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Christian Gospel

23. How we grow

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ23

God wants us to grow up ... like Christ in everything.

Ephesians. 4:15a (Msg)

We are not meant to remain as children.

Ephesians 4:14a (Ph)

God wants you to grow up.

Your heavenly Father's goal is for you to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ. Sadly, millions of Christians grow older but never grow up. They are stuck in perpetual spiritual infancy, remaining in diapers and booties. The reason is that they never intended to grow.

Spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing. Discipleship-the process of becoming like Christ-always begins with a decision. Jesus calls us, and we respond: "Come, be my disciple, 'Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him."

When the first disciples chose to follow Jesus, they didn't understand all the implications of their decision. They simply responded to Jesus' invitation. That's all you need to get started: Decide to become a disciple.

Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make. Your commitments can develop you or they can destroy you, but either way, they will define you. Tell me what you are committed to, and I'll tell you what you will be in twenty years. We become whatever we are committed to.

It is at this point of commitment that most people miss God's purpose for their lives. Many are afraid to commit to anything and just drift through life. Others make half-hearted commitments to competing values, which leads to frustration and mediocrity. Others make a full commitment to worldly goals, such as becoming wealthy or famous, and end up disappointed and bitter. Every choice has eternal consequences, so you had better choose wisely. Peter warns, "Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living!"

God's part and your part.

Christlikeness is the result of making Christlike choices and depending on his Spirit to help you fulfill those choices. Once you decide to get serious about becoming like Christ, you must begin to act in new ways. You will need to let go of some old routines, develop some new habits, and intentionally change the way you think. You can be certain that the Holy Spirit will help you with these changes. The Bible says, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

This verse shows the two parts of spiritual growth: "work out" and "work in." The "work out" is your responsibility, and the "work in" is God's role. Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between you and the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit works with us, not just in us.

This verse, written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say "work for" your salvation, because you can't add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical "workout," you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body.

When you "work out" a puzzle, you already have all the pieces-your task is to put them together. Farmers "work" the land, not to get land, but to develop what they already have. God has given you a new life; now you are responsible to develop it "with fear and trembling.' That means to take your spiritual growth seriously! When people are casual about their spiritual growth, it shows they don't understand the eternal implications.

Changing your autopilot.

To change your life, you must change the way you think. Behind everything you do is a thought. Every behavior is motivated by a belief, and every action is prompted by an attitude. God revealed this thousands of years before psychologists understood it: `Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts."

Imagine riding in a speedboat on a lake with an automatic pilot set to go east. If you decide to reverse and head west, you have two possible ways to change the boat's direction. One way is to grab the steering wheel and physically force it to head in the opposite direction from where the autopilot is programmed to go. By sheer willpower you could overcome the autopilot, but you would feel constant resistance. Your arms would eventually tire of the stress, you'd let go of the steering wheel, and the boat would instantly head back east, the way it was internally programmed.

This is what happens when you try to change your life with willpower: You say, "I'll force myself to eat less ... exercise more… quit being disorganized and late." Yes, willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven't dealt with the root cause. The change doesn't feel natural, so eventually you give up, go off your diet, and quit exercising. You quickly revert to your old patterns.

We become whatever we are committed to.

There is a better and easier way: Change your autopilot-the way you think. The Bible says, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." Your first step in spiritual growth is to start changing the way you think. Change always starts first in your mind.

The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act. Paul said, "There must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes."

To be like Christ you must develop the mind of Christ. The New Testament calls this mental shift repentance, which in Greek literally means "to change your mind." You repent whenever you change the way you think by adopting how God thinks-about yourself, sin, God, other people, life, your future, and everything else. You take on Christ's outlook and perspective.

We are commanded to "think the same way that Christ Jesus thought." There are two parts to doing this. The first half of this mental shift is to stop thinking immature thoughts, which are self-centered and self-seeking. The Bible says, "Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." Babies by nature are completely selfish. They think only of themselves and their own needs. They are incapable of giving; they can only receive. That is immature thinking. Unfortunately, many people never grow beyond that kind of thinking. The Bible says that selfish thinking is the source of sinful behavior: "Those who live following their sinful selves think only about things that their sinful selves want."

The second half of thinking like Jesus is to start thinking maturely, which focuses on others, not yourself. In his great chapter on what real love is, Paul concluded that thinking of others is the mark of maturity: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, 1 put childish ways behind me."

Today many assume that spiritual maturity is measured by the amount of biblical information and doctrine you know. While knowledge is one measurement of maturity, it isn't the whole story. The Christian life is far more than creeds and convictions; it includes conduct and character. Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds, and our beliefs must be backed up with Christlike behavior.

Christianity is not a religion or a philosophy, but a relationship and a lifestyle. The core of that lifestyle is thinking of others, as Jesus did, instead of ourselves. The Bible says, "We should think of their good and try to help them by doing what pleases them. Even Christ did not try to please himself. "

Thinking of others is the heart of Christlikeness and the best evidence of spiritual growth. This kind of thinking is unnatural, counter-cultural, rare, and difficult. Fortunately we have help: "God has given us his Spirit. That's why we don't think the same way that the people of this world think." 

The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act.

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: It is never too late to start growing.

Verse to Remember: "Let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God-what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect." Romans 12:2b (TEV)

Question to Consider: What is one area where I need to stop thinking my way and start thinking God's way?

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24. Transformed by truth

Battlefield Of The Mind Pt. 1

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ241

People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God.

Matthew 4:4 (N LT)

God's ... gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need.

Acts 20:32 (Msg)

The truth transforms us.

Spiritual growth is the process of replacing lies with truth. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."

Sanctification requires revelation. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. To become like Jesus, we must fill our lives with his Word. The Bible says, "Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us."

God's Word is unlike any other word. It is alive. Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." When God speaks, things change. Everything around you-all of creation-exists because "God said it.' He spoke it all into existence. Without God's Word you would not even be alive. James points out, "God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things he made."

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.

The Bible is far more than a doctrinal guidebook. God's Word generates life, creates faith, produces change, frightens the Devil, causes miracles, heals hurts, builds character, transforms circumstances, imparts joy, overcomes adversity, defeats temptation, infuses hope, releases power, cleanses our minds, brings things into being, and guarantees our future forever! We cannot live without the Word of God! Never take it for granted. You should consider it as essential to your life as food. Job said, "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread."

