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Road SignOne of the most common questions believers ask is “How can I know God’s will?” This is a healthy question and reflects a desire to understand and to do the things that please God. Understanding God’s will is also necessary for spiritual growth. Unfortunately, in modern society instant answers and clear solutions have become expected. Some Christians can get frustrated when they find it difficult to know God’s will or when it is not as clear as they would like it to be. Whether the dilemma is how to lose 30 pounds in three months, how to become financially secure, or how to overcome a bad habit or addiction, we have become accustomed to having someone provide steps to follow that are guaranteed to achieve the desired outcome.

Hide and Seek BoysIt is important to remember that God is not our enemy. We are not playing some game of hide and seek where we are desperately seeking to find something that God is enjoying hiding from us. Christ’s words to His disciples the night before his crucifixion should be an encouragement to us. He reminded them that they had entered a new relationship with Him, and He had now taken them into His confidence and revealed the Father’s will to them. We enjoy the same close relationship with our Lord and can rest assured that He also desires to make the Father’s business known to us.

While there are no easy answers and no set formulas to follow, we can understand the will of God by humbly responding to the truth He reveals. Following are some of the most common ways God reveals His will.

The Bible

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminded him that the holy Scriptures are given by God to make us wise and to help us discern what we should do. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” Not only does Scripture reveal the character of God and how we can grow in godliness, it also prepares us for the specific things that He wants us to do.

The Apostle Peter told his readers that they should desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word as a newborn baby desires his mother’s milk. It is the primary means of growth for the believer. Regular, daily feeding will ensure that our thinking is informed by the Word. Not only is understanding the will of God necessary for spiritual growth, but spiritual growth is important in understanding the will of God. As the believer matures in his Christian walk, he gains more insight into the Word of God and is better able to understand and to apply the principles found in it.

Broadly speaking, when attempting to discern the will of God, the believer should look in Scripture for general principles to apply rather than expecting to find specific guidance. Humorous stories are told of individuals who have opened the Bible, put their fingers on the page, and then made a decision based on whatever they happened to read first. One such man, who was deeply in debt, found that his finger landed on Chapter 11 and he went out and filed bankruptcy. As unlikely as this story may be, it does remind us of the danger of using Scripture inappropriately.

Prayer

Prayer is one of the primary means by which we can determine God’s leading. James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom (the ability to determine the right course of action), he should ask God, and God will freely and gladly respond to his request. Jesus, after teaching His disciples to pray, reminded them of the need for perseverance. He then promised that “everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).

The Bible is full of examples of saints of the past who inquired of God when facing a decision and received the wisdom needed to take the right course of action (see, for example, the victories of King David recorded in II Samuel 5:17-25). Scripture also records the disastrous consequences when people jumped into action without waiting on God for direction (see, for example, the defeat of King Josiah recorded in II Chronicles 35:20-24).

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit plays many roles in the life of the believer and one of the primary ones is to provide guidance. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the Counselor and indicated that He would teach and direct us. The Holy Spirit is a trusted counselor who confirms truth within our hearts by giving us peace and confidence to move forward. He will withhold this sense of peace if we are heading in the wrong direction.

Another primary function of the Spirit is to point out sin in our lives. Sin clouds our vision and distorts our view of things, making it impossible for us to see God’s leading. Worse yet, sin can cause us to be unable even to realize that our vision is faulty. When we allow Him the freedom to operate in our lives, the Holy Spirit acts with surgical precision to remove the sinful cataracts of our eyes and renew our vision.

Some Christians are uncomfortable trusting the Spirit for guidance because they fear it allows too much subjectivity into the process.

However, the role of the Spirit is to confirm within our hearts the objective truth of the Word of God. George Mueller, who cared for thousands of orphans in 19th century England and was known as a man of great faith and prayer explains, “I will seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Spirit guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.”

The People of God

Fellow believers are another resource we can draw on to understand the will of God. Proverbs 20:18 reminds us to make plans by seeking advice. It is part of God’s design for the church that more mature believers and those gifted at teaching are to teach the Word to younger believers (1 Timothy 3:11-14). This mentoring approach not only communicates principles found in Scripture, but also shows us how to appropriately apply those principles in everyday life.

An example of the biblical pattern is found in Acts chapter 15. Differences of opinion had arisen in the early church regarding the extent to which Gentile believers should be required to keep the Jewish law. Leaders in the church met together in Jerusalem to seek God’s will concerning this situation. Acts 15:6 records that the apostles and elders met to consider this question. It was only after much open discussion that Peter stood up to address the assembly. Then further exchanges took place before the group finally reached a consensus decision regarding the direction they should take.

