The sermon on this topic is available HERE.
Most Christians recognise that God makes a claim upon our lives that nothing else in our lives be more important that our commitment to Him. He’s our #1.
But what does that look like?
When I hear talk like that I picture street corner preachers proclaiming the need for repentance and breathing damnation all at the same time.
I picture my chiropractor who greets each crack of my back with a “Hallelujah” or “Thank-you Jesus”.
I imagine people in the workplace who are most known for the disapproval of the latest social trend for the last twenty years who also tell everyone that they should be in church on on Sunday.
As I think a little more deeply, I recognise that making God #1 will look different for everyone. So how can we tell if others are making God their priority? More importantly, how can we tell if we have idols in our own lives?
One helpful way of addressing these questions, is to change the question. Making God our life’s priority covers a lot of ground. It also indicates that it’s something we do, and then it stays that way. If we’re honest, we’ll concede that giving God priority is a growth process that takes years, and we probably never master it completely.
So here’s a bite size question that I find more helpful.
Am I committed to spiritual growth?
All of us want to say “Yes” to that question, but how are we pursuing spiritual growth. I find that most Christians have few tangible steps they can take toward spiritual maturity beyond the big three of: Pray, Read the Bible, and Attend Church.
I doubt that spiritual growth is a “one size fits all” process, but in recent years I’ve stumbled across material from Willow Creek Community Church and Real Life Ministries that I’ve found helpful.
The Willow Creek REVEAL survey identified four stages of spiritual maturity. You can see them in the picture below along with an indicative saying from each stage.
While it’s interesting to consider we might currently stand on this continuum. More important for our question “Am I committed to Spiritual Growth?” is understanding how a person moves from one stage to another. The REVEAL survey provides some ideas there also.
The survey results can be broken down into 4 areas of spiritual life. A spiritually mature Christian will seek to grow in all four areas, but the temptation is to ignore those which feel less comfortable to us. The four areas are:
- Spiritual beliefs and attitudes
- Organized church activities
- Personal spiritual practices
- Spiritual activities with others
I can’t list all the catalysts for movement without this post becoming ridiculously long. You can get all the survey results and discussion in a recent book titled MOVE. But here are the Top 5 catalysts for each area of movement:
Moving From Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ
- Belief in Salvation by Grace
- Belief in the Trinity
- Church Activity Serve in a church ministry 1-2 times a month
- Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
- Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture
Moving From Growing in Christ to Close to Christ
- Belief in a Personal God
- Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
- Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture
- Spiritual Practice Solitude
- Spiritual Activity with Others Evangelism
Moving From Close to Christ to Christ-Centered
- Belief Giving Away My Life (“I am willing to surrender everything that is important in my life to Jesus Christ.”)
- Belief Christ is First
- Belief Identity in Christ
- Belief Authority of the Bible
- Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture
In his book “Real -Life Discipleship“, Jim Putman, describes the stages of spiritual maturity in terms of stages of life: Infant, Child, Young Adult, and Parent.
I love his vision of a mature Christian as a parent. A Christian is not mature because they know Bible details. A Christian is not mature because they’re always talking about Jesus. A person is mature because they’re investing in the lives of people around them. Sometimes they’re leading people into relationship with Jesus. Other times they’re helping younger Christians grow.
A christian who regards themselves as mature but isn’t passing on their faith to another generation of believers through personal effort (not by paying the preacher) is deceiving themselves.
There’s a lot to consider here and each of these ideas have thick books behind them. My primary goal is to encourage each of us to continue our quest to grow in Christ: To grow toward spiritual maturity. As we do this we’ll discover that Christ is #1 in our lives.
We live in a fast paced world. We fret at red lights. We become agitated when our computers take 30 seconds to do something. We have a list of things we needed to do yesterday, or last week. And another list of things we should be working on right now.
Then there’s God…
God wants us to spend time with Him. God wants to hear from us. God wants to speak with us. God wants us to do things for him too.
Where can I find time in my busy work day, family day, parenting day, social networking day, church day, school day or leisure day to hang out with God?
To commit time in my day to God, I must first carve out space: empty space. I must dedicate myself to a time of nothingness, or nothing-else, and meet God there.
Fasting provides one approach to giving God greater prominence in my daily routine. Fasting commits me to giving something up, so that God can take its place.