God's Word is the spiritual nourishment you must have to fulfill your purpose. The Bible is called our milk, bread, solid food, and sweet dessert.' This four-course meal is the Spirit's menu for spiritual strength and growth. Peter advises us, "Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation."

ABIDING IN GOD'S WORD

There are more Bibles in print today than ever before, but a Bible on the shelf is worthless. Millions of believers are plagued with spiritual anorexia, starving to death from spiritual malnutrition. To be a healthy disciple of Jesus, feeding on God's Word must be your first priority. Jesus called it "abiding." He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." In day-to-day living, abiding in God's Word includes three activities.

I must accept its authority.

The Bible must become the authoritative standard for my life: the compass I rely on for direction, the counsel I listen to for making wise decisions, and the benchmark I use for evaluating everything. The Bible must always have the first and last word in my life.

Many of our troubles occur because we base our choices on unreliable authorities: culture ("everyone is doing it"), tradition ("we've always done it"), reason ("it seemed logical"), or emotion ("it just felt right"). All four of these are flawed by the Fall. What we need is a perfect standard that will never lead us in the wrong direction. Only God's Word meets that need. Solomon reminds us, "Every word of God is flawless, "10 and Paul explains, "Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live."

In the early years of his ministry, Billy Graham went through a time when he struggled with doubts about the accuracy and authority of the Bible. One moonlit night he dropped to his knees in tears and told God that, in spite of confusing passages he didn't understand, from that point on he would completely trust the Bible as the sole authority for his life and ministry. From that day forward, Billy's life was blessed with unusual power and effectiveness.

The most important decision you can make today is to settle this issue of what will be the ultimate authority for your life. Decide that regardless of culture, tradition, reason, or emotion, you choose the Bible as your final authority. Determine to first ask, "What does the Bible say?" when making decisions. Resolve that when God says to do something, you will trust God's Word

and do it whether or not it makes sense or you feel like doing it. Adopt Paul's statement as your personal affirmation of faith: "I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets."

I must assimilate its truth.

It is not enough just to believe the Bible; I must fill my mind with it so that the Holy Spirit can transform me with the truth. There are five ways to do this: You can receive it, read it, research it, remember it, and reflect on it.

Many who claim to believe the Bible from "cover to cover" have never read it from cover to cover.

First, you receive God's Word when you listen and accept it with an open, receptive attitude. The parable of the sower illustrates how our receptiveness determines whether or not God's Word takes root in our lives and bears fruit. Jesus identified three unreceptive attitudes-a closed mind (hard soil), a superficial mind (shallow soil), and a distracted mind (soil with weeds)-and then he said, "Consider carefully how you listen."

Anytime you feel you are not learning anything from a sermon or a Bible teacher, you should check your attitude, especially for pride, because God can speak through even the most boring teacher when you are humble and receptive. James advises, "In a humble (gentle, modest) spirit, receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted in your hearts contains the power to save your souls."

Second, for most of the 2,000-year history of the church, only priests got to personally read the Bible, but now billions of us have access to it. In spite of this, many believers are more faithful to reading their daily newspaper than their Bibles. It's no wonder we don't grow. We can't watch television for three hours, then read the Bible for three minutes and expect to grow.

Many who claim to believe the Bible "from cover to cover" have never read it from cover to cover. But if you will read the Bible just fifteen minutes a day, you will read completely through it once a year. If you cut out one thirty-minute television program a day and read your Bible instead, you will read through the entire Bible twice a year.

Daily Bible reading will keep you in range of God's voice. This is why God instructed the kings of Israel to always keep a copy of his Word nearby: "He should keep it with him all the time and read from it every day of his life." But don't just keep it near you; read it regularly! A simple tool that is helpful for this is a daily Bible reading plan. It will prevent you from just skipping around the Bible arbitrarily and overlooking sections. 

Third, researching, or studying, the Bible is another practical way to abide in the Word. The difference between reading and studying the Bible involves two additional activities: asking questions of the text and writing down your insights. You haven't really studied the Bible unless you've written your thoughts down on paper or computer.

Space does not allow me to explain the different methods of Bible study. Several helpful books on Bible study methods are available, including one I wrote over twenty years ago. The secret of good Bible study is simply learning to ask the right questions. Different methods use different questions. You will discover far more if you pause and ask such simple questions as who? what? when? where? why? and how? The Bible says, "Truly happy people are those who carefully study God's perfect law that makes people free, and they continue to study it. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God's teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy."

The fourth way to abide in God's Word is by remembering it. Your capacity to remember is a God-given gift. You may think you have a poor memory, but the truth is, you have millions of ideas, truths, facts, and figures memorized. You remember what is important to you. If God's Word is important, you will take the time to remember it.

There are enormous benefits to memorizing Bible verses. It will help you resist temptation, make wise decisions, reduce stress, build confidence, offer good advice, and share your faith with others.'

Your memory is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will become, and memorizing Scripture will become easier. You might begin by selecting a few Bible verses out of this book that have touched you and writing them down on a small card you can carry with you. Then review them aloud throughout your day. You can memorize Scripture anywhere: while working or exercising or driving or waiting or at bedtime. The three keys to memorizing Scripture are review, review, and review! The Bible says, "Remember what Christ taught and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise."

The fifth way to abide in God's Word is to reflect on it, which the Bible calls "meditation." For many, the idea of meditating conjures up images of putting your mind in neutral and letting it wander. This is the exact opposite of biblical meditation. Meditation is focused thinking. It takes serious effort. You select a verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind.

If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. Worry is focused thinking on something negative. Meditation is doing the same thing, only focusing on God's Word instead of your problem.

No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture. As we take the time to contemplate God's truth, seriously reflecting on the example of Christ, we are "transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory."

If you look up all the times God speaks about meditation in the Bible, you will be amazed at the benefits he has promised to those who take the time to reflect on his Word throughout the day. One of the reasons God called David "a man after my own heart" is that David loved to reflect on God's Word. He said, "How I love your teachings! I think about them all day long." Serious reflection on God's truth is a key to answered prayer and the secret to successful living.

I must apply its principles.

