Thursday, June 30, 2016

HOW DO YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY? (OR, THE PARABLE OF THE DUMB DONKEY)

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How do you get Christians to grow spiritually? It's a captivating question. But, more importantly is the concern: "How can you make them want to?"  It's a tough question, but this article contains a principle that should solve the situation

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HOW DO YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY?

(Or, the parable of the dumb donkey)


How to spiritually grow into a mature Christian is a fascinating subject, but also a puzzling one. For pastors, perhaps a better word is, frustration. 



"How can I get my congregation to read the Bible?"
"How can I motivate them to want to grow spiritually?"

Some say, “It’s simple. Just tell them to read the Bible so they can learn more about Jesus.” Well, if spiritual growth is as simple as telling them that, why don’t the many lethargic Christians who attend church every Sunday do it? Why are so many content to relax in their pews satisfied with their status quo, tell the pastor afterwards how good his sermon was, and for the rest of the week that’s the end of any spiritual endeavors? Why are they not taking steps on their own to progress spiritually?

There may be more than one reason; nevertheless, here’s what it boils down to. . . 
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink!

I continued to ponder the problem as I pulled a package of carrots from the fridge and plopped them on the counter next to my Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. Now, understand, I “hate” to juice because I have to take the machine apart afterwards and wash all the parts. Nevertheless, despite that I push ahead. Why? Because I have an incentive to do so ―the reward of the nutritional benefits, especially Vitamin A for my computer-weary eyes. The labor of washing up afterwards is worth it.

I grabbed up the first few carrots, dropped them into the chute, and listened as the machine whirled out all the pulp. The cup below filled with the orange elixir. Too bad spiritual maturity can’t be produced as easily, I thought.  Plop a Christian into the church chute like a carrot, and out comes a spiritually mature person. But getting the Christian to jump into the chute in the first place is the problem. I stared into space, thinking. Then . . .behold . . . I had a vision! Well, maybe not an honest-to-goodness vision. But for some crazy reason the following picture flashed across my mind:


Dumb donkey. I shook my head. He would never move forward or do anything if there were no carrot dangling in front of him. No reward, no incentive.

Hmmm. I wrinkled my brow and dropped more carrots in. Maybe I’m like that stupid donkey. I’d have no incentive to juice if I couldn’t visualize the benefits dangling in front of me on the end of the proverbial stick. Then, a question popped into my head―one I never thought of before.
  
Is all behavior―I mean all!― activated only when we can visualize a reward?

I fought against the idea, then suddenly stopped what I was doing. I raced to my computer and googled the question.


Sure enough. Psychologists confirmed it. All behavior―everything we do is motivated by an incentive toward a reward. So, I guess I had to admit I probably wouldn’t exercise if I weren’t assured of being rewarded with physical energy…lower blood pressure...and more mental alertness at the computer. Nor would I vacuum the dust in my house. Who knows how long I might not vacuum unless I visualized that donkey-stick dangling the reward of circumventing allergic sneezing. What a crazy world this would be if there were no incentives. Everyone would sit around unmotivated and do absolutely nothing.

Yep, I was now convinced. Humans, like that dumb donkey, will always need a carrot on the stick to motivate them to action. There must be an obvious reward to act as incentive.

I returned to the kitchen and finished juicing the rest of the carrots and guzzled down my luscious juice, picturing Vitamin A and antioxidants coursing through my blood stream. Then, with a sigh, I began taking the juicer apart. But, facing my chore, I felt elated. I had the answer to the dilemma of how to motivate spiritual growth.

How do carrots and donkeys apply to growing spiritually?
Plenty. If no one is going to do anything (physically, mentally, or spiritually), unless they have a reward dangling in front of them on that stick, they're not going to move. The solution to a pastor’s dilemma of how to motivate lethargic Christians is this: Use the donkey principal―provide an incentive. 
However . . . the incentive must be in the form of an immediate reward―not a pie-in-the-sky-after-life heavenly reward. That’s simply too far away to act as a motivator. It has to apply to the here and now, or else, like the donkey, the Christian simply won’t move forward. 

What are some specific incentives?
I compiled a list of 8 incentives one can dangle on a stick before a congregation that should motivate them to “want” to take steps toward spiritual growth. However, before I present them, I decided there was a necessary first step― something that should first be explained to members to open their eyes to the fact that there is actually more spiritual knowledge to be gained besides what they presently understand. A depth never dreamed possible. Some don't really realize this. When I discovered this back in Bible College, it shook me to the core. I became aware of it through a shocking confession of Paul’s.
Paul’s confession
In his writings, I discovered that approximately 27 years after his conversion, he made a shocking admission about his relationship with Christ. In the following, notice his use of the word “moreand the concept of moving forward, which I have capitalized:
 “I count everything as loss compared to the possession of growing progressively and more deeply & thoroughly acquainted with him―that I may know him even more (experientiallynot intellectually), and understand the remarkable wonders of his person more completely and of perceiving and recognizing and understanding him more fully and clearly. (Philippians 3:8-12)
Paul shockingly admits that after all those years of serving Christ and receiving revelation he has not spiritually plumbed the full depths of Christ yet. What? Yeah. He has come to realize he still needs to know and understand Christ betterwants to become more intimately acquainted with him…and acquire and gain a closer relationship and deeper knowledge of Him!

