When God Is Moving part 1
The Road to Spiritual Growth
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 22, 2006

 

I’m going to make a statement this morning that there can be no disputing. There can be no debating it, there can be no arguing, there can be no reinterpreting. Now, it’s not often that I say something that is undeniably true, so just give me this one. Here it is…

You are older today than you were ten years ago.

That’s a fact. I know it, and you know it. (I also know you well enough to know that right now you’re trying to figure out loopholes and clever ways to get around that statement. Just let it go.)

You’re older than you were ten years ago, and there are signs of that. Maybe you’re taller, maybe you’re shorter, maybe your hair’s turned grey, maybe your hair’s turned blue, maybe you don’t even have hair anymore. Maybe you’re gotten your license, maybe you’ve lost your license. Or maybe you should lose your license. Maybe you can’t see as well or you can’t hear as well. (I said, “you can’t hear as well!”) Maybe you’re receiving a pension. Maybe you’re receiving a new hip. There are all kinds of signs that you are older today than you were ten years ago.

Growing older is inevitable. Growing up is not. So this morning, I want to talk about how we grow up. Specifically, I want to talk about how we grow up spiritually. I want to talk about how God moves in our lives, and how He can take us and transform us into the people He wants us to be.

And the reason I want to talk about this is that I know a lot of people who have been believers for years and years… they’ve grown old spiritually… but they’ve never grown up. And I don’t want that to be you. So we’re going to talk about spiritual growth. We’re going to talk about how it happens. And I suppose a good place to start would be to define what it is. So in your notes…

 

Facts about Spiritual Growth:

1. Spiritual growth is becoming like Jesus

It’s becoming like Jesus. That’s God’s desire for you. Not that we become gods ourselves, but that we begin to reflect His character. His values, His desires, His goals, His plans become our values, our desires, our goals, our plans. Let me show you three different verses from the Bible…

Romans 8:29 (NLT)
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son…

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)
Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ…

We were created to become like Jesus. We were intended for spiritual growth. That’s His plan for you and for me. The litmus test of whether or not you are growing is this very thing… are you becoming more like Jesus? Are you looking to Him as your model for living? As Peter wrote…

1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)
Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps.

 

2. Spiritual growth must be intentional

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. There are churches that are filled with people who’ve attended church their entire lives, they believe in Jesus, yet they’re still spiritual babies. As the writer of Hebrews sadly noted…

Hebrews 5:12 (NIV)
… though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

Plenty of time had passed, but the people had not grown. Just because time passes does not mean that growth occurs. Millions of Christians have grown older without ever growing up. Because it’s not automatic; it must be intentional. The truth is, spiritual growth requires a commitment to grow. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow.

“There is an enormous difference between growing old in the Lord and growing up in Him. One is automatic and requires no effort at all... just aging. But the other is never automatic or easy. It calls for personal discipline, continual determination, and spiritual desire. Churches are full of sleepy saints who are merely ‘logging time’ in God’s family.”
~ Charles Swindoll

Spiritual growth is intentional, and it begins with a decision. It doesn’t have to be a complex decision, but it does have to be sincere.

When the disciples decided to follow Christ they didn’t understand all of the implications of their decision. They simply expressed a desire to follow Him. Jesus took that simple but sincere decision and built on it, and they grew to become the people Jesus would use to change the world.

In this thing called spiritual growth, God does all the hard work. He’s the one who takes us and moulds us and transforms us. He grows us. He does all the hard work. But we have a part in growing, too. He does the work, but He doesn’t do it without our permission. He doesn’t do it without our desire. He doesn’t do it without our intention.

 

3. Spiritual growth requires effort

How many of you have heard the old poem “Footprints in the Sand”? Well, maybe you’ve heard this, too…

[Butt Prints In The Sand by A.C. Rose]

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?
Those prints are large and round and neat,
But, Lord, they are too big for feet.”

“My child,” He said is somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”

“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt.”

“Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

You know why some people never grow spiritually? Because they’re not willing to put the effort into it. They’re perfectly content just sitting on their butts.

But if you want to grow, it’s going to take intention and it’s going to take effort. Spiritual growth that leads to maturity begins with the kind of commitment described in Romans 6:13…

Romans 6:13 (NLT)
…give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.

“You should set your goals high and direct your energies toward achieving them. Train your mind. Develop your skills. Discipline your appetites. Prepare for the future. Work hard. Go for it! You can’t steal second with one foot on first.”
~ James Dobson, Life on the Edge, ch. 4 p. 59

 

4. Spiritual growth is the result of spiritual health

Healthy things grow. But they only stay healthy when they are nourished and stretched. Same is true for you. You will only grow spiritually when you are nourished by God’s Word and through prayer, and when you are stretched by stepping out in obedience to God, following Him, and trusting Him.

Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

He’s strong, healthy and growing because he’s committed to the Word of God and putting it into practice. One of my favourite books is a book called AquaChurch, written by a man named Leonard Sweet. And in that book, he asked…

“Are we reading the Bible in such a way that it brings us alive to relationships with Christ, even a God experience? Are we reading the Bible in such a way that Christ—His love, His joy, His grace, His peace—is being formed in us?”
~ Leonard Sweet, AquaChurch p. 59

His love, His joy, His grace, His peace—His very character—is formed in us when we are devoted to Him and to His Word.

 

5. Spiritual growth will require sacrifice

“You have to give up to grow up.”
~ John Maxwell

Let me give you an example. [POWERPOINT] This is a typical computer keyboard, called a QWERTY keyboard because of those keys right there. Have you ever noticed how far apart the keys that we use most often are? They’re like that for a reason. You see, originally, this arrangement of the keys was meant to slow down typing speed. Because back in the 1800’s, typewriters used to jam if the typist went too fast.

