Formula of Five: Spiritual Growth
July 8, 2014
by Peter Amsterdam
Formula of Five: Spiritual Growth
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He set himself to seek God ... and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.
If you want to be physically fit, you have to eat right, exercise, and put some time and effort into building good physical habits. Similarly, if you want spiritual growth—or it could be said, if you want to be spiritually fit—it will require investing in a spiritual regimen.
Becoming and staying spiritually healthy takes time. It takes commitment. It takes self-discipline. It takes self-sacrifice. It also takes faith, because putting priority on your spiritual life means that you will have less time for other things, and right now your life might be so busy that you just don’t know what can give.
When I face obstacles or circumstances that seem to pull me from my commitments to my spiritual health, it helps to remind myself of a few truths to regain perspective. Those truths are:
- Giving my time and heart to God is a lasting investment in my most important relationship.
- Time with God makes me a better husband, father, grandfather, friend, and person. Being with Jesus doesn’t just help me; it benefits everyone I care about.
- Even when I fall short when it comes to spending time with God, I can trust that He is happy with every effort I put forth, even small ones. He understands our frame, our circumstances, and He’s willing to work with us.
One of God’s great desires is for us to be in close relationship with Him. It’s comforting to know that He is more than willing to help us as we endeavor to improve our spiritual health.
Okay, now let’s look at the five points in our formula for spiritual growth.
Number 1. Connect with God through spiritual input.
Making time daily for godly input and spiritual nourishment is paramount to having a vibrant spiritual life. Jesus affirmed that God’s Word is our source of spiritual nourishment when He quoted the Old Testament verse: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The Bible is the “word that comes from the mouth of God.” Just as we need to eat physical food every day for sustenance and good health, we need to take in spiritual nourishment every day. Reading God’s Word is not something that’s nice to fit in when we have the time; it’s something each of us must make the time to fit in. We need spiritual infilling daily, even if it’s short. If you only have a few minutes to spend with the Lord, don’t skip it and figure that it won’t count or make a difference. Take those minutes. Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Don’t miss your daily infilling of “spirit” and “life.”
Where should your spiritual input come from? First and foremost is the Bible, God’s Word. The Bible lays out God’s plan for mankind. It “is God’s plan for eternal life: the solid, genuine foundation of truth on which we’re building, whose giver is God. It is the Bible that outlines His plan for humanity, from its beginning in Genesis to its promise of spiritual transformation through the resurrection, to its promises of immortality and everlasting heavenly bliss with God in Revelation. The Bible, the greatest book in the world, with the only author in the world who can guarantee life and love, and in the next life, happiness and heaven forever. The Bible is our foundation, our guide, our standard, and the rod of measurement whereby we judge all things.”
Another source of spiritual nourishment is devotional, faith-building material (or media) authored by godly men and women. The inspired writings of other Christians can serve to strengthen your faith, open your understanding of the Scriptures, and help you to practically apply God’s Word to your current needs and challenges.
We need to read and study God’s Word in order to develop a relationship with God, a deep connection with Him. As you quiet your spirit and meditate on God’s Word, as you listen for His “still small voice,” He will speak to your heart and lead and guide you personally on your life’s path. God wants a deep relationship with each of us, like one you have with a trusted confidant and friend, but even closer, and we build and maintain this marvelous relationship with the loving God of the universe by spending time with Him, soaking in His Word, meditating on it, and letting it sink into our hearts and thoughts, and letting it inform our decisions and guide our actions
Joshua 1:8 spells out the secret to life success in these words: “This Book of the Law [God’s Word] shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
This truth was not lost on many of the greatest men and women in history, including scientists, philosophers, inventors, statesmen, and so on. You can find websites that feature numerous quotes from great men and women who held up the Bible as their guiding light in life.
In today’s busy world, it is a daily challenge to carve out time for God. But as Christians, our time to connect with God and His Word should be our number-one priority. If we preserve this time at all costs, it will help to strengthen the relationship with God that He wants to have with us, and the blessings which come from a closer walk with Him. Spending consistent, quality time with God is the greatest investment that a person can make in life; the dividends are vast and eternal.
Number 2. Develop an active prayer life.
Prayer is a key component of our spiritual life; it’s how we communicate with God, our Creator. We can speak with Him, praise and worship Him, and tell Him our concerns, troubles, needs, and ask Him for His help, intervention, strength, and whatever we need. Prayer is asking for the will of God to be done. We listen to His voice and seek His guidance, encouragement, comfort, and instruction. Prayer is designed to be a two-way conversation, a means of developing and deepening our relationship with God.
A strong spiritual life is one that incorporates daily prayer. The Bible teaches us to “pray without ceasing.” We pray in obedience to this instruction, but we also reap many benefits when we develop the discipline of prayer.
- We receive answers to our prayers, direction, guidance, and supply, according to God’s will.
