Why You Have To Plan To Grow Up

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more helpful content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.


So, if it is true here and here, why does Growing Up still seem so hard? Why does my spiritual life often seem like one step forward and two steps back.

To have the faith of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t I be making more progress than I am?

Here is where we get to the part of the Growing Up plan that involves our input. In order to cultivate our faith muscles and be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we have to participate in Growing Up Exercises (traditionally these are referred to as Spiritual Disciplines or as James Bryan Smith calls them, Soul-Training Exercises).

The concept of Growing Up Exercises is simple – working directly on our spiritual selves so that God can have the largest impact on our lives.

Sure, could God completely change me and turn me from an impatient person to a patient person, from a greedy person to a generous person, from a angry person to a loving person on the spot? He absolutely could and does, on occasion, but his preferred method is to give us his promises and tools and work with us to create change.

Even Paul talks about his need to Grow Up. His life was turned upside down on the Road to Damascus but there were still parts of Paul that needed to Grow Up. So it is with us, and spiritual disciplines allow us to train so that God has the biggest impact.

The list of Growing Up Exercises are vast, you can find the most helpful ones here and here. The issue is not which exercises you are doing but are you in training? Are you working to Grow Up because you know that your call to salvation under Christ is also a call to a mature, transformed, fulfilled life?

God has provided the gifts, tools, and power but there is a part for us to play. So start Growing Up and get training!

 

photo credit: Robert Hruzek

How The Holy Spirit Helps You Grow Up

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more interesting content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.


I often have been confused by the role and responsibility of the  Holy Spirit in Growing Up.

File:St Peters Holy Spirit window.JPG

Last week, we looked at the four essential components of Growing Up presented by James Bryan Smith in his Apprentice book series. The center piece of the Triangle of Transformation is the Holy Spirit. Smith describes the work of the Holy Spirit like this:

The Spirit leads us to Jesus, reveals the Father, exposes falsehood, offers correction, and gives us the needed encouragement that make growth and transformation possible. The Spirit helps us change our narratives by leading us into truth, enlightens us as we practice the disciplines, and binds us together in community. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place.

 

The Holy Spirit is so essential to our faith, that scripture says that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. We need to understand that trying to Grow Up without the Holy Spirit is like trying to nail a board to a wall with a Fischer Price hammer. It might happen but it is unlikely.

So it is our job to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to make change possible. We can do this by making ourselves available to the work of the Holy Spirit. Invite the Holy Spirit and acknowledge that any desire I have for growth, any movement towards God, and progress in the spiritual life is coming from the Holy Spirit.

How encouraging to know that my growth doesn’t have to come from my own will power, my own talents and abilities, my own determination. Growing Up is a by product of the Spirit working through my limited capacities and humble attempts at devotion and formation.

What a gift.

 

photo credit: Chris Sloan

portions of this post were found in a previous entry

Tactics Can Be Dead Ends

plan

I have been hesitant in this space to offer recipes and tactics for spiritual growth. You can find those in previous versions of the blog. Tactics and exercises without an understanding of the goal and the purpose behind them easily become instruments for pride and moralism.

Through reading this blog, I hope you have had a slight tug in your spirit and a craving in your soul for a life in Christ that reflects his mighty work and is worthy of his glory. This is no fleeting emotional trick, this is the Holy Spirit pushing you towards Christ.

Without this inspiration, all the tactics in the world will be dead ends. So, I have focused on helping you understand areas of weakness and improvement and sparking your interest in taking steps forward to a mature Christian life.

Is There Help With This Change Stuff?

I often have been confused by the role and responsibility of the  Holy Spirit in

Cover of "The Good and Beautiful God: Fal...

Cover via Amazon

spiritual growth. One book that helped clarify this for me was James Bryan Smith’s Good and Beautiful God. In it he presents a model of four components to life change – personal narrative (the way we think), spiritual disciplines, community, and The Holy Spirit. He describes the work of the Holy Spirit like this:

The Spirit leads us to Jesus, reveals the Father, exposes falsehood, offers correction, and gives us the needed encouragement that make growth and transformation possible. The Spirit helps us change our narratives by leading us into truth, enlightens us as we practice the disciplines, and binds us together in community. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place.

So it is our job to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to make change possible. We can do this by making ourselves available to the work of the Holy Spirit. We can invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Second, we can provide avenues for the Holy Spirit to work more effectively. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in.

