Archive for the ‘Spiritual Growth’ Category

I often get a chill down my spine when I am about to get some constructive criticism. I know it’s good for me, but I still fear it.

Recently, I have asked several friends and colleagues to give me some honest feedback on a draft book I have written. I asked them to tell me what they liked about the book and what they didn’t. I also asked them how they would make the book better. I did this because I know it’s wise to seek advice from many respected counselors. But I feel dread that they won’t like it and I’ll have to do a major rewrite.

I am comforted when I think of what happened to Harper Lee, who wrote the Pulitzer – prizing winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Her publisher made many constructive criticisms to her first draft. Instead of being discouraged by the criticism, she incorporated the changes and created the award-winning book that became the story for the first-class movie by the same name.

This dislike of criticism often affects leaders. Good leaders will hire around their weaknesses, not their strengths. But many leaders won’t do that. One of the reasons is that they like people who reinforce their biases and ways of doing business. They don’t like constructive criticism, even when it leads to better results in the long-run.

I once had a boss that hired me because I was strong in ethics, which he considered a weakness of his. We sometimes disagreed on what the ethical action was during the five years I worked for him, but he seemed to respect my positions and hopefully this helped his ethics. Many years after I quit working for him, he was sent to prison for unethical behavior. I still wonder if he would have gone to prison if I had remained in his employment and been allowed to constructively criticize his ethics when appropriate.

Why We Often Hate Constructive Criticism

Many of us hang onto a fragile sense of worth. We believe that we are important if people agree with us, respect us, or are impressed with our achievements. Constructive criticism can punch holes in our illusions that we are important because we are great or are beyond improvement. As a result, we sometimes avoid receiving honest feedback, which is stupid (Proverbs 12:1). We fail to accept the truth that our worth is great and unchangeable and does not depend on being impressive.

Another reason we hate constructive criticism is that it hurts. We are short-sighted and evaluate the criticism by how it makes us feel now, not the good that will come from it in the future (Hebrews 12:11).

A third reason we hate criticism is that sometimes it’s not constructive. It’s false and destructive. We need to evaluate the credibility of the person who is providing us with the criticism to help us determine if it’s constructive.

A fourth reason we hate constructive criticism is that we don’t want to improve. We would rather stay in the status quo and live lies, than to accept the painful reality of the criticism and grow. Recently my wife commented that I wouldn’t snore as much if I would lose a few pounds. I resented her constructive criticism. I wanted to fool myself into thinking I didn’t need to lose weight so that I wouldn’t have to make painful changes in my diet and exercise.

How We Should Respond to Constructive Criticism

Our first response to constructive criticism should be to expect it. God tells us that he is training us to improve in whatever we do as a way of life (Proverbs 6:23). Our seventy or eighty years on earth are not to demonstrate our god-like qualities or skills, but to grow more like him in our attitudes, actions, and power. He often uses constructive criticism to grow us.

But isn’t this criticism going to tear down our self-esteem? No, if we’re anchored in seeing ourselves as God sees us, a child he dearly loves and respects. We can then remain secure in our worth even when we are brought face-to-face with the need to improve.

When we cling to the need to earn worth through achievements or to go a certain direction, we can view constructive criticism as a threat. But when we rest in who we are to God (already precious) and going God’s way the best way to go (Matthew 6:33), we can better receive God’s instructions through the criticism.

As I have received some criticism lately, what criticism have you received? May we take our criticisms to God in prayer and ask him if they’re constructive. If they are, let’s ask him for the desire and strength to follow his path to growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How do we stop lying, being angry and bitter, and putting people down? How do we stop grieving the Holy Spirit and stealing?

Last time we talked about how important it was to stop doing these bad things – but how?

One way we can stop doing these things is by trying harder. But that doesn’t work because stopping these things requires that our heart changes and only God can do that (John 15:5).

Another way is to increase our Bible knowledge, and by knowing more our faith will increase and then we will have greater power to stop. But that doesn’t work unless the knowledge is trusted and applied (James 1:22).

bad habits

So, what works?

Getting rid of our old sinful ways begins with the recognition that we have old, sinful ways. Some of them are obvious such as stealing, lying, or putting people down. But grieving the Holy Spirit, making food an idol, or seeking to make a good impression to feel important may not be so obvious.