- We can intercede in prayer on the behalf of those we love and care for. Through prayer we can give someone—even if they are far away—the most powerful, relevant help available.
- We receive peace when we commit our cares and anxieties to God, and trust that He will bring about the best outcome for us.
- We gain a deeper relationship with God through a consistent and committed prayer life.
- We become more like Jesus as we spend time in prayer.
God has given us prayer as a gift. Through prayer, we can cast all of our earthly cares upon His strong shoulders. This life is rife with worries, fears, and anxiety, but Paul tells us to “worry about nothing” and to “pray about everything.” Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about whether an issue on our heart merits prayer. Prayer is always the right choice. If your heart is concerned about something, God is concerned too. As has been said, “If it's big enough to worry about, it's big enough to pray about.”
You may think, “I’m too busy to devote time to prayer!” But you have 168 hours each week, just like everyone else. It’s a question of priorities—what will you choose to do during those 168 hours?
Times of fervent and sustained prayer are well worth the investment, but God also wants us to train our minds to commune with Him throughout the day, during our activities. We don’t have to stop everything that we’re doing in order to pray. When we blend life and prayer, the result is a blessed life.
Evan Roberts said, “Prayer is the secret of power.” And as Martin Luther put it, “As is the business of tailors to make clothes and cobblers to make shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”
Number 3. Keep your heart right with the Lord.
The next point in our formula of spiritual growth and health is to stay right with the Lord. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. We all sin; we all make mistakes—every day, in fact. The Lord knows this, and He doesn’t condemn us for our lack of perfection or the times we stumble. Jesus knows all of our faults. He understands our flaws and human weaknesses, as He experienced life as a human. When He gave His life for our sins He knew very well that we’d never get everything right or do everything right, no matter how hard we tried. We can enter into that wonderful place of peace and forgiveness by regularly confessing our faults, mistakes, and sins to the Lord. We can find peace in His forgiveness as we humble ourselves, acknowledge our faults, and run to His outstretched arms.
Simply put, sin can be defined as wrongdoing, missing the mark, rebellious disobedience, falling away, deviating from the right path. Every single one of us commits sin. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”
We sin in two different ways: by doing what we know we should not do, known as the sin of commission, and by not doing what we know we should do, known as the sin of omission. A sin of commission is doing something that we know we should not do; it’s turning away from God and His will, violating His command or failing to conform in act, attitude, or nature to God’s moral law, which is inherent in our inborn sense of right and wrong and is expressed within the Bible.
The sin of omission is not doing the things that we know are right, as explained in James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
If we walk in reverence before the Lord, we’ll be convicted to regularly confess our sins to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. If we are in the habit of doing this, it’s not difficult. It’s like when you have a garden and you have to deal with weeds. When a weed just barely starts to surface, you can reach down and easily pluck it out; it’s only when the weeds are ignored that they grow bigger and the roots eventually reach deep down into the earth. When that happens, it takes a lot more time and hard work to dig down and uproot the weeds and clean up the garden. The same is true when tending the garden of your heart. If you regularly confess your faults to the Lord, then you don’t allow sin to take root.
Regular cleansing allows your spiritual life to flourish and it brings peace. It draws you closer to the Lord as it heals any damage your sins have caused in your relationship with Him. When you know you’re right with the Lord, when you have no unconfessed sin in your life, you’re more apt to come to Him for times of worship and prayer, and you have more faith for God to bless you and take care of you.
Number 4. Be obedient to God (His Word, voice, and guidance).
As followers of Jesus, we are striving to know more about God and His Word. We study, research, and meditate on the truth of the Bible and other inspired Christian writings. We memorize Bible verses and study the Bible. We talk about God’s Word with other believers.
All this is good, but that’s not where our duty to God ends. Another foundational point for spiritual growth is doing what God’s Word says to do. We are called to obey what God asks of all Christians, as well as His personal guidance and instruction to us as individuals.
We don’t want to just be “smart Christians,” people who know a lot about spiritual things and doctrine and theology. We don’t want to just be able to talk about Jesus and His expectations for His followers. We are to apply the spiritual principles. We are to take action on Jesus’ expectations of us. We want to be living examples, and that comes from being doers of the Word and not hearers only.
God doesn’t lead us all to do exactly the same things, but He does lead us all to act, to obey, to be an example, to follow, to put our faith into action. We are meant to live our lives within the tunnel of God’s will, so it behooves us to seek Him for guidance in our life choices, for His will in our lives, and then to live our lives with passion and excellence as we wholeheartedly do all within our power to follow God.
Obedience is our duty, butit comes with a promise of blessing. Jesus said in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Here is an excerpt from The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren.
God doesn't owe you an explanation or reason for everything he asks you to do. Understanding can wait, but obedience can't. Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first. Obedience unlocks understanding.
