How to Grow
The last XLM Bible Study was great. Thanks to everyone who came out! And thanks once again to Adventures in Comics and Games for hosting us!
We’ve got more events coming up soon. We’ll post more details soon on the Facebook page, the Twitter feed, the Google+ page, and here at the blog.
Below are my notes from the Bible study.
Last time, we talked about how God can change us into new people, how he can move us past things that we think are insurmountable. We can grow beyond what we are now.
In Extra Life Ministries, and at Crossroads in general, we talk about growth a lot. We encourage people to really engage what God wants to do in our lives. So, the question is, how do we do that? What can we do to grow spiritually?
I want to talk about three areas we can grow: knowledge, faith, and practice. And as I was thinking about those, I realized there were some parallels to the Matrix.
Think about Neo at the beginning of the Matrix, before he’s really Neo. He goes through life with these lingering questions he can’t ignore. He’s literally enslaved, but he can’t do anything about it because he doesn’t even know he’s enslaved. Something in him knows it, and knows he needs to do something about it, but he has no idea what.
When we lack knowledge, we are left without answers to the questions that bother us. Sometimes, we don’t know enough to even ask the right questions.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus has to educate the Samaritan woman as they talk. She had religious questions, ones that affected her life, but she didn’t have answers. Jesus told her how it really was. She was hung up on the differences between Jews and Samaritans; Jesus showed her the difference between real worship and not.
As theoretical as it sounds sometimes, good doctrine is actually important. In principle, it’s good if your beliefs are true. Practically, if you take your beliefs to heart and live them out, it will make a great difference if they are true or not.
Say you have a false image of God. You could end up thinking like the demons, who cringe at the mention of the person who loves them most and wants the best for them, and follow one who cares only for himself. You could end up distancing yourself from God.
Say you have a false image of yourself. You will likely end up thinking like King Saul, who was so prone to mood swings and volatile behavior that God removed him as king. You could end up damaging your faith and derailing your life.
Say you have a false image of the world. You could end up like the Gnostics, who thought that material existence was evil, which led them to all sorts of strange practices and unhealthy ideas.
Even if you don’t necessarily have bad doctrine, but do have lingering questions, those can lead to doubt and angst if they go unanswered too long. Not that we can understand everything; but ignorance of what God has revealed to us can have drastic consequences. Especially given the fact that we can sin and not even know it.
1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing,lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed….
…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.
-Hosea 4:1-2, 6
God’s commands aren’t arbitrary. They’re based on His nature and on the way He created the world. If we’re ignorant of His guidelines for life, we can do ourselves great harm by not acting in accordance them.
As we grow in knowledge, however, we learn more about what life is supposed to be like. We learn what to expect from ourselves, from the world, and from God. We aren’t as surprised when life happens. We can identify and avoid sin and the harm it brings.
Do you find yourself making bad decisions, but you can’t think of any alternatives? Are you unsure who God really is and what He thinks of you? Are you always surprised by your circumstances? You may lack knowledge.
Thankfully, it’s not that hard to get more knowledge. That’s a big part of what we’re doing now. Bible studies, Sunday school, and sermons are great places to gain knowledge. It’s part of my life’s calling to be a teacher: to learn the truth as well as I can and pass it on to people. I’m here to answer questions whenever you need it.
Personal study time is also crucial. The cool thing is, you have more access to the Bible and Bible scholarship than anyone in history. If you have a smartphone, you have access to dozens of translations and volumes of commentaries, history, maps, and any number of other helps. The resources you need are available.
One more thing about gaining knowledge: to do it, we need to humble ourselves. We’ll need to let go of our opinions as we find better information. That’s hard to do with things that matter so deeply to us, but it’s crucial. Otherwise, we’ll hold on to false opinions, and the truth will never get into our hearts and change our behavior.
That leads to the second way we can grow spiritually: in faith and conviction.
One of my favorite scenes in the Matrix is Neo’s first conversation with the Oracle. Remember when she tells Neo he’s not the One? She follows up with something important. “You’ve got the gift, but you’re waiting for something.”