When I give up food for a day, I can spend my lunch break talking to God. When I avoid social media, I can update God on my thoughts rather than my Twitter followers. When I turn off the TV or hang up the Ipod, I can listen to God’s Spirit speaking in the stillness.
Fasting, in whatever form we practice it, creates space for God. It reminds of the priority He should have in our life. It confronts the value we give to other aspects of our lives. It’s a way of offering a sacrifice to God… without the blood and guts.
I suspect that most Christians don’t practice fasting. I’ve never previously been part of a church that encourages Christians to fast. Yet, as the pace of our lives and the world around us increases, the ancient practice of fasting becomes increasingly important for our faith.
Do you practice regular fasting? What questions do you have about fasting?
In many ways the book could be called the Book of Naomi, as the story opens and closes with Naomi and she guides Ruth’s actions throughout the story.
Many Christian commentators seize on Boaz’s role in the story as “kinsman-redeemer“. Since Jesus is our redeemer Boaz becomes a type, or shadow, of what Jesus will be.
Then we come to Ruth.
She’s an outcast. Perhaps we often regard her as a romantic figure. She represents us: A recipient of grace.
As I read through this book last week I noticed some comparisons between her movement from Moabite to member of Jesus’ family, and the outsiders who visit our churches today.
1. Ruth was an outsider. Ruth was a Moabite. An Israelite enemy. She worshiped idols. She couldn’t be trusted. She spoke differently. Maybe she dressed differently. The local boys had been warned about women “like her”. She was destitute.
2015 Ruth is also an outsider. As the US immigrant population increases there’s a good chance that she’s a foreigner. Maybe an illegal immigrant. As such, some may regard her as the enemy. She probably doesn’t come from a Christian family. She has other interests, passions, or idols. Not being raised in the church, she speaks differently. She thinks differently. And she probably dresses differently. She may be destitute.
2. Naomi went into Ruth’s world. I wish I could describe Naomi as a missionary. In fact, it seems that Naomi’s family moved to Moab out of desperation, and perhaps a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide for them. Nonetheless, she entered Ruth’s world and made such an impact that Ruth followed her out.
2015 Ruth needs someone to enter her world. She needs someone to accept and love her so strongly that she doesn’t notice the differences. She needs someone to walk alongside her through times of grief and struggle. When she experiences this loving relationship, 2015 Ruth wants to learn more about the God of her 2015 Naomi.
3. Ruth moved to Bethlehem. At this point in her journey Naomi’s role wasn’t to motivate her, but to guide her. She needed to guide Ruth through the new Israelite customs. (I’m pretty sure the Moabites didn’t have the same gleaning laws the Israelites did, and certainly not a kinsman-redeemer.) Naomi needed to guide Ruth through the web of pre-existing relationships. Naomi knew who Boaz was and his eligibility to be their kinsman-redeemer. Ruth would have been lost without Naomi.
2015 Ruth needs someone to guide her into the strange world that is church. It’s not enough to expect 2015 Ruth to stay, just because she walked through the doors of a church. Who will explain what an elder and a deacon are? And who they are? Who will convince her that small groups may be uncomfortable at first but beneficial in the long run? Who will help her children find the right Bible classes or guide her through the sign-in process? 2015 Ruth needs compassionate guides every bit as much as Biblical Ruth did.
4. Ruth was courageous. When Ruth lay herself at Boaz’ feet, I wonder the thoughts that raced through her mind. This was a risk. Would he be angry? Would he treat her as an outcast? Would he refuse her? Would he mock her vulnerability or her lack of decorum? This was the moment when she lived up to her earlier pledge that Naomi’s land, people and God would become hers. There was no turning back if Boaz accepted her.
2015 Ruth requires courage. Although she has come to trust some of God’s people, she knows the people better than she knows God. God is a new entity to her. She likes what she’s seen so far. She longs for what’s promised. So she joins herself to God in baptism. But God and his church often has a bad reputation out there in the world. Christians often fail to acknowledge that the commitment that comes so naturally for those raised in a church requires great courage for 2015 Ruth her friends.
5. God validates Ruth. The book of Ruth closes with Naomi holding Ruth’s son in her arms. Then it details how the future king, David, is a descendant or Ruth. She becomes an integral part of God’s family.
2015 Ruth also needs validation. She needs a church to point out her gifts. She needs people to involve her in the life and ministry of the God. She needs a purpose. As she is integrated into the body of Christ one day she’ll look back and realise… “I’m no longer an outsider. I am loved.”
