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“God, make me good, but not yet.” – St. Augustine

The quote above attributed to one of the early church fathers, while perhaps tongue in cheek, contains a significant element of truth. Our goodness (growth in holiness) depends on God, but it also depends on us. God will not make us good until we are ready and willing to partner with Him in the process. We have focused previously on God’s role in our spiritual growth and meditated on the magnificent resources available to us. Now, we turn our attention to the flip side of the equation and focus on what is expected of us. The truth is that the believer plays a significant role in his own spiritual growth.

Consider, for example, the building of a garden shed. You may think about what you want the shed to look like, and you may draft plans for the structure. You may even secure all the necessary tools and materials to build the shed. However, at some point you have to actually get to work⎜to saw boards and hammer nails or the shed will never get built. Successful completion doesn’t depend on your grand dreams or your good intentions. It comes about only through hard work. So it is with the Christian life. God has placed everything we need for growth at our disposal but, until we actually start to use what we have been given, we will not make progress.

Paul wrote to his young charge Timothy that he should train himself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). Paul uses an athletic analogy to convey to Timothy that effort will be involved. The Olympic athlete dedicates himself to countless hours of rigorous training, all the while refraining from otherwise acceptable enjoyments to maintain discipline, all for the sake of achieving his goal. So, too, the follower of Christ must engage in certain activities and refrain from others in order to achieve the goal of increasing Christlikeness.

A word of caution as we delve into this topic. The Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint. It takes time to develop the endurance necessary to run a marathon. It doesn’t happen overnight. Some believers hear of great Christian saints who read many chapters of the Bible or pray for several hours each day. Inspired by their example and determined to imitate their dedication, they try to maintain the same habits. Rare is the person who can immediately achieve that level of discipline. Most of us never do. And that’s okay. As we will see below, God does call us to study His Word and to pray. But it is far better to start slowly and develop consistent habits than it is to try to do too much too soon and give up discouraged and disillusioned.

Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy that, “It is much harder [to learn to pray] if we succumb to the temptation to engage in heroic efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.”

Having said this, the truth remains that the degree to which a believer follows God’s instructions determines the degree to which he grows. Following God’s instructions is not always easy, but the fruit is of great value. As the believer engages in the following activities, he will grow spiritually.

Understanding and Applying the Word of God

Believers grow spiritually as they get to know God⎜His nature, His purposes, and His ways. And the Bible is the primary source God uses to reveal Himself to us. In order to get to know God better, a believer must understand the meaning of Scripture by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the Word. In His second letter to Timothy, Paul writes of the importance and value of Scripture in these words: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, New Living Translation)

The author of the first Psalm paints a vivid picture of the person who delights in God’s Word and meditates on it frequently. This person will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3) What a beautiful picture of the outcome God desires to see in our lives!

It is important that our study of the Word never becomes an end in itself. The purpose of study is to learn and to grow, not just to gain more knowledge. There are people who know much about the Bible and have even memorized lengthy passages but who do not believe in the God of the Bible and have no interest in obeying Him.

James warned his readers against being hearers of the word only, saying that in so doing they were deceiving themselves (James 1:22). Jesus closed a lengthy address (commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount) to the crowd gathered on a hillside by giving the parable of the wise man who builds his house on the rock and the foolish man who builds his house on the sand. The wise man is the one who listens and obeys, while the foolish man listens but does not put into practice what he has heard (Matthew 7:24-27).

Praying

God has provided an open line of communication with believers through prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God, knowing that He is always available and expecting Him to respond to us in the way that best suits His purposes and is in our best interests.

However, prayer is not simply an option that we should resort to when we have exhausted our own resources. Rather it should be the natural response to any situation we find ourselves in. We should turn to God first, whether to ask for guidance, protection, provision, or whatever need we might have. Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Sometimes we may tend to make prayer harder than it needs to be. We don’t have to learn certain techniques, memorize complicated formulas, use just the right words, or adopt a particular posture. However, Scripture does provide a model for the kinds of things we should pray about.