Circumstances

God expects the believer to use his mind in the process of discovering His will. One of the ways that we meet this expectation is to make sense of the world around us⎜the circumstances that come our way. Often, a common sense approach toward interpreting political, social, economic, or other events will guide us to the right plan of action. For example, a person may be considering adding an addition to his house, one that would take it to within fourteen feet of a right of way. If the local authorities pass an ordinance restricting construction within 25 feet of a right of way, then the person no longer needs to consider whether it is God’s will for him to build the addition.

We should also consider the circumstances of our existence. God has created each of us as a unique human being, with a complex blend of abilities, interests, and desires. Surely these factors⎜God’s design⎜ should be taken into account when determining His will for us. It is highly unlikely that God’s will for a short, slow young man with no interest in sports is for him to play professional basketball. However, a young lady who is extremely talented musically and has a strong desire to perform may well be led of God to use those abilities and to satisfy that desire by performing to His glory.

Conclusion

Although there is not a set formula for knowing God’s will, God often reveals His will in the ways we have considered. Equally important, if not more so, than the means of discovering God’s will is the mindset we have while searching for direction. God will bless us as we exhibit the following attitudes.

Submission. “Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll do it.” Some Christians wrongly believe that they can ask God for direction and then decide whether or not they want to obey the marching orders they receive. Others simply look for confirmation of what they’ve already decided they want to do. Either approach betrays a stubborn resistance to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. The fact is that God reveals more of Himself and His will to us as we walk in obedience. Remember that it is in the context of obedience that Jesus spoke of His new relationship with His disciples and the revelation of the Father’s will to them (John 15).

Humility. “I know I don’t have all the answers.” The story is told of an old sailor who repeatedly got lost at sea, so his friends gave him a compass and urged him to use it. The next time he went out in his boat, he followed their advice and took the compass with him. But as usual he became hopelessly confused and was unable to find land. Finally, he was rescued by his friends. Disgusted and impatient with him, they asked, “Why didn’t you use that compass we gave you? You could have saved us a lot of trouble!” The sailor responded, “I didn’t dare to! I wanted to go north, but as hard as I tried to make the needle aim in that direction, it just kept on pointing southeast.” Our pride tells us that we know best or that we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. We must strive for a posture of humility that expresses itself in a teachable spirit and a willingness to learn from others.

Patience. “I’m willing to wait as long as it takes.” Determining God’s will is often not easy. It may involve waiting on God and wrestling with Him about the decision. Noted theologian and author James Packer reminds us, “ ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms and it is a necessary word, for the Lord often keeps us waiting. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.” We can rest assured that God will never keep us waiting longer than is necessary to accomplish His purposes. However He knows that the process may be as important as the outcome.

Psalm 119:105 speaks of God’s word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is not referred to as a floodlight to illumine the road ahead. Often we have only enough light to take the next step on the path, but that is sufficient if we are willing to trust the One leading us. In this process of seeking God’s will, we would do well to remember the prayer of Richard of Chicester, a saint of the early 13th century: “Day by day, dear Lord, of Thee three things I pray. To see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, to follow Thee more nearly, day by day.”

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Psalm 119:33-40. List the verbs in these verses associated with God’s Word.

• Choose an area in which you want to know God’s will. Based on what you have learned in this lesson, write down what you will do to discover God’s will.

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Some years back after Henry Norris Russell, the Princeton astronomer, had concluded a lecture on the Milky Way, a woman came to him and asked, “If our world is so little, and the universe is so great, can we believe God really pays any attention to us?” Dr. Russell replied, “That depends, madam, entirely on how big a God you believe in.”

One of our greatest needs is to have a purpose in life.

God has built into each one of us a desire to do something meaningful with our lives—to make a contribution. The American naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau wrote, toward the end of a life in which he could find no ultimate meaning, “most of us live lives of quiet desperation.” While his statement is perhaps overly pessimistic, it is generally agreed that most people seem to be seeking for something more out of life than they are able to find. The good news is that not only does God instill that desire within us, but He also has a plan for each of us to satisfy that desire and find great meaning and significance in our lives. Along with the astronomer Russell, we worship a God big enough to create the universe and gracious enough to design a special place for us in it.

Architect PlansGod has a plan for each believer.

God grants both the need for meaning and the opportunity to find it. This has been part of His master plan from the beginning. As Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (New Living Translation, Ephesians 2:10). In the original language of scripture, the word “masterpiece” literally means “poem”. Think of your life as a poem written by God, with each day a new opportunity to do the things that He has planned for you to do. As living poems, we find meaning and significance in fulfilling the desire of the Author of the universe.

God’s design involves both privilege and responsibility. Philippians chapter two, verses 12 and 13 say, “Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” Note that the verbs are active on both sides of the equation. The believer’s role is by no means passive. As Paul reminds the Christians in Philippi, we have a responsibility to do the things that please God. However, he also reminds them that it is God who gives the ability to fulfill the responsibility.

