Growing In God

Growing in God

God’s Love: The Old Testament sets the stage for the full expression of God’s love in His Son Jesus. As we read and pray certain passages from the Old Testament, we can become more deeply aware of how much God does really love us. We need to know and experience God’s love if we are to develop into the people He wants us to be. This is especially important if we do not love ourselves as we should. Knowing our faults and failures and our sinfulness, we may question how God could really love us.

By praying with Scriptures we will become more aware and convinced of God’s total and unconditional love. This conviction that God loves us with an infinite love and that nothing we do will change this fact should be the foundation of our relationship with Him. We must come to know Him as a loving, kind, forgiving Father who welcomes His errant children with open arms. He is a Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine being loved. God, the Creator of the universe, the person who made all things out of nothing, loves us. He wants to care for us, share His divine life with us, and bring us into perfect union with Him, for all of eternity.

When we are convinced that we are loved, only then can we be open and honest. Then there is no need for pretense or sham. Then we will begin to live in freedom and in sincerity.

An awareness of God’s great love for us can lead us into a greater depth in our prayer lives. Deeply aware of His loving presence we want to whisper in the quiet of our hearts, “I love You too.” This type of prayer of the heart is the beginning of contemplative prayer. As we experience His loving presence within us, we no longer require words or thoughts. We simply rest in His presence. We are aware of God; we are known and loved at the very core of our being. This becomes the basis for our whole spiritual growth.

First, we know with our minds that God truly loves us, but then we must become convinced in our hearts so that we can respond to His great love. This conviction will be ours when we hear God Himself telling us of His great love for us. Listen to His word in the Scriptures: Isaiah 43:1-3, Psalm 139:1-6, Ezekiel 34:11-16, Isaiah 49:1-6, Jeremiah 31:31-34, 1 John 4:16-18, John 3:16-18

Salvation: Continuing to look at God’s love, we will now look at our response, our acceptance of that love. By dying on the cross, Jesus became our Savior and offers us the gift of salvation. It is ours to accept or reject. He does not force anything on us.

The question is often asked: “Have you been saved?” implying, “Are you going to heaven?” The answer is not found in a simple one-time commitment or acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Savior. From a perspective the answer is, “Yes, many times,” since salvation is not just for the future. We tap into God’s salvation and are saved from the effect of original sin. We are saved again and again from the power of sin in our lives through repentance and ongoing conversion. And finally, those who “endure to the end” (Revelation 2:26) will be saved eternally from the presence of sin in heaven.

As good as salvation is, some people stand at the threshold and hesitate. Some feel unworthy of such love as they begin to contemplate the fact that God, the Creator of the universe, gave His only Son’s life so that we may have eternal life. Others are still too strongly attached to the temporary pleasures of the world we live in. God is calling all of us to trust, to be reconciled with Him, to repent with honest and sincere hearts so that we can receive His gift of salvation. There is no love here on earth that can compare, so let us not look for a human comprehension or understanding of love that we have known. Always look instead to God.

Read: Micah 4:1-6, Isaiah 55:9, Psalm 45:1-9, John 11:21-27, Romans 5:6-8, Isaiah 53:4-6, Colossians 1:13-14

Preview of the New Life in the Spirit: Throughout the ages, prophets predicted the day would come when God would give His Spirit freely to men. Those who turned to Him and received His Spirit would be changed. They would receive new life. That was fulfilled on Pentecost when the disciples were gathered together in prayer and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of tongues of fire. They began to prophesy and heal the sick; they prayed in tongues and proclaimed the Good News boldly. And thousands became believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

We receive the same Holy Spirit in our salvation and His presence in us grows as we obey Him.  For many of us, however, the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives is still awaiting our invitation. We can experience the Holy Spirit in the same way the first disciples did. And when the Holy Spirit is released more fully in us, we will begin to experience a new kind of life. We get to know God in a new way and we become changed people. Then, as we continue to grow in faith, we want to reach out and serve others. God equips us with the spiritual gifts we need to do His work.

Jesus told us, “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). This abundant life is not only a promise of spending eternity with God in heaven but a new life here and now. We receive it by yielding to God to have Him more active in our lives.

Reading scripture will reveal the extent of this promise: Ezekiel 36:22-28, John 14:15-18, Acts 2:1-14, Acts 19:5-7, Galatians 5:16-23, 1 Corinth 12:4-11, Ephesians 2:19-22

Receiving God’s Gift: Having looked at God’s love, salvation, and new life, the next step is yours. Living a committed Christian life and putting our faith into action affects everything we do. We cannot straddle the fence; there is no room for being lukewarm (see Revelation 3:16).

John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way of the Lord, preached one basic message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Throughout the New Testament, the need for repentance and forgiveness is preached. Repentance was the path, which prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, and Jesus is calling us to repentance as we prepare our lives for His coming to us in a deeper way.

Repentance involves sorrow for our sins, turning toward God, and reorienting our lives. It involves a fundamental change of attitude, a conversion of heart towards God and away from sin. We are invited by God to receive His gift of forgiveness for any sins.

Repentance requires honesty with ourselves. Many times “pet” sins have become a part of our lives, and we have learned to rationalize away their sinfulness. Perhaps you have a habit of gossip, or drinking too much, or some form of impurity. Maybe it is being judgmental or selfish. Whatever your personal weaknesses may be, it is impossible to repent until we call them sin and no longer make excuses like, “That’s just the way I am.”

