The Lord can heal, but do we believe He can protect?

PREFACE: This is one of a series of posts that I will be publishing over the next few weeks that offer my own perspective about issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. My purpose in these posts is to suggest ways that Christians can think about this pandemic which glorify God and draw attention to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. rmb

I cannot imagine a professing Christian not praying for the Lord to heal a loved one who has contracted COVID-19. Surely in any fellowship of any local church, when one of the members of the church has fallen ill with COVID, the other members of the body respond by offering up prayers for healing. We know that, during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus healed many people of their illnesses. We know that the LORD “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). For those who have walked with the Lord for a long time, we have seen the Lord heal us and heal those we love in answer to prayers. A Christian can rightly declare the Lord’s sovereign power over all disease and can know that, if the Lord is willing, He will certainly heal (Matthew 8:2-3). Our God is Jehovah Rapha, the LORD your healer (Exodus 15:26). Based on the prayers offered for healing, most Christians believe the Lord can heal.

But while there are frequent prayers and prayer requests for the Lord to heal when loved ones become ill with this disease, it seems to me that there are far fewer prayers for the Lord to protect us from COVID in the first place. If my impression is reality; that is, if there are, in fact, few prayers for protection, I would ask why that was so. It could be that we have more uncertainty about the Lord’s ability to protect than to heal. But why would we believe that the Lord can heal us from a disease, but would not believe He can protect us from that same disease? Can the Lord who heals not also protect? Is protecting me from catching COVID-19 and keeping me safe from all COVID’s variants too difficult for the living God (Jer. 32:17, 27)?

In the Scriptures, God’s people often call out to Him for protection. There are many prayers in the Psalms that cry out to the LORD for His protection against enemies and adversaries, and in each of these, the psalmist expects the LORD to answer his prayer. The psalmist expects that, since the LORD is infinitely able and since He loves His people, He will answer their cry for protection. In no sense is this “testing the LORD.” Rather, this is inspired Scripture and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The prayers in the Psalms are models for God’s people for all time. In fact, it could be argued that to not cry out to the LORD for protection according to the prayers of the Psalms is a faithless act. Based on the prayers for protection in the Scripture, then, we, too, should pray for protection and trust that the Lord will answer.

Some have suggested to me that perhaps the Lord would allow me to catch the COVID disease to teach me some important life lesson. Is that possible? Of course, that is possible. But this would be very confusing to me in these circumstances. If I openly declare to the watching world that I am trusting the living God to keep me safe from any form of COVID, and I am doing this to glorify the Lord for His ability to keep His child well, and I remind people that I have not had any trace of COVID since the disease began in March of 2020 and that God has kept me perfectly safe so far, why would the Lord allow me to catch the disease now? What lesson would He be teaching me, to not trust Him so much? How would the Lord be glorified in those circumstances?

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus commends prayer for His followers, saying that as a human father will not give a stone to a son who asks for a loaf of bread, nor will he give a snake to his child who asks for a fish, so “your Father who is in heaven will give what is good to those who ask Him” (7:11). It would seem to me that allowing someone who is trusting Him for protection from COVID to contract COVID, would be like giving a snake to a son who asks for a fish. Instead, those who trust the Lord completely for their protection will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11).

My conclusion, then, is to suggest that those Christians who have not already gotten the COVID vaccine would wholly trust the Lord to protect them from COVID-19 and would declare to those in your circle of influence that the Lord is your protector, and He will keep you safe from COVID. The Lord is our shield and defender, and trusting Him brings Him glory.

SDG rmb 10/1/2021 #437

Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.

THE SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF ZEAL

The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427

For the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

Perhaps it is just the haze that has clouded my memory over three or four decades, but in my mind, these present days are indeed evil days compared with times past. In my teens and twenties, when I was coming of age and moving into adulthood, I was decidedly not a Christian, so the decisions I made and the ambitions I had were completely disconnected from obedience to God and were, therefore, devoid of any wisdom that would come from the Bible or from wise men. I was living for me and was only interested in my desires and pleasures, and so I made many poor decisions and several disastrous ones. But in the days of my young adulthood, the world was a much more benevolent place and even my major mistakes seemed to have only minor and temporary consequences. Truly bad choices resulted in setbacks, certainly, but there remained a ray of hope and a peculiar confidence that all was not lost and that somehow there was still an escape as I continued to plummet earthward. A parachute would be procured, and the landing might be rough, but I would survive and move on.

But that is not the case today. The world today is a malevolent place where disaster seems to lurk behind the corner of even wise decisions and righteous actions. The devil has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16) and the consequences of poor decisions and unwise actions are amplified. Our days these days are evil. Instead of hiding in the dark, the wicked brazenly parade their wickedness in broad daylight, unashamed of the vilest of deeds (Romans 1:32). It seems that even the wisest and most cautious plans of the righteous walk a tightrope toward success, and the scattered plans of the unrighteous which characterized my young adulthood inevitably meet with shipwreck.

And so, the disciple of Jesus must “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.”