Many of us are familiar with what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer. How often do we look upon this prayer as an actual example for us to follow rather than a fine piece of oratory to be recited or sung? We should remember that our Lord offered this model prayer in response to His disciples’ request for Him to teach them to pray.

This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your Kingdom come,

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

The prayer begins with recognition of the exalted position of God and ends with recognition of our position of dependence. It is composed of two primary parts. The first section focuses on God as we acknowledge that we are speaking to our loving heavenly Father, worshiping His holy name (which represents His nature and perfect character), and asking that His perfect will be accomplished here on earth. The second section focuses on our needs, as we ask for daily provision, for forgiveness, and for spiritual protection.

Fellowshipping with Believers

One of the greatest needs of our day is for people to develop healthy relationships. God knows this and has provided for this need through fellowship with other believers. The restoration of our vertical relationship with God paves the way for healthy, mutually beneficial horizontal relationships with others. However, these relationships must be nourished through spending time together and celebrating the life we share in Jesus.

This is why Scripture tells us that we should not neglect meeting together with other believers. We need each other. The Christian life was never designed to be an individual pursuit. Regular fellowship with other believers provides comfort, accountability, instruction, encouragement, support, and direction. If a believer is not involved in a local church, he may develop distorted thinking, lack emotional support, feel insecure, and flounder without accountability.

Serving Others

Not only are we to spend time with other believers, we are to serve one another. Again, Jesus is our example. He told His disciples that He came not to be served but rather to serve others. Later He challenged them to serve others as He had served them (Matthew 20:28 and John 13:15).

Serving others is not simply something God thought up to help build character. Rather, service benefits both the giver and the receiver. It benefits the receiver by meeting a need. It benefits the giver by allowing him to experience the joy of seeing a need met and by enabling him to impact others. Along the way, we all have the opportunity to be on the giving end and on the receiving end, and we can find equal joy in each.

Most service to others is nothing heroic but simply involves everyday expressions of love such as offering a kind word of encouragement, giving someone a ride, providing a listening ear, fixing a meal, having a good attitude, or sharing what God is doing in our lives. Scripture emphasizes the “everydayness” of service by saying, “Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.” (Galatians 6:10, New Living Translation)

Recognizing The Centrality of Relationships

There is a common theme that runs through the four activities discussed above, and that is the strong cord of relationship. This should not be surprising as relationship is at the heart of the Christian life. We have a new relationship with God and new relationships with His people. Our relationship with God and our worship of God are at the core of everything we do. Without worship, study becomes mechanical and lifeless, prayer becomes self-centered and demanding, fellowship becomes forced and empty, and service becomes an onerous burden.

Conclusion

A believer will grow spiritually as he consistently studies the Word, prays, fellowships with believers, and serves others with genuine humility and a desire to please God. The four topics covered in this lesson by no means exhaust the opportunities for growth; these are simply the primary or foundational means of growth. Other disciplines that may prove helpful to the believer include silence, solitude, fasting, and frugality among others.

However, these foundational activities must be engaged in by anyone who is serious about growth. Although Scripture emphasizes that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), there are no shortcuts to Christian maturity. Scripture and the experience of saints through the centuries prove otherwise. It would be the height of folly for any of us to think that we will be the first to achieve maturity without effort.

The good news is that the ball is in our court. The October 1997 issue of “Today in the Word” relates that the great Scottish Bible teacher Alexander MacLaren once wrote: “We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor?” So we see, then, that the choice is ours. May each of us desire increasing godliness and use the keys we have been given.

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 1. What happens to a believer who becomes isolated from other believers and/or God’s Word? List the benefits of meditating on God’s Word.

• Read Romans 12:9-16. List ways a believer should demonstrate love to others.

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worldAll of God’s creation is interdependent in some way: the food chain demonstrates interdependence for nourishment; the life cycles of plants and animals demonstrate interdependence for reproduction, and so on. Man, as a part of God’s creation, is interdependent with the rest of creation. We are dependent on air to survive; dependent on plants and animals for food; dependent on other people for companionship. God created us this way. In essence, He created us incomplete so that we would have needs!

One of the reasons God created us this way is to show us our need for Him and to move us toward Him as the One who can provide for all our needs. Everyone of us can probably point to specific felt needs in our lives that brought us to the point of pursuing God. And without any sense of our needs we would not have pursued Him.