Read: Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:16-18, 1 John 2:1-6, Psalm 32, 1 John 3:4-10, John 20:20-23, Hebrews 10:11-18

Release of the Holy Spirit: What is commonly referred to as ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is a religious experience in which Christ is experienced in a personal way. It involves openness to the power of the Holy Spirit and His empowerment, usually leading to a deeper devotional life and an attraction to prayer, Scripture, and the fellowship of the Church.  With continued nurturing, this event will be the beginning of a lifelong process of growing closer to God.

Your Pastors and Altar Prayer Team are always available to pray with you in this regard. As you prepare for this important event in your spiritual life, keep in mind that what happens to others may or may not be the same thing that happens to you. Pray to be completely open to the love that God wants to express personally to you in the days and years ahead. This is only the beginning of a life long journey with Jesus.

Be open to receiving all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Lord wants to give you (see 1

Corinthians 12:1-11). When you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, a word may seem to come “out of nowhere” or a Scripture passage may come strongly to mind. This is the Lord speaking. As you pray, you may “run out of words” and sense strange sounds wanting to come from your lips. Verbalize them; the Lord may be giving you the gift of tongues to praise Him with a heavenly language.

You may feel reluctant or apprehensive because it seems that what you are doing is strange or unnecessary. These are fairly common reactions but recall God’s call to you and focus on that.

Finally, be assured of the prayer support which is being offered to our Father for you. Do not let doubt or Satan keep you from receiving answers to questions and the assurance Jesus wants you to have. Sometimes we can rationalize away what God wants to do.

Read: Matthew 18:1-4, Acts 2:33-36, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Luke 6:27-36, Matthew 11:25-30,  2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6                               

Growth through Ongoing Conversion: To some extent we all have a limited view of God. We confine His actions in our lives to what we think and expect Him to do. But as we grow in our relationship with Him, we recognize more completely who He really is. We recognize His role in life’s “coincidences” and in the goodness that flows from people who are close to him. Growth in love is always a manifestation of the Holy Spirit within us, working through us and upon us.

This new life in the Spirit is not something we experience only at prayer meetings, or in a church on Sunday, or in our prayer closet, or alone by ourselves. This new life means just that, a changed life, a new person, different from what we used to be. And this change is a growing experience, a daily walk (and struggle) in a new life.

Nourishment is a necessity for growth. As we strive to put our faith into action, daily prayer will be a must. Scripture reading and meditation is a must. Listening to God is a must. Through our devotion and meditation, through self-discipline and the encouragement of others, the Father will direct our continued life-in-the-Spirit.

As we anticipate a deeper devotion and love, our lives will revolve around Jesus.  A hunger for scriptural understanding and spiritual reading will be aroused. Satisfy this hunger by reading. Follow these inclinations and desires of your heart. Do not stifle these quiet inner suggestions by thinking they are ridiculous or by putting them aside. As you continue to grow, there will be times when you feel the intensity of God’s love. Bask in God’s love and enjoy it, for there will also be days when your spiritual life seems dry, and God seems distant. These dry desert times provide a different kind of opportunity for continued growth, provided you maintain your devotion to daily prayer, scripture reading and listening to God.

Growing in Christ is similar to growing like a child. There are times when you will jump, run, skip, laugh, and delight in your relationship with Jesus. There will also be times when you stumble, slip, and skin your knee when you fail to listen or disobey. Our Lord is love. He is always there ready to pick us up and to address all our feelings and needs, but we must give Him the freedom to move.

Read: Philippians 1:18-19, Philippians 2:1-11, Philippians 2:12-18, 1 Peter 4:7-19, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Romans 6:1-11, John 15:1-8                                

Transformation in Christ: The transformation of our lives is just beginning. Our true identity as Christians continues to mature; in the weeks to come, the Holy Spirit will become increasingly visible in our lives – visible to ourselves and to others. The Holy Spirit is at work, transforming us, and making us holy. But that’s not all.

It is common to experience a joyful honeymoon time with God in the weeks following the release of the Holy Spirit. In time, however, we recognize that the gifts we have received are not just for us and our personal growth; the Holy Spirit is also encouraging us to share our “new life” with others. The focus moves away from me and toward others.

But not only do others need us, we also need them. God has given us the gifts of the Holy Spirit (charisms) to steer us and to make us more effective in carrying out our mission in life. Although the dramatic gifts like healing and prophecy can attract a lot of attention, we need to learn about and recognize all of the gifts God is giving so that we can allow them to unfold. Our faith community provides that helpful environment for the discernment and development of our gifts.

Each of us belongs to various communities: our individual families, our neighborhood, our congregation, our business associations, our friends, our prayer group, our Bible study group, etc. They are all important, but the role of a “gift-sharing” community with similar experiences of the Holy Spirit will be especially helpful in nurturing the new relationship we have established with God. Our faith community has another but often overlooked branch – the Saints in heaven. It can be very beneficial to study their lives and allow them to become our models.

In conclusion, we need to be aware that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an inoculation against trials and difficulties. We are still human beings living in a sinful world. There will be challenges to our faith. But we now have a new power to overcome these difficulties and a prayer community to provide strength and encouragement.

Read: 1 Peter 1:22-25, James 1:14-26, James 5:7-12, Hebrews 13:1-9, Galatians 5:13-26,

Galatians 6:1-10, Ephesians 4:25-32