Monday, April 15, 2024
The Journey 2019

The Journey of Continual Growth

“You mean you keep rereading this book?!” The student asked incredulously.  “I never read a book more than once.”  “No,” the professor countered.  “I don’t reread this book, I continually study the Bible, and apply the lessons to my life.  It is how one continues to learn, continues to grow their relationship with the Lord.”  “But,” the student protested, “don’t you, like, get it, after the first time?  What’s the point?”  “Your an athlete, right?” The professor asked.  The student nodded and the professor continued.  “Do you go over your plays just once and ‘get it?’  Or do you continue to review them, continue to practice them, continue to improve?  Do you go to the gym just once?  Or do you go to the gym everyday – lifting heavier weights each time, continually improve your ability?  In your sport, or at the gym, do you ever reach perfection?  Are you ever good enough that you can stop trying?  Or do you continue to improve, continue to work on advancement?  Continue to learn?  And what about your relationships with other people?  Do you learn everything about them the first time you meet?  Are first impressions always correct?  After all,” the professor quipped with a smile, “it took me until we were married to learn my wife is allergic to coconut!”

Daily exercise is part of every doctor’s recommendation for a healthy life.  As a result, many people go to the gym several times a week, either seeking to improve their life, or sometimes just maintain their form.  The same logic applies to our spiritual life.  We must work on it to improve it!  

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.   (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV)

As mentioned at the start of this year-long Journey, becoming a Christian – accepting Salvation – is not the final stop in the Journey of Salvation.  Instead, accepting salvation is just the first step of a lifelong journey.  Paul, in his way, points this out to the church at Colossae, and many other times throughout his writings.  Never does he suggest that a person’s spiritual journey is over because they have accepted Christ Jesus as their Lord.  Instead, Paul encourages the members of the church to continue to grow.  The seed has been planted and taken root; now it is time for the tree to grow and the flower to blossom.  

Growth, however, doesn’t come from inaction – it comes from action!  By becoming a Christian, accepting Christ’s salvation, you recognize that your life is a life of sin, a life in need of changing, change that can only come from God.  But the change does not happen overnight.  Change comes from our relationship with God.  We all begin our relationship with Him “Like newborn infants,” who “long for the pure spiritual milk,” so that we “may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  (1 Peter 2:2-3, ESV)

Infants are helpless.  They know nothing and must rely on others to provide for their needs.  All new Christians start here.  They know nothing, but to rely on God.  In order to grow, they must learn.  God, through His word, makes known the sin in our lives, and the changes that need made, changes that can be hard.

for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
    but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.  (Proverbs 24:16, NIV)

Growing in Christ is a life long process – we are never done.  As King Solomon warns us in Proverbs, we are going to continue to stumble and fall.  We will make mistakes – give into sin and let temptation lead us astray.  But the righteous will always return to the Lord, who is waiting with open arms, rejoicing at our return (Luke 15:11-32).  At these points in our lives, when we feel as if our relationship has stagnated, or we feel far from God, we must remember that He is here beside us, just waiting for us to seek Him out.

At other times in or lives, we can feel overwhelmed with sin.  When we examine our life, all we can see is the sin.  When we study the Bible, all we feel is conviction for the sin in our life.  It can be an overwhelming feeling.  It can feel like we are so very far from God.  But we may not be as far from God as we think.  The overwhelming feeling can be a signal that you have grown more than you realized!  It is only through your relationship with Him, that you can acknowledge the sin in your life that needs addressed.  Are you being stubborn and resisting the changes you have recognized need to be made?

Once we are committed to growing our relationship with the Lord, we must understand how to grow it.  As the professor alluded to, we grow in much the same way we grow and develop other parts of our lives.  In sports, an athlete may practice the same play, the same throw, the same returns, the same move over and over again.  They may read the playbook repeatedly, committing it to memory – and then read it again!  The same dedication and commitment should be shown to growing your relationship with the Lord.  But not all study is equal.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.   (Matthew 23:1-8, ESV)

The Pharisees knew Law, the Word of God.  They read it to those who could not read.  They taught it to those who did not know.  They knew all the words, they knew the actions they were to take.  They could point out the sins of others.  But they did not study God’s word.  They did not understand God’s word.  They did not apply God’s word.

It is not just a matter of knowing God’s word, the Bible.  A dedicated Christian seeks God’s will.  They do not just seek the knowledge of His word, they seek understanding, so that they may apply their knowledge to their lives.  A growing Christian, a learning Christian, recognizes that there is always a need for change in their life.

Three days later they found Him in the [court of the] temple, sitting among the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. All who heard Him were amazed by His intelligence and His understanding and His answers.   (Luke 2:46-47, AMP)

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.  (Luke 4:31-32, ESV)

From a young age, Jesus astounded others with His knowledge and understanding of God’s words.  Jesus, as a perfect man, lived God’s word.  His was the only life free of sin, the only life that didn’t need changing.  But yet, He continued to seek out a relationship with God His Father.  Through Jesus’ actions, we see another step in continuing our growth, continuing our learning.

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].   (Luke 5:16, AMP)

How many times do the Gospels record Jesus going off to pray?  Most famously, Jesus is remembered praying on the night leading up to His death.  It is remembered for a good reason, but it is not the only time!  Throughout the Gospels are other references of Jesus seeking to be alone to pray, to spend time with His Heavenly Father.  Jesus, through prayer, was seeking to strengthen and continue His relationship with His Father.  If Jesus, in all His wisdom and knowledge, needed to continue His relationship with the Father, don’t you?

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  (Philippians 3:12-13, AMP)

This verse was written by Paul during his final years.  He wrote it while in prison in Rome.  By this point, Paul had written nearly all of his contributions for the New Testament (and many others lost to history).  He had lived a life of ministry, a life of change, a life dedicated to the Lord.  His changed life, his new life, came after years of study – study which he continued until his dying day.  Prayer was an extremely important part of his life, included in all his letters.  No doubt prayer sustained him to his dying breath.  Yet, despite all that had occurred in his life, despite all that he had achieved, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an Apostle,” (Romans 1:1a) acknowledge that he wasn’t good enough.  He hadn’t completely “got it.”  He still had failures and areas of his life to improve.

Paul is an example for all of us.  We can spend our whole life growing, but we will still fall short of perfection.  God knows this.  It is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.  So that we can have a close, personal relationship with Him.  But like all relationships, it takes work.  It takes effort.  It takes time.  And this is one relationship that is truly never-ending!

Our relationship with the Lord is never over.  Our learning from the Lord is never done.  Our growing in the Lord is never complete.  

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