What Blessings come by being United in One Body of Christ?

unityBeginning in Ephesians 2:11, Paul uses the same pattern he used in Ephesians 2:1-10. In both cases, he states that something is wrong with our condition, adds a “but”, and then explains what God did to change our condition. In the former passage, we were dead in our sins, BUT God made us alive. In the later passage, we were separate from Christ, BUT now we have been brought near. Paul then proceeds to describe some of the benefits of having been brought near. Let’s take a look at these five different blessings … may they be an encouragement for you today.

First, we have genuine peace with God and with one another (Eph 2:14-17). The dividing wall of legalism separating Jews and Gentiles had been torn down by the perfect and complete fulfillment of that law in Christ. In his life, death, and resurrection Christ removed all reason for Jew and Gentile to be at odds with one another. And if the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been destroyed, what barrier among people in Christ could exist?

Not only this, but we have been reconciled to God as well. The sin that served as a barrier between sinful man and Holy God was removed by Christ, allowing us to draw near to Him in peace. Note that this is a stated fact of the passage…it is not conditional on our behavior. That is, our peace with God does not depend on our sinlessness…it depends on Christ’s work already “finished”. Therefore, if you do not “feel” at peace with God, it is because you do not believe verses like Eph 2:16. Now, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not convict us of sin or that this conviction does not come with “feelings” of separation. What I am saying is that walls of separation are not repeatedly built and torn down according to our behavior. What are we to do then? Obey God, but when we fail, remember that God disciplines those He loves. Despite the feelings that come with discipline, our ultimate peace with God is not affected.

Second, we have direct access to the Father (Eph 2:18; 3:12). This access comes by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. What does this mean? It means that other people or entities (like the Church) are no longer needed to mediate between God and us. You can approach God directly through prayer, and He will hear you. You do not need a priest, friend, minister, whatever to pray for you. Are you taking advantage of this access?

Third, we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of God’s household (Eph 2:19-21). We are no longer aliens of the kingdom and outside of the family of God. No, we are all united in our devotion to and membership in the Kingdom. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and with Christ. God is our father. The last time you prayed, did you refer to God as “Dad”?

Fourth, we are a dwelling place for the Spirit (Eph 2:22). The Spirit is in us, and we are in Him. How can two things be in one another? It’s only possible if they are in some sense one. And this is what we are in Christ…perfectly (that is, exactly how God intended it to be) united with Christ and the rest of the Church. We don’t fully experience this oneness, because we are still in our sinful flesh. But from a spiritual perspective we are indeed in Christ and Christ is in us, so why not believe and act like it?

Finally, we can understand the mystery of our unity (Eph 3:4). We may not understand it perfectly, but we certainly understand it better than the Jews and Gentiles did before Christ. God revealed the mystery to Paul, and Paul has revealed it to us. The question is…what will we do with this knowledge?

What should our response to these blessings of unity be? In Eph 3:14, Paul adds “for this reason, I bow my knees before the father”. Our response should include prayer. In addition to simply being thankful, pray that others you know might be “strengthened with power” and that they would increasingly understand this amazing love God has for us. Reflecting on this and praying for others may very well move you to praise God as it did Paul (Eph 3:20-21)!

Are you afraid of failing? No? Are you sure?

basketballMy family and I spent last Saturday at my grandparents’ house. They are two of the most hospitable people I have ever known…makes me wonder why I did not get those genes! As such, they give up space in their home to keep toys for my boys when they come to visit. One favorite is the “age appropriate” basketball goal, which is about 5′ tall…even I can dunk on that one! Aside from being called for goal-tending quite a bit, I have a blast playing horse, one-on-one, around the world, etc with my two oldest, ages 8 and 7. Well, on Saturday my oldest quit the game in a fit once he felt like he could not win the game. This is not the first time we’ve had issues like this with the two of them; they are both very competitive and would rather not play the game than risk losing. Their joy of winning and hatred of losing exceeds the joy of playing the game. The lesson is obvious right? I thought so, and we had the appropriate discussions…again. But, maybe the lesson for us is not as obvious as we think.