Receiving, reading, researching, remembering, and reflecting on the Word are all useless if we fail to put them into practice. We must become "doers of the word." This is the hardest step of all, because Satan fights it so intensely. He doesn't mind you going to Bible studies as long as you don't do anything with what you learn. We fool ourselves when we assume that just because we have heard or read or studied a truth, we have internalized it. Actually, you can be so busy going to the next class or seminar or Bible conference that you have no time to implement what you've learned. You forget it on the way to your next study. Without implementation, all our Bible studies are worthless. Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these words Of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

Jesus also pointed out that God's blessing comes from obeying the truth, not just knowing it. He said, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

The truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable!

Another reason we avoid personal application is that it can be difficult or even painful. The truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable! God's Word exposes our motives, points out our faults, rebukes our sin, and expects us to change. It's human nature to resist change, so applying God's Word is hard work. This is why it is so important to discuss your personal applications with other people.

I cannot overstate the value of being a part of a small Bible study discussion group. We always learn from others truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God's truth in a practical way.

The best way to become a "doer of the Word" is to always write out an action step as a result of your reading or studying or reflecting on God's Word. Develop the habit of writing down exactly what you intend to do. This action step should be personal (involving you), practical (something you can do), and provable (with a deadline to do it). Every application will involve either your relationship to God, your relationship to others, or your personal character. Spend some time thinking about this question: What has God already told you to do in his Word that you haven't started doing yet? Then write down a few action statements that will help you act on what you know. You might tell a friend who can hold you accountable. As D. L. Moody said, "The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives."

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: The truth transforms me.

Verse to Remember: "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (KJV)

hat has God already told me in his Word that I haven't started doing yet?

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25. Transformed by trouble

Tony Robbins - The Power To Influence - Tony Robbins Full Audiobooks

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ25

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (N l v)

It is the fire of suffering that brings forth the gold of godliness.

Madame Guyon

God has a purpose behind every problem.

He uses circumstances to develop our character. In fact, he depends more on circumstances to make us like Jesus than he depends on our reading the Bible. The reason is obvious: You face circumstances twenty-four hours a day.

Jesus warned us that we would have problems in the world.' No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. Life is a series of problems. Every time you solve one, another is waiting to take its place. Not all of them are big, but all are significant in God's growth process for you. Peter assures us that problems are normal, saying, "Don't be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you."

God uses problems to draw you closer to himself. The Bible says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit." Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days-when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you're out of options, when the pain is great-and you turn to God alone. It is during suffering that we learn to pray our most authentic, heartfelt, honest-to-God prayers.

When we're in pain, we don't have the energy for superficial prayers.

Joni Eareckson Tada notes, "When life is rosy, we may slide by with knowing about Jesus, with imitating him and quoting him and speaking of him. But only in suffering will we know Jesus." We learn things about God in suffering that we can't learn any other way.

God could have kept Joseph out of jail, kept Daniel out of the lion's den, kept Jeremiah from being tossed into a slimy pit, kept Paul from being shipwrecked three times, and kept the three Hebrew young men from being thrown into the blazing furnace-but he didn't. He let those problems happen, and every one of those persons was drawn closer to God as a result.

Problems force us to look to God and depend on him instead of ourselves. Paul testified to this benefit: "We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us." You'll never know that God is all you need until God is all you've got.

Regardless of the cause, none of your problems could happen without God's permission. Everything that happens to a child of God is Father filtered, and he intends to use it for good even when Satan and others mean it for bad.

Because God is sovereignly in control, accidents are just incidents in God's good plan for you. Because every day of your life was written on God's calendar before you were born, everything that happens to you has spiritual significance. Everything! Romans 8:28-29 explains why: "We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son."

UNDERSTANDING ROMANS 8:28-29

This is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood passages in the Bible. It doesn't say, "God causes everything to work out the way I want it to." Obviously that's not true. It also doesn't say, "God causes everything to work out to have a happy ending on earth." That is not true either. There are many unhappy endings on earth.

We live in a fallen world. Only in heaven is everything done perfectly the way God intends. That is why we are told to pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." To fully understand Romans 8:28-29 you must consider it phrase by phrase.

"We know": Our hope in difficult times is not based on positive thinking, wishful thinking, or natural optimism. It is a certainty based on the truths that God is in complete control of our universe and that he loves us.

"that God causes": There's a Grand Designer behind everything. Your life is not a result of random chance, fate, or luck. There is a master plan. History is His story. God is pulling the strings. We make mistakes, but God never does. God cannot make a mistake-because he is God.

"everything": God's plan for your life involves all that happens to you-including your mistakes, your sins, and your hurts. It includes illness, debt, disasters, divorce, and death of loved ones. God can bring good out of the worst evil. He did at Calvary.

Everything that happens to you has spiritual significance.

"to work together": Not separately or independently. The events in your life work together in God's plan. They are not isolated acts, but interdependent parts of the process to make you like Christ. To bake a cake you must use flour, salt, raw eggs, sugar, and oil. Eaten individually, each is pretty distasteful or even bitter. But bake them together and they become delicious. If you will give God all your distasteful, unpleasant experiences, he will blend them together for good.

"for the good": This does not say that everything in life is good. Much of what happens in our world is evil and bad, but God specializes in bringing good out of it. In the official family tree of Jesus Christ, four women are listed: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Tamar seduced her father-in-law to get pregnant. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was not even Jewish and broke the law by marrying a Jewish man. Bathsheba committed adultery with David, which resulted in her husband's murder. These were not exactly sterling reputations, but God brought good out of bad, and Jesus came through their lineage. God's purpose is greater than our problems, our pain, and even our sin.

"of those who love God and are called": This promise is only for God's children. It is not for everyone. All things work for bad for those living in opposition to God and insist on having their own way.

"according to his purpose": What is that purpose? It is that we "become like his Son." Everything God allows to happen in your life is permitted for that purpose!

Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days.

BUILDING CHRISTLIKE CHARACTER

We are like jewels, shaped with the hammer and chisel of adversity. If a jeweler's hammer isn't strong enough to chip off our rough edges, God will use a sledgehammer. If we're really stubborn, he uses a jackhammer. He will use whatever it takes.

Every problem is a character-building opportunity, and the more difficult it is, the greater the potential for building spiritual muscle and moral fiber. Paul said, "We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character." What happens outwardly in your life is not as important as what happens inside you. Your circumstances are temporary, but your character will last forever.

