Archive for the ‘Spiritual Growth’ Category

I have struggled with being a good listener for many years. I have tried hard to listen better. I have also taken a course on how to listen better. Yet, today I still struggle with being a good listener.

Recently, when confronted once again by someone who felt I did not listen well to them, I began to ponder why I struggle in this area. Is it just a matter of bad technique, or could it also be a heart problem? Could there be beliefs down in my heart that keep me from choosing to listen to people?

After pondering this, I concluded that my struggle with listening was not just a matter of bad technique, but also was a heart problem. In these moments, I make choices to focus on other things. Perhaps, I am relying on solving a problem so that I can accomplish something impressive that will make me more important. This is a lie.

Instead, the truth may be that I need to be relying on God’s sovereignty to listen to this person as part of what God is doing in this world. By relying on a lie, I miss the most important thing I could be doing in the moment. Thus, my heart has been betraying my sincere efforts to listen better.

The Bible says to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). This means our capacity to do right, like listening well to others, can be helped or hindered by the lies or truths we depend upon deep within in our hearts. So, any attempt at doing right needs to include getting our hearts on board with the effort.

So, how do we get our hearts on board? First, we need to ask God to reveal to us what is really going on in our hearts as we seek to do good. Only God understands our twisted hearts and motives (Jeremiah 17:9).

Keep in mind that God already knows any ugliness that is going on in your heart. In spite of this, he still loves you, regards you as important and totally accepts you (Isaiah 43:4). So, don’t be afraid of God “flying off the handle” because of the ugliness deep within you.

Then, we need to ask God to help us know what the truth is about the good we seek to do. In my case, is this person talking to me really an interruption and blocking my goal? Or, in God’s sovereignty, is this his goal for me to listen to this person?

If you find that your heart is not relying on the truth, then ask him to transform you so that you are relying on the truth. Your strong efforts to live truth will not be enough (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Ask him what you can do to cooperate with him to change. Let God change your heart so that you can do that good you are seeking to do.

I am convinced that only God can make me a good listener. I will need to cooperate with him by practicing good technique and choosing to follow his guidance. However, for deep change to happen, he must change my heart so that I want to listen because it pleases him and blesses the other person.

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God has been taking me through a forgiveness process towards someone that has lasted for several years. In that time, this person that I am seeking to forgive has hurt me often, disappointed me and has blocked some important goals of mine. I am angry and disgusted by all of this.

My natural reaction is to pursue an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” strategy in getting even. I want justice and I want it now. Jesus describes this strategy in Matthew 5:38. However, God expects more from me.

He not only wants me to not hurt this person, but he also wants me to pardon this person, love them, and do good towards them. What? Are you kidding? This is crazy!

But it is not crazy. We are the primary ones who are hurt when we fail to forgive. However, we cannot truly forgive without divine help.

God does not want us to deny how we have been hurt. He does not want us to repress the anger, hurt and disgust. He wants us to get the poisonous feelings out of us so that we are freer to love. He wants us to be like him. He wants us to love the unlovable (Matthew 5:44).

So, lately I have been journaling how I truly feel and think about the person’s character and behavior. I do this spontaneously and try not to cleanup what comes out on the paper. It is not pretty.

It is even downright embarrassing at times. But this is what is in my heart. God knows it and now I know it better.

I then ask God to change my heart where it needs changing. I ask him to help me to see this person through the eyes of grace and mercy as God sees me (Matthew 18:33). I also pray for what I believe are this person’s most important needs.

As a result, I am seeing a difference. I am starting to actually love this person. I am letting loose of my demand for justice and starting to tap into God’s unlimited mercy and grace towards me. I then pass this mercy and grace on to this other person. I am learning to be like God in forgiving those who have sinned against me.

There are several other things that I could say that may help the forgiveness process. However, just this simple process mentioned above can go a long way in helping you to forgive someone with God’s help. Don’t let Satan trap you in bitterness and unforgiveness. Forgive as you have been forgiven!

My challenge to you today is for you to pray and ask God to bring to mind someone you need to forgive. Then, journal your thoughts and feelings towards this person. Do not worry about how ungodly they are. Pray over what you have written. Ask God to help you to forgive and to change you where he needs to.

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Many of us desire and strive to be more godly. We want to be more loving, and to experience his power and love. Many of us work hard at it, going to church, doing Bible studies, and trying to live our lives by biblical principles. So, how is it working for you?

How you answer this question depends a lot on how much you are aware of the spiritual condition of your heart. I know for me that for years I assumed that if I did the right things, I would grow automatically. I thought focusing on having quiet times, memorizing Scriptures, and making applications would do the trick and I would grow. The truth is, I did to some extent!