Here’s the question for the day…do you love to win and hate to lose so much that your joy of playing the game is forgotten? Said another way, are you so addicted to success and fearful of failure that these drive your day-to-day decisions more than a commitment to doing the “right” thing? If your initial answer is “hmm, not really” (as mine was) please read on a little further before drawing a conclusion. Not everyone shares this struggle, but I think many of us do without knowing it.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, then you know what SeqHim is basically about. The vision is significant, and the mission is seemingly impossible given the state of the world and the church today. You’ll also know that while this is a full-time passion, it’s a less than part-time job…I already have a full-time job and a full-time family. Back in January, before I started the blog, I “wrestled” with the Lord trying to get Him to tell me what His specific will was for this project. I’m thankful for His answer at the time, “I’m not going to tell you where this is going; just take one step at a time according to the vision you have”. The blog was the first step, and I’ve been taking steps ever since. It was all pretty easy…I enjoyed it and was “successful” taking these steps. There was really no risk of failure…I could not lose. But that is now changing.

I’m now at a place where the next step seems impossible, and I went back to “wresting” with the Lord again begging him to reveal where this was going. He’s silent, except for one nugget of truth which is the answer to this question: why do I need to know where all of this is going before I take the next step? The answer is, because I am afraid I might fail and/or experience pain. I had a 100% chance of success starting a blog; I have a very small percent chance that this next step will be successful, IMO. I too, if I’m being honest, have the same problem that my son had…I don’t want to play the game if I don’t think I will win.

If you are willing, I’d like you to do something. In all things, seek the Lord’s will through prayer and Scripture. But if you find yourself struggling to know what His will is, ask yourself why you really need to know His will on this matter. Could it be that you want to know because you are afraid of failing and want some assurance that your path will be successful, as you define success? His silence may indicate that you do not need to know what you are asking for and that this is a test. Here’s a suggestion: rather than seeking guidance on a large goal or plan, seek guidance on the ‘right’ next step. In many cases, I’ve found that the next step, if it is small enough, is pretty obvious. Scripture is full of the phrase, “do not be afraid”. In some cases, there is an assurance of ‘success’; e.g. check out 2 Kings 6:16-17. In other cases, there is not; e.g. see Esther’s dilemma, climaxing in Esther 4:13-16. Either way, focus your faith not on an outcome, but on a person…Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid, because God is with us and will support us and will protect us through the unpredictable ups and downs of life. (See Isaiah 41:10). Trust Him to use you how He wishes, in success and failure, rather than using Him as a crystal ball you can use to stay on a “success” path at all cost to righteousness.

Life After Death

resurrectionThe first ten verses of Ephesians 2 is one of my favorite passages, and it starts with a bang by declaring not that we were sick or weak or stuck but that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul uses death as an image to describe where we were in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:13) as well, though Paul is not the only one. Jesus also taught we were dead before we were made alive…see John 5:24.

What does a dead “life” look like? Verses 2-3 help with this, and notice how Paul includes himself as one of those who “formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh”. All of us, before we were resurrected, followed the rule of darkness rather than that of light. We obeyed the desires of our fleshly mind rather than what we knew to be right. As such, we were subject to God’s punishment…guilty of a crime no less than treason. We were created by God, blessed by God, ruled by God…but, we left Him; we rebelled and began to follow the evil one who commands us to obey the desires of our own flesh and mind.

The significance of the term “dead” is that this rebellion was permanent. There is no natural “unrebellion”, just as there is no natural means of becoming “undead”. It was over…the human race was lost and subject to exactly what we deserved: eternal condemnation.

But God is not limited, is he? No, He is sovereign over all things natural and unnatural. He is the One who can make the dead undead. He is the one who can redeem the rebellious. He is the One who can determine a means by which a sinful crimson-stained people can be washed white as snow. And He did that through the death and resurrection Jesus Christ; we apply this provision to ourselves personally through faith in Him alone.

Versus 4 and 5 might be two of the greatest verses in all of Scripture. Without any help from us (remember, we were dead, rebellious, and committed to darkness), God made us alive. But not only this…He seated us with Christ in the Heavenly places! That is, we share the same orientation toward God that the perfect Savior Jesus Christ has (our Father). What amazing grace…he not only redeems us, but gives us a place of blessing in the family of God!