The Bible often compares trials to a metal refiner's fire that burns away the impurities. Peter said, "These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold." A silversmith was asked, "How do you know when the silver is pure?" He replied, "When I see my reflection in it." When you've been refined by trials, people can see Jesus' reflection in you. James said, "Under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors."

Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. That includes loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other problems. The Bible says Jesus "learned obedience through suffering" and "was made perfect through suffering." Why would God exempt us from what he allowed his own Son to experience? Paul said, "We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!"

RESPONDING TO PROBLEMS AS JESUS WOULD

Problems don't automatically produce what God intends. Many people become bitter, rather than better, and never grow up. You have to respond the way Jesus would.

Remember that God's plan is good.

God knows what is best for you and has your best interests at heart. God told Jeremiah, "The plans I have for you fare] plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Joseph understood this truth when he told his brothers who had sold him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Hezekiah echoed the same sentiment about his life-threatening illness: "It was for my own good that I had such hard times. Whenever God says no to your request for relief, remember, "God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best.'

What happens outwardly in your life is not as important as what happens inside you.

It is vital that you stay focused on God's plan, not your pain or problem. That is how Jesus endured the pain of the cross, and we are urged to follow his example: "Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards." Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi death camp, explained the power of focus: "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you'll be at rest!" Your focus will determine your feelings. The secret of endurance is to remember that your pain is temporary but your reward will be eternal. Moses endured a life of problems "because he was looking ahead to his reward." Paul endured hardship the same way. He said, "Our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!"

Don't give in to short-term thinking. Stay focused on the end result: "If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later."

Rejoice and give thanks.

The Bible tells us to `give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. " How is this possible? Notice that God tells us to give thanks "in all circumstances" not "for all circumstances." God doesn't expect you to be thankful for evil, for sin, for suffering, or for their painful consequences in the world. Instead, God wants you to thank him that he will use your problems to fulfill his purposes.

The Bible says, "Rejoice in the Lord always." It doesn't say, "Rejoice over your pain." That's masochism. You rejoice "in the Lord." No matter what's happening, you can rejoice in God's love, care, wisdom, power, and faithfulness. Jesus said, `Be full of joy at that time, because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven."

We can also rejoice in knowing that God is going through the pain with us. We do not serve a distant and detached God who spouts encouraging cliches safely from the sideline. Instead, he enters into our suffering. Jesus did it in the Incarnation, and his Spirit does it in us now. God will never leave us on our own.

Refuse to give up

. Be patient and persistent. The Bible says, "Let the process go on until your endurance is fully developed, and you will find that you have become men of mature character ... with no weak spots.'

Character building is a slow process. Whenever we try to avoid or escape the difficulties in life, we short-circuit the process, delay our growth, and actually end up with a worse kind of pain-the worthless type that accompanies denial and avoidance. When you grasp the eternal consequences of your character development, you'll pray fewer "Comfort me' prayers ("Help me feel good") and more "Conform me" prayers ("Use this to make me more like you").

You know you are maturing when you begin to see the hand of God in the random, baffling, and seemingly pointless circumstances of life.

If you are facing trouble right now, don't ask, "Why me?" Instead ask, "What do you want me to learn?" Then trust God and keep on doing what's right. "You need to stick it out, staying with God's plan so you'll be there for the promised completion." Don't give up-grow up!

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: There is a purpose behind every problem.

Verse to Remember: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Question to Consider: What problem in my life has caused the greatest growth in me?

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26. Growing through temptation

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ26

Happy is the man who doesn't give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get as his reward the crown of life that God has promised those who love him.

James 1:12 (LB)

My temptations have been my masters in divinity.

Martin Luther

Every temptation is an opportunity to do good.

On the path to spiritual maturity, even temptation becomes a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block when you realize that it is just as much an occasion to do the right thing as it is to do the wrong thing. Temptation simply provides the choice. While temptation is Satan's primary weapon to destroy you, God wants to use it to develop you. Every time you choose to do good instead of sin, you are growing in the character of Christ.

To understand this, you must first identify the character qualities of Jesus. One of the most concise descriptions of his character is the fruit of the Spirit: "When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.".

These nine qualities are an expansion of the Great Commandment and portray a beautiful description of Jesus Christ. Jesus is perfect love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other fruit embodied in a single person. To have the fruit of the Spirit is to be like Christ.

How, then, does the Holy Spirit produce these nine fruit in your life? Does he create them instantly? Will you wake up one day and be suddenly filled with these characteristics fully developed? No. Fruit always matures and ripens slowly.

This next sentence is one of the most important spiritual truths you will ever learn: God develops the fruit of the Spirit in your life by allowing you to experience circumstances in which you're tempted to express the exact opposite quality! Character development always involves a choice, and temptation provides that opportunity.

For instance, God teaches us love by putting some unlovely people around us. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving to you. God teaches us real joy in the midst of sorrow, when we turn to him. Happiness depends on external circumstances, but joy is based on your relationship to God.

God develops real peace within us, not by making things go the way we planned, but by allowing times of chaos and confusion. Anyone can be peaceful watching a beautiful sunset or relaxing on vacation. We learn real peace by choosing to trust God in circumstances in which we are tempted to worry or be afraid. Likewise, patience is developed in circumstances in which we're forced to wait and are tempted to be angry or have a short fuse.

God uses the opposite situation of each fruit to allow us a choice. You can't claim to be good if you've never been tempted to be bad. You can't claim to be faithful if you've never had the opportunity to be unfaithful. Integrity is built by defeating the temptation to be dishonest; humility frows when we  refuse to be prideful; and endurance develops every time you reject the temptation to give up. Every time you defeat a temptation, you become more like a Jesus! 

HOW TEMPTATION WORKS

It helps to know that Satan is entirely predictable. He has used the same strategy and old tricks since Creation. All temptations follow the same the pattern. That's why Paul said, "We are very familiar with his evil schemes." From the Bible we learn that temptation follows a four-step process, which Satan used both on Adam and Eve and on Jesus.