So, we ask God to “search our heart, try us and know our anxious thoughts, and see if there is any hurtful way in us, and lead us in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24, paraphrased).

He will reveal what needs to be put off and will enable us to replace it with his way. For example, a few years ago he wanted me to stop relying on a particular person’s opinion of me to determine what I thought of myself. He wanted me to replace it with what he thought of me, which was that I was precious, honored and deeply loved (Isaiah 43:4).

We need to keep in mind that the stopping is his job. We are slaves to our old ways and only supernatural power will bring true change to our hearts. He wants us to partner with him in putting off the old (Matthew 11:28). He provides the muscle and we provide the cooperation. “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, NIV).

So, how do we stop living the old, sinful ways? Let’s apply the information above.

  • Ask God what one thing that he wants you to be working with him to put off
  • Ask Him what he wants you to put on in it’s place
  • Then ask him to help you to put it off and to show you what he wants you to do to cooperate

 

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We don’t like to change. In fact we tend to cling to our usual ways of living even when they don’t work very well.

But God says to put off the old and put on the new. What old, and what new?

In my case, it’s to put off my old identity of being a person who has to work hard to have importance, be loved, and be okay. Instead, God wants me to put on my new identity of being important, loved, and okay without having to do anything. I’m his kid! Loving fathers don’t demand performance before they give what a child needs to feel loved, important and accepted.

But I have been trained to perform-and now God wants me to put that belief off at a deeper level that I must earn love, acceptance and worth from him and put on the belief that I already have those needs met by being God’s kid. But how do I get rid of a belief that I’ve held for most of my life?

But before we talk about the how, let’s talk about the why.

a sign post of changing to a new way of life

Why the Old Needs to Go

Most of us have little idea how much we have been molded to conform to the world when we start following God. “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (I John 2:15-16).

So God tells us to put off this accumulated baggage and to put on his way of living life. We often try to put on the new without getting rid of the old. We try to put new wine in old wineskins, which ruins the new wine (Luke 5:37). For example, if we fail to get rid of the notion that we can achieve our way into being a godlier person, we will often turn our ministries into another attempt to view ourselves as good Christians. We fail to minister to serve others.

In Ephesians 4, God says for us put off and to put on these things:

  • From lying to telling the truth
  • From anger to love
  • From bitterness to forgiveness
  • From putting people down to encouraging them
  • From grieving the Holy Spirit to walking in the Spirit
  • From stealing to working hard at a job

But how do we do this? How do we put off the old?

How We Get Rid of the Old

Next time we will discuss how we can get rid of the old habits of living so that we can embrace the new life.

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It occurred to me this week that I need to let go of some old things in my life. By hanging on to them, I was hurting my ability to embrace the new.

One of them was the church I used to attend. It was my home for 31 years. Yet, I needed to move on. I was now in a different place and needed a different place to thrive and serve. Yet, my heart was sad and a part of me wanted to live in the past.

Another thing I think I need to leave behind is the counselor that I have gone to over the years for a variety of issues. He had become a trusted advisor. But now, it seems I need help with an issue that has exhausted his expertise. But I am resisting seeking new counsel. I want to stick with the known and trusted.

A final area that I may need to let go of is leading a small spiritual growth group for mature Christians. I have been doing this kind of ministry for many years. It’s part of my identity. I get blessed and the ministry seems to bless others.

But God seems to be blocking every effort I make to do this ministry at the new church. Instead, is providing an opportunity to lead small groups of people who aren’t even Christians yet or just beginning to live the Christian life.

God seems to be leading me to leave behind the past behind, so that I will have the time to embrace this new kind of ministry.

But what does it mean to leave the past behind?

What It Means

Leaving the past behind involves choosing to follow God’s will instead of clinging to our past (1 Peter 4:2). Even when some of our past was doing God’s will, he now may want to take us in new directions.

When I first became a Christian, God wanted me to leave behind moving back to Illinois from California. He also wanted me to leave behind my parents’ wishes for me to be an engineer, and instead follow his wishes. He also wanted me to leave behind my grandiose dreams of career success, and instead seek less demanding jobs that would allow me more time for ministry.

Why Do It

We leave behind the past so that we can embrace the exciting future God has for us. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But we must leave the past behind to experience this new life.

We leave the past behind because it’s a poor substitute for the life God wants us to have. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, NLT). The benefits of leaving behind the things that are no longer God’s will, far out weigh the costs to receive them.

