A Mentor’s Secrets for Continual Spiritual Growth #1

 

A Mentor’s Secrets for Continual Spiritual Growth #1

 Last week Dr. Mike Pratt laid a solid foundation for our series a Mentor’s Secrets for Continual Spiritual Growth.  During the next four weeks, we will be building on that foundation.  If you missed Mike’s talk you can review it in audio or video on our website www.hbcc.life or the video on YouTube channel HBCC life.

The way the gospel has been pitched you can get the impression that it's one and done.  Have your heart stirred, recite a prayer, and you’re saved, one and done.  But that is far from the experience of a disciple.  The teaching we are embarking upon is about continual spiritual growth.  To be free, to grow deep, to grow up, to grow fruit, to live your life to the full, to bring the Kingdom, takes intention, time and effort.  There are spiritual principles that are always in play.  You don’t accomplish one and then move on to the next.  The spiritual principles intertwine like gardening.  You need seed and soil, and until the harvest, watering, weeding, fertilizing, debugging are all principles that are required at various times to produce a crop.  The first principle is that you can’t do it.

The goal of spiritual growth is to become more like Jesus in thought, attitude, and action.  As you become more like Jesus, your experiential knowledge of the One Jesus called Father increases.  Jesus told us that it is in knowing God that we have eternal life.  As you become more like Jesus your abilities to live your life to the full increase, which results in creating thriving relationships with others and yourself as you know everything rises and falls on relationships; when your relationships are quality, life is good. The more you become like Jesus the more wisdom you have at your disposal.  Knowledge of life is good, wisdom is using that knowledge correctly. The more you become like Jesus the more gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise rises out of you, the more you become a source of glorifying God, your positive outlook on life makes you an encourager, the light in you shines brighter drawing more people into the Kingdom.  More Jesus, more life lived well.  Continual spiritual growth leads to well-living now and eternal life later.

 Because of the sacrifice Jesus made, every human being has access to grace.  Grace is the gift of God that empowers desiring and doing.  Nothing positive happens spiritually without you appropriating God’s grace.  God’s incredible gift is there for you, it’s here for you right now, even if you don’t recognize it.  Jesus ascended and the Father sent the Holy Spirit. 

 John 16:13 & 8 (MSG)

“… when the Friend [the Holy Spirit] comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.” “…he'll expose the error of the godless world's view of sin, righteousness, and judgment…”

 The Holy Spirit will guide you as you seek to continually mature spiritually.  The Holy Spirit starts that work before you even know it.  We call it prevenient grace, prevenient means “what comes before.”  The Holy Spirit dispenses prevenient grace on every person, wooing them into a knowledge of their spiritual state. This knowledge reveals to you that you are not as you should be, that things are messed up inside you, that you can’t make your life the way you want it to be.  You start to see all the failures, all the dead ends, all the damaged and destroyed relationships in your life and you conclude that you are not right, that something is wrong with you, that you are somehow broken.  It’s an ugly realization.  Others aren’t to blame, the system is not to blame, you are the responsible party for the choices you’ve made in life.  So you take responsibility and look for ways to change your life for the better. No matter how many self-help books you read, no matter how many motivational seminars you attend, no matter how many counselors you visit, the change is never long-lasting, if change comes at all. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Romans 7:18-20 (MSG)

I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

 When you realize that this describes what you are experiencing, that self-help is no help, you start looking for better answers. The Holy Spirit responds to your honesty.  When you’re honest about your condition, the Spirit leads you into more truth.  Let me give you a shortcut.  The crazy missing part in your life is reconciliation with God.

 The Bible reveals that the bottom line problem is your estrangement with God.  God is the creator, the designer, and when we live out of sync with God our lives get messed up.  Out of sync with God humanity sins, constantly deterring, damaging, and destroying the relationships that God wants everyone to experience.  That relationship is best described as love, seeking to do the good to the other that you would have them do to you.   Without reconciliation with God you will never be able to change, to become the person you feel deep within you are to be, the person God created; the person living an adventure, the person making a difference in this world, the person who is comfortable in their skin.  This realization of being broken is part of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, the realization is grace.

 Philippians 2:13 (NCV)

God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.

You need God to fix what is broken.  You’ve tried making yourself acceptable to God, you try to clean up your act, you’ve been working hard to be better so that God will accept you, you have tried to earn his favor.  You’ve tried so hard but still, the change you desire hasn’t come.  When you come to the place where you realize you can’t make yourself acceptable the Holy Spirit presents what seems impossible a gift of faith that will set you free.  Do you want to discard that unmanageable life of yours for one of peace joy and righteousness?  The Holy Spirit leads you into all truth and here is a glimpse of that truth:

 John 3:16 (MSG)

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Believe, faith, in Jesus leads to reconciliation with God, the estrangement ends.  You don’t earn it, there is nothing you can do to merit it, God gives it to you, reconciliation by acknowledging you’re broken, believing that Jesus fixes the broken, can and will fix you.  You are to believe, to have faith that Jesus did everything necessary for you to enter into a right relationship with God and that your part is to desire the gift and ask for it.

