“How can I grow spiritually?”
This question is asked frequently, not out of intellectual curiosity, but out of an urgent desire to be able to face life’s problems and to go on living. A parent may have died, the world of a young person seems to cave in. There are sobs of grief, deeply rooted fears, some bitterness. Such a child or young person is searching for help; how can they face life, where can they find strength? A person faces serious surgery; that is no pleasant prospect, yet it is necessary; and such a one is grasping for assurance and strength. Sometimes young people have deep emotional crises over broken love; at such a time one is trying to overcome anger with courage to face life and a healing of deep wounds. Almost always we face the tempting voice of Satan and bad company beckoning us to come along for a good time, and that spells trouble.
Where do we go for strength to face this everyday stress of life as well as the crises? Let’s face it, we need an extra source of energy at such a time.
SEEK YE THE LORD
A time of spiritual crisis demands of us careful self examination. Naturally, the solution to the problem that we face must come from somewhere. The most important question we face is: what kind of solution are we looking for? Do we simply want to get rid of the problem, or do we want to learn something through the experience? Is the answer simply in getting our way, or is it that we begin to realize that God has a useful purpose in every trial and that we will be better in serving Him because of the crisis He has sent? If we will be selfish, our solution can only be found in getting rid of our problem as fast as possible, so that we don’t have to be inconvenienced by it. If we will be spiritually sensitive, we will conclude that God has something to say to us through this experience and that we must have the heart to understand and benefit by it.
It is this strength that must come to us from God. This energy is divine, it has its fountain in God Himself. This the Bible stresses over and over. “None can keep alive His own soul,” Ps. 22:29. Instead all blessings come from Jehovah, “Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary,” Psalm 68:9. Listen to the beautiful confession of Isaiah, “Lord thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us,” Isa. 26:12. Jesus expresses it this way, “I am the vine, ye are the branches; He that abideth in me, and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing,” John 15:5. Without me ye can do nothing! There is the clue for strength. Positively, with God all things are possible, Matt. 19:26.
Let this speak to you, young people. You have times of spiritual stress, that’s a fact. Where do you go for help? It may be ever so interesting to read Ann Landers or Dear Abby; some of their advice may be so practical and full of common sense; yet what is lacking is the Word of God. Guidance without God is not reliable; at best it is the wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God, I Cor. 1. Similarly, you can read books on marriage counseling, you can try the Norman Vincent Peale approach of “Positive thinking”, you can implement the latest “How to do it books” on character building and such like. Remember this one thing, you are a Christian; you are not just a human being, as Humanism would have you imagine. You need a Christian solution, and there is no guidance for a Christian without God Himself giving it.
Hence, we go back to that basic injunction, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near,” Isa. 55:6. And how do you do that? Not by trying to cast upon yourself or others some mystical trance, not by transcendental meditation, not by some emotional experience that will let all your pent up energies break forth irrationally. Rather, it comes by contemplating carefully the Word of God. God’s will and guidance toward a solution of life’s trials is found within the covers of His Holy Word. It is the light upon our pathway, Psalm 119:105.
So far we have concluded that we do have a Book, a reference work, which contains God’s counsel for us in the time of need. This is important, for God’s message of hope is not confined in the minds of certain people, not hidden away in a technical “journal,” but in our homes, in our own bedrooms, in our churches and schools. It is the clear and objective testimony of the Word of God.
There is another question that we face. How can we be brought to seek and understand this counsel of God’s Word? You know as well as I do that the Bible is the best seller of our day. You can find it in every hotel room, motel, doctor’s office, and I suppose almost every home. And yet there is no Book that goes unread and unheeded more than the Bible. Look at yourself; you are sad, you are hurt because of something that happened during the day, you feel bitterness. Do you really turn to that Bible and find the light of day? Is it really read and reread by you? Are the pages of your Bible grimy through use? Do you underscore passages that mean a great deal to you, so that you can return to them over and over?
It takes something divine to make the Bible the source of comfort and strength that God has intended for His people.
And what is that? Grace!
Grace is the energy that flows from God Himself which makes the ugly beautiful, the contemptible sinner fall on his knees to seek forgiveness, the captive sinner unshackled from the. tyranny of the devil. It brings joy to the sorrowful, hope to those in despair, peace to the troubled, understanding to the simple, conviction to the unsure. Grace makes all the difference. It is God’s energy for a truly Christian life.