Another reason to let go of the past is that by hanging on we can miss the abundant life God wants to give us. For example, we may be clinging to the false hope from our past that by trying hard to please, we can eventually squeeze out enough love to be satisfied.

But we will never be satisfied with this false hope. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20, NLT). Instead, God offers us the experience of his deep love for us that has no strings attached. “My love for you is so great that it is beyond your understanding” (Psalm 103:11, Paraphrased).

But when we fail to leave behind our efforts to earn love from the past, we fail to experience God’s too-good-to-be-true love for us that is true.

So, how do we leave the past behind in order to embrace the wonderful future God has planned for us?

Illustration depicting a sign with a leave it in the past concept.

What Helps To Do It

We need to be intentional about identifying our past that needs to go and put it off. We do this by relying on the Spirit to identify and free us from false beliefs and dependencies (Romans 8:13).

Two examples of false beliefs for me are that I can’t do anything with my hands, and I’m not worth very much unless I achieve and impress. Both these beliefs are false and need to be rejected and left behind.

As I do this, I will be freer to accept the wonderful truths that I’m acceptable and precious to God, no matter what.

Another thing we can do to escape the past is to fill our minds with God’s thoughts that are given in the Bible. God sees life and us greatly different than we do. As we get to know him through the Bible, he transforms us so that we think his thoughts and become better able to leave our past behind. (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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My wife recently told me that one of the things that attracted her to me was my willingness to share my deepest thoughts and secrets with her. In prior relationships, I had focused on impressing the girl, instead of being myself and focusing on her. The girl never got to know the real me. And eventually the relationship died.

I didn’t want that to happen again. So, I let her know the real me – and she loved it.

Now, after 38 years of marriage, she is becoming increasingly vocal about me returning the favor and growing in discovering the real her. She wants me to listen more to what is going on in her life, thoughts, and feelings.

But after 38 years can I change? How do I change bad habits of listening and relating? Is it a matter of better listening technique or do I need to become a more loving person?

I want to change, but how?

False Ways

We can make mistakes when we try to change. One mistake is to try to change all by our self. True change is of the heart, not just behavior (Proverbs 4:23). Our heart is largely formed in childhood and it doesn’t change easily.

Only with God’s help can our heart change. “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26, NLT). Our behavior changes as God gradually changes our heart.

Another mistake we can make is to beat our self up when we fail to change. God doesn’t. Why should we? He is a loving dad who continues to forgive, encourage, and believe in us (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

A third mistake we can make is to do nothing. Either we think we can’t change at all or we think that God has to do all. What about a partnership? God leads and empowers and we follow in working together in changing.

Ways That Work

One thing that is helpful in changing is to notice small improvements. Change is often slow. Sometimes it seems like we aren’t changing. But we can ask God to open our eyes to the progress that we are making.

Another thing that is helpful is to expect to change. God says, “You can change with my help” (Philippians 4:13, paraphrased). Our adequacy comes from him and he ultimately bears the responsibility for our change as we do what he leads us to do (2 Corinthians 3:5).

A final thought about change is to know what change looks like. By reading the Bible and meditating on the God that it reveals, we see the beautiful life that he wants for each of his children.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).

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Spiritual growth is a mystery because it is a miracle that only God causes and understands. Yet, God provides us with guidance in how we can cooperate with him in the process.

I admit I am a fanatic when it comes to spiritual growth. Even as a baby Christian, I had it drilled into my head that to grow spiritually was the most important goal I could have in life.

And, for the most part, I have pursued spiritual growth as my number one priority throughout the ups and downs of the last 44 years.

I even went to seminary to find better ways to grow spiritually and to help others. I learned that the church today is often weak in providing the help people need to grow spiritually. This breaks my heart, for spiritual growth is so important for this life and the next.

There is no way I could present a thorough treatment of the mysterious process of spiritual growth in this posting. However, I will offer a few thoughts that I think are important.

What Could Be

First, we need a vision for what it would be like to grow spiritually. We would realize that what God wants is a love relationship with us. It’s not a Master/Slave relationship but a warm, fatherly, and brotherly relationship with the Trinity.

We would also realize that we have not only gained salvation, but also a new identity of being loved, accepted and respected no matter what. This sounds too good to be true, but it is true (Isaiah 43:4; 1 John 3:1, Hebrews 10:14).

