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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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For more information visit the WDA Store.

The phone call came late one night from a son in trouble. “Dad, I need some money!” After a brief discussion, I did what any Dad would do: I wire- transferred cash from my account to his. Later, he thanked me as we talked about the situation over a cup of coffee. We discussed how he got in the predicament (poor budgeting skills) and I helped him address those issues. He confessed that it was hard for him to admit that he needed help, but he was grateful nonetheless.

In a similar way it is hard for us to admit that we need God’s help. But we too have failed. We have all sinned, fallen short of God’s good, righteous requirements. What happened with my son and me illustrates in part what God has done for us. But instead of cash, He transfers righteousness to us. Then He comes alongside us in the Person of the Holy Spirit to help us continue to act righteously .

But what exactly is righteousness and how do we get it? Peter promised to follow Jesus to the death. Later he denied knowing Jesus and, when faced with the awful truth that he had abandoned Jesus in the time of testing, he wept bitterly. (Matthew 26: 31-35, 69-75)

It can be devastating to realize our weakness and inability to obey God. Words like “gratitude,” “righteousness” and “faithfulness” can seem like oppressive reminders of our sins. But despite our failures to love and obey God, we can relate confidently to God because he makes us righteous.

Like Peter, we also continue to struggle with sin even after we have committed ourselves to follow Christ. And just as Peter learned, it is vital we understand that God will never abandon us. God is committed to bringing about righteousness in our lives. He does this in several stages.

Initially, God Declares Us Righteous: Justification

Justification is a legal term that means we have been forgiven. In addition it means that we have been declared righteous—morally perfect. (Romans 4:6-8) It is a “once-for-all- time” act that God accomplishes on our behalf. This does not mean we are habitually righteous in every thing we do, but it describes our legal standing with God. You can think of it as being given a new citizenship in God’s Kingdom, a citizenship that cannot change no matter where you live. You may not have a passport to prove it, but God recognizes you as His and accepts you freely.

God is committed to bringing about righteousness in our lives.

Being justified means that Christ’s righteousness has been added to our “righteousness account” in the same way my money was transferred to my son’s account. The result is that God now sees us as righteous on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) The Apostle Paul describes this as a “right standing” with God that “is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

This legal status before God is really a completely new relationship with Him. We are no longer enemies of God; we are now at peace with Him. (Romans 5:1) In fact, we have immediate acceptance from God because sin is no longer a barrier between Him and His people. Romans 8:1 tells us “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No matter what the circumstances, God will not abandon us nor revoke our status as being righteous.

Progressively, God Makes Us Righteous: Sanctification

But what about our sins? What about the times when we, like Peter, turn away from God? Before Peter was tested, Jesus prayed that when Peter turned back to God, he would encourage his fellow believers. It is interesting to note that Jesus knew Peter would fall away, but He also expected Peter to return to Him and grow in righteousness.

Likewise, God has a plan for our lives that allows for the ups and downs in our lives and also includes our becoming holy or Christlike. (II Corinthians 3:18) This process, called sanctification, begins when we are justified by God through faith in Christ and continues throughout our lives as we experience and grow in faith.

The Apostle Paul describes this sanctification process in his letter to the Philippian church:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The process of sanctification involves pressing on, persevering in the heavenward path God has set us upon. Notice that sanctification is not only dependent on God, but on us as well. Paul also tells the Philippian believers they are to continue to “work out their salvation” even as God works in them. (Philippians 2:12-13) Practically speaking, our sanctification involves our active participation with God, a lifelong perseverance to grow in Christlikeness.

Does this mean that by trying hard we can justify ourselves? By no means! Remember we are justified (declared “not-guilty”) by trusting Christ. Paul explains: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”. But he goes on to state, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

(Ephesians 2:8-10) God is the one who declares us righteous and He is the one who is at work in our lives to help us produce good works of righteousness. He has declared us righteous, legally .

Then He helps us be righteous, actually. What an amazing God we follow!

Finally, God Makes Us Perfectly Righteous: Glorification

God’s work in our lives makes us citizens of His Kingdom and prepares us to be eternal residents of that Kingdom. One day, we will enter His Kingdom fully as citizens of heaven. To this end, we await the return of Christ, “who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

When Jesus returns, we will experience the resurrection and be completely transformed to be like Him, (except, of course, for His deity). In that day, God will glorify us, which is the completion of the good work of salvation that He began with our justification and continued with our sanctification. (Philippians 1:6)

As you can see, the word “salvation” actually covers an amazing experience. Our salvation is rooted in a single, irreversible act of justification. It continues with our actively growing to become more what God wants us to be. One day this relationship will reach its full maturity when we are changed into morally perfect worshippers of God, forever.

Because of God’s salvation, sin is no longer a barrier between God and us. We should not be discouraged when our growth in holiness is slow, because God is at work in us and will never abandon this good work He has begun. In confidence and security, we can always come to Him.

Summary

We can relate confidently to God because He makes us righteous.

  • God brings about righteousness in the believer’s life in several stages.
  • God declares us righteous, giving us immediate acceptance (justification).
  • Sanctification is the process of becoming holy or Christlike.
  • We must cooperate with God and persevere in our sanctification.
  • Christ will return and complete what God has begun in us (glorification).

God is at work in us and will never abandon this good work He has begun!

Application Suggestions:

  • List the things in your life that you feel create a barrier between you and God. Meditate on how this lesson addresses these barriers (Romans 8:1, 5:1)
  • How can the principles in this lesson be helpful when you are discouraged about your spiritual growth?
  • Based on this lesson, what are some of the reasons a Christian can have hope?

