Category Archives: 31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 22

SERVING WITH CHRIST — Serving Like Christ

What was Jesus like?  I suppose that question could be answered in many ways, but there’s one description of Jesus that ranks at the top.  Let’s allow Jesus to tell us in His own words how He saw Himself: “But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27).  He said that He was a servant.

The previous level of the road to maturity involved BECOMING LIKE CHRIST.  One of the key ways of becoming like Him takes us to the next level of the road toward spiritual maturity: we’re supposed to be servants, like He was. 

Serving others is the key to success in the business world.  “Service is our business” is the spoken or unspoken motto of many companies.  Any business that provides bad service won’t be in business for long, and this is especially true of those companies called “service industries.”  When we decide to follow Christ, we buy into His “company” called the Kingdom of God.  It’s the ultimate service industry!

As important as serving is in order to be a success in business, and in life in general, it still isn’t a very attractive way for most people to live.  People often want to exert power, to be in charge of other people.  As followers of Jesus, we’re not supposed to give in to this tendency.  Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25)

No one in the history of humanity has had greater influence than Jesus.  A significant factor in His incomparable influence is that He came to Earth to serve.  If we want to be people of influence, we must be servants like He was.

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 21

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST — Reflecting Christ Naturally

If we do a good deed for someone we really care about and we’re thanked by that person, we respond, “Aw, it was nothing,” or “It was my pleasure,” or “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or “It was no trouble.”  It wasn’t a duty; it was a delight.

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST isn’t easy; it takes sacrifice, work, and discipline.  On the other hand, if we really come to the point where we love Christ, it’s no longer a duty; it’s a delight!  The apostle John, who loved Jesus, wrote, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome, . . .” (1 John 5:3)  The amazing truth of the Christian faith is that ultimately it’s not a burden or a sacrifice to want to be like Christ, because we love Him!  His will becomes more and more our own will.  This is hinted at in what Jesus told us about making prayer requests: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7)  If we’re really committed to Jesus and His Word, we’re going to want what He wants.  Our requests will essentially be the same requests that He’d make if He were in our situation – and of course He’s going to grant those kinds of requests!

Dallas Willard, one of my favorite authors, is an expert on the subject of spirituality.  He wrote, “The intention of God for each of us is that we should become the kind of person He can empower to do what we want.” (Preaching Today audio recording of an interview)  That’s right: God wants us to be people who can do what we want, and that will happen when we become so much like Christ that we want what He wants!

Obedience to Christ is burdensome only when we keep insisting on having our own way when it’s clearly not His way for us.  Our lives will be filled with many fewer personal hassles and much more joy and peace when our desire to be near Christ and to be like Him is greater than our desire for anything else!  No wonder Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 20

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST — Influenced by His Closeness 

Jesus rubs off on us!  When we seek to truly follow Him in obedience and to “practice the presence,” as Brother Lawrence put it, we’ll find ourselves being influenced in positive ways by Him.  We’ll become more like Him!

After Jesus’ ascension to heaven His disciples went around preaching and healing people.  There’s a historical notation in the book of Acts in the Bible about what other people observed and concluded about two of Jesus’ disciples.  It says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)  Those people found Peter and John to be amazing, yet they knew they were ordinary men.  It was then that the people took note that Peter and John had been with Jesus.  Jesus had “rubbed off” on them!

A little brother often follows his big brother around and tries to do whatever he does, trying to act the way his big brother acts.  Christ is meant to be our “big brother,” and we’re supposed to follow Him, attempting to copy His behavior and to be like Him.  We do this in a practical way by simply trying to remain conscious of Him as much of the time as we can.  Brother Lawrence wrote, “At all times, every hour, every minute, even at my busiest times, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.” (Devotional Classics, Richard Foster, p.82)

Consistent reflection on Christ can change us.  The apostle Paul wrote, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Christ invites us to draw near to Him in the most personal of all relationships!  True Christianity isn’t just a certain belief system, though it is that.  Christianity isn’t just a set of rules, though there are things we say yes or no to when we seek to follow Christ instead of yielding to our own whims and wills.  The basis of Christianity is Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him!  The closer to Christ we seek to be, the more we’ll find ourselves influenced by Him and the more we’ll be like Him!

