What does it mean to believe God?

A couple of posts ago, we went a little deeper on what it means to hear God.  If you remember, this was the first of three activities that we perform to help ourselves grow spiritually.  Today, we will talk a little more about the second activity, believing God.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

As with hearing God, numerous well-written books on “belief” have been written and many more could be written.  Here, we will focus not so much on defining belief and faith, but on the things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what God has said.  But to do that, we will scope the term belief to “believing what God has said”.  In the post of “hearing God”, we discussed some aspects of understand what God has to say; in this one, we’ll discuss some things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what we understand Him to have said.

I’ve mentioned before that the activities associated with believing God are similar to training activities in the world of athletics.  Baseball players become better players by playing the game, yes, but the best players excel at training between games.  Every athlete at the top of his game is obsessive about training.  They learn from experience, but they are compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the best at what they do.  How much more so should a Christian be compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the most like their Savior they can be?

What are these training activities?  I believe they are most widely known as the spiritual disciplines.  Pick up anything by Dallas Willard and you will be blessed in his encouraging view of how God changes us through these disciplines.  The disciplines are used by God to prepare us for our future circumstances.  He knows what is about to happen to us, and he provides opportunities for us to discipline ourselves in more controlled circumstances before the trouble hits.

Disciplines like prayer, study, worship, solitude, fasting, scripture memory, scripture meditation, and others train us internalize God’s Word.  They train us to make His Word part of us.  They train us to allow His Word to change us…to change who we are and therefore how we react natually.  In my life, I’ve tried to develop this habit of calling upon some specific verse of scripture when I excounter a challenging or tempting circumstance.  How could I do this if I only read the scriptures in a cursory manner?  How could I do this if I only engage extra-biblical resources?  How could I do this if I only attend bible studies for social reasons or to check it off of my “what I need to be doing to be a good Christian” list?  I can’t.  Earnest prayer, thoughtful study, focused meditation, sacrifical fasting, and (most important this day and age) regular time alone are what is required.

I’m sorry to say that this is hard work, and unfortunately that is not what many Christians these days sign-up for when they walk down the aisle.  But, God’s way is always the best and “safest” way.  And, in most cases, I would say that this little bit of pain helps us to avoid the great amount of pain that comes by trying to deal with life without having been trained on God’s ways.

I’ll leave you with this.  I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight, and clearly God has been providing for and protecting me since then…no question.  But, I did not experience consistency in life or steady change until I got serious about spending daily time alone with the Lord.  If you do not already, I encourage you to spend a few minutes every day reading a passage from scripture, really thinking about what God is saying to you through it, and praying about it with God.  If you do not know where to start, start with the book of John.

I promise that there is nothing you can do that will have a greater impact on your life than this very simple yet difficult to stick with activity.  For me, what started as a form of sacrifice (giving up some of “my” time) has turned into a joy that I cannot imagine living without.  If it were not for this simple discipline, I would be full of knowledge, but I can’t say I would genuinely believe what God has said nor have experienced the charater change that I have.

Deeper Dive on Growth Themes

In my last post, I introduced the concept of a growth theme.  Think of themes (joy, compassion, humility, perseverance) as the more concrete sub-components of the growth dimensions (knowledge, character, and behavior).  And remember, growth on these dimensions within the themes is a result of hearing, believing and obeying God.  Later, I’ll go a little deeper on hearing, believing and obeying God…the things we do.  But first, lets look a little closer at what we are trying to become (increasingly joyous, compassionate, humble, and persevering).

Joyfully forget yourself and focus on others forever.

The above statement is something I made up as a kind of personal mission statement.  Notice how it includes each of the four growth themes…joy, humility (forget yourself), compassion (focus on others), and perseverance (forever).  We are followers of Christ if we do this increasingly, genuinely and in the context of God’s truth.  Note that I did not say we are “saved” because of it.  We’re “saved” because we professed faith in Christ and He gave us life by His grace alone.  What I’m taking about here is actually following Christ after we have been regenerated.