Inside Out

Now that we know who our teacher is we have to watch out for a major pitfall –  trying to do what Jesus says. Our goal is not to try but to train ourselves to become like Jesus. This is the power of off-the-spot training (spiritual disciplines) that reorients our lives and begins to work on our heart, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.

To figure out this “inside out” stuff, take a Bible and turn to I Corinthians 13. This is a familiar chapter full of descriptions of what love is. The easiest thing to do is to say, ” Because love is patient and kind I have to go out and be patient and kind.” The problem is I have taken on the sole responsibility to modify my behavior and change something about myself. By shear will, I will change. This determination cannot be sustained and we end up failing again and again.

By contrast, what if I took John 15 to heart and worked on abiding in Jesus, the true vine. By staying connected to the vine, I am constantly tapping into the source of Christ within me and I gradually begin to change and begin to produce fruit such as kindness and patience. Christ is the one who does the changing and transforming. I simply have to remain in the vine through prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

Confessions Of A Christian Worshiper

I have a confession to make. I don’t like church music.

No, I am not trying to start a debate about worship styles, instruments, or lyrics. I basically have the same reaction during worship with an organ and a hymn book as I do with electric guitars and lyrics written last month. Church music and the participation in singing just doesn’t connect with me. Sure, there have been moments when the Holy Spirit has moved during a song and I couldn’t help but respond (even raising my hands!?!), but overall I connect more with the scripture reading, prayers, and sermons.

I am sure there are many people who are the opposite from me. They have a deep connection and a spiritual response to the music while the sermon falls flat for them. And that is fine. I have in the past beat myself up for my lack of enthusiasm and activity during worship singing and have had discussions with my wife about why I don’t always sing and why I cross my arms during the singing.

For me, I am unable to lose myself during worship. I think it is the corporate nature of it. All of these people singing in unison kind of messes with my introverted, loner tendencies. I have a hard time seperating the song from the crowd so I can experience its message and power for myself. This is why I will sometimes stop singing and just read the words and let them dwell into me for a moment.

Singing for me doesn’t allow for dwelling, it only allows for experiencing and activity. I don’t feed off of activity and experiences but stillness, written words, and teaching. The strange part of it is, I  love music and have been to many concerts and consider some music as deeply part of my spiritual life.

Thankfully, God has convicted me of hiding behind my personality and refusing to participate just because church music “isn’t my thing”. I have discovered ways to remind myself that worship is for God and not for myself. I have started to read the lyrics while I am singing and not just when I am not. Worshiping with music is slowly becoming an important aspect of my spiritual life and one that is much needed.

Let Him Hear: Reading Revelation For Spiritual Growth #3

Holy Spirit Stained Glass

Image by hickory hardscrabble via Flickr

I have an idealist streak in me and I take injustices and problems, especially in churches, as a blow to my sense of what is right in the world. I get easily discouraged and angry. I fantasize about churches where people “get it” and the life and work of Jesus is taken seriously. I romanticized the early church as containing a group of people who never were distracted, selfish, or in turmoil. But I guess I haven’t read my New Testament well enough. Paul’s letters were primarily letters to churches who had some problem or another and Paul was writing to set them straight.

Now, in Revelation, Jesus through John, is addressing seven churches who need encouragement and exhortation. It turns out that these churches contain individuals who barely resemble what they once were in Christ, or have turned their back on the faith and are pursuing other idols and pagan practices. Others are so non-distinct and complacent that Jesus is crying for them to be either hot or cold instead of lukewarm. Otherwise, he will have to spit them out of his mouth.

All of this to say, the early church had as many problems and maybe more serious ones than our churches today. And, these churches are made up of people who are just as prone to being derailed by culture, or losing their passion for Christ, or falling into false teachings as individuals today. People haven’t changed a whole lot in 2000 years.

The message for us is the same as it was for the early church. “If you have ears, let them hear the message of the Holy Spirit.” Open our ears Lord, let us hear.