If Boaz represents Jesus, then our churches need to identify Naomis willing to seek and invest in Ruths. That’s how we’ll establish a lineage of faith.
Quite correctly, Christians direct a lot of time and energy toward convincing the world that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life. Jesus final words recorded in Matthew 28 direct his followers to perpetuate his teachings and spread his influence throughout all nations. The world needs to hear and accept the Good News of Jesus, and we dream of God’s kingdom expanding to defeat Satan and the forces of evil.
The risk in emphasising conversion, or new births, or baptism, or whatever event you wish to count is just that: it’s an event. It tends to create a mindset that I have moved from lost to found, from peril to rescue, from orphan to family. In short, it tells us that we’ve arrived.
I don’t possess the words to describe the importance of my state of salvation to my life. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. However, Scripture teaches me that I have NOT yet arrived. (Eph. 4:11-16) I am still God’s work in progress. My redemption will culminate, not in my acceptance of Christ as my Saviour, but at the return of Christ and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom.
Jesus intends for his disciples to continually grow. The basic premise of the New Testament epistles indicates that Christians should grow. The NT authors are writing to Christians with instructions on beliefs, church life, personal and corporate ethics, etc. There is never a hint that since these Christians have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins they have fulfilled God’s expectations for them. Paul, John and others continue to prompt the new followers of Jesus to deeper levels of commitment.
In 2 Peter 3:18 the apostle concludes his letter by directing his readers to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Standing still was not an option. This conclusion fits the letter, because in 1:5-7 Peter lays out a pathway of spiritual growth that his audience should take: one step at a time.
Add to your FAITH –> GOODNESS –> KNOWLEDGE –> SELF-CONTROL –> PERSEVERANCE –> GODLINESS –> MUTUAL AFFECTION (tNIV) –> LOVE.
I’m excited that our church has chosen this theme for 2012. It provides so many opportunities for congregational and personal growth. It reminds us that God has something planned for us that is more that our present circumstances. It prompts the congregational leadership to search for opportunities God is presenting to the church. It prompts us individually to conduct a spiritual inventory and evaluate how we can deepen our relationship with Him. It directs us to spiritual disciplines, but also reminds us to put our faith into action: to keep moving, to take the next step.
Just two questions this week:
- What thoughts does the phrase “Taking the Next Step” (in a context of faith) bring to mind for you?
- What Next Step is God laying on your heart?
Who is/are your spiritual successor/s?
In 1 Kings 19 Elijah recruits Elisha as his servant. Evidently, Elisha already knew Elijah and was a follower of Yahweh as he immediately offers the oxen he was working with as a sacrifice and follows Elijah. But servant. That’s a pretty humble position to accept as a career change.
By 2 Kings 2 the relationship between Elijah and Elisha has obviously blossomed. Elisha is clearly more than a servant. In v9 as Elijah prepares for his death he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha requests a double portion of the spirit of Elijah.
Elisha had apparently been so impressed by God’s work in the life of Elijah that he ambitiously asks for a double blessing. In that culture, the first born son received a double portion of the estate. At a minimum, it seems that Elisha asks that he become a spiritual son of Elijah. Elijah responds that only God can distribute his Spirit. Over in v15 the sons of the prophets confirm that God did grant Elisha’s request to receive the spirit of Elijah.
When Elijah chose an apprentice, he understood that the battle against idols would not conclude in his lifetime. He needed to ensure that his mission and God’s message continue for years to come. Which brings us back to the intial question, “Who is your spiritual legacy?”
Who are you investing in to equip them to carry on the torch for God when you’re not able? In my spiritual heritage it seems that we mostly attempt to equip people through large events. I’m thinking of Bible Classes, youth group, sermons, worship service training, etc. I’ve often heard of the need for one-on-one Bible studies, but usually with those seeking Christ and these studies seldom continue much beyond baptism. I don’t think I have ever seen two long-term Christians meet in a mentoring relationship, eg. an elder meet regularly with a deacon to help him study the Bible and grow spiritually. Or I don’t think I have seen a deacon meet regularly with a young adult to prompt spiritual growth and train him in service. Or I don’t think I have seen women do this either.
While churches would never say this, our actions send the message that “12 months after you give your life to Christ, you’re on your own, you’re now a number in the church’s system and as long as you keep attending you’ll be find and we’ll leave you alone (unless you have a major crisis) … until we need a volunteer or money.” I believe churches can do better than that.