Problems arise when man tries to get his needs met apart from God’s design, either through inappropriate relationships, substance abuse, materialism, or an endless list of activities which do not satisfy or nourish us but do, rather, hurt us. In order to avoid these destructive behaviors, Christians sometimes resort to denying or minimizing the fact that they have any needs. It is important that we accept the fact that we have needs and that we learn how to meet them appropriately.

Even if we deny our needs, they motivate us anyway. Through many of our activities (both good and bad) we are actually trying to get our needs met. For instance, women read romance novels and men look at pornography to create a fantasy world in their minds, rather than having the real relationships they crave. In fact, by focusing on these fantasies, they may develop expectations and ideas about relationships that are unrealistic and harmful. At the same time, they miss out on the better ways that God uses to meet their needs.

There are many kinds of needs: physical, spiritual, psychological, social, etc., with our physical needs being the most obvious. Without oxygen we would literally die within a few minutes. We can only survive a few days without water and a few weeks without food. Our spiritual, psychological, and social needs may not be as obvious but are also critically important to our overall well-being. We can get a better understanding of our primary needs by looking at the way God created man and how He has provided for these needs.

Created with a need for a personal relationship with God
One of our greatest needs is for a personal relationship with God. After God created man, He related to him on a personal basis (Genesis 2:19, 3:8-9)[Listen]. Both Adam and Eve were aware of God’s presence and conversed with Him. After the fall, man continued to seek a relationship with his Creator. This is seen in all cultures by man’s propensity to place gods in his life in an attempt to reach the true God he longs to know (Romans 1:21-23)[Listen]. This is also demonstrated by the fact that God has continued to pursue a relationship with man after the fall and has provided a way for mankind to come back into fellowship with Him (John 6:44, I Peter 3:18)[Listen].

There are certain needs that only God can meet. He is the only one who could provide a way of salvation for us (I Peter 3:18)[Listen]. He is the only one who could remove the barriers that prevented us from having a relationship with Him (Colossians 2:13-14)[Listen]. He is the only one who could draw us to Himself (John 6:44)[Listen]. Blaise Pascal, the famous French scientist and philosopher, said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man that can only be filled by Jesus Christ.”

Created with a need for value and worth
Another need we all share is the need to know that we have value and worth. Both theologians and psychologists agree that all people feel a deep desire to be valued by God, other people, and themselves. Because man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28)[Listen], he does have worth and value (Psalm 8:4-5)[Listen]. Even after the fall, all men (including non-Christians) continue to bear God’s image, even though it is marred (James 3:9)[Listen]. Therefore, man has value and worth whether he realizes it or not.

Unfortunately, many believers don’t realize that they have inherent value and worth and therefore, seek to be assured of their value and worth from people who can’t give assurance or give it inconsistently. Often they seek it from parents who may be overly critical or distant and who are unable to give them what they need. Understanding that God has created us in His image and the price He paid to reconcile us to Himself is the only consistent way to realize what tremendous value we have.

Created with a need for impact
An important need that is also identified by both religious leaders and psychologists is our deep desire for purpose in this life. Man needs to have significance and to know that he has the ability to impact his world. The Creator gave man a very important responsibility when he gave him the task of ruling over and maintaining His Creation! (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6-8)[Listen]. Man has done incredible things and made unbelievable advances as he has developed technology and processes to manipulate his environment. Unfortunately, he can use these powers for evil as well as for good.

After the Fall, man’s need to have an impact in the world is still a driving force in him, and God continues to offer us the means to meet it. As Christians, God has given us the additional opportunity to advance and build His Kingdom (Romans 10:13-15, Ephesians 4:11-16)[Listen] and help to restore what has been damaged and ruined by the fall (Isaiah 61:1-3)[Listen]. God’s provision for us to impact our world reinforces the fact that this is an important requirement for our well-being.

Created with a need for relationship
One of our most important needs is our requirement for human companionship. In the Garden of Eden, Adam had all his physical needs met and enjoyed close fellowship with God. In spite of this, it was God himself who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God had made man in such a way that he needs other people.