God progressively reveals His plan for each believer.

Once we understand that God has things for us to do, we must think through how we come to understand what He expects us to do. The believer is not given a playbook at the time of salvation or upon being baptized or joining a church. In reality, the rest of the believer’s life is a process of discovering and doing the will of God. In His infinite wisdom, God reveals His plan more fully as we grow in spiritual maturity and understanding. This is similar to the work of an artist who starts first with the background and covers the canvas with broad strokes. Then he paints in the major points of interest. Finally, he fills in the details.

God’s plan for the believer has both an internal component (spiritual growth) and an external component (ministry). The internal is “being” and the external is “doing.” The internal component has priority. We must be what God wants us to be before we can do what God wants us to do. Ministry (the external component) is an overflow of the inner life. However, ministry is also a means of future growth. So we see a circle where spiritual growth leads to ministry, and ministry leads to more spiritual growth.

The general expectations that God has of all who follow Him are woven throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. These expectations generally focus on the believer’s inner life and include such things as maintaining an attitude of prayer and dependence on God, keeping ourselves pure, giving thanks in all situations, being kind and considerate to others, and so on.

Specific expectations, or details of the plan, often revolve around the good works (ministry) that God has planned for us to do. One of the primary ways that we fulfill our purpose is by using our spiritual gifts. Scripture makes it clear that God’s Holy Spirit has endowed each believer with one or more spiritual gifts in keeping with His master plan. As we develop and use these gifts to His glory, we are fulfilling our role in His plan. Other dynamics are also at work that help define God’s will in our lives (personality, interests, passions, etc.).

When it comes to discovering God’s will for their lives, many Christians seem most concerned with major decisions such as who to marry, what career to pursue, where to live, and so on. We don’t find this preoccupation in scripture. Rather, the emphasis there is on godliness and ministry. These twin pursuits provide a context in which to make the other decisions.

At each point along this path, God presents us with ministry opportunities that are appropriate for our level of spiritual maturity. Consider the example of a father who wants to teach his son carpentry. The father, himself a master craftsman, can see from the beginning the potential of his apprentice and the beautiful objects he will someday create.

However, he starts with very simple tasks. In the early years, the son’s primary responsibility is to watch his father and to help when asked. The father starts by teaching his son how to use simple tools. He gives him scrap pieces of wood to practice on.

As the son gains physical strength and maturity, the father increases the level of responsibility. At some point, he allows the son to begin using power tools. Once the son gains proficiency, the father gives him the opportunity to work on real projects, but always under the father’s close instruction and watchful eye. After many years of instruction and development, the son is ready to use any tool to tackle any project.

So it is with our heavenly Father as He develops His workmanship into workers. Just as a wise and considerate father would never give a young boy a dangerous power tool and leave him alone to complete a complex project, so our Father does not require anything beyond our capability. We see this pattern in the life of Christ as He worked with His disciples. From a relational perspective, Jesus asked his followers first only to trust in Him as the Messiah they had been looking for, then as their provider and protector, and finally as the One who desired and was able to work through them. From a ministry perspective, Jesus first took his disciples with him so they could observe. Gradually, He began to give them more responsibility and involve them in the ministry. Finally, He sent them out on their own.

Over a period of many months together, the conversations between Jesus and His disciples went from “Come and see” to “Follow me” to “Work with me” to the point where He could finally tell His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And also, “You shall do greater works than you have seen me do.” It would have been absurd for Jesus to utter the last statements as soon as His disciples began to follow Him, but from the beginning His design was to prepare them to hear and respond to these words.

God works out His plan in the midst of the challenges of life.

If God’s only desire were to bring us safely home to glory, He could easily choose to arrange things so that Christians would be protected and immune from all the bad things of life. But because He desires for us to grow into His likeness, to be His agents for change in this world and to help accomplish His purposes, He allows us to face life as it comes and teaches us in and through these circumstances.

Challenges are a daily fact of life for the child of God. These difficulties come from any number of sources including our own sin nature, the fallen world, the sins of others, spiritual warfare, human limitations, emotional issues, and sometimes even from God Himself. Because of these challenges, the working out of God’s plan is not a smooth process. It is often not predictable, easy, or comfortable. In fact, the path we are called to follow is often difficult, sometimes painful, confusing, and dangerous, and may even appear to be a dead end at times.

There is much written in scripture about the role trials and troubles play in the Christian’s life. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote that we are to joyfully welcome difficulties as friends because of the good that they accomplish in our lives. Granted, this can be a difficult thing to do in the midst of the trial. But we should focus on the outcome, knowing that challenges, when responded to properly, produce perseverance, endurance, strength of character, and spiritual maturity. In short, they help conform us to the image of Christ. An important point to remember is that there is nothing that comes into our lives that cannot be redeemed by God for our good and for His glory.