Clearly, God did not have to do this. He is fully self-sufficient; He does not need us nor does he need our love. He would have been just to allow us all to suffer the consequences of our rebellion. He was not obligated, and He receives nothing that He did not already have. Why then would He do this? Why would he sacrifice His only begotten Son to redeem a people that hate him…to redeem the very people that put His Son to death?

Are you alive or dead?

I think Paul provides three reasons in this text alone. First, He loved us (v4). He did it for us, not for himself. Second, He desired to demonstrate His grace (v7). Grace needs an object, and this rebellious people made the perfect object to demonstrate His amazing grace. Third, He desired to demonstrate His workmanship (v10). God is not in the business of starting over; he is in the business of redemption. We are the pinnacle of creation…His workmanship…and He desired to rescue it rather than let it die or re-create it.

Let me close with this important question: are you spiritually alive or spiritually dead? God is allowing the “living” to exist in this world intermingled with those that are still dead. How can you tell the difference? Simple really, and it has less to do with your behavior and more to do with your belief. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish (remain dead forever) but will have eternal life (be resurrected and remain alive forever). What do you believe about Jesus Christ? If you believe that He is the Son of God who died for your sins and was resurrected, then you are among the living. If not, you are among the dead.

It is indeed that simple, but genuine faith in Christ has a profound impact on your life. If you believe an airplane can fly safely yet refuse to board it, then it’s fair to wonder if you really believe the plane can fly. Similarly, if you believe in Jesus yet live the same way you always have, then it’s fair to wonder if you really believe in Jesus. Genuine faith changes a person…check out verse 10 one more time.

If you need help unpacking any of this privately, feel free to send me a note at jreeves@seqhim.org. I’d love to help any way I can. In the meantime, I continue to pray for all of you.

Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians

prayerMany books have been written on prayer using different patterns and examples provided to us in the Bible. One of these patterns is found in Ephesians 1:15-23. I thought it would be encouraging to provide a few thoughts on this passage today.

Have you ever thought about why you pray for others? It sounds obvious, but maybe it’s not…think about it. Maybe you pray for others because they are in need or because they are hurting. Maybe you pray for others because they are taking on an ambitious task and need the Lord’s provision. This passage begins with the phrase “For this reason”, which tells us that there are at least two reasons why Paul is praying at this point. First, as I mentioned in my last post, we have every spiritual blessing. God’s blessings prompt us to pray. Second, those Paul is praying for are full of faith in God and love for others. We ought to be giving thanks for those around us that are following Christ in a genuine manner…by loving God and loving others.

For what kinds of things do you pray? Paul here prays for a couple of things. First, he prays that God would grant believers true wisdom and revelation. Second, he prays that God would grant them knowledge. Knowledge of what? Three things: the hope of his calling, the riches of God’s inheritance, and the great power of God. Then, Paul transitions into a profession of praise by describing this great power that is working toward those who believe. He describes it by calling out four evidences of God’s power. First, Christ has risen from the dead. Second, God seated Him at the right hand of God. Third, God put all things under Christ’s feet. Finally, God appointed him as the head of all things.

My encouragement is this…when you pray today, pray like Paul. Try these few things:

  1. Remind yourself of God’s blessings. You might even review Eph 1:1-14.
  2. Think of specific individuals that exemplify faith in God and love for all the saints.
  3. Thank God for these people…for their faith and for their love.
  4. Pray that God would grant these individuals wisdom, revelation, and knowledge.
  5. Praise God by remembering the resurrection and glorification of our Lord Jesus.

I will be praying this way today…I encourage you to join me!

Every Spiritual Blessing

graceDid you know, believer, that the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Maybe you do not feel like you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing today, but according to Ephesians 1:3, it is true. Sometimes we have to believe things we can’t feel simply because our Father says it is true. Maybe the issue is that you don’t know what every spiritual blessing even means. Thankfully, Paul goes on in Ephesians 1 to provide some examples of these blessings.