I have recently been giving some attention to the concept of discipleship. (Here‘s a really good book I’ve found.) Of course, it’s best demonstrated in the life of Christ with The Twelve, and his inner circle of James, John & Peter. But we also see it in the ministries of Barnabas and Paul, and of course here in 2 Kings with Elijah. Each of these leaders took time to invest in the spiritual growth of other devout followers of God. For their part, Elisha, Peter, James, John, Paul, Silas, Timothy, Titus were already eagerly following God when their “mentor” called them into a relationship that would prompt their growth even more.
Before asking the question, “Can I share my faith with someone outside of Christ?” We need to answer the question, “Can I have spiritual conversations and encourage growth with other Christians?” Surely it’s more challenging to have spiritual conversations with outsiders than partners? If we can’t grow faith in people already committed to Christ, how do we hope to stimulate spiritual consciousness in pre-Christians?
Elijah didn’t get to the end of his life and reminisce about the spectacular miracles God had empowered him to perform. Rather, at the end of his life he was investing in a disciple who would continue his mission and spread God’s message. He was more concerned with WHO his legacy was, that WHAT he had accomplished. Who is your spiritual legacy?
- Have you been part of a church that promoted an intentional pathway of spiritual growth for Christians of all ages? Does this idea sound attractive to you?
- Have you ever received spiritual mentoring? Did you find it faith-building?
- Have you ever discipled someone else? What was your biggest challenge?
In many ways, separating the mission of the church and the individual is a false dichotomy. The church only exists due to the presence of individuals. The church only functions due to the actions of individuals. The church only speaks due to the words of individuals. So is it possible for the church and individuals to have separate missions?
I believe it’s at least possible for the church and individual Christians to have different emphases to our mission. I 100% believe that we all share the basic mission of “physically and tangibly representing the resurrected Christ to the world.” In doing this the church shares with Christ a primary mission task of “seeking and saving the lost” (Lk 19:10). It’s important to realise that the “saving” in this statement is not a one-time event. It includes a moment of salvation, but also encompasses the vital responsibility of preserving the saints. The church fails in its mission if it seeks the lost, saves the lost, and then loses them again. (Consider the parable of the soils in Lk 8:1-15.)
When I consider the primary mission focus of the individual Christian, it seems to me that first and foremost we have the goal of remaining in relationship with God. However, that’s a minimum level goal. To word it more positively I would say that our basic mission as a disciple of Christ is to grow in our relationship with God. (2 Peter 3:17-18) This sounds like a fairly selfish goal, because it is. Every other possible mission falls apart if we stop growing, or worse yet, lose our relationship with God.
This brings me to an interesting contradiction. The church represents Christ by seeking and saving the lost. Yet, the individuals who make up the church represent Christ by (selfishly) growing in their relationship with Christ. I reconcile this contradiction in my mind by recognising that all Christians are at different stages of maturity. In each progressive stage of maturity the definition, or description, of “growing closer to Christ” increasingly turns outward until our personal faith in God is sufficiently strong that we can say our personal mission is to “seek and save the lost”. However, if our faith regresses, our mission once again turns more “selfish”.
I’m not suggesting that every mature Christian must become a full-time evangelist. According to an individual’s spiritual gifts, some will concentrate on seeking, while others will focus on saving. Some individuals will also come to regard their primary mission as shepherding, teaching and preserving the faith of those who’ve decided to commit their lives and eternity to Christ. (The apostle Paul describes this diversity of gifts and ministries well in the passage from Ephesians 4 I reference at the opening of this post.)
Even the mission emphasis on seeking resists a one size fits all approach. In my previous post I mentioned how the ministry of Christ could be summarised as “preaching, teaching, and healing”. Recognising the uniqueness of each individual, some mature Christians will also represent Christ by finding their niche in the ministry of healing: emotional; physical; relational; and ultimately spiritual. The mission of seeking and saving has many different looks to it.
- Do you agree that it’s possible for the church and individual Christians to have divergent mission emphases? Or is that logic fatally flawed?
- Do you agree that the individual Christian has a primary spiritual responsibility to “grow their relationship with Christ”?
- The “how” of growing in our relationship with Christ is a huge topic. Help me out by sharing some critical steps or stages in your faith journey.