A Life of Progress
When we are saved through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we begin a journey of becoming increasingly like Him. Just as a baby grows and matures as it feeds and exercises, so spiritual infants also grow as they feed on the Word of God and exercise their faith. Being “born from above” embarks us on a life not just of adding (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31), but of multiplication (2 Peter 1:2).
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus saves “to the uttermost those who come to God through Him”. As someone once put it so beautifully, “Jesus saves us from the guttermost to the uttermost!” It’s a pilgrimage that takes a lifetime.
As our children grow, we expect more of them not just physically, but in terms of character too. Parents are called to teach their children in the way that they should go (Proverbs 22:6) and this includes dealing with unacceptable character traits. If they are selfish, we aim to teach them to share. If they are disrespectful, we teach them respect and so the list goes on.
What we all too often overlook is why we do this honing of their young personalities. A few years ago, one of my sons took it upon themselves to discipline their younger sister. I found myself telling him that you never hit girls and then thinking to myself I said – I know that’s right, but why is it so important? As I asked the question, the Lord dropped this answer into my heart, “Because he will grow up”. As so often happens with me, the Lord doesn’t give me the full, obvious answer, but leads me on a journey of discovery. As I meditated on it, I realised that the importance of boys never hitting girls is that when they grow up and their strength is increased they can wield a fist at a woman and do serious harm – with plenty of evidence in society to back it up. We need to learn appropriate behaviour in our youth and our weakness so that when we are bigger and stronger we use our strength for good.
If we don’t have the long-term view in our sights, we don’t see what small habits or sins can become.
As in the story of my son, each of us is growing up in the Lord and our Father is teaching us many valuable lessons. In the normal course of events, increasing age, skills and experience affords promotion in the workplace, church and other arenas. This can be likened to amplification of sound.
Old recordings on cassette tape or vinyl record will often have “pops”, ”whistles” and “hisses” in the background. When you turn up the volume, you don’t just get louder music, but also louder “pops”, ”whistles” and “hisses” so that while it may enable more people to hear the music, it doesn’t improve the quality. With modern technology, it is possible to record the music into a computer and to clean it up to remove the unwanted noises, but that still doesn’t improve the music.
God wishes to exalt us and in that sense to amplify us – be it in any area of our lives – so that our increasing influence can be used for His glory. But, if He amplifies us in our “just saved” state, there are going to be lots of “pops”, ”whistles” and “hisses” which also get amplified.
Take for example a young man who gets saved in college and decides to change career path to go into full time ministry. As with many young men, he has been exposed to pornography which he works very diligently to avoid in his new Christian walk but he never completely gains victory. If he is exalted too quickly, before God has dealt with this issue of pornography in him, then the potential is that when he is senior pastor or perhaps has influence at regional or national level, that this weakness for sexual temptation gets the better of him. Owing to his raised position, the negative effect which happens as a result of a man like that falling from grace is equally increased – the media will be onto him like a hound trailing blood and those under his authority may be left like a flock without a shepherd.
As another example, let’s consider a person with a sharp tongue and a critical eye. When used in the playground, it may gain influence and some respect, but if this sin remains undealt with, then the potential for ill grows with that person’s influence. Imagine for a moment that this Christian becomes a high-ranking government official. Again there is potential for Satan to use this character trait to his advantage and bring the person and the church into ill-repute with one misplaced remark.
A story I have mentioned before but which bears repeating in this context, is of a pastor whose ministry was flourishing, but one of his children became very sick. The doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong and so didn’t know what treatment to follow.
The pastor was at his wit’s end and spend some hours on his face lying prostrate before the Lord. After a long time, the Lord spoke to him and said, “You’ve never dealt with martial arts”. In an instant he remembered that before becoming a Christian he had been involved in martial arts and while he had stopped doing it, he had never repented and renounced his involvement. And so, when he was prospering in ministry, the devil played his trump card which God wouldn’t stop.
Are there any trump cards that the devil holds in his hand concerning our lives?
Getting rid of these footholds of the devil is very important, but there is another side as well and that is to replace them with good things. Consider the singer who went off key once again – if we had a recording of the concert and we removed the part that was not in tune, it would leave a void. We need to also add those things that are good.
Scripture is full of good things that we should be doing and right attitudes that we should cultivate. 2 Peter 1:5-7 gives us some wonderful counsel: “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” Here Peter is reminding us that we need to be diligent to “add” different good things so that ultimately we reach the goal of love.
Amplifying the good things in our lives is what God delights to do.
Two Examples of Amplification
An Old Testament Example
The familiar story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) helps us to understand this principle better. As a young man, the Lord gave Joseph dreams of greatness which he shared with his family. Resultantly, his brothers sold him as a slave where Joseph went through some very difficult times in Potiphar’s house and then later ended up in prison through false accusation.