First of all, in verse 4, He chose us. Who did he choose? He chose “us in Him”…he chose believers in Christ. If you believe in Christ, you are chosen. When did he choose you? He chose you “before the foundation of the world”. Ponder this…before the world was even made, God knew you; he chose you; he identified you as special. And for what purpose does God choose us? He chooses us for the purpose of making us “holy and blameless before him”. You are spiritually blessed with holiness and perfection in the eyes of the Father through Christ.

Verse 5 goes on to add that we who were predestined (another way to say that we were chosen before the foundation of the world) were adopted as sons. Not everyone is a child of God, contrary to popular belief, but you are if you believe in Christ. We have been grafted into the family; God is our Father; Jesus is our brother and friend.

Grace is mentioned as a blessing in verse 6. Grace is God’s blessing to those who do not deserve it. “Every spiritual blessing” is only possible because of God’s grace; however, verse 7 identifies two more important pillars of these blessings: redemption and forgiveness. We have been redeemed from the lost, and we have been forgiven of all sin…past, present and future.

But Paul does not stop here…he goes on in verse 9 to talk about the blessing of knowing the mystery of God’s will, that is, the gospel itself. The gospel had been a mystery up until the time of Christ, and now God has shared that mystery with us as a spiritual blessing.

Did you know that as part of God’s family we have an inheritance? This is the blessing of verse 11…an inheritance due when Jesus returns and all of God’s promises are fulfilled. But can we depend on this inheritance? How do we know God will deliver such an inheritance? We know because He has provided an earnest…a down payment…a pledge in the Holy Spirit. Verses 13 and 14 reveal how the Spirit in our life is only a taste of how we will live with God in eternity. If this is a taste, I can’t wait for the fullness of this relationship!

Work-Life Balance

donkey-in-airThe month of June has been the busiest month of my life, and it has reminded me of a few things about work/life balance that I’d like to share briefly. I’d love to hear your ideas of how to balance work, ministry, family, school, etc as well!

Do you work hard? How do you know? I mean, when I ask that question, do you automatically associate it with your vocation or possibly with school if you are a full-time student? What about other aspects of life? Can you have a good work ethic and only put 40 hours a week into your vocation? Are you any less of a “hard worker” if you work 40 hours as opposed to 80? The answer is, IMO, the same as 90% of all questions…”it depends”.

What I continue to believe more and more strongly is that compartmentalism in life is a bad thing. Treating work, family, ministry, school, etc as entirely different things with different rules and equal demands can put significant, even unreasonable, pressure on a person. Taking each individually, one feels they need to perform at each one almost as if nothing else was going on just to meet expectations of a solid work ethic. Many must work 80hrs a week, spend “quantity” time with the family, and/or study virtually every hour they are not in class to avoid feeling like they are slacking in some area.

Living a balanced life will likely not win you any awards in any single area, but it is the only sane way to run this race.

The secret, IMO, to a balanced work/life is three parts. These have helped me deal with shifting priorities, expectations, and time requirements without feeling like I am slacking in some area.

First, set your expectations at the “life” level and not at the “compartment” level. Do not look at each “compartment” and assess your work ethic in that area as if no other “compartments” existed. Rather, take everything together and set your expectations in each compartment accordingly. When you do this, you may find that it requires a significant work ethic to hit 40hrs a week considering your commitments to family, school, church, friends, etc.

Second, understand that people in each “compartment” will expect you to live as though no other “compartments” exist. Bosses think people who work 80hrs a week are hard workers; teachers look at your study habits to see if you are a hard worker; your family may judge your work ethic based on how much time you spend at home with the wife/kids. Ignore these expectations, become comfortable with your own “life-level” expectations, and accept any natural consequences that may come in any of the individual compartments as a result of trying to live a balanced life.

Third, be careful not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Some may work 80hrs a week when you work 40hrs, but that does not mean they have a stronger work ethic. Work may be all they have, where you have three other compartments you are trying to manage. Keep your expectations at the life level and remain content.

Living a balanced life will likely not win you any awards in any single area, but it is the only sane way to run this race. Maybe I’m the only one, but I’d rather finish strong and not win any stages than win a stage or two along the way but fail to finish the race.