To further understand the role of difficulties, let’s return to the earlier illustration of a painting. The artist starts first with the background and covers the canvas in broad strokes. Then he begins to add the details. A frequently used technique to add definition and focus to a painting is to use darker colors for contrast, adding outline, shadow, and depth. So it is with the difficult challenges—the darker colors—that God uses to bring greater clarity to His plans for us. Challenges are part of the plan. Difficulties give definition to the picture, and make it come more clearly into focus.

God links His plan for each believer with His greater plan for all creation.

Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “It is always true that meaning is found, when it is found, in some larger context.” A further element of significance for believers is that we play a role in the larger scheme of things. It is God’s design to involve us in His unfolding drama of redemption. Ours are not simply unrelated bit parts to fill time between scenes. Rather we are players on the stage of human history with significant roles to play.

Throughout history, God has chosen to use humans to accomplish His purposes. We see this consistently throughout Scripture. Then it was an Abraham, a Moses, a Ruth, a David, or a Mary. Today it may be a Fred or a Tiffany or a Charles. Reading through the written record, we can plainly see how God had determined for people to be involved in His plan. It is often not as easy to see or even to believe that we also are part of His plan. But this is the startling truth.

When John the Baptizer came to prepare the way for the Messiah, he proclaimed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” As Jesus walked and ministered among the people, He taught, “The Kingdom of Heaven is among you.” And so the Kingdom of God has already been established in the hearts and lives of those who have chosen to follow Jesus. And it continues to grow today as His Word goes out and more are brought to faith in Christ. As we fulfill His plan for our lives, we are doing Kingdom work. And Scripture tells us that someday we will rule with Christ when He establishes His eternal reign. Significant work indeed!

 

Summary

The things that we have considered should bring great joy to the heart of every believer. Each of us can have full confidence that our lives have purpose and meaning because of the following truths:

1. God has a plan for every believer, which He progressively reveals to us.

2. God works out His plan through and in the difficult challenges of life.

3. We are part of God’s larger plan for the whole world.

 

Application Suggestions:

• Meditate on Ephesians 1:9-12 and Ephesians 2:10.

Ephesians 1:9-23; Ephesians 2:10

• Write down how you see God working out His plan in your life right now.

• Set aside time to give thanks to God for His plan for you and the world.

• Look back at your life and reflect on how God has used challenges to work out His plan for you.

 

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

Just as birth, growth and development, and death are primary components of physical life, so, too, the spiritual life features significant lifecycle events. We are born to new life, we grow and develop in our spiritual lives, and one day we will be completely transformed into Christ’s likeness. Or, to put it another way, we have been made holy, we are being made holy, and one day we shall be made completely holy. Today, we live in the “already, but not yet.” The exciting truth is that God plays a significant role in each phase of our spiritual lives.

It is by God’s initiative that we begin our spiritual lives. The apostle Paul taught the church at Corinth that Christ is the one who made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. In 1 Corinthians 1:20 he writes, “God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom.” (New Living Translation) And later Paul writes to the same group of believers that, “God made Him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:20) Elsewhere, Paul describes this event as Christ trading His riches for our poverty so that we might become rich—in spiritual riches (II Corinthians 8:9). Some have referred to this transaction as The Great Exchange.

We have another exchange to look forward to—when we will exchange our weak, mortal bodies for glorious, imperishable bodies. At some point in the future, God will complete the work He began when He saved us. Paul deals with this aspect extensively in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians when he discusses the resurrection from the dead and the nature of the glorified body. The apostle John described our future hope this way: “What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He [Christ] appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

So we see that God began this work and He will finish it. As believers, we sometimes have a tendency to view the in-between phase as solely our responsibility. The truth is that God plays a crucial role in our spiritual growth and development. However, this truth does not imply that man’s role is unimportant. It is the interaction between what God does and what we do that produces growth. Paul provides remarkable insight to this complementary dynamic when he writes in Colossians 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul was aware that he had a responsibility to expend effort; however, he also recognized that, without God working through him and giving him strength, his efforts would come to nothing.

As noted by Kenneth Boa in his book That I May Know Him, author and seminary professor Howard Hendricks has described the spiritual life as “the life of Christ reproduced in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit in obedient response to the word of God.” This perspective on spiritual growth balances our responsibility to be obedient with God’s enabling power.

We can better understand God’s role in the growth process by looking at the two primary ways He influences us. God works in us both internally and externally, as discussed in the following sections.

God influences us internally.

God’s internal influence in our spiritual growth takes place primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit living in us. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in our lives permanently. Speaking to this point, Paul challenged the believers at Corinth: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) This indwelling of the Spirit is the basis of all else that happens in our spiritual lives.

