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A PRAYER FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
In Chapter 1:v28-29, Paul shared the burden of his heart for all believers. “28 Christ is the one we proclaim, exhorting and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strive with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. Paul’s burning desire for God’s people was to see them grow up and become mature believers.
Just before J.Oswald Sanders, that gracious missionary statesman died 1993, he was asked what he felt was the greatest need in the church of NZ today. His response was, “Christians of spiritual maturity.”
One thing that really gladdens the heart of a Pastor is when he sees signs of spiritual growth in the lives of his people. But it is so sad when you have people who have been Christians for years and there has been very little change in their behaviour and attitudes and in their understanding and application of God’s truth.
In the natural world, we as parents rejoice when we see our children developing and growing. When they take those first steps, say those first words and begin to grasp and understand concepts. Celebration and milestones. But it can be very distressing if those signs of growth and development are not there.
In v1, Paul used very strong words here when he described his concern to see believers come to spiritual maturity: I strive, struggle, agonize. Why was Paul so deeply concerned to see believers grow up and become mature? Because as long as we remain immature in our faith and spiritual development, we will be ineffective, in danger of going back into our old ways, and easily deceived by false teaching.
So he begins this section by expressing again how deeply burdened he is for the believers in Colossae and Laodicea and is praying fervently for them to grow up and become mature, fully developed believers.
He prays that they will be: Encouraged in heart, Entwined in love, Enriched in understanding, Equipped with discernment and Enabled to continue
ENCOURAGED IN HEART – v2
The word encourage is the same word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit in John 16. It means to support, to strengthen.
When he speaks of the heart, he’s obviously not talking about the muscle that pumps our blood around the body and he is not talking about our emotions and feelings. In our culture we use the word heart to speak of our feelings and emotions.
The Bible sees the gut as the centre of feelings and emotions. When Jeremiah cried out in 4:19, “My bowels, my bowels, I writhe in pain,” he was not suffering from a tummy bug. He was emotionally upset because he saw God’s judgement coming upon Israel.
Song of Solomon 5:4 says that when the woman heard her lover outside the door, her bowels moved. It doesn’t mean she needed to go to the bathroom. She was emotionally stirred.
When we read that Jesus was moved with compassion, the word is “splanknizomai”, from which we get our word spleen.
Paul says to the Philippian believers in 1:8, “I long for you all with the bowels of Christ Jesus.” So what does the Bible mean by the heart? The Bible sees the heart as the place where our love, our thoughts, our desires and motives are.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
1 Corinthians 4:5 we read that when the Lord returns, “He will bring to light what is now hidden in darkness and reveal the motives of our hearts.”
Psalm 139 , “Search me, O God and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts.”
So when Paul says, I want them to be encouraged, strengthened in heart he means, “I pray that God will encourage and strengthen those godly, Christ like desires, thoughts, loves and motives that are in their hearts.
If you want to know what is in your heart ask yourself this question. “What are the things I mostly think about? Who or what do I really love? What do I desire more than anything else? What really motivates me to do what I do and say what I say? That is a very challenging exercise. I dare you to do it and be really honest with yourself.
People who are spiritually mature will discover that they think mostly about things that honour the Lord and kick out the other stuff when it turns up. They will love God and people above all, they will desire those things that honour Christ and bless others and their motives will be the same.
If you discover this is not the case and yet you want it to be then pray this prayer, “Change my heart of God, make it ever true, Change my heart O God, may I be like you.”
ENTWINED IN LOVE – v2
Children are born basically self-centred. They are primarily focussed on their wants, their needs, their preferences, their interests. In fact the main reason children cry is because they can’t get what they want, they can’t get their own way. I refused to show my children any sympathy when that was the case.
As time goes by we see little signs of personal growth when they begin to show love and concern for others, but then just when we think they are starting to mature in this area they enter the teenage years and revert to the old self-centred, self-focussed, self-conscious behaviour. But hopefully they grow out of that and move on to maturity.
Illustration: I think of my oldest daughter. When she was a teenager she was pretty self-centred, but she grew out of that and today she has matured into a loving caring, considerate Christian lady who is basically living for God and others. She had moved from being self-centred to being Christ-centred and others-centred. And that is sign of real maturity, when we place the concerns and needs of others before our selves.
And an important mark of spiritual maturity is that we are not primarily concerned with what we want and what we need, but we are genuinely concerned with the needs of others.
When we become Christians, God’s Spirit brings us into unity with fellow believers. That unity is created by the Holy Spirit. It is based on that fact that we all possess the same Spirit, we believe the same Gospel truth, we are submitted to the same Lord, and we have the same Father. But Paul says in Ephesians 4:3 that unity of the Spirit has to be worked at, maintained.
How are we to maintain that loving unity of the Spirit? There is a negative side and a positive side.
Negatively – don’t hold grudges and unforgiveness, don’t criticise and condemn each other, don’t demand your own way, don’t ignore a fellow believer who is in genuine need.
Positively – always show unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance towards each other, no matter what. Seek to be aware of each other’s needs and if you can help do so.
