Archive for November, 2022

Living a Powerful Life

What It Means to Rely on the Spirit

When we become Christians by relying on what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross, we are given God’s Spirit as a pledge of our salvation and to enable us to live a powerful life. However, we often don’t lean on him and instead try to muscle our way through the Christian life in our own strength. We must choose to rely on this Spirit to help us to love the unlovely, serve the needs of others sacrificially, and let others get the credit instead of us seeking it for ourselves. We often think we can do all these good things just by trying harder. But we can’t.

As a Christian, we have “become a new person. The old life is gone: a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT). But we don’t become a new person in our experience if we continue to rely on our human efforts and not the supernatural power of the Spirit. We don’t want to try to live the Christian life without Jesus’ help. For our Christianity will be fake and powerless.

Why It’s So Hard to Rely on the Spirit

My background emphasized knowing the Bible. But it did not emphasize as much relying on the Spirit to live the Bible. To some extent, I was left on my own to figure out how to obey it from the heart. As a result, my spirituality had a lot of legalisms in it, which is trying to live the Christian life without relying on the Spirit.

I realized this about myself 17 years ago when I started seminary. I seemed to think that all I needed was to know the biblical principle and then I could do it. However, at that time I began to trust in a deeper way that apart from God I could do nothing of eternal value (John 15:5). Nothing? Are you kidding? That’s right. Nothing of eternal value.

So, I was motivated to learn how to do live more with Jesus instead of just for Jesus. I had to humble myself and learn to let Jesus into my day to help me with whatever came along. But where’s the glory in that? If God and I are doing life together, how can I take credit for what happens? I would have to die to myself (John 12:24)– and that is one major reason few of us walk in the Spirit because we are too proud to live in the reality that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that counts.

Another reason we often choose to live without God’s power is it is hard to live by faith. Up until the time we became Christians, we always relied on something we could see. That was usually us or good circumstances. If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist. And this bent carries over into our life after we become a Christian. We like to see, feel, and touch what we put our faith in. But in the case of trusting God, we never see him, feel him, or touch him directly. But through the eyes of faith, we experience his love and power through a loving wife, compassion living through a godly person and wisdom through a Spirit-filled teacher.

Many of us are high-control people. We don’t feel safe unless we control our circumstances. It is very difficult for us to trust others. Instead, we strive to understand so we don’t have to trust an unseen God. But God says, “Trust in Me with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge me and I will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6, NLT). But that is scary. We have less anxiety when we trust in something we can see. But the truth that often escapes us is that our circumstances are never under our complete control.

As a result, many of us opt for a safe Christianity that lacks God’s presence and power. We miss the exciting adventure of allowing God to transform us and use us to make this a better world. We fail to live life in the Spirit, in God’s power. We miss much of the joy and peace of living in partnership with the living God. We refuse to pay the price. It takes work, perseverance and trust in God. It can be uncomfortable and painful and not for cowards. Few Christians live this way.

One of the shocking things I learned when I became more aware of my thoughts, feelings and motives of my heart through spiritual formation disciplines was how depraved I was. For example, I was trying to earn worth by serving God. Being a leader in the church sometimes was more about trying to be important to church people than pleasing God and doing what he wanted me to do for his purposes. I pretended to be what I thought would get the approval of others, instead of what was right for me. And trusting in good circumstances rather than a good God to keep me safe.

A reason it is hard for us to rely on God is that we often want to rely on lies more than the God of all truth. We don’t want to believe that we can’t do anything of eternal value without God doing it through us. We don’t want to believe that God’s plan for us is better than our plans for ourselves. We don’t want to believe that what others think of us has no value in who God thinks we are. We want control and we want to cling to the fantasy that we have it. But in order to rely on the Spirit, we need to be trained to turn away from lies that contradict God’s truth and promises. We need to develop the skill to identify and validate the accuracy of what we depend on.

How to Rely on the Spirit

To rely on the Spirit, we must trust what the Spirit says is true. It’s not something to file way on the bookshelf of our minds, but something to be used today to live our lives. Unless we step out and depend on the Spirit to make his promises active and alive in us, they are powerless. “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6, NAS). God wants us to be a doer of the Word and not someone who knows but doesn’t trust or do.

When God says to us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely, I will help you, surely, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS), he doesn’t want us to go on acting like we are at the mercy of our wits and wisdom. No, he wants us to act on the truth that we are never alone, and God’s powerful and faithful help will get us through whatever challenges we are facing.

Meditation on God’s word helps us to stay focused on God’s truth instead of Satan’s blizzard of lies. For example, I recently had a delicate procedure done by a vascular surgeon. The procedure did not go perfectly when he made an error in judgment on the size of the stent and left a pinhole leak. He also let the incision get infected and prescribed an anti-biotic that I was allergic to. After a couple of other expectations that were not met, I began to feel like I wasn’t safe. Then God reassured me through meditation on Isaiah 41:10 that he was with me and was my reason to feel safe. He impressed upon me that all the human errors were under his control, and he still would work these mistakes together with other things for my good. Without relying on Isaiah 41:10, I would have been much more anxious than I was listening to Satan’s lies that I was in danger.

Final Thoughts

Finally, the dirty little secret is that we can’t live the Bible by just knowing it. We can know and want to do but still not do. God must live his life through us to live according to God’s incredibly high standards. Standards such as loving our enemies, forgiving those who have hurt is, and loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  We can’t do this through human strength. We always must lower the standards to make our Christianity work when we refuse to depend on the Spirit.

God tries to persuade us to try his Spirit out to live by his standards of perfection. We need to get out of the way and let God live his life through us. We need to rely on the fact that Jesus has rendered powerless our sin nature. When we rely on this reality, God gradually makes it true in our experience as we follow and trust in him. When we don’t depend, we continue to not be transformed and fail to connect to the life of God and his joy, peace, and love. May we all persevere, never give up, and try again even if we fail a thousand times. To experience God’s intimate love for us and his power, makes it worth the effort.

Application Questions and Exercises

1. What about you makes it difficult to rely on God to do his will? What are some reasons you think you need God’s help? What is one lie you believe that keeps you from trusting God to live through you?

2. Ask God to help you see some alternatives you have trusted in instead of placing your faith in him to meet an important need. Why did you do this? How did it work?

3. Imagine what this week would look l like if you lived it in God’s power. What are some differences you see in your feelings and actions from your usual week?

4. What has helped you to live by reliance on God? Why? What has hindered you? What action(s) are you going to take?

5. Think of a truth you sense the Holy Spirit is wanting you to trust God to make real for you in your experience. Picture what it would look like in your thoughts, feelings and actions if you acted and trusted God to provide what he has promised.

6. We are given God’s precious and magnificent promises so that our life can become supernatural as we rely on Jesus to make them real in our experience. Ask him to show you one of those promises to rely on today. How do you expect your day to be different as he keeps his promise to you?

7. Do you passionately desire to live a supernatural life experiencing daily God’s power and intimate love for you? Why would you want this? Why wouldn’t you want this?

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