The Process of Spiritual Growth

The following message is based on 1 Peter 2:1-10, on the subject of the importance of Bible study and prayer. It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on January 22, 2012.

Someone remarked at the last Church Council meeting that the daffodils on our grounds were beginning to pop up. What causes that? What determines that leaves should bud? Why do we have to trim our hedges from time to time? Each is an example of the mysterious process of growth. From a scientific standpoint, we know that photosynthesis is involved, sunlight and water being necessary for plants to grow. But God is the one who brings these things about. The same can be said for spiritual growth. How does this happen?

Today’s topic is based on the second point of our mission statement. We long to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer. This latter point is based upon Peter’s words in his first letter, chapter two, verse one: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” By Peter’s words, we are reminded that we are dependent upon God for spiritual nourishment and growth. He has provided the sustenance in His word, the Bible. As a result, He has provides the growth through His Holy Spirit.

THE BIBLE TRANSFORMS US.
What do we say about the Bible as a church? In our core values, we say that we are committed to honoring the written Word of God, the ultimate authority in our individual lives and in the life of Central Schwenkfelder Church. In our mission, we are called to love God. Jesus responded with a Bible study, of sorts, when asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:37-38). Part of loving God is loving His special revelation given to us in Holy Scriptures. And in our vision, we understand that Scripture and prayer are the means by which we develop spiritually.

At present, there are many opportunities to study the Scripture to facilitate your spiritual growth. There a host of small groups and Sunday School classes which are designed to do this. One in particular is the Bible for Life curriculum being studied downstairs in the Blue Lounge. I encourage you to check it out.

How does this spiritual growth take place? It is a mystery, but also natural. How does a baby grow, having been fed by his mother? It is through his longing and drinking. One of the problems is that we don’t long for God’s word. We are distracted by other things. Or we’re just plain lazy. To battle his lazy tendencies, Robert Rogers grew up with the attitude: “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed.” The reason for this dependence is that the Scripture is a living book; it produces life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 states: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” There is no other book like it.

What transforms us? Transforming are the people, places and things which act upon us, influencing us, empowering us, motivating us, redirecting our behaviors. God works on the heart, through the head, and He uses His written word to do so, in tandem with the Holy Spirit. As a result, we are: “…transformed by the renewing of our mind” as Romans 12:1 says. Recently, I watched Rocky II with my sons. I forgot the valuable lessons of hard work, hope and love that spread throughout that motion picture, not to mention all the scenery from Philadelphia! In it, Rocky was dependent upon Mickey, his trainer; Paulie, his brother-in-law and most of all, his loving wife Adrian. At a poignant time in the movie, when her life was at risk, it was not until she woke from her coma and said: “There’s just one thing: “Win!” That statement brought life to Rocky Balboa and propelled him to beat the champion, Apollo Creed.

Why is it so critical that we study the Bible as Christians? This is because believers in Jesus have always been a people by the book. It is only through exposing ourselves to the truth of God, that we can be sanctified, set apart for God’s service. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17: “Sanctify them according to the truth; Thy word is truth.” It is important to remember that although God used humans in the process, the Scripture itself is not a human book. Its ultimate author is God. Speaking in reference to the prophetical literature of the Old Testament, 2 Peter 1:20 states: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Scripture is not a collection of man’s opinions. If that were the case, it is outdated. But the word of God is eternal; there are everlasting truths in its pages. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of nearby Westminster Seminary said: “Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God.” The Bible is a book of life. The moment that you deny its authenticity or discredit its truth, you relinquish its ability to develop you spiritually. If you do not receive the Bible as the means of your spiritual growth, then what do you? What can compare to it? The Bible transforms us. Next …

PRAYER FORMS US.
Prayer must be a priority for us. It was said that George Washington would make it his habit of retiring to his quarters each night at a specific time, regardless if there was company in the room, to keep his appointment with God. Jesus’ practice was to get alone with God and pray, often upon the Mount of Olives. Mark 1:35 says: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” The prophet Daniel knelt in prayer three times a day to petition God on behalf of His people. Daniel 9 is one of those prayers recorded for us.

When you think about it, prayer and Scripture study is a two way communication with God. He speaks to us in Scripture; we speak to Him in prayer. Or, it can be compared to breathing: inhaling God’s truth, exhaling our response/concerns. But why do we not get it until something bad happens? How do you regard the Bible? How do you use it? What is your practice of prayer? I’m reminded that however busy I become, all roads lead back to these two simple, yet powerful things. I need that time with God if I am going to succeed as a pastor. I must have that time with the lord if I am going to get all the things done that I am suppressed. Prayer centers me; keeps my priorities in line and calms my spirit so that I can be all that God wants me to be. There is an old hymn that states: Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Dr. Tim used to say: “Prayer is the machine room of the church.” We accomplish very little as individuals Christians or as a congregation, without prayer.

We must come to God with an attitude of expectation; to know that He is a God who answers prayer. If we don’t believe that, then why waste the time with believing God in the first place? There is the story told by Craig Groeschel: “A pastor once asked his church to pray that God would shut down a neighborhood bar. The whole church gathered for an evening prayer meeting, pleading with God to rid the neighborhood of the evils of this bar. A few weeks later, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

Having heard about the church’s prayer crusade, the bar owner promptly sued the church. When the court date finally arrived, the bar owner passionately argued that God stuck his bar with lightning because of the church members’ prayers. The pastor backtracked, brushing off the accusations. He admitted the church prayed, but he also affirmed that no one in his congregation really expected anything to happen.

The judge leaned back in his chair, a mix of amusement and perplexity on his face. Finally he spoke: “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Right in front of me is a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and a pastor who doesn’t.” Sometimes we are like the pastor. We say that we pray, we pray, but there is not expectation of God doing something as a result. Yet, God makes the promise through the prophet Jeremiah in 33:3 of the book that bears his name: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

We want to be a different church, for ourselves and others. Today, we have welcomed Betty, Marge and Bill into our fold. They have now become one of us. I trust that we have their confidence as a church that desires: “…to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer.” We are not a church that spins its wheels. Rather, we want to go places and do great things for God, our Savior.

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