God used this time of hardship to mould Joseph’s character so that when he was exalted, his character didn’t buckle under the weight of his calling.
After all that happened in the story, we read in chapter 50 what transpired following Jacob’s death. The brothers were fearful that Joseph would now take revenge since his father was deceased. We pick up the story at verse 18:
Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph harboured no bitterness in his heart because God had dealt with those issue through his suffering.
A New Testament Example
The writer to the Hebrews tells of how God was pleased to perfect Jesus through suffering:
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:10
This is one of the many statements in the Bible which encourages us that the result of suffering for righteousness is glory. It was true of Jesus and it is also true for each of us.
The world tells us that the way up is through ambition and self-promotion, but God’s ways are different. We have seen, though, that if we are not adequately cleansed and prepared, that our faults and sins are also magnified with our increasing sphere of influence.
In the instance of making upward progression, at first-glance, God’s ways may seem counter-intuitive. Jesus tells us on more than one occasion that it is humility is what leads to exaltation (Matt 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14).
In his wonderful message on this subject entitled The Way Up is Down, Derek Prince teaches us from Philippians 2:5-11 where we are encouraged to have the same attitude as Christ. He took seven steps down to death and then there is a turning point with a “therefore” and we learn the seven upward results of Jesus’ humility:
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place,” number one.
Number two, gave Him the name that is above every name. The King James says “a name” but the correct translation is “the name.” There’s only one name that’s above every name. And that’s the name of Jesus.
The third aspect, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. And then four, five and six are the different areas of the universe in which knees will bow.
Fourth, in heaven.
Fifth, on earth.
Sixth, under the earth.
The three great areas of the universe are all going to acknowledge the exaltation of Jesus by bowing their knees.
And seventhly, finally, every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God theFather. Seven steps down and seven steps up. But He could not take the steps up until He’d taken the steps down. I invite you to meditate on that “therefore”. Therefore, God gave Him the highest place in the universe.
Getting Cleaned Up
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder why things happen to me which seem unreasonable or unduly hard. Can I believe that God has allowed it for my good? That He has orchestrated the circumstances so that He can deal with some insufficiency or sin in my life? Perhaps you too have found yourself wondering how long a certain situation can go on without seeing a break-through.
Is it possible that we haven’t learned the lessons from the current situation so the Lord won’t permit us to proceed until we have dealt with a problem, learned a skill or used a gift or Scripture at our disposal? So often we ardently want to progress in the things of God and use our gifts and abilities for His Kingdom, but our characters have not been refined appropriately and so God, in His mercy, withholds our progression.
James understood this when he wrote as follows:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
It is this process of testing, perseverance and maturing that prepares us to reign with Jesus. Paul reminds of this “faithful saying” – “If we endure, we will reign with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:12)
For A Purpose
It is so important that we have an eternal perspective on these things otherwise we may not have the strength to continue. Returning to the illustration of a child being moulded through love and discipline, it stands to reason that just as we want our children to be godly when they grow up, so our Father also wants us to be like Jesus as we mature.
When we put to death our fleshly nature and we allow Jesus to shine through us, then we bring glory to God. We become testimony to the fact that God’s grace is sufficient and that when the cross does its ever-deepening work in us, we become increasingly like Jesus.
Hebrews 12 speaks in some depth about the purpose of discipline in our lives and tells us that discipline is a sign of God’s love (v6) and an indication that we are God’s children (v7,8). Furthermore it tells us that God chastens us for our profit and so that we may be partakers in His holiness (v10). Ultimately, God’s purpose is to produce through us fruit (a harvest NIV) of righteousness.
When we look back from eternity, our sufferings will seem as light affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17). God puts us through testing every moment (see Job 7:18) to help us to grow and to ensure that He can trust us. Adam and Eve were perfect in the Garden of Eden, but their perfection was untested. God tests us so that by His grace, we can come forth as gold (Job 23:10).
Do your current challenges make more sense in the light of God’s working in your life? Can you see that His desire to amplify you brings with it the need to deal with negative aspects of your character foster the positive elements so that that the increase is good.
Heavenly Father, I thank you that Your love for me demands discipline and purification. Thank-you that you will exalt me in due time as I humble myself before You and allow You to cleanse me of all impurity. If there are any “trump cards” that the devil holds over me, please do what you must to reveal those so that I can repent, renounce and be free.
I commit myself to You, Lord, and ask You to help me to endure every moment of testing with the understanding that it is working for me a greater weight of glory (see 2 Corinthians 4:17). For Christ’s sake. Amen.
- Peter Lindop