Ephesians 4:15 NIV
Before you confront someone over an issue, stop and examine your motives. Is your goal to help or humiliate them? Jesus was in the business of lifting and restoring people, and you should be in that business too. Ask yourself, would you approach things differently if you weren’t so personally involved? Are you confronting this person to make yourself look better? Cutting someone else down in order to lift yourself up is the lowest form of ego gratification. Poet Kahlil Gibran said, “To belittle, you have to be little.” Don’t do it! It’s a sign of insecurity. Remember Nehemiah’s response to those who tried to discourage him from rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls? “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Don’t allow your critics to break your stride. Don’t give more credence to the sentiments of a critic than you would to the encouragement of a friend. Before you put somebody else’s life under the microscope, stop and examine your own. Are you grappling with the same issue, or one just as bad? Have you succeeded where you’re accusing somebody else of failing? In other words, have you earned the right to be heard? Paul writes, “Speaking the truth in love we will grow…in every respect.” Could it be that the situation you’re dealing with right now is an opportunity to measure your own maturity and make it a spiritual growth experience?
Soul food: 2 Pet 1-3; John 4:27-38; Ps 87; Prov 24:1-4
Philippians 1:6 NKJV
When Mark Matousek told people that a potentially fatal disease had saved his life, they didn’t understand. He wasn’t glad he got sick. But without it, he’d never have discovered and tapped into the strength to confront and overcome some of his core fears. He writes: “Hardship can be the blood in muscles that pushes us forward. Crisis takes us to the brink and forces us to keep moving. When people call it a blessing, they’re describing a paradox. It’s why men often blossom in wartime and women are changed by childbirth – they come alive as never before.” The truth is, God is committed to your spiritual growth: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ.” And along the way you’ll be tested, sometimes to your limits. One author writes: “Spiritual tests try our faith and commitment. Remember Abraham and Isaac? Nothing makes us prouder than seeing our children succeed, and God had great plans for Isaac. What could possibly go wrong? A lot! We’ve stood in Abraham’s sandals and clung to God’s promises, yet sickness lingers, financial troubles invade, friends betray us, and death calls. Abraham responded with trust and commitment. It wasn’t easy for him…we know the outcome; he didn’t. Yet he was prepared to take his son’s life. God never wanted Isaac’s death…He wants our whole and committed hearts. When trials don’t make sense…He promises to set limits…to walk with us and bring forth good.”
Soul food: 1 Kings 18:16-20:43; Mark 9:38-50; Ps 113; Prov 12:15-17
Hebrews 6:1 NLT
We all get the same 168 hours in our week. But if the only time you devote to your spiritual growth is the time you spend in church on Sunday morning, you’ll never move beyond spiritual infancy. Think about it. An infant can’t feed itself; it chooses candy over carrots; it constantly falls down and has to be picked up; it keeps wandering off and getting into trouble; it’s basically self-centered and needs to be disciplined and trained. Are you getting the picture? The new birth is exciting, but it’s supposed to be your launching pad, not your crib. The Bible says, “Let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.” Note the words “Let us.” That means it’s up to you! At some point you’ve got to say to yourself, “Starting today I’m going to do what it takes to grow up spiritually and discover God’s plan for my life.” One day at the end of World War I, General Louis Lyautey asked his gardener to plant a particular type of tree on his estate. The gardener informed him that the tree, being unusually slow to grow, would take nearly a century to reach maturity. “In that case,” the general replied, “there’s no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon!” Here’s a fail-safe plan for growing into spiritual maturity: “They delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:2-3 NLT).
Soul food: Gal 4-6; Mark 12:13-27; Ps 101; Prov 13:20-23
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
When we’re in a relationship, we’re one half of a team. And that team, through commitment, love and communication, can be really strong. We’re not two individuals competing with each other, but a team working together. We bring our own individuality, and we shouldn’t lose who we are, but we become part of a team which is all about support, comfort and encouragement. And that doesn’t only apply to our day-to-day lives and stresses. This also applies to our faith. In Hebrews it says: ‘Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds’ (10:24 NCV). So how can we help each other to grow in our relationships with God? There’s the obvious answers like pray together, read the Bible together and go to church together. But we can also be honest and accountable about our faith, pray for each other and share what God tells us, lovingly point out where something is not quite God’s best and help them to look to God for answers to the things they’re struggling with. But we must remember that we’re not responsible for the spiritual growth of our partner, we’re only responsible for our own. God can use us to help them on their journey, but there should be no pressure and no judgement. The Bible tells us to ‘encourage one another and build each other up.’ So in our relationships, let’s be people who encourage and help people to grow in their relationship with God. But let’s also not forget that our relationship with God comes above everything else. Our relationships shouldn’t be preventing our own individual spiritual growth.
Exo 20:12; Jer 35:1-19; Prov 1:8; John 19:25-27
Galatians 6:9 NIV
Sometimes spiritual growth can feel like two steps forward and three steps back. Sometimes we can feel that we’re not growing at all. Spiritual growth doesn’t come easily; that’s why Paul encourages us not to give up. When we look in the mirror each day we can’t see much change, but when we look at photos from when we were younger, we can see how we’ve grown and matured. And it’s the same for our spiritual lives. Day by day we can’t see our progress, but when we look back we can see how far we’ve come. The Bible says: ‘And we all…are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV). But transformation and growth aren’t always easy. So when we get discouraged, we need to be reminding ourselves that we’re on a spiritual journey, we’re making progress even when we can’t see it, and that the devil will always look for ways to remind us how far we still have to go. But we shouldn’t listen to the devil. Jesus said, ‘he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44 NIV). If we get discouraged and give up, Satan wins. The Bible says we need to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). And that means we need to learn to not live by our emotions alone, but dig down inside to where God’s Spirit lives. We don’t need to rely on feelings, we need to rely on God’s truth. So when we feel like giving up, that we’re not getting anywhere and that we’re not good enough, we need to take those thoughts captive, remember God’s truth and carry on our journey of spiritual growth.
Exo 17:1-7; John 4:1-42