In step one, Satan identifies a desire inside of you. It may be a sinful desire, like the desire to get revenge or to control others, or it may be a legitimate, normal desire, like the desire to be loved and valued or to feel pleasure. Temptation starts when Satan suggests (with a thought) that you give in to an evil desire, or that you fulfill a legitimate desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. Always beware of shortcuts. They are often temptations! Satan whispers, "You deserve it! You should have it now! It will be exciting ... comforting ... or make you feel better."

We think temptation lies around us, but God says it begins within us. If you didn't have the internal desire, the temptation could not attract you. Temptation always starts in your mind, not in circumstances. Jesus said, "For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within." James tells us that there is "a whole army of evil desires within you."

God develops the fruit of the Spirit by allowing you to experience circumstances in which you're tempted to express the exact opposite quality!

Step two is doubt. Satan tries to get you to doubt what God has said about the sin: Is it really wrong? Did God really say not to do it? Didn't God mean this prohibition for someone else or some other time? Doesn't God want me to be happy? The Bible warns, "Watch out! Don't let evil thoughts or doubts make any of you turn from the living God."

Step three is deception. Satan is incapable of telling the truth and is called "the Father of lies." Anything he tells you will be untrue or just half-true. Satan offers his lie to replace what God has already said in his Word. Satan says, "You will not die. You'll be wiser like God. You can get away with it. No one will ever know. It will solve your problem. Besides, everyone else is doing it. It is only a little sin." But a little sin is like being a little pregnant: It will eventually show itself.

We think temptation lies around us, but God says it begins within us.

Step four is disobedience. You finally act on the thought you've been toying with in your mind. What began as an idea gets birthed into behavior. You give in to whatever got your attention. You believe Satan's lies and fall into the trap that James warns about: "We are tempted when we are drawn away and trapped by our own evil desires. Then our evil desires conceive and give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my dear friends!"

OVERCOMING TEMPTATION

Understanding how temptation works is in itself helpful, but there are specific steps you need to take to overcome it.

Refuse to be intimidated.

Many Christians are frightened and demoralized by tempting thoughts, feeling guilty that they aren't "beyond" temptation. They feel ashamed just for being tempted. This is a misunderstanding of maturity. You will never outgrow temptation.

In one sense you can consider temptation a compliment. Satan does not have to tempt those who are already doing his evil will; they are already his. Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness. It is also a normal part of being human and living in a fallen world. Don't be surprised or shocked or discouraged by it. Be realistic about the inevitability of temptation; you will never be able to avoid it completely. The Bible says, "When you're tempted, . . . " not if. Paul advises, "Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience."

It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted, yet he never sinned. Temptation only becomes a sin when you give in to it. Martin Luther said, "You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair." You can't keep the Devil from suggesting thoughts, but you can choose not to dwell or act on them.

For example, many people don't know the difference between physical attraction or sexual arousal, and lust. They are not the same. God made every one of us a sexual being, and that is good. Attraction and arousal are the natural, spontaneous, God-given responses to physical beauty, while lust is a deliberate act of the will. Lust is a choice to commit in your mind what you'd like to do with your body. You can be attracted or even aroused without choosing to sin by lusting. Many people, especially Christian men, feel guilty that their God-given hormones are working. When they automatically notice an attractive woman, they assume it is lust and feel ashamed and condemned. But attraction is not lust until you begin to dwell on it.

Actually, the closer you grow to God, the more Satan will try to tempt you. The moment you became God's child, Satan, like a mobster hit man, put out a "contract" on you. You are his enemy, and he's plotting your downfall.

Sometimes while you are praying, Satan will suggest a bizarre or evil thought just to distract you and shame you. Don't be alarmed or ashamed by this, but realize that Satan fears your prayers and will try anything to stop them. Instead of condemning yourself with "How could I think such a thought?" treat it as a distraction from Satan and immediately refocus on God.

Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness.

Recognize your pattern of temptation and be prepared for it.

There are certain situations that make you more vulnerable to temptation than others. Some circumstances will cause you to stumble almost immediately, while others don't bother you much. These situations are unique to your weaknesses, and you need to identify them because Satan surely knows them! He knows exactly what trips you up, and he is constantly working to get you into those circumstances. Peter warns, "Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping."

Ask yourself, "When am I most tempted? What day of the week? What time of day?" Ask, "Where am I most tempted? At work? At home? At a neighbor's house? At a sports bar? In an airport or motel out of town?"

Ask, "Who is with me when I'm most tempted? Friends? Coworkers? A crowd of strangers? When I'm alone?" Also ask, "How do I usually feel when I am most tempted?" It may be when you are tired or lonely or bored or depressed or under stress. It may be when you've been hurt or angry or worried, or after a big success or spiritual high.

You should identify your typical pattern of temptation and then prepare to avoid those situations as much as possible. The Bible tells us repeatedly to anticipate and be ready to face temptation." Paul said, "Don't give the Devil a chance." Wise planning reduces temptation. Follow the advice of Proverbs: "Plan carefully what you do.... Avoid evil and walk straight ahead. Don't go one step off the right way."' "God's people avoid evil ways, and they protect themselves by watching where they go."

Request God's help.

Heaven has a twenty-four-hour emergency hot line. God wants you to ask him for assistance in overcoming temptation. He says, "Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me."

I call this a "microwave" prayer because it is quick and to the point: Help! SOS! Mayday! When temptation strikes, you don't have time for a long conversation with God; you simply cry out. David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and millions of others have prayed this kind of instant prayer for help in trouble.

The Bible guarantees that our cry for help will be heard because Jesus is sympathetic to our struggle. He faced the same temptations we do. He "understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin."

If God is waiting to help us defeat temptation, why don't we turn to him more often? Honestly, sometimes we don't want to be helped! We want to give in to temptation even though we know it's wrong. At that moment we think we know what's best for us more than God does.

At other times we're embarrassed to ask God for help because we keep giving in to the same temptation over and over. But God never gets irritated, bored, or impatient when we keep coming back to him. The Bible says, "Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it."

God's love is everlasting, and his patience endures forever. If you have to cry out for God's help two hundred times a day to defeat a particular temptation, he will still be eager to give mercy and grace, so come boldly. Ask him for the power to do the right thing and then expect him to provide it.