Let Him Hear: Reading Revelation For Spiritual Growth #2

Holy Spirit painting

Image by hickory hardscrabble via Flickr

In Jesus’ letters to the seven church in Revelation, each letter includes the words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” I find it interesting that we are called, like the seven churches, to listen for the what the Spirit says. But is there a book in the Bible that is read with less acknowledgement towards the Holy Spirit than Revelation? People seem to only read Revelation to gather content and information on the end times. Reading Revelation is an academic endeavor and not a spiritual one. But Jesus says for us to hear, not what our mind says, but what the Spirit says to the churches.  When we open up and read Revelation, we should immediately listen for what the Spirit is saying to us. But this is hard.

The easiest thing to do is to start listing the mentioned descriptions of the seven churches. What are they being rebuked about, what are they being called to do, what will happen to them. The harder thing to do is listen to the words that come out of Jesus’ heart for the church – the Spirit words. These would include words such as perseverance, “first love”, “first deeds”, repent, “second death” , “poverty (but you are rich).”

Maybe Revelation is more of a spiritual book than I thought.

You can join me in reading Revelation for Spiritual Growth. I have only gotten to chapter 2 so you can follow along with me if you would like.

Christian Lifehacker 101: Spiritual Disciplines Are Not Just For Super Christians

Let’s look at two more terms that are often misunderstood – Spiritual Disciplines and the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Disciplines – If you don’t have a grasp of the concept of Grace then Spiritual Disciplines will seem like a set of legalistic requirements that if you are not practicing indicate your poor faith and lack of devotion. We often feel frustrated because we don’t pray and read our Bibles enough and to have another list of spiritual activities to do just makes this idea of spiritual growth seem more daunting.

In a previous post, we learned that grace is God’s action in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own. Spiritual Disciplines are the best way that I know of to increase God’s action in our lives. For example, by spending more time in silence I give God more room to speak to me and draw closer to me. By fasting, I learn that God has provisions for me that go much farther than the material. By worshiping, I focus my mind on “things above and not on earthly things”. Everyone of these examples creates an avenue for God to work in my life. If I was not intentionally practicing these things then I am reducing God’s place in my life to afterthoughts and pushing him to the periphery of my life.

If you are still put off by the term discipline, then replace it with the word training. No person has ever completed a marathon without some kind of training. It is the same in your Christian life. You will not grow closer to God or become more like Christ by wishing it to happen; you have to train your spirit (non-physical side) so that real change can occur.

Holy Spirit – After reading the above definition you probably have started to wonder where the Holy Spirit fits into all of this.  Though Spiritual Disciplines are an important ingredient in change, they have no power without the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been given to us for one purpose and that is to make us disciples of Jesus. James Bryan Smith says that, “everything that happens to us in our Christian life is the work of the Holy Spirit.” When you become frustrated with your Christian life, it is the Holy Spirit that nudges you toward a new set of priorities. When you read scripture, it is the Holy Spirit that draws your attention to a certain passage that speaks to a specific need in your life. If you have gotten anything out of these blog postings it is due, not to me, but to the Holy Spirit moving in your heart and mind to be inspired by what is written here.

One of the last things that Jesus tells his disciples is that, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). This is the role of the Holy Spirit  in our Spiritual Formation – to be an unseen teacher constantly reminding us of what Jesus did and said.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Strength

In a physical workout or a spiritual workout I am all about focus. If you want to get the most out of a strength workout you set aside one day to focus on your lower body and one day to focus on your upper body. In the Spiritual Enrichment Workout the strength portion is my time of focused prayer.

Despite our best intentions and our desire to cover all of our prayer bases, we need to have a clear intention or focus when we sit down to pray. If we don’t then we will start with world peace and never get to the simple practical prayers that are more pressing in our lives. So, what I do is pay close attention to what the previous two  sections of the workout have brought me. Remember the Warm-Up helped me begin focusing on the nature of God through readings from the Psalms and the Core Workout involved listening to what God may be saying to me through scripture. I find that if I am paying attention, there is a theme or emphasis that the Holy Spirit is guiding me to through the fixed-hour prayer and the Bible reading. That theme is the focus and basis for my prayer time.

Maybe there is a sin that has been brought to my attention to confess, a concern of a friend who has fallen away from God, or a fruit of the Spirit that has been non-existent in my life. Whatever it is, listen closely and talk to God about it. Save your prayer requests list for driving in your car or lunch break or shower and use this time to focus on where God has led you during your Spiritual Enrichment Workout. Trust me, your prayer time will be much more meaningful and you will be more aware of what God is doing in your life.