Now, let’s look under the hood.  Are four themes really enough?  What about love, wisdom, righteousness, contentment, faith, dependenance, generosity, etc?  As I said before, we created a mind map to organize these characteristics so that we could get our arms around the different facets and begin to eat the elephant one bite at a time, so to speak.

Here is a link to that mind map: Themes v0.3

Remember, this is one of an incalculable number of possible arrangements.  This is just one that works for our purposes.  I’m happy to take feedback on it, because I do want to improve it…but, let’s not miss the forest for the trees either.

And so you will see that we’re framing contentment as a joy issue.  If you do not have God’s joy, it is possible that the underlying cause is a contentment issue.  With this kind of vocabulary, we can use it in a number of different ways to help people.  Here are a few:

Assessment: Helping Disciples Know Where They Are

We can develop a means of helping people understand where they are in their walk with regard to joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.  This then drives where/how they spend their time addressing areas of weakness (rather than simply ammassing knowledge by an endless stream of “bible studies”).  The intent of “assessment”, would be to help someone understand that contentment is a bigger issue in their life than say generosity.

Guidance: Helping Disciples Know Where to Go and How to Get There

Guidance can be attached to the same vocabulary.  Guidance (e.g. passages of scripture, teaching, books, podcasts, disciplines, ad-hoc experiences and advice, etc)  can be provided on how to become more generous, for example, and loaded into a shared repository.

Search: Helping Disciples Find The Best Stuff Fast

Now that guidance has been loaded against a specific vocabulary, and a person understands their need using the same vocabulary, an extremely efficient search capability can be put into place that helps a disciple find exactly what they need almost immediately.

There is alot more to be said, but alas…it will have to wait until next time.  Until then, I will continue to pray for all of you as you strive to become more like our Savior.

Themes of Spiritual Growth

Let’s pick up on a thread that I started several days ago re: spiritual growth.  Remember that we discussed two basic principles:

  • spiritual growth occurs along three dimensions: knowledge, character and behavior.
  • growth on these three dimensions occurs by iterations of hearing, believing and obeying God.

And, we used the following as a picture to illustrate the basic concept.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

Now let’s break down the components of knowledge, character, and behavior so we can get to something that each of us can use in our daily lives and help others to do the same.

Several months ago, some faithful buddies and I brainstormed “christian attributes”.  We asked, “what are the characteristics you would expect to see in a follower of Christ?”  Obviously, many attributes came to mind, including wisdom, righteousness, humility, generosity, love, contentment, etc.  We then organized them into four major themes: joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.

Therefore, when we talk about growing in knowledge, we’re really talking about growing in knowledge of what it means to be joyous, humble, compassionate and persevering.  When we talk about growing our character (internal attitudes and unseen behaviors), we’re talking about developing a joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering character.  When we talk about growing in behavior (externally observable behaviors), we’re talking about acting joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering.

Clearly, there are many, many ways to organize these attributes.  This is just the way we did it, and I think it works pretty well.  In future posts, I can share the detailed “mind map” that describes how we organized the attributes and dealt with “super-themes” like righteousness and wisdom.

Now, remember the second principle that describes how we grow in the three dimensions and their four components.  Generally speaking, we grow in knowledge by hearing God; we grow in behavior by believing Him; and we grow in behavior by obeying Him.  Therefore, we grow in our knowledge of what it means to be joyous by hearing what God has to say on joy; we grow in chracter with respect to joy by genuinely believing these truths from God; and, we grow in joyous behavior when we obey these new truths that we genuinely believe.

I have lots of examples from Scripture and from my own experience to share, and will do so over time, but for now let’s start with one from Acts.  Do you remember Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)?  They behaved in an extraordinary way.  First, rather than grumbling (which I’m sure I would have been), they are singing and praying.  Then, when the earthquake hits and the prison doors are busted open, they did not flee.

