Job 23:10 NIV

Job lost his family and his fortune in a single day. But looking back he wrote, ‘When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.’ It takes much more heat to refine gold than it does to refine a lot of less valuable metals. Which would you prefer to be? To enjoy the blessing God has in mind for us, we have to face life’s tests.

In some buildings and workplaces, a routine fire alarm test happens. For a minute or so, the place is interrupted by the noisy alarm. And those tests are like the ones that come into our lives – unwelcome, uncomfortable, disruptive – and they always seem to come at the worst possible time.

But unlike a fire alarm test, life’s tests don’t last for a very short time and then go away. They can last for weeks, years, and in some cases, for a lifetime. And the reason why may never become completely clear. However, there’s an aspect of life’s tests that we can control – how we respond to it. The truth is, tests are an invaluable, integral, and indispensable part of our spiritual growth. Without them we’ll never grow and mature as much as we need to. And it’s how we handle our ‘tests’ that decides our ‘testimony’.

Paul wrote: ‘Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace…more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside…not a day goes by without his unfolding grace’ (2 Corinthians 4:15-16 MSG).

Whenever we face tests, God will give us the grace and strength to handle them.

Est 5-10; Matt 26:1-17; Ps 18:1-29; Prov 26:24-27

Shun unhealthy self-focus (1)

2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV

Self-focus isn’t necessarily bad if it leads to spiritual growth. However, some people mistakenly assume that it’s a biblical mandate! After all, didn’t God tell us to “examine ourselves”? So with that in mind we start to wonder – “Do I measure up spiritually? Have I truly repented? Do I pray enough? Is God pleased with me?” The truth is, focusing on yourself can keep you feeling discouraged and defeated. Let’s check and see what God actually says.

There are only two mentions of self-examination in Scripture, and neither teaches us to indulge in self-focus.

First, Paul challenged the Corinthians about tolerating gross sin in their church. A man was having an affair with his stepmother and no one seemed bothered by it. And because they had “not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they…indulged” (2 Corinthians 12:21 NIV), Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” This isn’t an invitation to self-focus, but a spiritual credential checkup. “See whether you are in the faith.”

Second, Paul corrected the Corinthians’ behavior during the Lord’s Supper. Because some were getting drunk on communion wine, he said, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28 NIV). Paul’s not suggesting you become fixated on your flaws, but on the liberating truth that Jesus paid the price for all your sin – past, present, and future. The Bible says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

Growth, joy, and victory lie in abandoning unhealthy self-focus and staying Christ-focused!

Soul food: 2 Chr 16-18; John 12:37-50; Ps 102:18-28; Prov 27:13-16

Find your place in the body of Christ (2)

1 Corinthians 12:18 NIV

Do you feel like joining a different church where people are “more like you”? A team of missionaries to Kenya were being driven across the plains to their destination by a Masai tribal escort. En route their attention became riveted on the herds of wildebeests and zebras migrating together. Their escort explained why two massive herds of such different species would travel together. He said that while wildebeests have poor eyesight, they have a keen sense of smell, whereas zebras have good eyesight and a poor sense of smell. So together they were less vulnerable to attack because their differences compensated for their weaknesses. Paul writes, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (v. 17 NIV). That reminds you of those zebras and wildebeests, doesn’t it? When we join a club, we usually choose to be with people who are more or less like us. But membership in Christ’s body throws us together with people who are as different from us as a hand is from a nose. And while those differences can rub you the wrong way at times, they are differences God designed to benefit you. Zebras and wildebeests don’t have to like each other, but their survival and success depend on getting along together. Your spiritual growth doesn’t depend on agreeing with everybody, but it does depend on loving them enough to live together agreeably!

Soul food: Eze 37:1-40:9; Luke 22:14-23; Ps 78:65-72; Prov 20:26-30

Why study the Bible? (1)

1 Peter 2:2 NAS

Daily Bible study is essential to your spiritual growth. Professor Howard Hendricks writes: “When our kids were youngsters growing up, we set up a growth chart on the back of a closet door. As they grew, they begged us to measure how tall they’d gotten and record it on the chart. It didn’t matter how small the increments were, they bounced up and down with excitement to see their progress. One time after I measured one of my daughters, she asked me the sort of question you wish kids wouldn’t ask: ‘Daddy, why do big people stop growing?’ How could I explain that big people don’t stop growing – we just grow in a different direction? I don’t know what I told her, but to this day the Lord is still asking me, ‘Hendricks, are you growing old, or are you growing up?'” How about you? How long have you been a Christian? Nine months? Thirty-nine years? The real issue is how much have you grown up? Step up to God’s growth chart and measure your progress. That’s what the apostle Peter meant when he wrote, ‘Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.’ Just as a baby grabs for the bottle, you grab for the Bible. The baby has to have milk to sustain its life physically; and you have to have the Scriptures to sustain your life spiritually. So the first reason for studying the Scriptures is that it’s a means of spiritual growth. It is God’s primary tool to develop you as an individual.”

Soul food: Hosea 11-14; Luke 2:34-40; Ps 21; Prov 14:17-20

Bible study (1)

1 Peter 2:2 NIV

Studying the Bible every day is essential to our spiritual growth, but we can often prioritise other things and reduce our time studying the Bible to a few minutes each day. The Bible should be like food to us. We need to consume it so that we can grow stronger and more mature in our faith. The Bible says, ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’ (Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV). Peter uses the analogy of babies and milk, saying, ‘crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.’ Babies desire and demand milk on a regular basis. In the same way, we should be desiring God’s Word. But so often we can find ourselves not reading the Bible. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand it, because we have other things we’d rather do, or we’re just too busy. But we need to be determined to feed on God’s Word each day. If we’re struggling, we can start with the basics. Paul said to the Corinthians: ‘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 NIV). If we’re not ready to get stuck into deep theological Bible studies, let’s start small. We can aim to read the Bible for ten minutes a day, choosing a passage we’re familiar with, and then researching it. We can look online for commentaries, listen to teaching on the topic, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us what it means. Then we can grow in our faith and become more like Jesus.

Hosea 11-14; Luke 2:34-40; Ps 21; Prov 14:17-20