Cultivating Spiritual Growth

Cultivating Spiritual Growth

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromise is the transmitting rubber tube.”
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.

When thinking about cultivating spiritual growth, more often than not, it is useful to start with things that possibly hinder growth. Anything which impedes your relationship with God, or prevents you from becoming more like Christ is a hindrance to spiritual growth and maturity. Struggles with sin or persistent negative patterns of behavior certainly fall within obvious hindrances, but sometimes the hindrances are more subtle. Whatever the hindrance, it is time to take a stand and not be caught in the middle where we compromise ourselves and our faith by refusing to accept responsibility for those hindrances to our spiritual growth. In this blog, we will look at some of the more subtle hindrances that inhibit our spiritual growth and the Cycle of Growth which promotes maturity.
The Cushite Wife
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’ And the Lord heard it.”
Numbers 12:1-2, ESV
Numbers 12 recalls an incident in which Aaron and Miriam murmured and complained about Moses’ Cushite wife. But this was just a pretext to the main issue: They were jealous of his authority and position, which outworked itself in pride, arrogance, judgment, and criticism; “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” God hears their murmur and takes action against their attitude to bring them to repentance. So often, we hide the real issue beneath the stated concerns: The issue is not the issue. Sometimes, we may be aware of the issue, but we may not want to admit the truth to anyone else like in the case of an offense. Other times we may have a blindspot to the hidden issue. Sometimes, when we are discontented and rebel, our sense of superiority masquerades as “I can hear God myself” when we have an issue with authority or the person God appointed to lead. Instead, we should humbly seek God in moments of frustration, disagreements, hurt, offense, or division so that we become aware of any error in our way of thinking, or recognize His hand and blessing on others so that we do not undermine other people or God’s hand at work. If someone has sinned against us, Matthew 18:15 tells us to “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” On the other hand, if we disagree or have taken offense, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18). Therefore, let us seek God to bless, encourage and support everyone within our sphere of influence and let us “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The Little Foxes
“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”
Song of Solomon 2:15, ESV
“Little foxes” can be subtle or seemingly insignificant things that undermine and hinder our
walk of faith. These foxes can be attitudes, distractions, frustrations, doubt, or behaviors that, when left unaddressed, can have a detrimental effect on our relationship with God and hinder our spiritual growth. Sometimes these foxes can even be unintended words spoken and the resulting harm that can metaphorically spoil the vineyard. Every action or word we speak either stems from deliberate contemplation, an unintended passing remark, or words spoken without fully realizing their impact. Deliberate is obvious and based on a deliberate word with an intended target or reaction in mind. However, unintended is usually determined by a preconceived notion or bias or sometimes a limp you walk with. What I mean by a limp is a prejudice, an assumption, a narrow perspective, or an injury that has not healed correctly. Whatever the case, this “little fox,” or “little thing,” serves no purpose other than to destroy the blossoms in your vineyard of life. We may even dismiss “little foxes” because they seem like such a small thing. After all, it was only the blossoms that were destroyed and not the entire vine. However, it should concern us when we bear no fruit. Like a compass with an ever so slight calibration error, the cumulative impact of the minor discrepancies causes us to veer off course. The longer we take to find and make the adjustments, the further the distance we travel, and the more pronounced the deviation in our spiritual growth and relationship with God becomes. Therefore we must seek God in prayer, asking Him for wisdom, which He will give “generously to all without reproach,” (James 1:5) so that we are able to recognize any “little foxes” in order to “make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:13). Above all, let us be found in God’s presence and deepening our understanding of His Word, which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Seven-Day My Way
Complacency and self-reliance are other subtle hindrances to spiritual growth. Complacency is being satisfied with the way things are, especially as it pertains to our current level of spiritual understanding and maturity, while self-reliance is the belief that we can do everything ourselves. Over time, especially in Western culture, it is easy to become satisfied and stop pursuing a deeper relationship with God or not being dependent on God for everything we need. Complacency is no different from a stagnating pool of water; we settle for mediocrity and, along with self-reliance, prevent us from experiencing the abundant life of faith in Christ. Revelation warns the church about being lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16) and the lack of vitality and fervor necessary for spiritual growth. Moreover, in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus emphasizes the importance of using our God-given resources wisely with the example of the servant who buried his talent out of fear and complacency and missed the opportunity for growth. Likewise, self-reliance, or the excessive dependence on our abilities and strength, hinders our spiritual growth because we do not rely on God. Proverbs 3:5-6 advises us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. Thus, when we become complacent and rely on ourselves, we risk losing the power of God’s grace and guidance in our lives.
King Saul is a great example of complacency, but most especially self-reliance. In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites desire to be like other nations around them and instead of relying on God to lead them, they ask for a king. God grants their request and Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty” (1 Samuel 12 20- 21, ESV). Saul is chosen to be king in 1 Samuel 9 and anointed as king in 1 Samuel 10 and he is told about the numerous signs he will receive to confirm his anointment. Samuel instructs Saul in verses 7 and 8 “Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do” (1 Samuel 10, ESV).
1 Samuel 13, begins seven days later with Saul and the Israelites facing a significant threat from the Philistines at Gilgal. However, as the Israelites begin to lose confidence, with some even deserting, Saul grows anxious and impatient and instead of waiting, decides to take matters into his own hands and makes the sacrifice himself. Immediately thereafter, Samuel arrives and asks Saul what he has done. In verse 11 Saul responds that the people were scattering from him and as Samuel had not arrived in time he thought, “I have not sought the favor of the Lord. So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12, ESV). Samuel rebukes him for his disobedience and self-reliance. In verses 13 and 14, Samuel says to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13, ESV).
Saul’s lack of trust in God’s timing and his decision to rely on his own judgment instead of waiting for God’s guidance became his downfall. All it took was seven days for Saul to decide to go his own way in contrast with the humility and dependence on God we should possess. Instead, Saul believes he could handle things independently and with a view to his own sense of security, without seeking God’s guidance or waiting for His appointed time. Nevertheless, even after being rebuked for these tendencies before, Saul does not learn from the lesson and continues being content in self-reliance and disobedience. Samuel eventually challenges him saying, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23, ESV).
God desires our obedience and expects us to follow His commands, even when it requires our patience in waiting. Obeying God’s Word may not always be easy or convenient, but complacency and self-reliance only result in hindering our relationship with God, our destiny and call in Him, and our spiritual growth. To combat our own seven-day-my-way tendencies, we can look to the metaphor Jesus used of a vine and branches to illustrate the importance of abiding in Him. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, we cannot experience true spiritual growth unless we remain connected to Jesus, recognizing our need for His strength and wisdom (John 15:5).

Cycle of Growth
Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” In order to grow spiritually, we must not only trust God, but we must also acknowledge and position Jesus in His rightful place in our lives. Everything begins and ends with Him. Faith in Christ is the very foundation of our journey with God and it is vital for spiritual growth. Accepting Christ as Lord and Savior and trusting in Him and His finished work on the cross is the starting point. When we recognize and acknowledge His preeminence and supremacy, He enables us to align our lives with His Lordship. As we align ourselves to Him, our true north, we grow and transform. We can call this alignment the cycle of growth and Colossians 1 gives us a great process of the steps involved in this cycle. Colossians 1:9-14 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The Cycle of Growth

 

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