Sanctification_Chart

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Brazil

Translation Team Established for Brazil! Partner with us to help!

Hello! How are you? and God bless you!

From Brazil.

WDA in Brazil

Rio Tinto, Brazil is a city of about 25,000 with a huge catholic church right in the middle of town. The whole city spreads out around this very visible church. And in this city of Rio Tinto, there lives a very interesting man named Fernando Frincu.  One of the interesting things about Fernando is that, even though he lives in Brazil, he is Romanian. Fernando and his wife Carolina are associate staff members with WDA.

Everette Albrecht, who is on the WDA Equipping Team at Purdue University, has been to Rio Tinto about seven times over the years to teach discipleship principles. The pastors in that area were learning a lot about how to disciple others and in the course of their training, Everette starting teaching them about the importance of emotional healing. Just like everywhere else, the emotional needs are huge there and the pastors wanted to learn more.

So, in the summers of 2010 and 2012, Margo and Jack, from the WDA Restorative Team headed south with Everette, to teach and train about emotional healing and the importance of this in the discipleship process. They had the privilege of returning there again in August of 2013 for another three weeks and this is their report…..

Testimony of God’s Healing Work

Last year in Brazil, Margo had shared her own story of healing and redemption with some of the women. Talking about her struggles empowered the women there to open up their own hearts.

“One lady (Helen) came up and thanked me for sharing my testimony in Joao Pessoa. We had chatted with each other last year. She shared more of her story with me this year. God has brought healing in her life. She has asked her Pastor for permission to lead a Restoring Your Heart (RYH) group in her church.

M., another young lady with whom I met last year, told me that hearing my “history” had helped her in the healing process. Since I’d seen her last summer, M. had participated in a Restoring Your Heart group and as a result, had forgiven her father. She told me with a smile that she was going to buy a gift for him for Father’s Day! She also wrote him a letter to apologize to him and tell him she loved him. M’s father wrote her back and asked her for forgiveness as well!

A highlight of our time was hearing feedback from a group of men and women (in Rio Tinto) who had participated in RYH groups during the year since we had been there. Each person talked about what they had learned, their initial concerns, the benefits to them and their desire for more healing in their lives. They all plan to continue participating in RYH groups.”

The seeds planted over the last two years had already born much fruit!

Discipleship and Emotional Healing

One of Everette’s goals for this trip was to introduce church leaders and seminary students to WDA’s philosophy of ministry, in two new areas, Joao Pessoa and Campina Grande. Everette has such a gift for teaching and has a huge amount of experience training seminary students in both Mexico and Brazil.

Fernando, Carolina, Everette, Margo and Jack in Brazil
Fernando, Carolina, Everette, Margo and Jack in Brazil

The team was encouraged by the fact that Fernando and Carolina both have a strong vision for discipleship and emotional healing. Since one of WDA’s objectives is to train people in the countries we visit, Margo, Jack and Everette spent extra time this summer with Fernando and Carolina.  They were able to share more advanced training in both restorative and discipleship principles and practices. This will allow Fernando and Carolina to better train the people in their own community and thereby spread the process. We feel this is the best way to multiply the blessings of healing and growth. Fernando’s schedule will allow him to do future training both in Brazil and also in Romania and their contacts will open the doors for WDA to hold even more seminars in Brazil.

“We work so well as a team with Fernando and Carolina. They are so teachable and it is a joy to be in partnership with them. We are very blessed to have them on staff with WDA.”

 Next Step: Translation of Materials

With most of the objectives of this trip being accomplished, including forming a translation team to work on both discipleship and restorative materials, Margo, Jack and Everette are looking forward to returning again next August. They plan, among other things, to do seminars in three large churches in different parts of Sao Paulo, a city where news of God is desperately needed.

We ask that you would pray with us for the trip next year, for Fernando and Carolina and for the people of Brazil. Many of the areas we visit are very dark and very much in the stronghold of sexual sin. There is a huge need for healing there, both emotional and spiritual.

Note: It is expensive and time consuming to have WDA materials translated into other languages. If you would like to contribute financially to this effort or to the ongoing training in Brazil, please click the button below. Your donations will be gratefully received and used to advance God’s Kingdom.


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To find out more about the WDA International Ministry and all the amazing places we go, click here.  To find out more about the WDA Restoring Your Heart Ministry, click here.

winding path

winding pathThis was advice given to me by one of my professors when I expressed my distress to him over not being able to find a job immediately after graduating form my Master’s program. Needless to say, that was not exactly what I wanted to hear. I would rather have heard, “Oh, I know someone who is hiring and you would be perfect for that job. I will call them right away and you will probably have the job tomorrow.”

Yeah, that would have been nice. Nice and easy.

Trusting the process doesn’t sound quite as promising or quite as easy. But, having no other choice, I began trusting the process. And it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was rather hard.

However, through a series of steps, God led me to the perfect job that He had in mind just for me.

Trusting the process, that seemingly scary walk down a path of unknowns, is exactly what is required for emotional healing.

And of course, the first step to trusting the process is entering into the process. This is a step that most of us do rather reluctantly. We already know it won’t be easy, it may be long and we will get tired and discouraged along the way.

God, in His infinite love for us, has designed a healing process for emotional problems a process that has many components. Since we all need healing in different areas, in different degrees and in different ways, God Himself directs our healing process. And true to God’s character, He tailor makes a healing process just for us.

Read this week’s Pocket Principle, “Healing from Emotional Problems” to learn more about how to begin trusting your own process towards emotional health.

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

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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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