The Holy Spirit produces a permanent change of heart that causes the believer’s disposition to be tender toward God instead of hostile to Him (Romans 8:5-8). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel spoke of this heart transplant as God taking away hearts of stone and giving hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). He went on to say that, after surgery, the transplant recipients would follow God’s decrees and be careful to keep His laws.

Believers who are indwelled by the Spirit also need to be filled with the Spirit—submitting daily to His lordship and control. As we yield ourselves to God, the Spirit impacts our lives in the following ways.

He writes God’s law on our hearts.

God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, foretold the day when He would make a new covenant with His people (through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). He said, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33) This new covenant would not be written on tablets of stone but would rather be engraved on hearts by the Holy Spirit. Even today we contrast the phrase “the letter of the law” with “the spirit of the law.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the law down to the letter. However, it had not been written on their hearts. As a result, Jesus would say of them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones.” (Matthew 23:27) Elsewhere, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus charged the religious leaders saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) It is only when God’s Spirit writes His law on our hearts that we can worship Him in spirit and in truth.

He gives us holy desires.

Along with writing God’s law on our hearts, the Spirit also grants us the desire to follow what God’s law tells us to do. As Paul explained to the believers at Philippi, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) In other words, it wouldn’t do any good for us to know that God wants us to be holy if He didn’t also give us the desire to be holy. Though we still have to battle against our sin nature that wants us to continue in sin, we now have the Holy Spirit leading us to pursue righteousness.

He convicts us of sin.

In the devotional booklet Our Daily Bread, the story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” inquired an old deacon. “Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved I’m a sinner running from sin!” She was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted.

The girl’s words in this story, “I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever,” ring true with many Christians who are experiencing spiritual growth. This greater awareness of sin occurs because the Spirit reveals more and more sin to us. As we pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me,” the Spirit will point out to us areas that we still need to work on. Whenever we become aware of sin, we recognize that the Spirit is doing His job.

He gives us power.

The Holy Spirit also gives us power⎜power to walk in obedience, power to do good works (Ephesians 3:20), power to stand against evil (Ephesians 6:10), power to stand up under adversity (2 Corinthians 12:10), and power to bear witness before an unbelieving world (Acts 1:8 and 4:33).

He bears His fruit in our lives.

The result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is that we will bear His kind of fruit. Examples of this fruit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is the evidence of growth and maturity. If we are growing, we will bear fruit. If we are not growing, we will be unable to bear fruit. It’s that simple.

God influences us externally.

God does not depend solely on His internal work in our lives to bring about spiritual growth. He complements this strategy with an external component that can be seen in the following ways.

Through life events

God uses difficult circumstances, consequences of our choices, and persecution to mold us into the kind of people He wants us to be. Responding appropriately to unfavorable events or circumstances is a frequent theme in the New Testament writings. Christians are challenged to see God’s hand in these things and to use them as opportunities to grow and develop in faith. James tells us to welcome times of testing as our friends (James 1:2). This is not a fatalistic or masochistic mind set; rather, it represents a mature understanding of the greater purposes that can be achieved through these tribulations. Suffering produces perseverance; discipline produces righteousness. And, as we endure these events and circumstances, we remain confident that God causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Unfortunately, some interpret difficult circumstances as a sign that God has deserted them or no longer cares about them. They resent or resist the situation they find themselves in and decide to wait until things change for the better before they pursue spiritual growth.

Dallas Willard challenges this mindset when he writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s Kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being ‘right,’ we will simply have no place to receive His Kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life.”

Through the results of our walk

God also uses positive results from our walk to motivate us to continue our pursuit of holiness. We are told in Scripture to obey God, to spend time with Him in prayer, to study His Word, and so on. As we exercise these spiritual disciplines, God brings about growth. When we engage in healthy activities such as proper diet, rest, and exercise, we feel better and this motivates us to continue. So it is with the spiritual life. The more we grow, the more we desire to grow.

Through the influence of other believers

God also brings about spiritual growth through the influence of other believers. It is part of God’s plan for His children to work together and to help each other in many ways. Whether it be the teaching or preaching of believers so gifted or through the encouragement, modeling, challenge, rebuke, or accountability that someone provides, fellow believers are an important means of growth. The apostle Paul certainly understood this dynamic and the role God enabled him to play in the lives of other believers. He referred to believers as his spiritual offspring and, at one point, wrote to the believers in Galatia that he “was in the pains of childbirth until Christ was formed in them.” (Galatians 4:19) What a profound picture of the influence of other believers on our spiritual growth!

Conclusion

Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” This knowledge of God’s role in our spiritual growth leads us to a position of humility, gratitude, and dependence. Further, a deep understanding of God’s ongoing work of grace in our lives should motivate us to take responsibility for the role we play in our growth and energize us for the task. This aspect of spiritual growth will be discussed in the next Pocket Principle.