Illustration: In his book Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness, Jerry Cook describes a church in Washington state that grew in 14 years from 10 to more than 4,000 people. The book includes a commitment the people at that church made to each other. It says: “You’ll never knowingly suffer at my hands. I’ll never knowingly say or do anything to hurt you. I’ll always, in every circumstance, seek to help and support you. If you’re down and I can lift you, I’ll do that. If you need something and I have it, I’ll share it with you. If I need to, I’ll give it to you. No matter what I find out about you, no matter what happens in the future – either good or bad – my commitment to you will never change. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”
ENRICHED IN UNDERSTANDING – v2,3
A mature Christian is one who has a real understanding of the Christian faith. They know what they believe and they can explain it to others. How have they come to that understanding?
By knowing Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They have got to know Jesus by allowing Him to speak to them through the Bible and through His Spirit.
By reading and studying the Bible.
By putting what they have learned into practice.
Christian understanding comes about by theory and practice, just as it does in every other sphere.
Illustrations: My son-in-law supervises mechanical apprentices and he meets with them to help them with theory and practice of the automotive trade. If they just did the theory without the practice they would be of no help to themselves or others. There are so many things you cannot learn from just reading a book, you need to learn from experience, from putting the knowledge into practice.
Recently I bought a spray painting gun. I have never used one before. I read the instructions but it wasn’t until had used it a few times that I really understood how to get the best result with it.
When I used to take my car to Terry, my mechanic friend with a problem, 9 times out of ten he could tell me without looking what was wrong. Where did he gain that knowledge and understanding? Mostly from years of working on cars. Putting the theory into practice.
There are heaps of Christians who know their Bibles, who know the theory, but don’t put it into practice and that is why they remain spiritual babies, immature, still behaving like self-centred adolescents. Moody, bad tempered, resentful, proud, demanding their own way, selfish, only concerned with their needs, their interests and their preferences. etc. Real understanding of God’s truth comes with study and practice.
Remember Jesus told the story of a man who built his house on the sand and a storm demolished the building. Another man built his house upon a rock foundation and it remained intact after the storm. The man whose house collapsed was like a person who hears the words of Jesus but doesn’t put them into practice, the man whose house stood firm was like a person who hears the teaching of Jesus and puts it into practice.
EQUIPPED WITH DISCERNMENT – v4,5
Another mark of spiritual maturity is seen in our ability to tell the difference between what is right and wrong and what is false and true. It is called discernment. How do we gain discernment? Once again by studying the teaching of Christ and putting it into practice.
Hebrews 5:12, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through constantly putting into practice God’s truth, who apply God’s truth to their lives have developed the ability to recognize the difference between right and wrong, truth and error.”
Reading, studying and applying God’s truth will build into you discernment that will prevent you from being deceived and lead astray by all the ungodly and dishonest forces around. You will be able to detect very quickly when something is not right or is untrue.
Illustration: Back in 1998 a well-known American preacher came to NZ. He had worldwide following and had made a lot of money out of his profession. He prophesied that revival would break out in Christchurch, NZ at the end of that year and spread through the nation, it never happened and he never admitted he got it wrong. That same man told his financial supporters that 3000 people had come to Christ during his campaign in Port Moresby, New Guinea. The church leaders in Port Moresby only knew of eleven. A lady who had been a Christian for a long time came to me the following year all excited because this man had prophesied something else and she was so convinced it was true. 6 years later I was speaking to a man who had grown up in the church and he told me that he gave the bulk of giving to the ministry of this preacher.
If we really knew the scriptures through constant reading, studying and application we wouldn’t be taken in by these false teachers.
Friends we have got to grow up, and become mature believers. Mature in heart, in love, in understanding and in discernment.
ENABLED TO CONTINUE – v6,7
Another mark of spiritual maturity is that we keep going and growing and don’t give up. We endure to the end.
v6 “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
The danger in not going on with Christ and growing as believers is that you can drop out. Like the little boy who fell out of bed one night and when his dad heard the thud and came in he asked his son, “What happened?” The boy answered, “I must have fallen asleep too close the edge of the bed.”
You can understand why Paul agonised and yearned and prayed that the believers would grow up spiritually and become mature, established, fully developed believers. Many western Christians think that to be spiritual maturity is all about knowing and understanding the Bible and they like to show off their Bible knowledge. That is a big mistake.
The religious leaders in Jesus day knew the scriptures better than anyone else, but were they spiritually mature? No because the evidence of spiritual maturity is not seen in what you know, it’s seen in the way live out what you believe – how relate to God and others. “By their fruit, not their Bible knowledge, you will know them.”
Galatians 5:22 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness humility and self-control.”
Jesus said about those religious leaders, “Do what they teach you but don’t do what they do.”
Ask yourself this morning “As I have gone on in my Christian life can I honestly say that I changed for the better? Have I become more Christ-like in my thinking and attitudes. Have I become more loving in the way I treat others, more patient, more forgiving, kind, understanding, less critical. Have I gained a greater understanding of God’s truth through reading and practice? Am I more aware of what is right and wrong false and true?
Lord as I look at my life today, I know there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. I want to keep growing maturing and changing. I want to become more like you. Please keep working in me, on me and with me until I become a mature, well developed believer who is a blessing to both you and others.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be comforted as to comfort;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
May the mind of Christ, my Saviour, live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling all I do and say.
May the word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour, So that all may see I triumph only through his power.
May the peace of God, my Father, rule my life in everything, That I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea. Him exalting, self abasing: this is victory.
May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, Looking only unto Jesus as I onward go.