God has never turned down anyone who wholeheartedly has sought to be made right with Him.  The dabblers, the halfhearted, the double-minded, well, from my understanding of the scripture this is an all or nothing proposition.  You have to go all-in, having faith that this is the winning hand. 

Jeremiah 29:13-14 (NLT)

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity…

 What you can’t do for yourself God will help you do, He will supply the grace, the desire, the power to be transformed from broken to made new. Acknowledge the truth, believe in Jesus’ power to liberate and God will do what you cannot, God will make you right with Him.  Being made right with God empowers you to make every other relationship in your life right also.

 This is familiar ground for those of you who have had God accept your faith. That general path of acknowledging your helplessness to help yourself, your belief that Jesus is your only hope of fixing all that is broken in your life, your commitment to learning how to live set free, you’ve walked that path. You have asked God to accept your faith and to make you right with Him. He has. Now recall that what we are examining are principles for continual spiritual growth.  So this is not a one-and-done experience. Let’s explore that aspect of growth next.

You’ve been made new.  A new creation the Bible proclaims, the old person you were is gone, a new person has come into existence.  Jesus called it being born again.  What many don’t realize is that this new person is not perfect, far from it.  The spiritual life is a journey, it’s a process, it’s a becoming.  The new person is empowered to overcome every imperfection, every challenge.   The Scripture likens it to taking off the old ways, the thoughts and behaviors of the way we were, and replace them with the thoughts and behaviors of Jesus, like taking off dirty clothes and putting on clean.

 Those old ways of thinking and doing have to go.  The old way of doing life is to be replaced with a new way of doing life, and this new way is revealed one step at a time. 

 Ephesians 4:17-19 (MSG)

And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They've refused for so long to deal with God that they've lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can't think straight anymore.

 Now that you can think straight you can see things in your life that even now are not right.  Jesus is the light of the world.  The closer you get to the light the more you see with clarity, the shadows flee, the corners are illuminated, this light exposes the inconsistencies, the little disobediences, the unloving attitudes that still are lurking in your life.  The closer you get to God the brighter the light exposing areas of your life that have not been brought into submission to God.

 Imagine a staircase, as you ascend you leave behind where you’ve been.  With each new step, your thinking becomes straighter, with each new step the light Christ shines on you gets brighter and you see yet another aspect of your spiritual life needs to change.

On this new step, once again you find yourself powerless to overcome these shortcomings, these imperfections, these sins.  You see that they keep you from becoming the person God created you to be.  The thoughts, the attitudes, the wrong desires are stunting your spiritual growth. Because of your love for God you fight against them, you become like the blacksmith at the forge, heating the iron red hot, and pounding it into the shape you want upon the anvil, but no luck, you can’t make yourself the way you want to be. Sadly some have quit, they couldn’t do it so they quit trying and slide back into all the old ways of living.  You can call it relapse. They forgot that they couldn’t do it before either and had to rely on God to partner with them.  Don’t give up when you see the flaws, if a relapse happens, do what you did at first, acknowledge that you are in desperate need of God’s help to change, that you can’t do it on your own.  Once again look to the Holy Spirit to empower the change and lead you into all truth.

 Here’s what I have discovered.  Have you heard of muscle memory? We see it in athletes when they do some incredible things on the playing field, instant action.  You also have muscle memory, do you have to think and command your hand to reach for the toothbrush?  Do you have to think about depressing the brake of your car to slow down?  No, you do these things instinctively.  It’s not muscles though that have the memory, it’s the paths in your brain you’ve worn in.  The more you repeat a behavior or a thought the more you work the connection between stimulus and action.  When you first try something new, it is difficult, but after a while, it becomes normal, natural, easy to do.  This is because you have worn a path in your brain.  Let’s use cussing, for example, the use of those impolite expletives to express your feelings.  I overheard some high schoolers talking and was amazed how they could communicate anything of substance when every third word was one that momma would have used dish soap in the mouth to correct. I surmised that they used foul language so often that it had become a natural way to speak.  They talk and the well-worn paths to explicative automatically engage.  It’s not muscle memory, it’s the well-worn paths in our mind that bring us from stimulus to action without a thought.

 These well-worn paths have to be changed and replaced.  It will do no good to stop a behavior without replacing it with something more in tune with your new life in Christ.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (MSG)

I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside 24 and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

 The way you change and replace is by refusing to indulge the old path and instead use the stimulus to cut a new path to the action you want.  This takes intention, time, and effort. The experts say it takes 30 days to cut a new path and 63 days to make it well-worn.  Ask God to help you pinpoint what the stimulus is, the activating situation, the circumstance that gets you headed down the path to that unwanted response.  When you find yourself in that activating situation you will feel a check in your spirit, you will see that you have a choice, you can go the old way or the new.  The Holy Spirit will help you choose the new if you rely on Him, utilizing His empowerment.

 The first principle is realizing continual spiritual growth in your life is that you can’t do it.  Left to yourself the task is overwhelming.  So you rely on the One who has the power,  you seek God to empower you to be an overcomer.


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