But then, about 48 years ago, the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard was invented. And on this keyboard, the most frequently used keys were placed in the same home row, and it was designed so that the right hand would 56% more work than the left hand. Being left handed, I would find that annoying and almost insulting, but in general it was a pretty good design. In fact, typists could type up to five times faster with no increase in errors. But most of us… probably all of us… including me still use the old keyboard designed to be inefficient. Why? Because we don’t like change. We don’t like to give up what we’re used to. But we would be so much more efficient if we were just willing to change.

For the most part, people don’t like change. We avoid it if at all possible. We’d rather stick to our old ways and our old traditions.

But if you’re going to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and if you are going to attain new heights of spiritual growth, then it’s going to mean sacrifices. Because growth always means change.

The early disciples understood this. In Luke chapter 5, we read…

Luke 5:27-28 (NLT)
Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax-collection booth. “Come, be my disciple!” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

For Levi, it meant giving up what he knew. It meant giving up his source of income. It meant stepping into the unknown.

Now contrast that to the young man who came to Jesus asking how he could receive eternal life. And after a brief discussion, Jesus told him…

Mark 10:21-22 (NLT)
“Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this, the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away because he had many possessions.

So what might you have to give up? You might have to give up your traditions, your preferences, your habits, your time, your resources, your occupation… The specifics of what you give up will be different from what I give up. But we are all called to lay down everything we have and everything we are at the feet of Jesus. Get it?

 

6. Spiritual growth is not a private matter

You know, I hear this a lot today in reference to anything spiritual. We’re told that our spiritual beliefs are a private matter. But that’s simply not true. They are a personal matter, but they should never be private. And there’s a big difference.

So when it comes to spiritual growth, it can’t happen in secret. It’s not a private process. It happens within the context of relationship with other believers.

“The idolatry of individualism has influenced even the way we think about spiritual growth. So much of the teaching on spiritual formation is self-centered and self-focused without any reference to our relationship to other Christians. This is completely unbiblical and ignores much of the New Testament.”
~ Rick Warren

The truth, we need each other. We don’t grow in isolation from each other. We grow and develop within the context of relationship, or fellowship. And we see this truth over and over again in the New Testament. Let me give you two passages…

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)
Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other…

Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

As believers, we are intended for His family. We need relationships with each other in order to grow!

 

7. Spiritual growth takes time

No children are born full grown. Now, I’m not a mother, and I don’t expect I ever will be. But I think it’s safe to say that every mother is glad that children aren’t born full grown. Children need time to grow. They need to learn to walk and to talk, to recognize shapes and colours, to be polite, to acquire social skills. As they grow, they learn to study, to play sports, to play a musical instrument. Then they learn how to drive a car, to survive on their own, to find a job, to do a job. They learn to build relationships, to raise a child, to mentor people, to give and to love. And the truth is, we are never meant to stop growing. Even as Christians, there’s never a point that we can say, “We’ve arrived. This is all there is.”

Jesus was the greatest mentor of all time, and even He had to spend three years with his disciples before they were ready to be out on their own. And even then they continued to grow the rest of their lives.

Or how about Paul? None of us would claim to be as spiritually mature as Paul. But listen to what he said about himself…

Philippians 3:12 (NLT)
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.

And you know, God’s plans for you need to work according to His schedule. For example, Abraham (also known as Abram).

Genesis 12:1,4 (NLT)
Then the LORD told Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you… Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.

Seventy-five years old. Or how about Moses? Moses was eighty years old when he had his encounter with the burning bush. He spent his first 40 years living as a prince in Egypt. He spent the next 40 years living in exile in the wilderness. And during all that time God was work in him and preparing him for the last part of his life when he would return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of slavery there.

On the other hand, Samuel in the Old Testament and Mary in the New Testament were both young children when they were called by God.

Or how about Joseph in the Old Testament? Here was a young man who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, hauled away to a foreign land, forced to work as a slave, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and thrown into prison where he spent more than two years. Where was God in all this? I’ll tell you where He was; He was right there, working behind the scenes, preparing Joseph for the great things still ahead of him.

So you need to trust God’s timing. There may be times when it seems He is very active in your life. Or there may be long periods when it seems nothing is happening. But the truth is, even then God is at work in those who are faithful to Him.

So stay the course. Don’t give up. Be faithful, trust God, and see the great things He does.

Galatians 6:9 (NLT)
Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.

“This is not a hundred yard dash; it’s a lifetime journey, so stay consistent.”
~ John Maxwell

 

8. Spiritual growth is first and foremost the work of God

Ultimately, spiritual growth is not what we do; it’s what God does. It’s how He moves in our lives and shapes us into the people He intends for us to be. Yes, we make ourselves available and we create the environment for growth… that’s what most of the first seven facts were about. But when it comes right down to it, He is the One who makes us grow.

Isaiah 64:8 (NLT)
And yet, LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand.

VIDEO – E-ssentials – Clay being moulded

Spiritual growth is primarily about God taking us and shaping us, transforming us into the people He wants us to be.

1 Corinthians 3:7 (NIV)
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

 

Is that your desire? Is it your aim to grow spiritually, and to continue to grow throughout your life? Are you devoted to becoming like Jesus? If you are, then why not pray something like this. Just quietly, where you are, pray this…

Father, thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for your great plans for me. Thank you for the process of transformation that you have already begun in my life, for the fact that You can be trusted to carry it on to completion. This morning I want to express to You that I want to become the person You want me to be. Take me and mould me, I pray. I trust you, and I choose to follow you wherever that may lead. In Jesus’ name I pray… Amen.

 

[Much of this message adapted from “Does Spiritual Growth Just Happen?” by Rick Warren, http://pastors.com/RWMT/printerfriendly.asp?id=105&artid=3988&expand=1]

 

 

 

 

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