SeqHim Consensus on Humility

neuron-galaxy

I want to first and foremost thank everyone who responded to my last post asking for your perspectives on humility. Bob, Andrew, Sophie, Chris, Arnel, and Will – each of you put in time and energy to think about the subject and put your comments for all to see, and I thank you for that. May the Lord reward you for your efforts, and may he multiply the impact of your words.

What I would like to do now is take your feedback and consolidate it into a new post that can serve as a SeqHim consensus reference on humility. Many items I have taken verbatim from your comments and others I have consolidated into unique phrasing that I believes captures the spirit of the consensus. Rather than crediting your individual phrases, consider this an acknowledgement that you have done this work and not me. To the extent I have captured the consensus accurately; this is your post, not mine.

My prayer today is that reading, thinking, praying, and commenting on this post will be as helpful to you as it was for me putting it together.

Definition

Humility is that character attribute which is marked by a sense of lowness in position before God and others regardless of our given position in the world; it is the absence of pride. The humble person considers the will of God first, the needs of others second and desires of self last of all. Submission before God and others is a hallmark of biblical humility. In short, humility is an acknowledgement of who we are compared to who God is.

Scripture Reference

  • Proverbs 11:2
  • Proverbs 22:4
    • humility and fear of the Lord are the key to riches, honor, and life
  • Zephaniah 2:3
    • seek humility
  • Mark 4:39
    • The words of Christ, “Peace be still” and the storm and the waters obeyed.
  • Mark 5:41
    • “Talitha Cumi”. What do I have to say to that?
  • Acts 20:19
    • serve in humility
  • Philippians 2:3, 4
  • Colossians 3:12
    • as the elect, put on God’s characteristics – humility being one
  • 2 Timothy 2:24
    • as a servant of the Lord, avoid strife [prior verse] show humility when correcting
  • Titus 3:2
    • Show ALL your humility – understanding that we (believers) were just like them
  • James 4:6, 10
  • 1 Peter 5:6

Teaching Reference

If you think you are humble, you probably are not! Humility intends to seek Christ first, not evaluate you all the time!

So much of what separates us from God (puts us out of fellowship) is ‘self’ … a prideful attitude that “I can run my life better than God yet I’m better than others because I claim to be a Christian.” As we spiritually mature and understand that in order to follow Christ we must deny self, pick up our cross and follow Him. Humility is a big part of getting outside of “self” and focusing on other people.

Pray for God to show you where you need humility. Pray for guidance and courage to change. And whenever you feel good about yourself…well pride is in the way! Whenever your feelings are all about what you are experiencing and you can’t stop thinking about your own problems…it is also another form of pride. Be for the lookout for your motives in doing good. It must be done for God and not for anything or anyone else. (Good stuff, Sophie!)

Patterns: die to self, make it a habit in actions (learning–start with “I don’t know nearly enough”, loving–start with “I don’t care nearly enough”, etc.)

Anti-Patterns: self-abasement, false allocation of credit, false humility (faking humility)

In love, God brings humility to the proud. It is a painful gift to receive, but invaluable.

Thanks to Chris for supplying the in-line content from John Piper!

Suggested Resources

  • CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, section 3, chapter 8 entitled “the great sin”. (great reference, Bob)
  • Michael Vincent Walking in Humility Seeking to live the life God desires.
  • The Bible; i.e. the life of Christ is a perfect example of humility. Also Moses and Job.

Disciplines

Confront pride face-on with the help of the Holy Spirit. Speak/define/identify areas in your life where you are prideful, ask Christ to cover it. Learn to find the positive in situations and people – negativity prohibits humility, but being positive and encouraging helps you to have perspective, which develops humility. Be intentional about giving something up where you might normally be prideful (i.e. listen before speaking despite having the answer).

Service has been a huge one for Andrew. Serving others puts your attitude in check and makes you realize that the world is not so small and other people need God’s love. Andrew, this one really resonates with me too.

The Holy Spirit will convict you and obedience is the key…pay attention, listen & Obey. Check your motives frequently if not all the time when you are doing something even when you think you are doing it for others.

Make a habit of leaning on God, especially when you think you know better. Stay in the Word to remind yourself of consequences of making critical decisions based on pride.

