communicate with us, even if that means shaking us out of our daily routine to get our attention.

In the morning and evening we need to recognize His presence. We need to come close to God, and God will come close to us. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world also needs to recognize that God can and will sovereignly choose how He speaks to us and leads us. We also need to avoid becoming routinized in how we expect to experience God’s presence.

When you draw near to God, He promises to draw near to you ( James 4:8). Not just as something that happens occasionally, but throughout your days, every day, so that all of your life, even the most ordinary parts, becomes extraordinary because it’s infused with His presence. And it is there, in his presence, that you’ll find fullness of joy, no matter what is going on in your life. “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can the time between evening and morning be so important? 
  2. What can we do this week to recognize the importance of the evening hours?

Good For The Soul

“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” – Jeremiah 6:16. 

It is hard to imagine what technology will bring us in 25 years. Even five years will probably bring a whole new level of possibilities. You would think the world would be a perfect place considering the progress we have made in every area of life over the centuries. But while we have made unbelievable strides, we are still far from perfect people living a crime-free, disease-free, utopia. Yes, technology and science have made great strides, but I am not sure technology or science will ever truly understand the human soul. No matter how far MRI and other technologies have come, they can’t find where the soul is in the human body. Since it can’t be found it can’t be studied. There are no prescriptions, surgery or treatments a doctor can prescribe for the soul. But we know that we have one: and we know that the You in Five Years will be a reflection of the condition of your soul/heart, good or bad.

Toxic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural influences are the bad. While it is impossible to avoid avoid contact with such toxins in our culture, we don’t have to be contaminated by them. You can protect your soul and start experiencing the pure life that God wants you to enjoy. Things like identifying the lies that deceive you. Or changing behaviors that harm your walk with God and your witness to others. Focus on the things of God rather than the things that are not of God; things like emotions, consumptions, habits, etc.   If you think unhealthy thoughts, you’ll become an unhealthy person. But if you think healthy thoughts that reflect God’s truth, you’ll become more like Jesus, as God intends you to become. Regularly pray for the ability to view the situations you encounter as God sees them so you can have the right perspective on them. Every day, ask God to show you which thoughts that enter your mind are good and those that are not so good. Focus on the things that are good. Try to rid your heart of envy. Minimize the times you get angry.

Break free of fear. God gives you a spirit of power, love, and peace – not fear. Rather than placing your faith in all the “what-ifs” of life and feeling afraid of what may or may not happen, place your faith in God who is in charge of your future and wants what’s best for you. Pray about the fear in your life and surrender it to God, asking Him to help you trust Him more with it. The closer you become to God, the less you’ll struggle with fear. And finally break free of any negative influences in your life: materialism, media, poor company, etc.

I pray that each of us can make the main thing the main thing, shed ourselves of any toxic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural influences, and begin each day by asking, “How can I magnify you today, Lord, and become the person you want me to be in five years?” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you think about your soul? How are the soul and purpose connected?   
  2. What are some preliminary steps we can take to make our soul/heart healthy? 

Knowing God

“This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 9:23-24. 

Of all the goals for the future, one of most important is knowing God.  It is probably safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, have been so busy trying to “do” Christianity that we neglected the “know” part.  We give our time, our money, and our resources to God’s work while forgetting the most critical connection with Christ. 

No one ever disagrees that knowing God is central to the life of a Christian. We can know about God, but that is quite different from knowing God. What does it mean to know God? The idea of knowing God can seem abstract. It can seem like a pie-in-the-sky concept that most people can never attain. But you can know God.  If you don’t know God as well as you like, five years is a sufficient amount of time to get better acquainted with our Savior and Lord. 

Knowing God is not about joining a religion, following a set of rules, or even about being a “good person”.  Knowing Him is about having your own personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe, discovering just how much He truly loves you, and embarking on the journey of loving Him in return. Too often we see truly knowing God as a chasm seldom crossed. We assume that “encountering or really knowing God” only happens in extreme miraculous or emotional experiences. There is nothing wrong with wanting and seeking those experiences, but we should not overlook the moment-by-moment encounters we have with God’s Spirit every day. Knowing God is more than an acquisition of knowledge or information. Nor is it just a fact finding mission. 

Knowing God means encountering Him. Knowing God means communing with Him. It is getting to know Him as a loving Father. Knowing God means there is a relationship. Knowing God is the byproduct of regular, consistent time spent with Him, in His word and in prayer. Knowing Him is when we are no longer content with learning about Him but want to really know Him. 

My prayer over the next five years is that each of us make knowing God a priority in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to “know” God?   
  2. What can we do in the short-term to better know God?