Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 is a good year to grow up ...

He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 
- Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)

Many people are hoping that this year will be better than the last.  They’re hoping for more happiness, more success, better relationships, and so many other things.  As Christians, we have so much more than the uncertain hope that this will be a better year for us. We have the challenge and opportunity to be better people!  And that’s the call of being a disciple --- that no matter what 2014 brings to my life, I will be a better person this year as I grow up in Christ.  If God should choose to cause or allow difficulties, trials, or hardship, I will grow in them as my faith is tested, my obedience is demonstrated, and God’s peace and power carry me through.  If I am blessed and this year brings unexpected good things into my life, I will thank God for his generosity and trust Him more and honor him for what He’s done.  I will know that every bit of adversity and every bit of blessing in the coming year is an opportunity for me to “grow up in every way” in Christ.
Commit to making this year a year of personal growth as a disciple.  As you do, remember that spiritual growth is not automatic.  It will not merely happen to us.  It must be intentional and strategic.  Philip Brooks said, “We never become truly spiritual by sitting down and wishing to be so.”  Know also that spiritual growth doesn’t take place merely with the passing of time.  The Bible tells us to train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7) and that many who should have grown to the point of spiritual leadership by now are still infants in Christ (Hebrews 5:12).  If we don’t plan to grow and take the necessary steps, we will not.  We will continue to be subject to our circumstances and surroundings.  But if we intentionally commit to knowing Christ more intimately and following Him more faithfully in this New Year, we will experience spiritual growth. 

There are no shortcuts to growth, however.  All intentional efforts at growing necessarily include hearing good teaching from God’s Word, studying His word for myself, and paying careful attention to obeying it.  Donald Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, says: “Without exception, the men and women I have known who make the most rapid, consistent, and evident growth in Christlikeness have been those who develop a daily time of being alone with God. This time of outward silence is the time of daily Bible intake and prayer.  In this solitude is the occasion for private worship.” This time in God’s Word and in prayer must be consistent and regular.  It should become a matter of daily routine.  The call to follow after Jesus is a daily one, after all (Luke 9:23).  I suggest choosing a plan, a place, and a time to be alone with God.  Make it an inviolate part of your schedule.  Eddie Rasnake in The Book of Ephesians notes the faithful diligence required: “What you do when you spend time with God is not nearly so important as that you spend time with God. Spiritual growth is not the result of a dramatic experience, but a lot of small steps. You cannot be changed by one experience into spiritual maturity any more than you can become a full-grown adult by eating one meal… Think of spending time with God as one meal in the whole plan of your spiritual nutrition. If you are doing something that isn't satisfying your spiritual hunger, then change your diet. But whatever you do – don't give up eating.”

Also, know that no genuine, lasting growth is accomplished alone.  While your personal reading, studying, praying, etc., are vital, God designed us to grow best together. God uses called, gifted, people to equip me to be a better Christian. Pastors, teachers, mentors, and good friends who will instruct us, model Christian living for us, and hold us accountable are all used by God to build us up in Him.  Faithful participating in the spiritual community that is Church is vital to our growth as believers.  Satan will do all he can to persuade us to forego the command to faithfully meet together (Hebrews 10:25).  He knows that God’s perfect plan is to build his church for the protection, edification and maturation of his people for the manifestation of His Spirit and His glory in the world. Bill Hybels, in Courageous Leadership says, “There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity of human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness. Still to this day the potential of the church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close.”  That’s why your active participating in worship as a church fellowship and in life-on-life discipleship in our small groups is so important.

Commit to God this year to be a growing disciple. Determine to spend focused, consistent time in His Word and in prayer.  Determine to submit yourself to godly teaching and leadership.  Be a faithful member of the fellowship of believers. And determine to practice godliness, righteousness and obedience in your personal and public life.  If we do, 2014 will surely be The Year of the Disciple!


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