Often we try to offer God partial obedience. We want to pick and choose the commands we obey. We make a list of the commands we like and obey those while ignoring the ones we think are unreasonable, difficult, expensive, or unpopular. I’ll attend church but I won’t tithe. I’ll read my Bible but I won’t forgive the person who hurt me. Yet partial obedience is disobedience.
Wholehearted obedience is done joyfully, with enthusiasm. The Bible says, “Obey him gladly.” … James, speaking to Christians, said, “We please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.” God’s Word is clear that you can’t earn your salvation. It comes only by grace, not your effort. But as a child of God you can bring pleasure to your heavenly Father through obedience. Any act of obedience is also an act of worship. Why is obedience so pleasing to God? Because it proves you really love him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” … Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God. He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
We obey God, not out of duty or fear or compulsion, but because we love him and trust that he knows what is best for us. We want to follow Christ out of gratitude for all he has done for us, and the closer we follow him, the deeper our friendship becomes. Unbelievers often think Christians obey out of obligation or guilt or fear of punishment, but the opposite is true. Because we have been forgiven and set free, we obey out of love—and our obedience brings great joy! Jesus said, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”
Now we’ll look at the last point in our formula for spiritual growth.
Number 5. Build a community of believers.
To begin the topic of community, I want to read several Bible verses.
“If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
As was explained in “Spiritual Discipline: Fellowship,” there are different aspects of fellowship. Here I am speaking of fellowship in the sense of gathering together for worship, prayer, and friendship with fellow Christians. When we believers are together, we gain a lot. When we have spent time with other Christians worshipping the Lord, reading His Word, singing and praying together, and confiding in one another, we come away stronger. We are refreshed, our vision is clarified, and we are better prepared for what the Lord will bring into our lives as we work for His kingdom.
In the book, Rediscovering Church, Bill Hybels tells of a message by a Dr. Gilbert, who said, “Biblical fellowship has the power to revolutionize lives. Masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. People really do become like brothers and sisters. They shoulder each other’s burdens.”
It can be a challenge to carve out the time for quality fellowship or to build or find a Christian community where you feel at home. But I urge you to make the effort to gather with a community of believers as often as you can. This is important not only for your personal edification and enjoyment; it also helps empower you to make a difference in the world.
It’s important that we believers are in community, that we fellowship and worship God together. Along with that, our communities should provide a safe place where those who are seeking to know more about God and the Bible can feel welcome, participate and ask questions, and be strengthened in the faith.
Rick Warren wrote:
Over fifty times in the New Testament the phrase “one another” or “each other” is used. We are commanded to love each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, greet each other, serve each other, teach each other, accept each other, honor each other, bear each other’s burdens, forgive each other, submit to each other, be devoted to each other, and many other mutual tasks. This is biblical membership! These are your “family responsibilities” that God expects you to fulfill through a local fellowship. Who are you doing these with?
God intends for us to experience life together. The Bible calls this shared experience fellowship.
I encourage you to reach out to other believers and build community for God’s glory. All that you gain will be more than worth the time, money, and sacrifice. When Maria and I fellowship with TFI members and other Christians, we are always glad we took the time. It takes time, effort, and energy to partake of spiritual fellowship with others, but it reinvigorates my spirit and I’m thankful that I took the time to participate.
So to cultivate a thriving spiritual life, the five foundational points are:
- Connect with God through spiritual input.
- Develop an active prayer life.
- Keep your heart right with the Lord.
- Be obedient to God.
- Build a community of believers.
As you evaluate your spiritual life against these five focus points, let’s remember the wonderful promises that God has attached to our obedience.
Here are just a few phrases from Scripture that speak of God’s blessings on those who love Him, walk in obedience to Him, and keep His commands.
He says He will:
…take away sickness from among you
…throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to hold it
He says you will:
…be blessed in what you do
…be prosperous and successful
…live long, lack nothing
…the well-being of your children will be great
and that … whatever we ask we receive of Him
We are so undeserving, yet we have received so much from God. This should stir us to continually praise, worship, and glorify God for His goodness, His mercy, and His unending love!
We Christians are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
 2 Chronicles 26:5. All verses are ESV unless otherwise indicated.
 Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3.
 John 6:63.
 Adapted from David Brandt Berg, “The Word: New and Old,” September 1974, ML 329:7–8.
 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
 Philippians 4:6 NLT.
 Additional reading: HOIA: Sin; Spiritual Disciplines on confession.
 James 1:22.
 Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 72–73, 95–96.
 Matthew 18:19–20.
 Galatians 6:10.
 Galatians 6:2.
 Hebrews 10:25.
 From a sermon by Dave McFadden, “A Golden Lampstand,” June 8, 2010. Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian is a French-born American Christian writer, professor and Baptist pastor. He is cofounder, with Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek Community Church.
 Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, 134, 138.
 Additional reading: Spiritual Disciplines series.
 Deuteronomy 30:16.
 1 Peter 2:9 NIV.