God helped Adam see his longing for a companion by having him name the animals, and as Adam did this, he realized that there was no one like him (Genesis 2:19, 20)[Listen]. Then God created Eve, who had a body of bones and flesh like Adam’s, but with some important modifications (Genesis 2:18, 21-22)[Listen]. Adam was obviously pleased (Genesis 2:23)[Listen].

Many generations later we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, still need companions, and the Bible tells us that God has provided two institutions to help meet this need: the family and the church. Numerous Bible verses discuss the importance of having good, loving human relationships. We are even told that next to loving God, the greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40)[Listen].

Conclusion
In conclusion, God created us with needs. He has also provided us with the means to meet them. Our most important needs are to have close relationships with both God and our fellow man, to be able to impact our world for good and to have value and significance in this life. We should not deny these needs but should seek to satisfy them in ways that God intended.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Genesis 1:26-2:25 [Listen]. Consider how man was created and how God related to and provided for him.
• List some of the things you do to try to get these needs (mentioned above) met.

 

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The Fall of Man – Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617)

If man is created in the image of God, why does he struggle with so many problems? Why do people have so much trouble getting along? Why are there so many wars? Why are people so selfish? These and many questions like them betray the fact that there is something wrong with man. Though he started out well, something happened along the way that upset the apple cart, and he has never fully recovered.

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there is a record of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and we learn what happened to man that has caused so many problems. We can only imagine that the garden was a beautiful, lush place filled with all kinds of vegetation and animals. The weather was perfect, and there was plenty to eat. There were also opportunities to explore and learn. Everyone got along well, and God was at their “beck and call”.

God had given them only one restriction. They could eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree in the middle of the garden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9,15-17). God told Adam that if he were to eat from that tree he would die.

In Genesis 3 another character enters the garden—Satan in the form of a talking serpent. His purpose was to try to persuade Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. In a very clever way the serpent called God’s character into question and caused Eve to doubt God’s goodness (Genesis 3:1-6). He convinced Eve to try the fruit, and she, in turn, convinced Adam to join her, and nothing has been the same since.

What happened as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin is often called the Fall of man. He became less than he was created to be. Before the Fall, man desired to know and follow God. Afterward, man’s attitudes were hostile toward God (Romans 8:5-8). This inclination against God is what the Bible calls a sin nature (Galatians 5:19-21). Man’s hostility or his indifference toward God leads to many sinful behaviors. As a result of the Fall, man is thoroughly sinful and unable to make his way back to God. He is lost and can’t save himself. This does not mean that he is as bad as he can possibly be.

All of mankind was impacted by Adam and Eve’s sin. The following are three ways human life was affected by Adam and Eve’s choices.

Physical Death

God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die. They did eat, and although they did not die immediately, they did begin to die. Their physical death had become certain. The only question was how long they would live before they died. And they were not the only ones who would die. Death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12). So through the sin of one man, sin spread to all men, and all men died.

Separation from God

Separation from God is spiritual death. Man’s relationship with God died with the Fall, and he was separated from God, the source of all life. Thus, man would not only die physically but also spiritually, leaving him to wander around aimlessly looking for something that was missing—looking for life from God.

Many people realize there is something missing in their life and are searching for something more or better. But they don’t know what it is. It is God. Even when we do have a relationship with God and life is better, there is still a sense that something is missing. We will never fully experience life and fulfillment until we go to be with Jesus and experience life beyond our imagination. We look forward to that day with a deep yearning. But it begins with finding life now through a relationship with the living God.

Physical life moves from life to death, but spiritual life moves from death to life (John 5:24). We were all born dead spiritually and only find life through Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again (John 3:3). All men are born dead spiritually, and their need is to come to life by becoming alive to God.

Changed Relationships

The Fall changed man’s relationships in many ways. It changed his relationship with himself, other people and even with nature. We are told that before the Fall the man and the woman were naked but not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). But immediately after the Fall, they realized they were naked and were ashamed (Genesis 3:7). Shame altered man’s relationship with himself. All of us now struggle, to some degree, with self-worth because of our sin. One of our greatest needs is to regain a sense of our value and worth.