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 19

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST — Spiritual Disciplines that Help 

Not much gets done without some measure of discipline.  You don’t usually get a job done without being disciplined about doing some things that aren’t easy, fun, or immediately rewarding.  You don’t usually complete a long journey without the discipline of sticking to the right road and keeping on.

Being Jesus’ disciple requires discipline (note the similarity of the words).  Throughout the history of people’s attempts to follow Jesus, there have been various disciplines identified which help that process: they’re called spiritual disciplines.  In Celebration of Discipline, his classic book on the spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster gives a suggested list: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

We can’t simply “will” ourselves to be more like Jesus; we need God’s help to be who God wants us to be!  However, we can position ourselves to allow God to do His work of transformation in us.  Foster wrote, “God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace.” (Spiritual Disciplines, p.7)

You and I can’t make a garden grow; only God can do that.  A gardener, however, has a crucial role to play.  He digs up the soil, fertilizes it, plants the seeds, waters the garden regularly, and weeds it.  God makes the garden grow, but a gardener has a part in it, too!  Similarly, God’s Holy Spirit brings to us the characteristics of Jesus that are to bear fruit in our lives, and we can help or hinder that process.  We help the process along when we discipline ourselves to meditate, pray, fast, study, live simply, spend time alone with God, submit to Him and others, serve others, confess regularly, worship the Lord, seek guidance, and celebrate the blessings from God.

Becoming more like Christ is a choice.  We can work with the Holy Spirit, cooperating with Him to become more like Christ, or we can resist Him.  The apostle Paul wrote, playing off the imagery of the Holy Spirit being like fire, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).  We can blow out a fire, and we can put out the Holy Spirit in our lives.  In another place Paul stated the same thought in a positive way: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16)

The spiritual disciplines cause us to act in ways that are conducive to the Spirit’s working in our lives so that we become more like Jesus.  Author Terry Wardle wrote, “He has given you the right to choose the level of involvement He is to have in your spiritual development.” (Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, p.85)

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 18

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST — Nine Characterisics of Being Like Him

One Sunday I was greeting people after our traditional-style worship service.  I was still in my robe when a little boy came up to me and asked, “Are you Jesus?”  (I wish that it would only take a robe for me to be like Jesus; I’d wear one all the time!)     What does it mean for us to be like Jesus – to be Christ-like?  I suspect that the question could be answered a variety of ways, but there’s probably no better list of the characteristics Christ possessed – and that we should possess – than the fruit of the Spirit listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)  Fruit is a good image to use to illustrate the transformation that should happen in our lives in BECOMING LIKE CHRIST.

Consider the nine expressions of the fruitfulness of His presence.  Look at each one separately and think about how it makes us like Christ and how we should be exhibiting them in our lives as His followers.

LOVE: the person of love has the capacity to express unconditional concern for the best interests of others.

JOY: the person of joy has optimistic confidence that in every situation God has an agenda of ultimate good.

PEACE: the person of peace has the capacity to return good for evil and gives up the right to hold a grudge.

PATIENCE: the person of patience is willing to leave the timetable of change in the hands of God.

KINDNESS: the person of kindness treats others as if every day were their birthday.

GOODNESS: the person of goodness says and does that which brings a little bit of heaven into the lives of others.

FAITHFULNESS: the person of faithfulness remains unswervingly loyal to another person even when doing so results in personal cost.

GENTLENESS: the person of gentleness treats people with tenderness, knowing that personhood is fragile.

SELF-CONTROL: the person who possesses self-control looks within for the discipline and motivation to do what’s right.

A story has often been told about a man who was rushing to catch a train.  He inadvertently bumped into a fruit stand, spilling a neat pile of apples onto the ground.  The young boy who operated the stand began to pick up the apples.  The hurrying man stopped, returned to the mess he had created, and helped the boy pick up the apples, wiping each one off as he placed them back onto the table.  When the apples had all been picked up, cleaned, and returned to their place, the boy asked, “Are you Jesus?”  The man is reported to have replied, “No, but I’m trying to be like Him.”

