Growing In Faith

The times we grow in our faith and maturity is when we are experiencing suffering and sacrifice.

I’m very sorry if that comes as a surprise and a disappointment to you. But, I wonder when you have thought it happens?

There are two times that I hear fairly regularly. The first is that you grow by increasing in knowledge that comes from study. The idea being that the more you know the more you will grow. The two will just automatically go together. The second time growth occurs is when you get an intervening “zap” of the Holy Spirit and you will just instantly go to another level of faith and maturity. Are either of these what you have thought and expected up till now?

I need to say at this point that acquiring more knowledge and having the Holy Spirit at work in your life are very good things, and absolutely essential in growing your faith and maturity. So don’t overlook them and please don’t hear me saying they are not important. The purpose of writing this little piece is that I want us all to realise that while these are great “tools” in the process of growth and maturity, there is also an “environment” for growth and maturity, and that environment almost always involves suffering and sacrifice.

But please don’t let that put you off. Keep reading :)

When you became a Christian, God gave you a new heart (Ezekiel 11: 19). Not a perfect heart (that will come in Heaven), but a heart that is now capable of change (2 Peter 1: 3). This is where the Holy Spirit does His work (Romans 8: 9). But not without any reference to your circumstances - your environment. In fact, it’s just the opposite - our great God uses His sovereign control of all things to allow us to be in environments where we have opportunities to grow in faith and maturity (Romans 8: 28).

The problem is, most of the time we are so ticked off when our environment is not to our liking that we are not looking for what God wants to do in us, we just become consumed with trying to find a way out.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." [James 1: 2 - 4]

An example of this could be a health issue, financial stress, relational disharmony, work stress, or any number of circumstances we all find ourselves in from time to time.

All of the New Testament writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are of one accord on this. God allows us to experience suffering because He knows that it is in this exact environment that we are tested and refined, and where we have the opportunity to repent of the sin that this experience has exposed in us.
Whether you recognise it or not, all day every day you are responding to circumstances. That’s your environment. The circumstances may be good and enjoyable, or they may be tough and almost unbearable. It is your heart that determines how you respond.

As I said before, most of the time our response is negative (blaming the circumstance for our bad reaction), and we busy ourselves seeking circumstantial change. In doing so, we ignore our hearts and the opportunity God is giving us to grow in faith and maturity.

But we need to see these moments for the opportunities they are.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." [Romans 5: 3 - 5]

And this is why we need to be in Christian community. We need our Christian brothers and sisters to remind us of this when we are suffering - not to be like Job's friends who only want to point to our sin - but to get along side us and encourage us to be looking at what God wants to do in us through that experience.

If we want to grow in faith and maturity, it is these experiences we must embrace so that the truth of God's Word, the grace of the Gospel, and the humbling comfort of the Holy Spirit will become real to us in that moment, and we might get on board with what the Lord is wanting to do in us.

And then there is sacrifice, which is kind of volunteer suffering.

This is where we intentionally give, go or endure something in the service of the Gospel mission of Jesus. Yep, it will be tough, uncomfortable, inconvenient and taxing, but there will be something else going on at the same time. The same blessings that come through suffering can also be experienced in sacrifice. You will be learning new things, finding new God-given reserves of patience and resilience, a greater appreciation for God’s grace to you, and the joy of seeing God at work in your life and in the lives of others.

For example, to care for someone means putting yourself out, giving of your time and perhaps some resources, but you get to show the love of God to another person. Or to disciple someone will probably mean laying aside something else you could have done so that you can invest in the spiritual growth of another person. It might be tough going, but God will be teaching you as much as He is working in them, even if you feel that progress is frustratingly slow. Or to share your faith with a not-yet-believer will nearly always involve the risk of rejection and perhaps persecution, but what joy when that person comes to saving faith!

Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for us, so, as His followers, we are called to follow the example of our Saviour (Philippians 2: 1 - 11) by being willing to do the same.

Friends, none of us are going to grow in faith and maturity if we do not embrace the opportunities offered to us through trials, suffering and sacrifice. As personal fitness trainers like to say, "no pain no gain," and it's the same in spiritual matters too (1 Corinthians 9: 25 - 26).
I long for, and pray regularly, that at Disciples Church we will see people growing in faith and maturity as we hold firm to everything we know to be true about our gracious God, applying those truths when we experience suffering, and when we choose sacrifice over comfort.

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