Monday, May 22, 2017

Growing closer to God

Have you ever found yourself asking why some situations in life are easier to navigate than others? Aren't there times when you feel like you have it figured out, then life throws you a curve ball, and what got you through one valley isn't getting you through the next? It can be frustrating at first, but this can also reveal a great deal about ourselves, and particularly our spiritual growth and maturity.

Max Lucado said that "Equipped with the right tools, we can learn to listen to God." I doubt many of you have trouble finding the truth in this statement, yet many of us choose to ignore it, and wander aimlessly through an unfulfilling life. Why? I know for me personally, I have taken this concept of listening to God for granted for most of my life. There were days where I would make conscious choices to ignore my relationship with Christ, and avoid equipping myself with the right tools to pursue and nurture that relationship. What I didn't realize was that any step we're not taking towards the Lord, is in effect a step away from Him, which has a negative effect on our quality of life. The choices we make determine the quality of our life.

In John 10:10, Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
- John 10:10
There's two things I think about when I read this verse. The first is the reference to the thief coming to steal and kill and destroy. Too often we skip right past that so we can get to the good stuff (spoiler: abundant life). But we need to be really careful here and recognize that the thief isn't only coming, he's already here. Louie Giglio gave a message at Elevation Church's Code Orange Revival about "the table God has prepared before us and His ability to meet us in the most desperate of places." What stood out to me was his explanation of Psalm 23:5, which says:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
- Psalm 23:5
Not only has God prepared a table before you, but He has done so in the presence of your enemies. The enemy is already present, and we must rely on God for everything we'll need mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically to not only recognize the enemy, but to have the strength and courage to say to the enemy: "You don't have a seat at my table!"

The only way you can lose your peace is if you let the devil sit down and eat your food and start talking to you at your table that your Shepard prepared before you in the presence of your enemies.
- Louie Giglio
The other thing we learn in John 10:10 is Jesus telling us that He came that we may have life, but, and don't miss this, have it abundantly. Abundant life can mean different things to different people but if we're using Scripture as our guide and treating it as the living, breathing Word of God, maybe we should use it to define the abundant life. A few of my favorites are:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
- Galatians 5:22
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
- Matthew 11:28
So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.
- Matthew 6:31-34
The abundant life consists of God's protection, provision, and promises, and as we experience it, we take on the character of Christ, find peace, rest, and a life free from anxiety; however, the only way we're ever going to be satisfied, and live the abundant life, is to be fully engaged and listening to the Holy Spirit. So how do we keep the enemy from taking a seat at our table? How do we become fully engaged and listening to the Holy Spirit? How do we experience the abundant life? Simple. We need practice, preparation, and spiritual discipline. Dallas Willard said that spiritual discipline is "any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by our direct effort." The disciplines you choose to practice can vary, but here are some that have been instrumental in my growth as a Christ follower.

  1. Prayer
    Spending time giving thanks, lifting prayer requests, and otherwise talking with the Lord will help you grow in your faith, and will demonstrate your commitment and intentions to the Lord. Prayer doesn't have to be long, or complicated, it's simply time for you to communicate with God. Sometimes I write out my prayers in a journal. Sometimes I say them out loud. Other time I just meditate on them in my mind. There's no wrong way to pray. Say whatever comes in to your heart and give it time. God will use that time to build your prayer life, if you let Him.
  2. Reading Scripture
    If you want to draw closer to God, and allow God's will to be done in your life, you must spend time in the Word of God. Like with anything else, if you want to learn about something, you have to study it. This is no different with reading Scripture. What better way to learn about God than to read about Him, and the inspired words He placed on the hearts of the authors. The words really will come alive, but only when you open your Bible and let them. If you don't know where to start, I'd recommend the One-Year New Testament, which breaks the New Testament down into short daily readings.
  3. Solitude, Silence, Meditation
    This one can be difficult for some of us. Life is busy, who has time to spend with themselves in silence or solitude? As a single dad I am able to take advantage of this on certain days more than others. But let me say that it's a discipline I encourage you to make time for. Even if it's only a short time in the morning, or late at night when everyone is in bed. For me, I find that the Holy Spirit really is present in these moments when I intentionally set aside time to be still, listen, reflect, and meditate on God's grace, mercy, love, and His Word.
  4. Fasting
    Fasting will forever hold a special place in my heart, as it was during my first 21-day fast that I gave my life over to Christ. Oswald Chambers says that "the true inward significance of fasting is that I have turned to God, either on account of my own sins or others, allowing Him to fulfill His purpose in me." Like prayer, fasting doesn't have to be complex. It's not about how often you fast, how long you fast, or what you fast from — rather, it's about obedience to the Lord, and making room for God in your life. You'd be surprised when you fast from something, if you spend time pursuing the Lord, He'll fill that empty space with more of Him.
  5. Serving
    Serving is so important, and despite what most of us think, we're all qualified and called to serve (1 Peter 4:10, John 13:14-15). Whether it's in your church, your community, or abroad, serving is another way to build your relationship and trust with God. As God sees that you can be trusted in the little things (Luke 16:10), you'll find that He gives you more responsibilities. Serving may be as simple as shaking hands, or making coffee, but I promise you that it will elevate your spiritual life in ways you wouldn't imagine.
It's through spiritual disciplines that we are able to drink from the living water. By engaging in these practices daily, you will consistently find your satisfaction in nothing but Jesus Christ. That's the abundant life that Jesus promises us in John 10:10. Beyond living the abundant life, you'll find that others around you will be drawn to you. They'll see the quality of your life and your joy overflowing, and want to know where it comes from. What will your response be? Will you be ready to give an answer? Like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), we all have an obligation to share the living water (Holy Spirit; The Good News) with others.

Jesus replied, "Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life."
- John 4:13
Will you reply like the Samaritan woman? Give me this water! My prayer for all of you is that you've asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Over two-thousand years ago Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have died. He did that for me... He did that for you... to pay the penalty of our sins — past, present, and future — and to cleanse us in a way that only a perfect, selfless sacrifice could. Lord, I place my life into Your hands and trust you entirely. I pray that we sacrifice our own desires, die to ourselves, and embrace Your perfect and pleasing will. Transform each of us from the inside out, and characterize each of us with hearts and minds that are focused on You. Let us all commit to becoming Christ-centered in body, mind, and soul.

2 comments:

  1. PTL, great writing Matt! Keep it up.

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  2. Great writing Matt. You have been blessed by God with a special talent. Please keep it up. Love you, Doug.

    ReplyDelete