But we need to grow into living in this reality. It does not just happen because we hear it in a sermon or find it in the Bible.

We would accept the fact that spiritual growth is foremost of the heart- it is not just knowing the Bible or behaving better. It is also allowing God to change our motives and what we depend on to make life work.

How to Get There

So, how do we grow spiritually?

First off, we need to remember that it’s God who grows us spiritually. We don’t grow ourselves through church attendance, Bible studies, and doing ministries in the church (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God will use our church attendance, Bible studies and ministries, but without his efforts, we will not grow.

Secondly, God uses our Bible knowledge to change us. “Long for the pure milk of the Word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

Especially, as we apply it to our lives. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

And memorize and meditate on it (Joshua 1:8).

Thirdly, we need to practice spiritual disciplines like quiet times, going to church, and Sabbath-rests. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” (Matthew 11:29). That yoke includes practicing spiritual disciplines that he leads and empowers us to do.

God expects us to do our part in growing spiritually. Living in grace does not excuse us from “working out our salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)

And fourthly, we need to connect to people. God uses pastors, mentors, disciplers, and small group members to help us experience him loving and helping us. “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16, NLT).

Finally, we need to be identifying and putting off our old ways of seeing and doing life. For example, even to this day, I tend to see life as a half empty jar.

But God sees life as a half full jar. And he wants us to see it that way too. He wants us to put on this new way of seeing life. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

We can only change our thinking by depending on the Holy Spirit to help us (Ephesians 4:22-24).

So, what’s it going to be for us? Are we motivated to grow spiritually? Do we have confidence in what God promises in his Bible that he will grow us to maturity as we cooperate (Philippians 1:6)?

Let’s choose to cooperate with him and let him grow us spiritually!

 

 

 

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If we were honest, most of us don’t want to change. We may want the perks that change will bring, but we don’t want to go through the painful process to get them.

However, sometimes the status quo can be so painful that we are eager to do almost anything to change.

When I came into adulthood, I was in much pain. I didn’t like my game plan for living. My game plan was to get a good education, get a job, make lots of money, get married, have three children, do some good deeds and die. Somehow, I wanted life to have more meaning than that.

So, I went on a journey lasting six years until I found a good game plan. I chose to change my game plan, rather than endure a largely meaningless existence.

Why Change?

The main reason we need to change is that God has a game plan for each one of us to rescue us and change us into the wonderful person that he has designed us to be.

“Rescue us from what?” you may ask. In a word, to rescue us from “hell.”

But you may say, “I am rescued. I have accepted God’s free gift of going to heaven because of what Jesus did for me on the cross. Now, I am busy learning about God and trying to obey him.”

But are you changing? Are you becoming more like Jesus by being more loving, peaceful and joyous? Do you even want to change?

I think one of the great deceptions that Satan has fostered upon us Christians today is to dupe us into believing that if we just know about God we will be “magically” changed. Filling our head with facts about God gives us the illusion of growth but our heart knows that there is a big difference between knowing truth and living it.

I was shocked several years ago when I realized that despite trying to grow spiritually for over 35 years, I was still in bondage to many subtle sins like depending on achievement for worth and using other people’s opinion of me to form what I thought of myself. I should have been relying more on how God viewed me as expressed in the Bible. This awareness motivated me to change.

How to Do It

So, how do we change?

If God has not given you a hunger and thirst after righteousness, ask him for it. Satan is too clever for us and he offers many diversions off the main path of change. Only a God-fueled hunger will keep us from feeding off the false substitutes that are all around us.

“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Knowing the Bible is essential to changing. “Long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).  

But change only occurs in those of us who depend on the Word to live life. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14)

A third way to change is to embrace the hard times that are sure to come our way. Instead of cursing our luck for lousy circumstances, we need to be more like Jesus and look beyond the pain to the good God is doing in our difficulties (Hebrews 12:2).

God is relentless in stripping away good things that get in the way of relying on him. Good things like achievements, being liked by everybody, and always being strong. And when he does strip them away, it hurts!

He wants what is best for us. He wants to change us into the wonderful person he made us to be to reflect his greatness to world. And that takes a lot of change, even though he deeply loves, accepts, and respects us throughout the entire change process.

So, do you want to change?

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