I gasped. You mean Paul hadn’t by that time? This is a man who saw the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road…was taught directly by him…preached a fervent gospel…and for Christ’s sake, suffered beatings, stonings, shipwreck, imprisonment and death. A man who probably received more inspiration than I would ever receive in my whole lifetime―and he was still seeking to know Christ more!

Now, up to that point at Bible College, the passion of my life and constant prayer was to know Christ and have an intimate relationship with him. I’d had wonderful experiences as result of prayer, so felt I already had a close relationship―actually thought it couldn’t get any better. But after reading Paul’s statement, I thought, Wow! With the passion Paul had and, after 27 years of already knowing Christ he still hadn’t attained all there was to know about Jesusnor did he feel he had the closest intimacy with him possible―the shocking realization for me was this. . .  “Well, if he hadn’t, neither had I!  

That was devastating; but it was also exciting because it opened up the possibility of a deeper spirituality, a depth in Christ I could progress further into.

Paul’s attempt to describe that depth
Paul remained convinced there was indeed more to ascertain and grow in―a depth he hadn’t fully plumbed yet. He called them "Christ's riches and treasures". But, how do you describe them when you haven’t fully experienced them yet? He did, with these 6 interesting adjectives:

Unsearchable     Incalculable

Boundless             Exhaustless
Endless                 Unfathomable (I'll focus on this one)

One might ask, “Why is he using such inexplicit words?” Perhaps we can discover why, by figuring out what unfathomable means? It is defined as “something deeper than what we think, and its great depth can never be comprehended.” I decided to focus on "unfathomable," and further discern what that word meant in his usage. I came up with some interpretive ideas.

"Blue Lake" (Wendover, Utah
Years ago I lived on the salt flats of Wendover, Utah. Out on the flats was a small lake we swam in. We assumed the part of the lake that was over our head might be about 10-15 feet deep. That is, until two men decided to take a boat out to the middle and measure its depth with a plumb line. They were shocked―their plumb line wasn’t long enough! They went out a second time with a longer line, and this time they measured 60 feet! No one, myself included, had any idea there was that kind of depth. There was more to our experience of the lake we were swimming in than we imagined. (Read this last sentence twice and see the Christian connection.)

Similarly, one can also picture the shock it must have been for sailors when the depth of the Mariana Trench was measured by oceanographers and discovered to be over 36,000 feet! Sailors up on the water’s surface never imagined that kind of depth was beneath them!

Mariana Trench
Similarly, Paul’s 6 descriptive words suggest there is more to our spiritual growth if we will lower our plumb line and dive into the unfathomable riches of Christ. He makes it plain that in spiritual growth we can discover more than we imagined!

Paul’s passion, for which he was willing to give his all, was to go spiritually deeper―deeper than my small Blue Lake’s 60 feet, or the Mariana Trench’s 33 thousand. We need to do the same―lower our spiritual plumb line into the “unfathomable” depths of Christ through a deeper study of the Word and consistent prayer. By so doing, one can move closer and closer to Christ and his “treasures.” Once a Christian understands there is a greater depth to be gained, they should be eager to dive in and discover everything they can.

But what, specifically, are those "treasures?" Well, they are “gifts” to us―but gifts that definitely invite further inquiry. 

Below is a list of 8 (although far more could be listed). By acknowledging these gifts, the believer can more easily move on to the later list that follows--the 8 rewards . . .the carrot(s) on the stick―the prize, as Paul said in Philip. 3:14: “I press toward the mark for the prize (or the carrot) of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Of course, he was looking forward to his heavenly reward―and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The below list of Christ's "treasures" (although there are plenty more that could be listed) should definitely make one want to reach out and move forward to grab the prize. Certainly, every lethargic Christian should sit up and take notice.
Christ’s treasures
  1. Every one of you were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and given salvation grace through Christ Jesus. You don’t have to earn salvation (although one shows their faith by their works. Eph. 2:8-9).
  2. You were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and given an additional “grace” through Christ Jesusunconditional love and acceptance. (Eph 1-2; 2 Tim. 1:9) Think how we respond to and love our pets because they give us unconditional love. Now we have God giving us far more of the same and we should love him as much as our pets, if not more.
  3. You are loved by God with an inseparable love, to the point that Rom. 8:38-39 says:
    "Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
  4. In accepting Christ, you now have “Christ’s Holy Spirit in you―actually, inside you!
  5. You are guaranteed resurrection as a “free gift,” and will be “transformed” with new bodies. (Phil 3:21)
  6. You are redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. (Eph 1:7; Rom. 6:23) Do you really comprehend that? Or, do you still stress over past mistakes? Lower your plumb line into that!
  7. All the promises of God are “yes” for you. (2 Cor. 1:20) Do you actually know what those promises are that you can rely on? have you gone through the Bible and made a list of them? Or, do you still think you are unworthy of claiming them? Lower your plumb line deeper.!
  8. In Christ Jesus all your needs will be supplied! (Phil 4:19). Do you really have faith in that? If not – dive in deeper.