There may be no discipline other than God’s that will take you where you need to go. For Will he used cancer and paralysis. It worked, he is healed up, mostly, and much more usable as a tool for Christ.

Circumstances

Here are some circumstances that often require humility, so be on alert!

  • work situations
  • competitive sporting events
  • marriage
  • parenting
  • teaching
  • mentoring
  • mission work
  • leadership
  • teamwork
  • servanthood (“one must be willing to change diapers”…great line, Will)

Some elaboration from Arnel…good stuff:

“God is constantly trying to teach me stuff, but I suspect I can’t hear because of lack of humility. So, I think there are specific circumstances, dictated by God, that we need to listen for.

For example, I write software for a living. On a micro scale, I sometimes interact with God to get me through tough problems. Many times the best solution is to throw away hours worth of work because a better solution exists. This certainly takes humility.

On a larger scale, I sometimes have to interact with other teams to negotiate shared solutions. Sometimes people act arrogant or harsh and are difficult to work with. If I ‘humble myself’ by taking harsh or unfair criticisms to heart, then I’m left feeling lowly with no energy to be useful.

I see my faults in humility.

Trying to solve to what I see on my own leads me to lie to myself over what I see or leads me to bury myself over it. If, on the other hand, I allow humility to direct me to God and to ask Him to overcome what my faults and limitations, then I can begin to grow and act in a positive way through humility.”

You Have Homework!

I’m taking on a new project that will extend the capabilities and hopefully value of SeqHim to disciplemakers.  But to be successful, I will need the SeqHim community (that’s you, reader) to rise up and respond to this blog post.  I humbly request your help.  It will only take a few minutes of your time, but it will be extremely valuable to you and others.

In short, my desire is to deliver a SeqHim community consensus view on the virtue of humility.

I will explain further when I release the results, but for now I’m asking for your brief thoughts on these questions:

  1. How do you define humility?
  2. What specific Scriptures do you know speak to humility?
  3. What teaching on humility would you offer?
  4. What humility-specific teaching resources (i.e. books, sermons, etc) would you recommend?
  5. What disciplines (i.e. study, prayer, solitude, service, etc) have you discovered drive humble behaviors?
  6. What life circumstances commonly require humility?

I can’t describe how much I value and appreciate your responses to any or all of the questions above!  In a few days, I will consolidate and publish the results.

The Micro View Helps You through the Storms of Life

The micro view can be used to help during the storms of life.
The micro view can be used to help during the storms of life.

Have you noticed that there are two ways of using the iterative growth model? The one we have discussed most frequently thus far is what you might think of as the “macro” view because it helps at a higher, or “big picture”, level. In the “macro” view, a person is thinking about the activities they are employing to grow in knowledge, character and behavior. What books am I reading? What disciplines do I have in my life? How am I handing real-life experiences? Still within the macro view, one may focus these activities on a theme; i.e. joy, compassion, humility, or perseverance. The questions then become for focused. What books am I reading that will help me become more joyful? Which disciplines am I practicing that are designed to make me more joyful? What near-term opportunities do I have to be more joyful?

I want to add a second view today that you might think of as a “micro” view. The micro view is all about using the same model, and even the effort of the “macro” view, to help you obey when it matters most…a specific situation that demands faith and obedience. You can think of it as a way of being more successful obeying (from the growth model) God using another iteration of the growth model itself. Confused? Me too…let’s use an example.

Right now, stress/anxiety management is tops on my personal growth priority list. Why? Because I have lots of…let’s say “opportunity”…to use real life experience to help me conquer stressful and anxious situations. Catch my drift? No? How’s this … I’m stressed out because I have a full-time job, full-time ministry, and a full-time family; and, I sold my house, gave up my weekend looking at houses, and our best option seems to be living with my in-laws for ~5 months while our new home is being built. Better?

