Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ- 1st Thessalonians 5:21-23 ESV
I am a bit of a cynic.
I am always a bit slow to embrace any new idea, theory or belief without some hard evidence that the idea, theory or belief could actually be true or a good idea.
Despite my inherently cynical nature I am fully convinced the whole stupid world is under the judgment of God right now. No one is special right now. Too many people in too many places have either participated in or voluntarily tolerated every kind of evil for far too long Romans 1:18-30). The Almighty God of the Universe has finally had enough. He is lifting His hand of protection and letting humanity have a taste of what we have been begging for: life without God. Therefore, every man, woman and child on earth is in for some rough waters until there is a movement of repentance. The evidence is just too overwhelming not to believe it. Bad leaders, weird weather, random acts of violence, hostility, disease, fear and crime are all telltale signs of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:16-64).
This season might just turn out to be the most productive of our lives from a spiritual growth perspective. Rough waters often cause people to seek God and let go of the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1). Trials can empower us to break free of the behaviors and attitudes that trap us in the mindsets that keep us mired in worldly thinking. When we seek God and ask Him to help us break free of worldly thinking and sinful strongholds we inevitably do the things that please and honor God (Revelation 2:5). When Christians obey God, He is faithful to move in powerful ways and good always comes out of it. (1st Peter 1:6-9).
Here’s how to make spiritual growth happen:
Stop being a baby-
Churches today are crawling with spiritual and moral toddlers. People who never grew past the sippy-cup and fit-throwing stage of spiritual development (Hebrews 5:12-14). In order to flourish spiritually we must be intentional about letting go of the childish and/or sinful things holding us back from becoming truly Christlike. This means learning to do hard things, like examining our attitudes on a regular basis. It means accepting difficulty and learning from it rather than getting angry and bitter about it (1st Corinthians 13:11, 2nd Timothy 4:5). It means caring about people enough to tell them the truth about where their choices will lead them even if it means they don’t like us when the conversation is over. It means forgiving those who wrong us and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
Know what having “good fruit” actually means-
We all know the fruit of a person’s life matters because Jesus said it matters (Matthew 7:16). However, having a life that consists of good fruit is about more than looking good or even doing good deeds. “Good fruit” like church attendance, taking on leadership roles in church or even leading people to Jesus is really only good if those things are accompanied by by true holiness, honesty, virtue and love for one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:3). This means doing the right things with the wrong heart will not result in reward. In order to get this vital issue right we must be vigilant about examining our motives. We must ask ourselves: am I doing what I’m doing so others will think well of me? Do I do things for people to help them or gain influence? Do I love everyone or just people who love me back? If we get the answers to any of these questions wrong we need to ask God to change our hearts until He does.
Deal with your spiritual junk–
In order to deal with our junk we have to WANT to see the sin our life. Most people, even most Christians don’t really want to see the sin their lives. It’s just too painful and hard see our own grossness head-on. It We have to ask God to show us. He will do this in a whole bunch of different ways that probably won’t involve verbal communication with the Almighty. He will show us through conflicts we have in our marriages and jobs. He will show us through the attitudes we see in our own kids and the entertainment we gravitate towards.
Don’t get confused about what repentance really is-
Repentance is a twofold event. It’s dealing with sinful behaviors in a decisive way (Matthew 5:30). That means stopping it (whatever “it” is) as quickly as possible. However, simply stopping bad behavior is the beginning not the end of the matter. In order to truly repent we have to deal with the heart attitude that caused us to sin in the first place. That means we have to dig deep and figure out the why of what we do. Without that knowledge will never move on to a higher level of functioning.
If we know God and are called according to His purpose then life is good even when its tough. It’s good because God is always at work using the hard stuff to mold us into someone He can use.
But we have to let Him.