However, to a large extent I did not. Deep issues within me were not getting transformed. One of these issues was depending too much on impressing some people to regard myself as acceptable. Another was not feeling important unless I was achieving up to my standards. I finally became aware that this was ungodly and I needed to be changed.

Once we become aware of the deeper level of ungodliness in us, we are tempted to try harder. Another strategy is to repress it and forget about it. A much better strategy is to allow God to make us aware of our ungodliness, face it, and be transformed by his Spirit. We then grow in ways we never thought possible.

You must not be deceived into thinking that you grow yourself spiritually. You do not. Your job is to cooperate with God.

The Holy Spirit is who grows you. He uses your Bible studies, quiet times and prayers, but by yourself you cannot grow yourself an inch. You need to realize that God wants to grow you in your attitudes, motives, and in what you rely on. Your behavior will take care of itself if your heart is right.

So, my brothers and sisters, I leave you with a challenge. Ask God to show you right now a barrier in your heart that is hindering the Spirit from transforming you. Wait a minute or two and see what he brings to mind. What did he say?

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I believe that most of us we would like to think that all it takes to be fixed or to grow is to hear a good sermon or read a good book. We do not like the idea that we may also need to be trained. Training sounds like a lot of work.

Yet, the Bible says that we need to be trained for the sake of godliness (I Timothy 4:7). Why is training necessary? One big reason is that we have already been trained in many ways to be ungodly. We need to be retrained to let God into our hearts to transform us.

Often our childhood homes, schools, religion, and society have trained us to live life without God. As a result, we often try to be good in our own strength. However, this training will not lead to godliness.

We often stop at knowing the truth because we think that once we know the rules, we can do them. However, if we are honest, we know we cannot do them. If we are dishonest, we often reduce godliness down to outward behavior and ignore the messy world of the heart.

We need to be retrained to face painful truths about our sins and weaknesses deep within, and not try to repress them. We need to be retrained in how to experience God’s love and acceptance of us despite his awareness of our sins and flaws. He requires our cooperation for these to happen.

One of the big ways we can be trained and retrained to be godly is to practice spiritual disciplines. I know this can sound cold and hard to some. Yet, disciplines are not ends in themselves, but means for us to experience God’s love and grace. They are the means for us living the truths of the Bible and not just knowing them.

We have a lot of bad habits that God would like to purge out of us. We also have many false ideas about life and ourselves. He wants to give us the power to cast out this darkness within us and to live in the light of the wonderful person he has made each of us to be (Ephesians 4:22-24). Ask him to show you what this darkness is in you and for the power to put it off and to put on his truth. This will never happen by superficial knowing, but only by learning to rely on his truths for life and ministry.

Training can help you to rely on his truths and not stop at just knowing truths through a sermon or a good book. Quiet times, meditation on the Word, praying the Scriptures, Scripture memory, and silence are some of the key disciplines that God is using in my life these days to transform me. Commit yourself to be trained as well. Ask God what unique set of disciplines he wants you to practice to cooperate with him. Commit yourself to live in the reality that God always loves, values and accepts you, no matter what happens. Commit yourself to be trained!

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My trips to the mailbox for much of the last three weeks have been tense. The reason has been that I could be getting my lab results from my annual physical. In the past, the results have usually been good. However, in recent years, about half the time they have had a test or two outside the normal range that needed some follow-up.

So, why was I afraid? I was afraid because I have been well trained to fear bad unless there is solid evidence to keep my fears in check. In this case, I could get bad news and this was enough to trigger the fears.

After a few days of tensing up on the way to the mailbox, I came to my senses and realized that my spirit needed to be retrained. God did not want me to continue to live life like he did not exist. He is my strength and every lab score was under his control. So, from that day on, on the way to the mailbox, I began to thank God for his faithfulness through the years to keep me healthy. I also thanked him for how he would help me deal with any score outside the normal range. My fears began to decrease as I realized what an awesome God I had taking care of me.

This may seem trivial to you. You may think that the easier way for me was to just gut it out, be fearful, get good lab results, and move on. Yet, the problem with this is that I remain unchanged. I will be fearful again when lab results are expected in the mail. I will continue to live in bondage to the sin of not trusting God.

Lately, I have recognized how often I have automatic responses to life’s circumstances that are not godly. I think you do too. When we become aware of these, we need to cooperate with God in our growth by practicing simple exercises that help drill truth into our hearts to counteract the ungodly habits trained in there for years. Simply giving thanks for God’s past faithfulness on the way to the mailbox has helped me to face lab test results in the future in a more godly way.

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