I’m not going to be exhaustive on everything that I am doing to deal with the stress/anxiety, because it can get complicated; but, I wanted to setup a real situation to illustrate the use of the growth model in situations like this. Here’s how it works…very simple. When I feel “anxious”, I ask myself a simple question: what Scripture (Hearing God) am I not believing (Believe God) that is causing me to be anxious (Obeying God)? The extent to which you have already been applying the macro view of “hearing God” (i.e. reading His Word and/or commentaries on His Word), “believing God” (i.e. disciplines such as Scripture memory and meditation), and “obeying God” (i.e. successfully handing anxious situations) in the theme area of joy/contentment/anxiety is the extent to which you will be able to use the micro view successfully. For, if you are not reading (hearing) and memorizing (believing) God’s word during times of peace, how are you going to recall it when you really need it? And, because spiritual growth is iterative (success breeds additional success), you need to be able to handle the small situations (obeying) before being able to handle the large ones.

The purpose of trial is not to escape the trial; it is to become better prepared for the next trial.

In my case, I have several passages, promises, concepts that I fall back on. My favorite passages are probably the ones most obvious to you; e.g. Phil 4:6-7, Ps 23. These two passages alone contain enough spiritual truth that if I would only believe it, I would not be anxious. And so, I recall it and trust it. Do the feelings go away? Not always for long, but can I make it through the trial with my faith intact and stronger, YES! And that, my friend, is the purpose of our suffering: to strengthen our dependence upon the Lord. The purpose of trial is not to escape the trial; it is to become better prepared for the next trial.

Therefore, allow me to encourage you. Next time you are in a tempting situation, think about which Scripture you do not believe that would cause you to consider the sin. Next time you are suffering, think about what Scripture that if you would only believe it would help you obey God and grow in your faith. Drive every tricky situation back to what God has said and your faith in Him. And remember, to be successful reacting you must be proactive between the storms.

How to Visualize Spiritual Maturity

Now that we have established the basis for our two major growth dimensions, loving God and loving others, we can begin to discuss how to measure and visualize maturity. For now, this post assumes that there is a means by which we can measure maturity (granted, a big assumption) and focuses of visualization for the purpose of reinforcing the concepts already discussed.

There are four views discussed in this section. The first is mostly a basis to begin with…a simple bar chart reflecting the current state of a disciple in terms of how far they have progressed along the knowledge, character and behavior dimensions.

Here we see that this person has grown most in knowledge, second in behavior, and third in character…a pretty typical distribution. It is not depicted, but one can easily see where phases of maturity can be drawn at various levels. If the range of maturity values is 0 to 5, perhaps phase 1 is 0-2, phase 2 is 2-4 and phase 3 is 4-5?

Now if we were break down each dimension into smaller parts using the cross-cutting themes (or categories) discussed earlier, this bar chart might look something more like the following.

Here we can see inside each of the major dimensions to understand the component pieces. This tells us what areas of knowledge, character and behavior are strong and which are weak. In the graph above, we see that this person’s attitude is very humble but not very persevering. With this information, a faith coach can target this area of weakness with disciplines aimed at building self-confidence and steadfastness unto overall perseverance.

Other views can be helpful as well. By stacking the values, we can get an aggregate view of knowledge, character and behavior.

This is basically the same data as the earlier chart, only the bars are stacked one on top of one another rather than being side-by-side. The value of the previous chart would be able to see phase levels of each theme within each dimension independently; i.e. I can clearly see that this person is a phase 3 disciple with regard to a humble character but only phase 1 with regard to a persevering character.

The value of this stacked bar chart is to see keep the aggregate knowledge, character and behavior scores (and phasing) and yet add the component pieces to see relative (as opposed to absolute) strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, it’s important to see end-to-end measurements of each of the themes.

This chart looks similar to the last chart, but you’ll notice that the themes and dimensions are reversed so we can see maturity by theme rather than by dimension. I can see were my disciple is with regard to joy, including each component piece of knowledge, character and behavior.

What is the point to all this visualization mumbo jumbo? The point is that in order to be effective as a disciple and a disciplemaker, we must have some way of understanding where we are, where we are going and how we’re going to get there. The assessment tool can be used to gain a subjective understanding on where a disciple is in their walk; graphs like these can be used to visualize the conclusions; and discussions on what activities are appropriate to strengthen weak areas may then take place. At the end of the day, it’s simply about being more intentional about becoming more like Christ.