Sin also damaged man’s relationship with other people. Immediately after the Fall, Adam and Eve’s relationship with one another took a turn for the worse. Adam blamed Eve and God for his sin, and Eve blamed Satan (Genesis 3:8-13). There was fear, shame and blame but no remorse or repentance. Relationships began to suffer. It was not long after the Fall that Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). And not long after that, God was sorry He had even created man. He sent a flood to destroy man but preserved the human race because of one righteous man and his family, Noah (Genesis 6:5-8).

Even man’s relationship with nature was affected by the Fall. The world itself was altered. Originally the earth produced all kinds of fruit. After the Fall, fruit production was more difficult. God cursed the ground and caused thorns and thistles to grow to crowd out the crops man needed to live. Man would have to work hard to survive in this new world (Genesis 3:17-19). All of creation, we are told in Scripture, was subjected to frustration through the Fall and awaits its liberation from decay that will occur when God’s children are liberated (Romans 8:19-21).

The Fall of man was like a tragic train wreck. It left mankind and this world battered and in twisted disarray. A train wreck can be cleaned up and cleared away. Man’s condition and the condition of this world will not be fixed completely until Christ returns to make everything right. When a person comes into a personal relationship with Christ, Christ begins the process of restoration that will continue throughout the person’s whole life. But the restoration will not be completed in this lifetime, and so we look forward to Christ’s return and the completion of the good work He has begun in us.

The Fall of man and its terrible consequences are not a pretty story. But it does help us make some sense out of this world and explains why there is so much pain and suffering. It also helps us to develop realistic expectations in an imperfect world.

Application Suggestions

• As you think about your life over the past few weeks, how has sin hindered your relationship with God?

• Read and meditate on Genesis 1-3.

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Child Sulking

Child Sulking

Being a person who deals with emotional problems every day, I am decidedly and unabashedly biased about the information I am introducing here. Let me just say that I think it is profound.

All good thinking has a framework, or a backbone or a philosophical undergirding. As we learned in the last Pocket Principle, Created With Emotions, we all have them. Emotions, that is. And we all have problems with emotions from time to time. Most of us have difficulty figuring out exactly what our emotional problems are and even more difficulty figuring out how to solve them.

In this Pocket Principle, Understanding Emotional Problems, we lay out the philosophy of how emotional problems develop. Don’t be scared off by the word philosophy. It is not heady and hard to grasp. In fact, it is a simple, well laid out, helpful and practical description of how we get hurt and why we have such a hard time healing from those hurts.

I encourage you to read this one. It will give you a totally new understanding of what has gone on in your heart over the years.

Understanding Emotional Problems – Pocket Principle

And for the solution…..Stay tuned for next week’s Pocket Principle, Healing from Emotional Problems.

 

Pocket Principles® are currently offered along with Guided Discussions. The content of the Pocket Principles® will reinforce truth learned in the group discussion. Each workbook is formatted for use in a small group, where pocket principles may read prior to each discussion.  Also, if a group member misses a meeting, he can read the corresponding Pocket PrincipleTM to review the information missed.

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you need help

you need helpRemember when you were a little baby lying in your crib and all of a sudden you started crying and you didn’t even know why? Then someone put something in your little mouth and you tasted milk and you didn’t need to cry anymore. Then remember you started crying again and you still didn’t know why, but someone came and took off your wet clothes and put dry clothes on you and you didn’t need to cry anymore? Remember all that? Probably not, but it happened every day of your little baby life. You had needs and you were so good about asking to get those needs met. And usually when you asked, you received. Interesting how babies and kids just instinctively know to ask to have their needs met. How else would they get satisfied?

As we get older, we can sometimes lose the ability to ask to get our needs met. We feel guilty, or we are afraid of being rejected or maybe we just don’t know who to ask. There are probably as many unique reasons we don’t ask as there are unique people.

Since God created us with all these needs we have, He also has devised ways that
these needs can be met. Sometimes He is the only one involved in meeting our needs. But more often, He teaches us how to involve other people in helping us get our needs satisfied.

Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

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