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO WALK WISELY?

In view of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), here are some suggestions for how the believer can walk wisely in these evil days.

First, holiness should be a constant and conscious objective. This holiness is visible righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). In years past, it seems that a token nod to holiness would stave off the temptations to evil, but in the evil day the disciple of Jesus must take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13). There needs to be a conscious striving for holiness that is driven into the soul by a persistent discipline. The days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is a visible target, and the battle is fierce. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Second, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the encroachment of Satan and watch for the impact of his schemes. It is a doctrinal fact that the believer has, in Christ, defeated Satan and, in Christ, the believer need not fear the ultimate success of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Nevertheless, the disciple of Christ is to be on the alert for the working of the wicked one. Our adversary is patient, is deceptive, is subtle, and springs his traps suddenly and unexpectedly. For the naïve and the careless believer, Satan’s schemes can ruin years of fruitful service and can render the disciple useless for future work. “Be sober! Be on the alert!” (1 Peter 5:8).

Third, pray that the Lord will protect you from shipwreck and will guide you along the path of righteousness. Consider the truths of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Pray through the power of Psalm 18:1-3, joining with David in asking the LORD for His protection and declaring the ways the LORD defends His children. It is certainly true that the Lord is our strength and our shield, but it is also true that, when the days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is well-advised to cry out to the Lord and proclaim the Lord’s power and declare the Lord’s promise to be the Defender of His people. “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). What adversary will come forward to fight my Champion?

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #420

Sin, crabgrass, and repentance (Luke 3:8)

If you have ever been a homeowner in the south, then you are acquainted with crabgrass. Crabgrass is the bane of the person who would have “the yard of the month.” The threat of this ugly grass requires the landscaper to enter into the fray and attempt to exterminate the green demon. This post is about the analogy that exists between crabgrass and persistent sin in the life of the believer.

DEALING WITH CRABGRASS

There are a number of steps in the campaign against crabgrass that can help the homeowner keep the brute at bay, but these steps must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that this will be a war, not a short skirmish or a single battle. Crabgrass is persistent and difficult to kill, and the homeowner who would engage in this combat must be committed to the full campaign.

The first step in the war against crabgrass is recognizing what crabgrass looks like and that its appearance represents a call to arms. The lawn-owner must become an expert at spotting crabgrass and become savvy to all its disguises and hiding places. Once sighted, it is all hands-on deck. There is an enemy within the gates, and you must respond to the invasion.

The next step is to develop a conscious hatred for the infernal weed. Crabgrass must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your lawn. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about this diabolical plant. If it is not destroyed, it will destroy your lawn. This mindset of hatred of all things crabgrass motivates action.

Having recognized what crabgrass looks like and being armed with a hatred of it, the homeowner’s task now becomes clear: crabgrass must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Crabgrass is the avowed enemy, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the lawn can be rid of the hated infestation and restored to its lush innocence.

DEALING WITH INDWELLING SIN

Although there are some landscapers who would disagree with me, eliminating crabgrass from your lawn is not a life-and-death struggle and if, after a valiant effort, there was still spots of the weed in your yard, life would still go on. It is not a big deal.

But indwelling sin in the life of the believer is a big deal. In fact, it is at precisely the point when we start talking about persistent sin that all humor leaves the conversation. This IS a life-and-death struggle. The believer is called to holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 6:2, 15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 John 2:3-6) as evidence of their conversion, and without sanctification, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But while the seriousness of crabgrass is insignificant compared to indwelling sin, the methods of warfare are similar.

Realize that the battle against indwelling sin is a war, not a skirmish. You will be engaged in this conflict as long as you are in the flesh, and the enemy never rests. But “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).”

For this warfare, you will need to recognize sin when it appears. You will need to be familiar with all sin’s disguises and hiding places. To do that, you will need to become familiar with your Bible and with all that the Bible tells you about this enemy called sin. Know that there are no small sins or minor sins, no forgettable sins and no acceptable sins. Every sin that every believer ever committed nailed Jesus to the cross. Every sin, if it were the only sin, would have required the death of Jesus. Therefore, we must recognize every sin so that we can kill it. You cannot confess or repent of the unrecognized sin.

You should possess an active, conscious hatred of all sin. All sin must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your soul. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about even the most minor sin. If sin is not destroyed, it will destroy you. Sin seeks to make a shipwreck of your life. Sin has brought unimaginable suffering and ruin into the world and sin seeks to destroy your life. Remember Cain who refused to be warned when sin was crouching at his door. Sin is the devil’s primary weapon, and sin’s commission gives him pleasure. So, take his weapons away from him! To see sin is to hate sin, and this mindset of hatred of all things sinful motivates action.

Having recognized what sin looks like and being armed with a holy hatred of it, the disciple’s task now becomes clear: sin must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Sin is the avowed enemy of every believer, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the disciple can walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE

And what action are we to take?