Application Suggestions:

• List some examples of ways you have seen God influence your spiritual growth.
• Meditate on Philippians 2:12-13. As you meditate, think of an area in which you have experienced spiritual growth. Write down the part God has played and the part you have played.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

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“The average church member’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is so vague it is nearly nonexistent” (source unknown).

It is important for Christians to understand the person and work of the Holy Spirit and how they can follow Scripture’s command to be filled with the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit an equal person of the triune Godhead, worthy of our worship and obedience, but also His ministry is of utmost importance in our lives. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that it was good for them that He go away so that He could send the Spirit (John 16:7). What an incredible thought this must have been to the disciples, who were fearful and full of grief because Jesus was talking about leaving them. But obviously, He meant what He said.

The Holy Spirit is instrumental in the process of salvation. The Spirit brings conviction to our hearts and shows us our need of a Savior. Jesus describes the new birth as being born of the Spirit (John 3:6). At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer and is the defining characteristic that he is truly a believer. In fact, Paul writes that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all (Romans 8:9). By contrast, Paul says that those who truly are Christians are marked with a seal, who is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). John echoes this thought when he writes, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (I John 4:13)

However, the work of the Spirit is not limited to our initial conversion experience. Scripture emphasizes the importance for every believer to be filled with the Spirit. Our entire Christian life should be characterized by a continual reliance on the Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit” is a constant refrain of the New Testament epistles, letters that were written to give instruction to the early Christians. Alternate phrases such as “living by faith,” “drawing near to God,” and “submitting to God,” relate to this same idea of being filled with the Spirit.

In Scripture the phrase “filling of the Spirit” is used to describe the empowering, wisdom, and guidance the Spirit brings into a believer’s life. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come and give them power — power that would enable them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). When the Holy Spirit did come upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, He filled them with power, with the result that they lived holy lives and impacted the community.

Take Peter, for example, the disciple who had three times denied knowing Jesus the night before He was crucified. In Acts chapter two, we see Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, standing up and addressing the crowd that gathered to see what all the excitement was about. Through the power of the Spirit, Peter boldly spoke words of truth and conviction, such that several thousand became followers of Christ that day. Throughout the rest of the New Testament and throughout the history of the church, we witness the transformation that takes place when the Holy Spirit fills and controls a person.

In this lesson we will discuss more about what it means to be filled with the Spirit, but there is a mysterious aspect of being filled that cannot be explained. In the third chapter of his gospel account, John captures a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of the Jews. Jesus was discussing the necessity of the new birth and, in this context, He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Just as there is a mystical element to the Spirit’s work in salvation, so too there is a mysterious element to the Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives that cannot be fully explained. However, we can begin to understand how a person is filled with the Spirit by understanding two biblical explanations.

A Helpful Analogy

The apostle Paul’s instruction recorded in Ephesians 5:18 provides important information about the filling of the Spirit. This verse reads as follows: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

There is a comparison and a contrast between the verbs in this verse. Being filled with the Spirit is compared to getting drunk with wine. The gist is: “Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by wine. Instead, allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit.” Just as habitual drunkards become known for being controlled by alcohol, so Christians who live spirit-filled lives develop a good reputation. Nineteenth-century American evangelist Dwight Moody was to have a campaign in England. An elderly English pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Such is the reputation of one who lives under the control of the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is also contrasted with getting drunk with wine. Wine depresses, while the Spirit stimulates and inspires. Being filled with alcohol causes a person to become sluggish, confused, and out of control. By contrast, being filled with the Spirit leads to a person being alert, engaged, and ready for action.

Understanding the Language

The complex verb structure of Ephesians 5:18 needs to be explored to better understand the analogy. There are four parts to the verb structure in this verse. The English translation is unable to reflect all the facets of the original Greek, so we need to study this verb in some detail. The following four points provide further insight.

The filling is a command.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands the believers at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit. This command shows that it is God’s will for believers to be filled with the Spirit. It is not an option; it is imperative to the Christian lifestyle. A scuba instructor would never tell a student, “The oxygen tank you have strapped to your back is your source of life. When you go under water, you can open the valve if you so desire.” Rather, he would command, “You must open the valve to your tank when you go underwater. It is the only way you can survive.” For a believer to attempt to live the Christian life without the filling of the Spirit is as foolish as it would be for a scuba diver to attempt to go deep under water without opening the valve to his air tank.

The command applies to all believers.

The understood subject “you” in Ephesians 5:18 is plural. The plural subject shows that the command was written to the whole church and not just to a particular person or to a select group of individuals. This command applies to all believers, young or old, male or female, introverted or extroverted, immature or mature. Being filled with the Spirit cannot be equated with maturity in Christ; however, it is a key part of the maturing process. We could perhaps say that one can be filled with the Spirit without being mature, but no one can reach Christian maturity without the consistent work of the Spirit in his life.

The filling is not done by us.