Temptations keep us dependent upon God. Just as the roots grow stronger when wind blows against a tree, so every time you stand up to a temptation you become more like Jesus. When you stumble-which you will-it is not fatal. Instead of giving in or giving up, look up to God, expect him to help you, and remember the reward that is waiting for you: 'When people are tempted and still continue strong, they should be happy. After then have proved their faith, God will reward them with life forever:'

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: Every temptation is an opportunity to do good.

Verse to Remember: "God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward then will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." James L 12 (NIT)

Question to Consider: What Christlike character quality can I develop by defeating the most common temptation I face?

Interruptions are nothing new. Rarely does a day go by as planned. Life is filled with inconveniences. Our plans are constantly thwarted by forces beyond our control. The list is long and ever-changing: Sickness. Conflict. Traffic jams. Forgetfulness. Appliance malfunctions. Rudeness. Laziness. Impatience. Incompetence.

What we cannot see, however, is the other side of inconvenience. We think it has no purpose other than to discourage us, make life more difficult, and thwart our plans. However, inconvenience could be God’s way of protecting us from some unseen danger, or it could be an opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace and forgiveness. It might be the start of something even better than we had planned. Or it could be a test to see how we respond to adversity. Whatever it is, even though we may not know God’s reason, we can be assured of His motive—to make us more like Jesus and to further His kingdom on earth.

To say that God’s followers throughout history have been “inconvenienced” would be an understatement. But God had a purpose. Knowing this, we can thank Him, being confident that He is giving us an opportunity to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16,20).

Lord, so often it’s the little things in life that get to me, and there seem to be so many of them. Whenever I’m tempted to lose my temper, blame someone, or just give up, help me see You.What happens to us is not nearly as important as what God does in us and through us. Insight In today’s passage, after exhorting the believers to “be very careful” (niv) in how they live and to be skillful in handling life (v.15), Paul went deeper by asking them to look at their lives and ask: Who or what is in control of my life and dictates how I live? Instead of allowing wine (or anything else) to control one’s mind and actions, believers are to let the Holy Spirit continually fill them so that He governs how they live (v.18; Prov. 20:1; 23:21,29-35). A life under the Spirit’s control is characterized by joy, gratitude, and the fear of the Lord (Eph. 5:19-20).
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27. Defeating Temptation

JUDAISM

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ27

Run from anything that gives you the evil thoughts ... but stay close to anything that makes you want to do right.

2 Timothy' 2:22 (LB)

Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

There is always a way out.

You may sometimes feel that a temptation is too overpowering for you to bear, but that's a lie from Satan. God has promised never to allow more on you than lie puts within you to handle it. He will not permit any temptation that you could not overcome. However, you must do your part too by practicing four biblical keys to defeating temptation.

The battle for sin is won or lost in your mind. Whatever gets your attention will get you. Refocus your attention on something else.

It may surprise you that nowhere in the Bible are we told to "resist temptation." We are told to "resist the devil,' I but that is very different, as I'll explain later. Instead, we are advised to refocus our attention because resisting a thought doesn't

work. It only intensifies our focus on the wrong thing and strengthens its allure. Let me explain:

Every time you try to block a thought out of your mind, you drive it deeper into your memory. By resisting it, you actually reinforce it. This is especially true with temptation. You don't defeat temptation by fighting the feeling of it. The more you fight a feeling, the more it consumes and controls you. You strengthen it every time you think it.

Since temptation always begins with a thought, the quickest way to neutralize its allure is to turn your attention to something else. Don't fight the thought, just change the channel of your mind and get interested in another idea. This is the first step in defeating temptation.

The battle for sin is won or lost in your mind. Whatever gets your attention will get you. That's why job said, "I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman." And David prayed, "Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless."

Have you ever watched a food advertisement on television and suddenly felt you were hungry? Have you ever heard someone cough and immediately felt the need to clear your throat? Ever watched someone release a big yawn and felt the urge to yawn yourself? (You may be yawning right now as you read this!) That is the power of suggestion. We naturally move toward whatever we focus our attention on. The more you think about something, the stronger it takes hold of you.

That is why repeating "I must stop eating too much ... or stop smoking ... or stop lusting" is a self-defeating strategy. It keeps you focused on what you don't want. It's like announcing, "I'm never going to do what my mom did." You are setting yourself up to repeat it.

Most diets don't work because they keep you thinking about food all the time, guaranteeing that you'll be hungry. In the same way, a speaker who keeps repeating to herself, "Don't be nervous!" sets herself up to be nervous! Instead she should focus on anything except her feelings-on God, on the importance of her speech, or on the needs of those listening.

Temptation begins by capturing your attention. What gets your attention arouses your emotions. Then your emotions activate your behavior, and you act on what you felt. The more you focus on "I don't want to do this," the stronger it draws you into its web.

Ignoring a temptation is far more effective than fighting it. Once your mind is on something else, the temptation loses its power. So when temptation calls you on the phone, don't argue with it, just hang up!

Sometimes this means physically leaving a tempting situation. This is one time it is okay to run away. Get up and turn off the television set. Walk away from a group that is gossiping. Leave the theater in the middle of the movie. To avoid being stung, stay away from the bees. Do whatever is necessary to turn your attention to something else.

Spiritually, your mind is your most vulnerable organ. To reduce temptation, keep your mind occupied with God's Word and other good thoughts. You defeat bad thoughts by thinking of something better. This is the principle of replacement. You overcome evil with good. Satan can't get your attention when your mind is preoccupied with something else. That's why the Bible repeatedly tells us to keep our minds focused: "Fix your thoughts on Jesus." "Always think about Jesus Christ."

"Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable."

If you're serious about defeating temptation you must manage your mind and monitor your media intake. The wisest man who ever lived warned, `Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts." Don't allow trash into your mind indiscriminately. Be selective. Choose carefully what you think about. Follow Paul's model: "We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ." This takes a lifetime of practice, but with the help of the Holy Spirit you can reprogram the way you think.

Reveal your struggle to a godly friend or support group. You don't have to broadcast it to the whole world, but you need at least one person you can honestly share your struggles with. The Bible says, "You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone.... If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble."

Let me be clear: If you're losing the battle against a persistent bad habit, an addiction, or a temptation, and you're stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, you will not get better on your own! You need the help of other people. Some temptations are only overcome with the help of a partner who prays for you, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

God's plan for your growth and freedom includes other Christians. Authentic, honest fellowship is the antidote to your lonely struggle against those sins that won't budge. God says it is the only way you're going to break free: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

Do you really want to be healed of that persistent temptation that keeps defeating you over and over? God's solution is plain:

Don't repress it; confess it! Don't conceal it; reveal it. Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing.