31 Days toward Maturity in Christ — Day 17

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST — From Parking Lot to Road

I recall an episode of the old Gunsmoke TV series.  The story involved a preacher who dressed in black and was always preaching about righteousness.  He also consistently wore a stern look on his face, as if he regularly used prune juice in his Communion services.  He was a husband (and maybe a father, too; I don’t remember).  He treated his wife harshly, and it was quite a contrast.  He was supposed to be a man of God – a preacher – yet he was making life miserable for his wife.  What’s wrong with that picture?  What’s wrong is that the preacher wasn’t very Christ-like.  (Of course being Christ-like isn’t limited to preachers.  We’re all meant to become more and more like Him!)

We start our spiritual journey rejoicing that we’re accepted as we are by Christ and forgiven by Him, if that’s what we want.  However, Christ doesn’t want to leave us as He finds us!

Parking lots are meant for cars, but cars aren’t really meant for parking lots.  Cars are meant for roads!  People don’t buy a car to leave it permanently parked; a car is meant to take you places.  Our faith isn’t supposed to be a parking-lot faith; we’re supposed to take it on the road!

In the previous step we focused on how we’re to LEARN FROM CHRIST.  However, we’re not supposed to stop there: we’re to apply what we know.  One day when Jesus was surrounded by people who were listening to Him, someone told Him that His mother and brothers wanted to see Him.  Jesus used that as a teachable moment: He said, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21)  In other words, the people Jesus is close to are those who are not only willing to hear what He says, they apply it to their lives.

The writer James in the New Testament used the analogy of looking in a mirror.  Who looks in a mirror but then doesn’t do anything to correct whatever doesn’t look very good?  James wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

When we take God’s instruction book – the Bible – seriously, we’ll find that it changes us to be more like the One whose book it is.  The apostle Paul wrote about the Heavenly Father that we’re supposed “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, . . .” (Romans 8:29)  Ravi Zacharias, a best-selling Christian author and a defender of the Christian faith, wrote, “The ultimate calling upon the follower of Christ is to live a life reflecting who he is . . .” (Beyond Opinion, p. xii)

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 16

LEARNING FROM CHRIST — Enroll in His School

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing!  Just a little knowledge about golf won’t make you look like a pro on the golf course; you’ll look like a fool.  Just a little knowledge about flying a plane will likely lead to a crash if you choose to pilot the aircraft yourself.  Just a little knowledge about anything is almost never as good as having more knowledge about it!

There’s a temptation on the spiritual journey to neglect learning more.  We can become satisfied with what we already know and understand.  The apostle Paul warned the Christians at Corinth of this: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:2)  Apparently the Christians to whom the author of Hebrews wrote had become complacent about learning and growing: “In fact, 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.  You need milk, not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12)

Picture a ten-year-old child still drinking milk from a bottle instead of eating solid food; something’s very wrong with that picture!  We should be just as shocked and dismayed when we realize that we’re not growing in our knowledge and understanding of the Lord.

The journey toward spiritual maturity requires that we be willing to learn!  The word “disciple” means “student.”  If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ we must be His students, allowing Him to be our mentor.

This means that we need to take an active role as Jesus’ students.  We should be involved in some kind of small group setting where we can have “study buddies” in God’s Word.  We ought to be reading our Bibles on our own.  Pastor Bill Hybels said that we should be “self-feeding.”  Too often people complain that they aren’t being fed in their churches.  Like any child who’s outgrown a highchair, we ought to be feeding ourselves!

A good suggestion is to read just one section, under one bold heading (usually less than a chapter’s worth) in our Bibles every day.  After you read it, ask the Lord to help you see why He had you read that passage that day.

While I was visiting my mother recently I happened to pick up my late father’s Bible.  In the back were the usual couple of blank pages – except that they were filled with his notes of favorite verses and comments about various Bible passages.  He was a real student of the Word!  I want to be the same.  If you truly want to move along the road of spiritual maturity, I invite you to seek more and more input from God’s Word!

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 15

LEARNING FROM CHRIST — Directions That Are True

How do we know that the Bible is true and that it really speaks God’s Word to us?  Let me share with you why I have supreme confidence that the Bible is God’s true Word.

Most people would agree that what Jesus taught was true.  We have no good reason to doubt the gospel accounts of what Jesus said and did.  The authors reported that they wrote with the intention of being historically accurate.  Luke wrote, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account . . .” (Luke 1:3)  The apostle Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)  The New Testament writers were clear in their insistence that they stuck to historical facts when they spoke or wrote about Jesus.