The verb is in the passive mood. When “be filled” is translated in the passive mood, it reads, “let the Spirit fill you.” In other words, it is something God wants to do for us. It is not something that requires us to meet difficult conditions first (other than submitting to His lordship, which can be difficult indeed). We do not need to achieve a certain level of expertise, we do not need to acquire certain knowledge or to learn special techniques—we simply need to let God fill us with His Spirit.

The filling needs to be an ongoing process.

The verb is in the present tense. In the Greek language, the present tense often conveys the idea that the action of the verb is repeated again and again. Thus, the filling of the Spirit needs to continually be made a reality through conscious dependence on God.

Unlike the effects of alcohol, the filling of the Spirit does not take time to wear off. The moment we choose to resume control over our own lives (when our feelings get hurt, when we get pushed into a corner, when we decide we want something we shouldn’t have or for whatever reason), we are no longer filled by (under the control of) the Spirit.

Dual Aspect of Being Filled with the Spirit—Repentance and Trust

When a person becomes a Christian, he repents (turns from his sin) and trusts Christ (turns to Christ) to give him salvation, forgiveness, and power to overcome sin in his life. Before salvation he is heading one direction; after salvation he is going the opposite direction. As Peter explained in his address to the crowd, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God…then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, New Living Translation)

When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of people in this world⎜those who are controlled by their own sinful nature, and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God (See Romans 8:5-8). All those who have not yet believed in Jesus for salvation fall into the first category because the Spirit is given only to those who have become children of God. Christians should always fall into the second category, but the reality of life is that we continue to sin and follow our sinful nature rather than walk in the Spirit. Because we continue to struggle with sin even after we become Christians, it is necessary to confess our sins and consciously trust God to empower us to live for Christ. In other words, it is necessary to continue the pattern of repentance and trust that first brought us to salvation. We should do this whenever we become aware of sin.

Conclusion

In order to enjoy new life in Christ, in order to please God and to walk worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus, in order to fulfill our destiny as Christ’s ambassadors ministering His love to a needy world, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit through repentance and trust, continually acknowledging our dependence on Him. As Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Application Suggestions:

• Meet with God and work through the Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit section below.
• Read Romans 8:5-8. Note the difference between a person controlled by the Holy Spirit and someone controlled by his sinful nature.

Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit

Guidelines for being filled with the Spirit:

• Ask God to bring to mind any sin(s) in your life or any areas He wants you
to obey or trust Him in.
• Write down whatever God brings to mind. Confess and repent.
• Write I John 1:9 across the list of sin(s), and destroy the paper.
• Acknowledge your dependence on God, and ask Him to fill you with His
Spirit.
• Believe that God wants to fill you with His Spirit and that He has.

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Broken CisternThere are many differences between man-made religions and Christianity, but perhaps the chief one is this: only Christianity offers the believer a relationship with God. All religions devised by man are, at their core, variations on the same theme, which is man trying to reach God. Christianity, by contrast, is the story of God reaching down to man and offering a relationship with Himself.

In its essence, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. When Christ called the first disciples to come and follow Him, He was calling them into a relationship with Him. The same is true of all who follow Him today. Through the miracle of new birth into the family of God, we enter into a new relationship. The Christian life is an unfolding, a widening, and a deepening of that relationship. Everything concerning Christian growth has its foundation in this relationship. Therefore, the filling of the Holy Spirit grows out of our relationship with Jesus.

John 7:37-39 emphasizes the connection between the filling of the Spirit and our relationship with Christ.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

Verse 39 indicates that Jesus was preparing believers for the time after his death when the Holy Spirit would come and continue His ministry. When Jesus talks about a relationship with Himself, He is also talking about the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invites believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit by relating to Him as indicated by the three action verbs recorded in John 7:37-39 (highlighted above). These actions are discussed below.

 

“Come to Me”

Thirst is a gift from the creator. Just as physical thirst is a signal that our body needs refreshment, so our spiritual thirst points out a need. Becoming aware of our spiritual thirst motivates us to come to Jesus. However, many go through life dissatisfied, discouraged, and despondent, but totally unaware of their thirst. It was no different in Jesus’ day. In his book Inside Out, noted Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb describes the scene in John 7 this way: “Our Lord Jesus walked into a group of people whose ritualistic practice of religion had so numbed their souls that they no longer were conscious of unsatisfied desires. To move them from lifeless ceremony toward the vitality of knowing God, He stood up and shouted, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’ There was no thought that perhaps some were thirsty and others were not. Every fallen person created to enjoy God is thirsty. But many, perhaps most, of the people Jesus invited were unaware of their thirst. Perhaps they had given up hope of ever finding satisfaction and had successfully turned their attention away from that ache inside. By focusing on other matters, thirsty people can sometimes become oblivious to their parched souls.”