Hiding your hurt only intensifies it. Problems grow in the dark and become bigger and bigger, but when exposed to the light of truth, they shrink. You are only as sick as your secrets. So take off your mask, stop pretending you're perfect, and walk into freedom.

Satan wants you to think that your sin and temptation are unique so you must keep them a secret. The truth is, we're all in the same boat. We all fight the same temptations, and "all of us have sinned." Millions have felt what you're feeling and have faced the same struggles you're facing right now.

The reason we hide our faults is pride. We want others to think we have everything "under control." The truth is, whatever you can't talk about is already out of control in your life: problems with your finances, marriage, kids, thoughts, sexuality, secret habits, or anything else. If you could handle it on your own, you would have already done so. But you can't. Willpower and personal resolutions aren't enough.

Some problems are too ingrained, too habitual, and too big to solve on your own. You need a small group or an accountability Partner who will encourage you, support you, pray for you, love you unconditionally, and hold you accountable. Then you can do the same for them.

The truth is, whatever you can't talk about is already out of control in your life.

Whenever someone confides to me, "I've never told this to anyone until now," I get excited for that person because I know they are about to experience great relief and liberation. The pressure valve is going to be released, and for the first time they are going to see a glimmer of hope for their future. It always happens when we do what God tells us to do by admitting our struggles to a godly friend.

Let me ask you a tough question: What are you pretending isn't a problem in your life? What are you afraid to talk about? You're not going to solve it on your own. Yes, it is humbling to admit our weaknesses to others, but lack of humility is the very thing that is keeping you from getting better. The Bible says, "God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble. So humble yourselves before God."

Resist the Devil.

After we have humbled ourselves and submitted to God, we are then told to defy the Devil. The rest of James 4:7 says, "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.' We don't passively resign ourselves to his attacks. We are to fight back.

The New Testament often describes the Christian life as a spiritual battle against evil forces, using war terms such as fight, conquer, strive, and overcome. Christians are often compared to soldiers serving in enemy territory.

How can we resist the Devil? Paul tells us, "Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The first step is to accept God's salvation. You won't be able to say no to the Devil unless you've said yes to Christ. Without Christ we are defenseless against the Devil, but with "the helmet of salvation" our minds are protected by God. Remember this: If you are a believer, Satan cannot force you to do anything. He can only suggest.

Second, you must use the Word of God as your weapon against Satan. Jesus modeled this when he was tempted in the wilderness. Every time Satan suggested a temptation, Jesus countered by quoting Scripture. He didn't argue with Satan. He didn't say, "I'm not hungry," when tempted to use his power to meet a personal need. He simply quoted Scripture from memory. We must do the same. There is power in God's Word, and Satan fears it.

Don't ever try to argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice. You can't bluff Satan with logic or your opinion, but you can use the weapon that makes him tremble-the truth of God. This is why memorizing Scripture is absolutely essential to defeating temptation. You have quick access to it whenever you're tempted. Like Jesus, you have the truth stored in your heart, ready to be remembered.

If you don't have any Bible verses memorized, you've got no bullets in your gun! I challenge you to memorize one verse a week for the rest of your life. Imagine how much stronger you'll be.

Realize your vulnerability.

God warns us never to get cocky and overconfident; that is the recipe for disaster. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond Cure. That

means we are good at fooling ourselves. Given the right circumstances, any of us are capable of any sin. We must never let down our guard and think we're beyond temptation.

Don't carelessly place yourself in tempting situations. Avoid them. Remember that it is easier to stay out of temptation than to get out of it. The Bible says, "Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence. "

Don't ever try to argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice.

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: There is always a way out.

Verse to Remember: "God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it." 1 Corinthians 10:13b (NLT)

Question to Consider: Who could I ask to be a spiritual partner to help me defeat a persistent temptation by praying for me?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I once asked a counselor what the major issues were that brought people to him. Without hesitation he said, “The root of many problems is broken expectations; if not dealt with, they mature into anger and bitterness.”

In our best moments, it’s easy to expect that we will find ourselves in a good place surrounded by good people who like and affirm us. But life has a way of breaking those expectations. What then?

Stuck in jail and beset by fellow believers in Rome who didn’t like him (Phil. 1:15-16), Paul remained surprisingly upbeat. As he saw it, God had given him a new mission field. While under house arrest, he witnessed to the guards about Christ, which sent the gospel into Caesar’s house. And even though those opposing him were preaching the gospel from wrong motives, Christ was being preached, so Paul rejoiced (v.18).

Paul never expected to be in a great place or to be well liked. His only expectation was that “Christ will be magnified” through him (v.20). He wasn’t disappointed.

If our expectation is to make Christ visible to those around us regardless of where we are or who we are with, we will find those expectations met and even exceeded. Christ will be magnified.

Lord, forgive me for making my life all about what I expect and not about glorifying You regardless of my circumstances. May Your love, mercy, and justice be magnified through me today.Make it your only expectation to magnify Christ wherever you are and whoever you are with.

Insight

In this passage, Paul rejoiced that God used his imprisonment “for the furtherance of the gospel.” It gave him the rare opportunity to preach to “the whole palace guard, and to all the rest” (v.13). Encouraged by Paul’s example, many Roman Christians were emboldened to share the gospel without fear (v.14). Paul testified to the truth that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).
 
 

 

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28. It takes time

L `OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ28

Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (CEV)

I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.

Philippians. 1:6 (LB)

There are no shortcuts to maturity.

It takes years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christlike character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time.

When you try to ripen fruit quickly, it loses its flavor. In America, tomatoes are usually picked unripened so they won't bruise during shipping to the stores. Then, before they are sold, these green tomatoes are sprayed with CO2 gas to turn them red instantly. Gassed tomatoes are edible, but they are no match to the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato that is allowed to mature slowly.

While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how strong we grow. God views our lives from and for eternity, so he is never in a hurry.

Lane Adams once compared the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used in World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. First they would "soften up" an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a "beachhead" tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.