What did they record that Jesus taught about Scripture?  First, we have a record that Jesus believed that the Old Testament (which He knew as the Hebrew Scriptures) was God’s Word.  Each of the three times Jesus was tempted, He said, “It is written.” (Matthew 4:4,7,10)  He considered the Hebrew Scriptures to be authoritative. 

Second, Jesus said that His own words were from God the Father.  On one occasion Jesus prayed to the Father, “For I gave them the words you gave me . . .” (John 17:8a)  He also indicated that His followers would be able to accurately recall His words through the Holy Spirit’s working.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)  This authenticates the four gospels as being accurate.

Third, Jesus authenticated the rest of the New Testament that would be written by the apostles.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would build and add to the teaching He had given them: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:12-13) 

There’s no good reason to doubt the authenticity and truthfulness of the Bible.  It offers the best input for direction on the journey toward becoming spiritually mature, becoming all that God intends us to be.

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 14

LEARNING FROM CHRIST — Directions for the Journey 

God can give us directions for our journey toward spiritual maturity.  There are five general ways that He does it.

Creation:  God reveals Himself through creation.  This is called general revelation because it’s not specific.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  We can learn some things about God and His ways from His creation, though this has its limits.

Circumstances:  God sometimes guides us by opening some doors of opportunity and closing others.  While he was on one of his missionary journeys, the apostle Paul had a change of plans forced on him by changing circumstances: “Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.” (Acts 20:3b)  Sometimes when circumstances are beyond our control, God is using those circumstances to guide and control us.

People:  God can speak through the example or words of other people.  Sometimes He even speaks to us through their wrong actions or words!  The words of others that God uses can be encouraging, affirming, or wise counsel; other times they may be criticism that we’re supposed to hear.  The apostle Paul wrote about the time he was used by the Lord to speak such words to the apostle Peter: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” (Galatians 2:11)

The Holy Spirit:  The Lord also gives us input and guides us through the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.  We may feel a tug pulling us a certain way or a sense of being checked that gives us pause about pursuing a certain course of action.  We may feel convinced or convicted by the Holy Spirit.  It was said of Jesus that He was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

The Bible:  The Bible contains many examples and stories of God’s working in this world, much teaching about how to live, and prayers that can be a guide to our own praying: “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.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  Of the five ways that God gives us input, the Bible is the most specific and detailed. On this journey toward spiritual maturity God provides us with needed direction.  We aren’t really in control of creation, circumstances, people, or the Holy Spirit, but we are in control of how much we open ourselves up to input from God’s Word through our reading and study of it.

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 13

LEARNING FROM CHRIST — Input for a Man Named John

We’ve all found ourselves in frustrating, difficult, painful, or confusing circumstances.  I doubt, however, that we’ve had things as difficult as John did.  John was known as John the Baptizer; we call him John the Baptist.  He was the forerunner of Jesus, pointing Jesus out to people as the Messiah.  However, there came a day when John had doubts.  He was imprisoned for saying what God wanted him to say as a prophet.  In fact, he knew that there was a good chance that he’d be executed, which is what eventually happened to him.  Sitting in the dark, damp dungeon, he apparently began to question whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  He sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus point-blank if He really was the Messiah.

            Jesus answered, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7:22-23)

            Jesus told John’s followers to go back and report on what they’d seen Him do and what they’d heard Him preach.  John would know that Jesus was asking him to recall all he had read in the holy Scriptures (our Old Testament) about what the Messiah was to say and do.  Jesus’ self-description made obvious allusions to prophecies, particularly those of Isaiah.  John’s knowledge of the Scriptures should have confirmed to him that Jesus was the Messiah.

            This is a great example of how important knowledge can be.  John the Baptist was to find confidence and comfort in what he knew about the Messiah from Scripture and from what he knew about Jesus from observation.

            You and I probably won’t find ourselves in a dungeon, but life’s a challenge nonetheless.  Trying to live right – trying to live the way our Lord wants us to – is no easy task.  We need more than good intentions: we need to know what we should think, do, and say.  God hasn’t left us without direction on this journey of life!

            It was Jesus’ intention that John the Baptist would find help from what he knew.  It was good that he knew so much of God’s Word!  We’d do well to follow John’s example.  The fact is that we all can still learn a lot about God and His ways!