That’s so us. Sometimes our problem isn’t that we don’t know enough: sometimes our problem is that we lack conviction about what we know. We know it’s true, but we’re waiting for something. It hasn’t quite settled in our hearts yet. We know it, but we don’t feel it, and we’re not ready to act on it.
God tells us a lot of amazing things. He says He always loves us, and is always looking out for us. He says our prayers have incredible power. And He says that He knows what’s really best for us to do, always. Some days, those are all hard things to believe.
Sometimes, it’s easier to believe our own fears and insecurities rather than what God says. Sometimes, we’ve had tough experiences that seem to contradict what God says. Whatever the reason, we often struggle to move from mere knowledge to faith.
The big problem with a lack of faith is that it limits what we perceive as possible. It stresses us out, frankly. Instead of trusting what we know, we worry about what might happen. It robs us of the joy and confidence we could otherwise have.
And the truth is, we go through enough things in life that we could always use more faith, even if we have a good amount already.
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
Funny thing: the Apostles had enough faith to go to Jesus when the storm rose. But in response, Jesus challenged them to even greater faith: He wanted them to be confident just because they were with Him. He wanted them to think even bigger than what they were already thinking.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
-1 Samuel 17:45-47
David knew that all things were possible with God. He knew it, he felt it, and he acted on it boldly. And he’s remembered for his faith to this day.
God is worthy of our faith. We realize that as we grow in knowledge. So how do we get it into our hearts?
If we want to grow in faith, we have to take some risks. Start small. Pick something you always have an excuse not to do, something you feel God might just be leading you to. Then, drop your excuses. See what God does. You know that feeling you get when you wonder if God’s telling you to go talk to someone? Try listening to it. Just take a chance and try it.
I know, even little things like that can be scary. We can support each other in this. If you want to grow in faith, it’s a good idea to share your experiences and urgings with each other. We can encourage each other, confirm one another’s leadings, and share stories of when God has come through for us.
And perhaps most importantly, we can pray for ourselves and for each other. God loves it when we ask Him to grow us up in faith. He’ll respond. Be sure of that. Just be prepared to act when He does.
Which leads to the last area of growth we’ll talk about today. Sometimes we know the truth, and we even believe it and feel it. The problem may be that we’re just not putting it into action.
In the Matrix, Neo learns the truth about the world. He hears about the prophecy about the One. They load him full of kung-fu skills. But all that would be pointless if, when Morpheus was captured, he didn’t go back after him. If he didn’t stop to fight Agent Smith. If he didn’t act on what he believed.
You may have noticed how much these three ideas go together: knowledge, faith, and practice. The point of knowledge is that you believe it. And the point of belief is that you act on it. If you don’t act on what you know, you may not really believe it, have real faith in it. Here’s how James puts it:
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
He brings up an interesting thought: What does faith look like without deeds attached to it? Hypocritical, mostly. Or at least weak. Or, optimistically, you could just be growing in that area. That’s fine, as long as you really are growing.
Because we should be growing. A lack of action deprives you — and the world — of the fruit of your faith. It keeps you from fulfilling your God-given purpose. If you don’t actively engage your beliefs, you deprive the world of what you were always meant to be.
Not only that, but it cultivates doubt in us. If we shy away from the difficult decisions God leads us to, it will lead to frustration and confusion. We’ll then be tempted to blame our frustration and confusion on God. That leads us to doubt God’s power in our lives.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for growing in discipline. You just have to do it. All you can do is apply what you already know to your life. Do what you know you should be doing.
That could mean a lot of things. Turn away from sin. Set aside more time to commune with God. Be gentle to someone who’s mistreating you. Take a step back from temptation.
Often, we realize we need to grow when a problem arises. Maybe we find ourselves being short-tempered. Maybe we’re confused about where we are in life, or stressed out by a tough situation. Maybe we find ourselves doubting God. Then, we realize that we’re lacking something.
Take stock in those moments. See if you need to grow in knowledge, faith, or practice. You have friends to help you, not least of which, God Himself. Take heart.
Posted on February 21, 2012, in Christianity, Geekery, God, Holiness, The Bible and tagged belief, Bible, Bible study, Christianity, discipline, faith, growth, holiness, spirituality, transformation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.