Adams drew this parallel: Before Christ invades our lives at conversion, he sometimes has to "soften us up" by allowing problems we can't handle. While some open their lives to Christ the first time he knocks on the door, most of us are resistant and defensive. Our pre-conversion experience is Jesus saying, `Behold I stand at the door and bomb!"

The moment you open yourself to Christ, God gets a "beachhead" in your life. You may think you have surrendered all your life to him, but the truth is, there is a lot to your life that you aren't even aware of. You can only give God as much of you as you understand at that moment. That's okay. Once Christ is given a beachhead, he begins the campaign to take over more and more territory until all of your life is completely his. There will be struggles and battles, but the outcome will never be in doubt. God has promised that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion."

Discipleship is the process of conforming to Christ. The Bible says, "We arrive at real maturity-that measure of development which is meant by `the fullness of Christ." Christlikeness is your eventual destination, but your journey will last a lifetime.

So far we have seen that this journey involves believing (through worship), belonging (through fellowship), and becoming (through discipleship). Every day God wants you to become a little more like him: "You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you."

Today we're obsessed with speed, but God is more interested in strength and stability than swiftness. We want the quick fix, the shortcut, the on-the-spot solution. We want a sermon, a seminar, or an experience that will instantly resolve all problems, remove all temptation, and release us from all growing pains. But real maturity is never the result of a single experience, no matter how powerful or moving. Growth is gradual. The Bible says, "Our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him."

WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?

Although God could instantly transform us, he has chosen to develop us slowly. Jesus is deliberate in developing his disciples. Just as God allowed the Israelites to take over the Promised Land "little by little", so they wouldn't be overwhelmed, he prefers to work in incremental steps in our lives.

Why does it take so long to change and grow up? There are several reasons.

We are slow learners.

We often have to relearn a lesson forty or fifty times to really get it. The problems keep recurring, and we think, "Not again! I've already learned that! "-but God knows better. The history of Israel illustrates how quickly we forget the lessons God teaches us and how soon we revert to our old patterns of behavior. We need repeated exposure.

There is no growth without change, no change without fear or loss, and no loss without pain.

We have a lot to unlearn.

Many people go to a counselor with a personal or relational problem that took years to develop and say, "I need you to fix me. I've got an hour." They naively expect a quick solution to a long-standing, deep-rooted difficulty. Since most of our problems-and all of our bad habits-didn't develop overnight, it's unrealistic to expect them to go away immediately. There is no pill, prayer, or principle that will instantly undo the damage of many years. It requires the hard work of removal and replacement. The Bible calls it "taking off the old self" and `putting on the new self. While you were given a brand new nature at the moment of conversion, you still have old habits, patterns, and practices that need to be removed and replaced.

We are afraid to humbly face the truth about ourselves. I have already pointed out that the truth will set us free but it often makes us miserable first. The fear of what we might discover if we honestly faced our character defects keeps us living in the prison of denial. Only as God is allowed to shine the light of his truth on our faults, failures, and hang-ups can we begin to work on them. This is why you cannot grow without a humble, teachable attitude.

Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss; and there is no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind: You must let go of old ways in order to experience the new. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because, like a worn out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar.

People often build their identity around their defects. We say, "It's just like me to be ..." and "It's just the way I am." The unconscious worry is that it I let go of my habit, my hurt, or my hang-up, who will I be? This fear can definitely slow down your growth.

Habits take time to develop.

Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can't claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind-you show kindness without even thinking about it. You can't claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest. A husband who is faithful to his wife most of the time is not faithful at all! Your habits define your character.

There is only one way to develop the habits of Christlike character: You must practice them-and that takes time! There are no instant habits. Paul urged Timothy, "Practice these things. Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress."

If you practice something over time, you get good at it. Repetition is the mother of character and skill. These character-building habits are often called "spiritual disciplines," and there are dozens of great books that can teach you how to do these.

DON'T GET IN A HURRY

As you grow to spiritual maturity, there are several ways to cooperate with God in the process.

Believe God is working in your life even when you don't feel it.

Spiritual growth is sometimes tedious work, one small step at a time. Expect gradual improvement. The Bible says, "Everything on earth has its own time and its own season." 8 There are seasons in your spiritual life, too. Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth (springtime) followed by a period of stabilizing and testing (fall and winter).

What about those problems, habits, and hurts you would like miraculously removed? It's fine to pray for a miracle, but don't be disappointed if the answer comes through a gradual change. Over time, a slow, steady stream of water will erode the hardest rock and turn giant boulders into pebbles. Over time, a little sprout can turn into a giant redwood tree towering 350 feet tall.

Keep a notebook or journal of lessons learned. This is not a diary of events, but a record of what you are learning. Write down the insights and life lessons God teaches you about him, about yourself, about life, relationships, and everything else. Record these so you can review and remember them and pass them on to the next generation. The reason we must relearn lessons is that we forget them. Reviewing your spiritual journal regularly can spare you a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. The Bible says, "It's crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we've heard so that we don't drift off."

Be patient with God and with yourself.

One of life's frustrations is that God's timetable is rarely the same as ours. We are often in a hurry when God isn't. You may feel frustrated with the seemingly slow progress you're making in life. Remember that God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time. He will use your entire lifetime to prepare you for your role in eternity.

The Bible is filled with examples of how God uses a long process to develop character, especially in leaders. He took eighty years to prepare Moses, including forty in the wilderness. For 14,600 days Moses kept waiting and wondering, "Is it time yet?" But God kept saying, "Not yet." Contrary to popular book titles, there are no Easy Steps to Maturity or Secrets of Instant Sainthood. When God wants to make a mushroom, he does it overnight, but when he wants to make a giant oak, he takes a hundred years. Great souls are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering. Be patient with the process. James advised, "Don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed."

Don't get discouraged.

When Habakkuk became depressed because he didn't think God was acting quickly enough, God had this to say: "These things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!" A delay is not a denial from God.

Remember how far you've come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. Years ago people wore a popular button with the letters PBPGINFWMY. It stood for "Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet." God isn't finished with you, either, so keep on moving forward. Even the snail reached the ark by persevering!

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: There are no shortcuts to maturity.

Verse to Remember: "God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again." Philippians 1:6 (NCV)

Question to Consider: In what area of my spiritual growth do I need to be more patient and persistent?

 
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