#
The above should make Christians aware there’s more than what they have previously grasped, and be spurred on to explore more of the unfathomable depths of Christ and take the steps to grow spiritually. 

However, there may be some who take these gifts for granted, or who may still think that just knowing about the treasures is enough. But Paul tells us that we are to all come into theknowledge of the son of God…and the stature of the fullness of Christ”(Eph. 4:13). The word “knowledge means – to have full discernmenta knowledge which perfectly unites the subject with the object. 

Ask yourself: Has the knowledge and discernment of Christ you presently haveperfectly united you with him?


There still needs to be a carrot on the end of the stick―an incentive, a reward―something a Christian will benefit from in the here and now. Therefore . . . we mustn't forget the donkey principle

Below are the 8 benefits Christians will receive from plumbing the depths of Christ and moving forward to grow spiritually. They are the carrots on the end of the stick:
  1. A closer relationship and bonding with Christ. Remember those iron-on patches? When there was a tear in our sheets we bonded the patch onto the sheet with a hot iron. It was bonded SO tightly to the sheet, there was no way to pull it apart. Well, you can have that same kind of bonding and closeness with Christ.
    Through a closer relationship, you will experience more of the unfathomable riches and depths of Christ, and acquire more understanding of what it actually means to have Christ in you. It means, as you “worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness” (Ps. 96: 9-11), your relationship with Christ will be enhanced and enriched with a more immediate “connectedness with him.
  2. You will receive profound insights and deeper thinking as you study and reflect on biblical passages. You’ll find yourself with a deep thought, saying, “Wow” I never could have thought of that on my own―that had to be the Holy Spirit!”
  3. On occasion, you’ll receive special confirmations of Jesus’ love that will literally flood through your spirit. Often, you can feel it physically.
  4. As you lengthen your plumb line into the depths of Christ and grow spiritually, it also means he can communicate with you and use you more effectively in the work of the church and in blessing others.
  5. In your new-found relationship, you may or may not receive special visions, and you may or may not receive the ministration of angels. But in that respect, it’s important to remember that one should not seek Christ with the aim of receiving visions or angels. If you should receive them, they are just by-products of the relationship, and given according to God’s good pleasure.
  6. You will start hearing the still small voice of the Holy Spirit more noticeably.
  7. You'll find yourself guided by promptings of the Holy Spirit in your daily activities. Sometimes it may save your life . . .literally.
  8. You will become more like Christ in your thoughts, your Christian walk, your behavior, your attitudes, and you will respond more quickly to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
With the above rewards accruing in spiritual growth (and I could have listed more), all in all you will progressively experience the deep and unfathomable relationship with Christ that Paul so passionately sought, yet realized he still had a long way to go.

One pastor said:
“When I come to a subject as vast as the unfathomable riches of Christ, I am almost paralyzedIt makes me realize how little of these immeasurable riches of Christ that I experience personally, and it overwhelms me.”

Summary
  • Many pastors are at a loss how to motivate their congregation to grow spiritually.
  • All behavior can only be motivated by providing an incentive toward a reward
  • Like the donkey that won’t move unless he sees a carrot in front of him, lethargic Christians also need an incentive―a reward for doing so; but the reward(s) must be realized in the here and now, not when they get to heaven.
  • There is more spiritual knowledge to be gained besides what one presently knows.
  • Paul admitted this and confessed he had not yet plumbed the full depths of Christ’s treasures, and described the latter as unsearchable, boundless, endless, incalculable, exhaustless and unfathomable.
  • 8 treasure, or gifts, of Christ were listed
  • rewards were presented that should act as an incentive toward spiritual growth.
Do we consider everything as loss, as Paul said in Philippians 3:8-12, to experience the unfathomable depth of Christ and his treasures? Or is our plumb line too short because we don’t think there’s more depth to Christ than what we presently understand? When I was swimming around in that lake I had no idea there was that much depth to it. Same, for Christ’s gospel.

Whats an additional secret to spiritual growth

You must want it above all else!  

Since you now know about Christ's riches and treasures and the rewards dangling at the end of the stick, they should provide enough incentive to promote action toward the goal of spiritual growth. The blessings will be immeasurable!


Until next time,
Janis


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1 comment:

  1. I loved this article. May I know him a little better today than I did yesterday. I love you Jesus.

    ReplyDelete

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