In the fourth chapter of his gospel, the apostle John relates the story of a meeting Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at the city well in Sychar. This woman had already been married five times and was now living with her current lover. She apparently came to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and disdain of the other women of that village. The line to a country music song that says “looking for love in all the wrong places” pretty much describes this woman. In His conversation with her, Jesus was not interested in heaping shame on the woman or in offering simplistic answers to the obvious hurts in her life. Rather He was interested in helping her to identify her spiritual need⎜her thirst. As recorded in John 4:10 Jesus said to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Those who know their thirst can then turn to the source of satisfaction. Consider the following words of King David: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). Is it any wonder that David enjoyed such an intimate, personal relationship with God? He knew deep thirst; he found deep fulfillment. Thus he could affirm the testimony offered in Psalm 107:8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

In order to quench this deep thirst of our souls, we must come to Jesus. Nothing else and no one else can satisfy. The verb “come” used by Jesus in the present progressive tense means we are to come to Him again and again. Thus, spiritual thirst, like physical thirst, must be satisfied repeatedly. This truth reminds us that spiritual thirst is present both before and after salvation. Although Christians enjoy a relationship with God, this relationship is still hampered by our sinfulness and existence in a fallen world.

Note that Jesus invites us to come, but He does not coerce us. He does not force His way into our lives but rather offers us the opportunity to come enjoy His life. This stance is true to His nature and true to His design in creating us as moral beings. However, we should not misunderstand His approach to believe that He is disinterested in whether or not we come. He pursues us passionately and yearns for us to respond to Him. The “inviting” nature of God is woven throughout Scripture.

 

“Drink of Me ”

After coming to Jesus, we must “drink” of Him. This verb is also in the present progressive tense indicating an often-repeated action, a frequent or continual coming to Him to drink. Jesus’ choice of words emphasizes the force of His offer. Such is the function of His use of figurative language. Take, for example, the language a parent might use to motivate his child to learn. He might say, “I want you to learn all you can.” Or he could say, “Drink deeply of the fountain of knowledge.” The richness of the poetic language conveys a strength of conviction that goes beyond simply stating a desire. So it is with the invitation from Jesus to drink of Him. He earnestly desires that we come to Him for satisfaction, and He wants us to drink deeply from the fountain of His love.

We drink of Jesus by engaging in relational activities such as the following:

• Communing with Him⎜that is, simply dwelling in His presence and spending time with Him

• Worshipping Him⎜telling God how wonderful He is, reflecting on His marvelous deeds, expressing appreciation for who He is and all that He has done for us

• Listening to Him⎜reading His Word, being quiet before Him, trying to discern the leading of His Spirit

• Casting our cares on Him⎜being open and honest before God about our needs, our hurts, and our desires, baring our soul to Him, telling Him everything we are concerned about

• Allowing Him to minister to us⎜letting His Spirit minister to our spirit, letting Him calm our fears, salve our wounds, and encourage our hearts

As we spend time with Jesus in these ways and enjoy our relationship with Him, we find that He quenches our spiritual thirst.

 

“Trust [believe] in Me

The third verb⎜believe⎜is also in the present progressive tense, which expresses an action repeated over and over. We come to Jesus initially to trust Him to save us from our sins and to restore our relationship with God, which is our greatest need. Day by day, as we enjoy that restored relationship, Jesus invites us to choose to trust Him⎜to depend on Him to meet our needs.

Trust is a relational verb. As humans, we do business primarily through contracts, either oral or written. Essentially, every time we enter a contract, we are acknowledging that we do not fully trust the other person to hold up his end of the bargain. However, contracts should be unnecessary between close friends who share a healthy relationship because trust takes their place. In the same way, the more we grow in our relationship with God, the better we are able to trust Him, and the more we trust Him the more we grow and enjoy our relationship.

Conclusion

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. This fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not surprisingly, this fruit is described largely in relational terms. The result of coming to Jesus, drinking of Him and trusting in Him, is that we will be filled to overflowing. The overflow can be seen in the impact on others that is the result of our filling. We will be more patient with others, more gentle with others, and so on. Therefore, the result of our relationship with God is that we also enjoy healthier relationships with others as the ministry of the Spirit overflows in our lives.

Several thousand years ago God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, charged the people of Israel as follows: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The same charge can be leveled against us today if we seek to satisfy the thirst of our souls in any other way than through allowing the Holy Spirit to minister the love of God to us and through us. We need to keep coming, keep drinking, and keep trusting and thus find in Jesus the life that is truly Life.

 

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 116. How does the Psalmist relate to God? How does he commune, cast his cares, listen, worship and allow God to minister to him?

• In your devotional time this week, concentrate on doing one or more the following:

Communing with Him

Casting your cares on Him

Listening to Him

Worshipping Him

Allowing Him to minister to you.

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