Now look, I’m excited by the growth God has caused in me over the past several years, but I am nowhere near this level of mature behavior.  Paul and Silas were so focused on the welfare of their guard, they essentially sacrificed themselves for him…a non-Jew and a non-Christian.  Why on earth would they a) be singing in prison; and b) not leave when God “obviously” was trying to set them free by way of the earthquake?  In the first case, they had learned to be “content in all circumstances” (we bucketed contentment within the joy theme).  In the second, they had serious compassion for the jailor and knew what “the right thing to do was” (see my previous post).  Why were they so joyous and compassionate?  Because they knew the promises of God and they genuinely believed them.  They had already invested years into knowing God’s word and practicing the disciplines required for training themselves for just such a moment.  Of course, Paul (at least) had the additional experiences of supernatural encounters with God, but these are not necessary to grow to the point Paul was.  We can all get there by studying God’s word, proactively training ourselves to believe it, and them acting upon it in any circumstance.

And so my encouragement is simply this: know God’s word, believe what you know, and obey what you believe.  Over time, learn a little more, believe a little more and obey a little more.  Just keep moving forward and never stop. 

If you need help, please raise you hand.  I, and many others joining this community, are here to help you!

The Ultimate Goal

In my last post, I spoke about the specific and immediate goal of ministering to God’s people.  But what is the ultimate goal?  How does the mission of SeqHim converge with and support the ministry of the Church?

I mentioned what I believe is the ultimate goal in my last post, and I want to expand upon it here a bit: bring glory to God.  That ought to be the underlying reason for anything we do (or do not do).  Otherwise, what is the point?  Do everything you do for the glory of God, and work hard at it.  Yes, it is good to just chill from time to time, but even that brings glory to God…it acknowledges a) that God designed us to need rest and recreation; b) that our efforts are not nearly as important as we usually think; and c) that God himself rested and commands us to rest as well.  And so, go play golf, take a nap, or watch HGTV this weekend knowing that you may be bringing great glory to God in the process!

Given that it is good to rest and it is good to work, what do we work at?  What work brings glory to God?  Is it only “ministry” work?  Am I bringing glory to God when I go to church, serve in the nursery, help little old ladies across the street?  Sure, but does that mean that I am not bringing glory to God when I am writing a computer program, changing diapers, taking out the trash, leading a marketing project, punishing the kids, performing financial analysis, studying for a test at school, and so on?  I certainly hope not, because most of us spend most of our time doing these things that are usually perceieved as less or even non-spiritual.

Then how do we glorify God in everything we do, whether it is a ‘rest’ activity or a ‘work’ activity?  Here is a phrase that has helped me tremendously through the years: ‘do the right thing for the right reason’.  As long as you are doing the right thing (with pure motives) in any situation, you are bringing glory to God.  Sounds easy, right?  Ha!  If you think that is easy, you have never really been serious about it because it’s incredibly hard!  As a matter of fact, it’s impossible as long as we remain in this fallen world prior to our perfection.  And so, allow me to revise our goal statement to make it a bit more accurate to what is really expected of us: “strive to do the right thing for the right reason”.  We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength…to do the very best with everything God has given us to do the right thing.  Thankfully, God’s grace enables us to try and still accepts us when we fail!  But the true measure of our faith is the effort we put into doing the right thing, purifying our motives and avoiding the wrong thing…regardless of the personal risk.

So, may this be an encouragement to you today.  Strive to do the right thing, moment by moment, for the right reasons.  Make it your number one priority, higher than any any other objective you have for today.  Expend yourself learning how to determine what the right thing is, seeking the Lord in His Word, asking the Him for moment by moment wisdom, trusting that He has granted you that wisdom (James 1:5), and then acting accordingly, confidently and courageously.  In this way, you will be a delight to the Lord, He will be glorified, you will be transformed, others around you will be loved as Christ loves them, and others will be attracted to the Savior through your example of Him.