Monday, June 06, 2016

How to (not) grow: Don't take responsibility for the condition of your soil

Written by Matt Wooley

In the Parable of the Sower/Soils (Luke 8), Jesus describes some of the reasons people do or don’t receive the gospel, as well as what gets in the way of people growing in the gospel.

Here’s the lesson from the good soil: You won’t grow much if your soil isn’t in good shape

And good soil doesn’t just happen. It requires some attention. That's really the takeaway from the Parable of the Sower/Soils-- Jesus wants his listeners and followers to pay attention to the condition of their soil. Their souls. And even take personal responsibility for it.

To put it another way: You won't grow much if you don't pay attention to and take responsibility for the condition of your soil (soul)

Jesus says that our salvation is like being born again. We are brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, through faith in Christ. We are all "baby Christians" to start, and the Christian life is about growing up in the faith. Not just older, but more mature.

And, just like a baby growing into a mature adult, this doesn't "just happen."  

In most churches we're not only saved by grace, we're paralyzed by it... Grace is not opposed to effort; it's opposed to earning. 
- Dallas Willard

There are so many things we can do to encourage growth. We know these things. Good things. Things like studying God’s word, praying faithfully, personal and corporate worship, serving and loving others, and so on. 

These things will, hopefully, help us to see God more clearly and love Him more deeply.

These things will, hopefully, encourage our hearts to cling to God’s grace and surrender to his salvation. 

These things will, hopefully, always point us to the gospel and help us grow selflessly.

But one thing that's key to Christian maturity isn't just doing these things, it's taking personal responsibility for where your heart and soul is at with God and others.

8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.
15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
- Jesus (Luke 8)

Yes, there are things mature Christians do. 

And there are things mature Christians are.

But perhaps the most significant thing a mature Christian does is take responsibility for the condition of their own heart and soul and life-- their soil.  But this doesn't mean it's a solo project. Invite others into it. Ask others to help. Seek God's powerful presence in your life.  

But it's your soil to keep.  And you are God's to grow.

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to (not) grow: Love lesser things more than God

Written by Matt Wooley

In the Parable of the Sower/Soils (Luke 8), Jesus describes some of the reasons people do or don’t receive the gospel, as well as what gets in the way of people growing in the gospel.  For followers of Jesus, anything that gets in the way of spiritual maturity is worth looking at more closely!

We’ve already looked at the hard path and the rocky soil.  Here’s what the soil full of weeds teaches about how to *not* grow Let your heart love and trust lesser things more than God. 
“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Luke 8:14

I get worried when I trust something more than God. I get distracted when I love and desire something more than God. This is a real temptation for us as human creatures. And it takes a lifetime to love and trust God the most. But that is what He wants for us because this is what’s best for us.

God doesn’t say to trust no one.  God doesn’t say to love no one.  But if we love those things more than God, then our hearts will be drawn away from God in a way that hinders our spiritual maturity. 

In relation to worry, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

If someone looked at your calendar, your checkbook, maybe listened to your conversations, what would they say you love the most?

Too often in the Christian faith we take a posture of “try harder” when it comes to growth and maturity, but this is clearly a heart issue.  God can change our hearts if we let Him and ask Him. So ask him today. And tomorrow. And the next day.

If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened.  -John Piper, A Hunger for God

Monday, May 16, 2016

How to (not) grow: Expect the Christian life to be easy

Written by Matt Wooley

In the Parable of the Sower (or Soils), Jesus describes the different reasons people do or don’t receive the gospel, as well as what gets in the way of growing in the gospel. For followers of Jesus, anything that gets in the way of spiritual maturity is worth looking at more closely! 

We’ve already talked about the overall purpose of spiritual growth and the difference between growing and maturing.  And we’ve talked about the lesson from the first soil in the parable-- the hardened path-- which is: don’t ignore the spiritual battle

Another way to not grow, from the second soil, is to expect the Christian life to be easy
And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture…  …And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.  Luke 8:6,13 

That may seem like a weird barrier to spiritual maturity, but if we expect the Christian life to be easy… if we expect that by following Jesus that God will make everything in our lives good… then when that doesn't happen there will be an unavoidable and uncomfortable tension. 

That tension can shipwreck a person's faith. 

That tension forces us to answer the question-- usually again and again-- why am I following Jesus? Is it because I am loved? Because the gospel gives life and hope? Because it's true? 

Embracing the fact that following Jesus doesn’t make everything good or easy all the time, gives us permission to endure any “times of testing” and to do so with God. And this perseverance through the struggle is where God does some of his best work in us and matures us as followers of Jesus.

Sometimes other people just say it better. Here is James Bryan Smith: 
  Jesus never promises that our lives will be free of struggle. In fact, he said quite the opposite: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 KJV).
  We should expect to go through heartache and pain, suffering and loss, because they are part of what it means to be human, and they can be useful in our development. As James said, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
  I have grown much more through my trials than I have through my successes. I do not ask for trials… but I am learning to trust God in the midst of them.
-- James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God