And how is grace brought down to us? By none other than God Himself, Who sends His grace to us through the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who brought to reality the creative Word of God in the beginning, Gen. 1:3. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ now opens the eyes of the blind, gives understanding to the lowly, and saves the children of God through the power of grace, Eph. 2:8. For this reason He is called The Comforter or literally, The Helper, John 15:26.
MEANS OF GRACE
Let’s pursue this line of thinking a little more. We need the Bible as God’s directive. We need the Holy Spirit Who brings grace to us that enables us to seek and believe this Word of God. Now we may well ask: in what way does the Holy Spirit work this grace in us? The answer is that He does this by the preaching of the Word and the sacraments.
We must avoid two extremes. The first is that we imagine that going to church guarantees for us the reception of grace. There is no magical communication of grace in church. This is particularly important for you young people. I’m afraid some of you think that your soul’s health is guaranteed simply by going to church. To some of you it makes no difference how you worship: you may be entertained, you may sleep, you may daydream, but after all, you went to church! This is wrong, grace is conveyed through worship, not by your bodily presence in God’s house alone. The second extreme to be avoided is that going to church isn’t all that important. Sometimes young people react to church going simply because they cannot appreciate WORSHIP! Most young people are turned on by the ear shattering noises of rock. There is none of this in our churches. They are entertained by the silly humor of television; thankfully there is none of this in our worship services. The Psalter by contrast seems so “dead.” The preacher is so long-winded that you can’t concentrate that long anyway; why try? The congregational prayer is a time to catch up on neglected sleep. If so, why go at all? Why not be honest and stay home? So just turn off and tune out! Such a solution is radical and a young person must realize that by doing this, he is separating himself from God’s energy of salvation. Quitting church is not simply solving a boring problem, it is an act of separation—separation from God.
We are exhorted to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” II Peter 3:18. Interesting, that one of the first words we hear on Sunday morning is, “Grace, mercy, and peace be granted unto you from God our Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the operation of the Holy Spirit,” II Peter 1:2. There is a reason for this: the preaching of the Word and the sacraments are God’s appointed means of grace. Through prayer we approach God’s throne of grace, Heb. 4:16. We sing the psalms. The entire worship service centers around God’s Word. As the Holy Spirit works in us through the Word, we grow in understanding, we learn God’s will, we are exhorted to godly living and how we must express this, we are encouraged, warned, built up. By the preaching of the Word and sacraments the Word of God dwells in us, so that we hear it and by God’s grace do it, James 1:19-22. Now then, you see the need for spiritual growth in your life? What is your attitude toward worship? What do you do to prepare? Are you diligent in your worship? This is the most important!
THE ABIDING WORD
By the Holy Spirit’s applying the Word and sacrament, we are able to take that Word of God and be guided by it. The Holy Spirit is not confined to the four walls of church, neither is grace confined to those sacred moments of worship. The Holy Spirit and grace accompany us as we return to our homes and work. This is the proper relationship between worship and life. If we do not worship God and if we neglect the means of grace, we cannot imagine that the Holy Spirit is with us and that grace is given to us. The Spirit does not work apart from the Word preached. He works through that Word, and by that Word abides with us and fills our whole life and heart.
Hence, we must continually busy ourselves with that Bible, pray daily for the Holy Spirit to abide with us, that God will give us grace to deal with all life’s problems.
The Bereans understood this, “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so,” Acts 17:1. The preaching of the Word gives the guide lines for our faith and life. It is our duty to read that Bible and prayerfully apply it to our daily lives. Hence, Bible reading and personal prayer is an integral part of our spiritual growth. I’m sure that your personal experience is much like mine: when I am closest to God in my prayer life and daily devotions, then I am more able to deal with the trials of life. This is not a coincidence, it indicates we are making use of God’s energy which He gives to those who prayerfully ask them of Him.
Before going to bed, do you fill your soul with trashy reading, senseless television programs, or do you take time to be holy and wrestle in prayer with your God as you open His Word. What a difference this makes. You love music? Fill your soul with the great choral music that edifies instead of tearing down your soul. Talk with your parents and share with them your frustrations instead of letting them bottle-up and weigh you down. Pray sincerely, not using a little memorized prayer that may have sufficed in your childhood; pray fervently and specifically for your particular needs for that day or night.
Grace is God’s gift to lift us up.
Do you experience this?
Grow in grace.