Confession is the identification of sin and the acknowledgement that this sin is evil. Confession serves the function of identifying the enemy and aiming the artillery at the target. While confession is necessary, simply identifying the enemy and aiming the weapon does not accomplish the task. The aimed weapon must be fired.

Firing the weapon so as to destroy sin is called repentance. The disciple of Jesus who would have victory over sin must regularly fire the guns of repentance. Until you resolve to destroy sin through regular acts of repentance, you are probably not serious about holiness.

Put sin to death, as Paul says in Colossians 3:5. In daily prayer, actively attack the sinful behavior. Develop a loathing for the very idea of these activities. If there are memories of this sin from the past, bring them to the light and put those memories to death (Ephesians 5:12). See them as offensive to God and His holiness. Be repulsed by your former sins (1 Peter 4:3).

Find Scriptures which address your specific besetting sins and read them and meditate on them regularly. At the same time, find Scriptures that extol holy behavior and develop a holy affection for godly behavior. Meditate on holiness and purity. Find Scriptures which extol the holy opposite of your besetting sins. If you are battling pride, meditate on humility and on being of the same mind with one another. If you are an angry man, meditate on the fruit of the Spirit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Confess your indwelling sins to a trusted friend and then pray together about the sin. Confess them to the Lord in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you and purify you. Express in prayer your hatred of the sinful behavior and your desire to be holy.

Meditate on psalms of repentance like Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. Engage in daily repentance until the grip of sin has relaxed its stranglehold.

Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021

Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021

Imitating Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51)

There may be times in our lives when the stress of our disquiet and anxiety becomes distracting. The complexities and difficulties of life are coming at us too fast for us to deflect and to process and we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe the issues are relational or financial or vocational, or all the above, but the net effect is a sense of being outmatched by life. How are we to pray in these situations? How do we cry out to the Lord when it feels like, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4)”?

As I look at the examples and the instructions of the Scriptures, I think the answer is to cry out to the Lord in faith with a specific request. Even when you see many threats and concerns bearing down on you and collectively creating anxiety and stress, there is usually one specific issue that is primary. That is, there is usually one issue that, if defused, would bring things back into the realm of the manageable. But in any event, whether you can identify the key issue or not, you begin by identifying one issue and then addressing that issue with the Lord in prayer.

So, having identified one specific problem or fear or threat, we can cry out to the Lord about THAT. We confess our trouble and probably our fear, and then we “pour out our complaint before the Lord (Psalm 142:2).” We are saying, “Here is my trouble and sorrow. O Lord help me! O Lord answer me! Deliver me!”

AN EXAMPLE IN THE DUST OF THE JERICHO ROAD

There was a day when Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46). The Lord had been passing through Jericho on His way going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), where He was to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish atonement for all of God’s people for all time by His death on the cross. But as He is leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road (Mark 10:46), and the beggar began to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:48)!”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: The Son of God on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission of salvation for the whole world and a blind beggar sitting in the dust beside the Jericho road pitifully crying out for mercy. Jesus could not be bothered with such a one as this, could He?

AND JESUS STOPPED

When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, what happened? AND JESUS STOPPED (10:49). Think about this for a moment. The Son of God is “on the road going up to Jerusalem (10:32)” and when, above all the noise of the large crowd, He hears a cry for mercy, Jesus stopped. Jesus temporarily set aside His mission of saving the world to talk to a blind beggar. He then calls Bartimaeus to Himself and says, “What do you want Me to do for you (Mark 10:51)?”

CONSIDER BARTIMAEUS: A MAN OF ONE REQUEST

The King of kings has just called Bartimaeus to come to Him and He has given this blind man a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now is his chance. Now Bartimaeus has the full attention of the Lord of the universe and he can ask Him for any one thing. With this incredible privilege, what will he ask for?

Bartimaeus is ready with his one request. Without hesitation he said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight (10:51)!” This is a perfect request! Not only does the request demonstrate Bartimaeus’ faith by asking Jesus for what is humanly impossible, but it also clearly identifies the one issue that is most critical to the blind man: his sight. Bartimaeus gives Jesus a specific request. What happens next?

Jesus instantly and evidently answered his “impossible” request. No one there could deny what had taken place. A blind beggar had come to Jesus and had asked Him to give him his sight, and Jesus had spontaneously done exactly that. “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (10:52).” Thus, Jesus was glorified as the great healer and the one who answers impossible requests asked in faith.

APPLICATION

Now if we switch back to the situation where we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s complexities and difficulties, maybe we can learn from Bartimaeus’ example. Although as a blind beggar, there is little doubt that Bartimaeus must have had many challenging issues, when it came time to present his request to the Lord, our man gave one specific request. “I want to regain my sight.” Like Bartimaeus, once we have identified our major issue, we present our one specific request to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, here is the complaint that I am pouring out before You. Here is my trouble and my sorrow. Here is THE issue. O Lord please answer me!”

A specific request makes possible a clear, specific answer. The Lord is glorified by answering our prayer request and we are blessed by His answer.

SDG                 rmb                 1/25/2021