Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Checklist for your Spiritual Life
By Dr Alex Tang
We have been considering the work of the Holy Spirit in the last few months. Pastor Nicholas Yeo has taught us about the Person of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit. We have considered the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an empowerment for service and the sealing of the Holy Spirit at our conversion. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and giving of spiritual gifts are external manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also works inside us, quietly in a process of spiritual maturation called sanctification.
Paul said in 1 Cor 13: 11-12 “ When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
The process of spiritual growth is a co-operative effort between the Holy Spirit and us. A joint venture project. Not an Ali Baba project but a joint venture of equal partners. The Holy Spirit will not force us to do what we do not want.
What I intend to do tonight is help us to meditate on the current state of our spiritual growth. I have listed seven questions that will highlight to us our spiritual state.
q Am I growing in spiritual maturity?
James 1: 2-3: “ Consider pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James in this passage links trials with perseverance and maturity.
I am doing a Master in Ministry programme with the Malaysia Bible Seminari in Klang. The next module I shall be doing next week is on Christian Education, entitled a Developmental Approach to Spiritual Maturity. We are given a number of books to read and let me tell you, it is pure torture. When you reach my age, the brain grows old and it is so hard to study. But I discovered something interesting which I would like to share with you. Spiritual maturity or faith development goes through stages as in physical growth. As a baby we first learn to roll over, then to sit up, to crawl and then to walk.
James Fowler postulated that there are 6 stages of spiritual maturity. We need to complete one stage before we can move onto the next stage. It is usually in a crisis and how we overcome the crisis that we grow. Life is difficult and we sure to face difficulties and much pain. How do we react to these problems? Do we turn to God or do we turn away from God? Turning to God, and trusting in Him is the right step in spiritual maturity.
q Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?
In Mark 12:38-40, Jesus made an interesting comment “ Watch out for teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market places, and have important seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
The Pharisees were religious; Christ is spiritual.
Much tradition is religious; relation in Christ is spiritual.
The difference between religion and spirituality is basically a matter of control. I define religion as an experience I can control, while spirituality is an experience that controls me.
Eugene Peterson, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada has this to say in his book, The Wisdom of Each Other:
“ By religion I mean the efforts that we make to keep things together in somewhat orderly fashion, to maintain some sense of responsibility before God.
By spirituality I mean the work of the Holy Spirit in making Jesus alive in us, inciting us to acts of love and compassion, blessing us with his gifts, bringing us to our knees in repentance and up to our feet in wonder.
Religion is mostly a matter of what we do; spirituality is mostly a matter of what God does.
We need to continually seek the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must seek a real experience of the Spirit in our mind, our soul and our hearts. The Christian journey is a walk with our Lord Jesus Christ, following Him and Him alone. There is a tendency for us to be busy with church, equating church activities with Spiritual activities. Church activities are important, but it is more important to spend time with Christ. We, evangelical Christians have a lot to learn from the Contemplatives like Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton.
q Does my family and friends recognise the authenticity of my spirituality?
This is the acid test of our spiritual life. They see us whole. I would like to believe- and must believe – that if I am growing spiritually, my family and friends will recognise it. If not there is something wrong.
q Do I have a quiet heart?
Osward Chambers said, “In our Lord’s life there was none of the press and rush of tremendous activity that we regard so highly, and the disciple is to be as his master “.
1 Peter 3:4 “ Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Here Peter is talking about the inner spirit of wives but it can apply equally to men. That of an inner spirit that is gentle and quiet.
There is an important difference between the fast track and the frantic track. It is not God’s will for us that we be frantic. There are times when in our occupation that we are just overwhelmed by our job.
“ When in trouble, when in doubt,
run in circles, scream and shout.”
Often, we need to hear the command, Psalms 46:10 “ Be still, and know that I am God.” Peace is the evidence of God. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London wrote “ Quietness of heart is not achieved through escapism, optimism or any newly invented technique, but through a relationship with Christ”.
q Is my prayer life improving?
Do any of you play golf? I love golf. Golf is a stupid game. You hit a ball this big, with a stick this long into a hole this small, 500 yards away! I do a lot of praying on the golf course. Lord. Please no rain; please don’t let me strike by lightning. Please don’t let my ball fall into the pond, the sandpit, and the jungle. The Lord never answers my prayers. If there is a pond, a lake or a drain, my ball always fall into it. I wonder why. Isn’t our prayer life like that? We only call to the Lord when we are in trouble or when we want something.
Ephesians 6:18 “ And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Is our prayer life enjoyable or is it a drag? We are often involved with spontaneous petition prayers. Paul says there are all kinds of prayers.
Firstly, we can pray the Lord’s Prayer in Matt 6:9-13 “ Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Secondly, there is richness in praying with the psalms.
Thirdly, with the written prayers of two thousand years of Christian devotion.
Richard Foster wrote in Prayer Treasury (Includes Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home & Prayers from the Heart),”These prayers come to us from varied cultures and span the centuries, and yet they all speak with the same voice of heartfelt devotion to God. When I pray the prayers that they prayed so long ago, I am somehow drawn into the ‘communion of saints”.
I do not know when I am fully a man of prayer, but I can perceive progress if I am making it. Progress, not perfection, is all I can hope for in my spiritual growth.
One test of my prayer life is this: Do my decisions have prayer as an integral part, or do I make decisions out of my desires and then immerse them in prayer?
q Am I having a balanced diet in my spiritual feeding?
Deu 8:3 “..that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Our Lord Jesus quoted this Scripture when Satan in Matt 4 tempted him
Like our physical body, our spiritual body needs a balance diet to grow. Too often we do not feed it a balanced diet and then we wonder why we do not grow. The medical term is ‘failure to thrive’.
Each one of us is different, and so are our needs. What works for one may not work for another. But what is common is that we all need to eat. Some of us eat to live, others live to eat.
Most of us get our spiritual food from the Sunday sermons and our weekly bible study groups. That is like living on McDonalds fast food. Food are processed and pre-packaged. We need a ten course Chinese dinner!
Firstly, we need to study the bible for ourselves. Scripture said we could only understand the Bible if we have the Holy Spirit to teach us. Paul wrote, “ The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1Cor2: 14). If we have the Holy Spirit, our spiritual eyes are open. We can read the bible and let the Holy Spirit speak to us. Then we need to meditate and to apply the Scriptural teachings to our lives.
Secondary, we need to go deeper into the Word. Not all of us know the original languages of Hebrew and Greek but we will be foolish to discount bible study aids. Reading commentaries by recognised bible scholars can help us to understand the exegesis of the passage.
Thirdly, we need to read Christian sermons and writings that deal with theology and Christian living. Not simplistic how-to books but books that will help us to think and to apply Christian principles in our daily living.
Finally, we need to read biographies of Christians and church history. We can learn much from the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. How they faced adversaries and successes. We learn from church history to understand and avoid the various fads and teachings that has appeared and reappeared in the past. Truly as the Teacher wrote,” There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9b)
q Am I obedient in my ordinary daily living?
Remember Jesus’ teaching on the Parable of Talents. It is faithfulness with little that is important.
Matt 25:21 “ His master replied,’ Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you I charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness”.
Eugene Peterson argued in The Wisdom of Each Other, “ The life of Christ emerges from within the actual circumstances of our seemingly very unspiritual lives – the daily stuff of ordinariness and accidents and confusion, good days and bad days, taking the humdrum and the catastrophic both in stride”. Hudson Taylor, a great nineteen-century pioneer missionary to China, used to teach: “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in a little thing is a big thing.” Similarly, Mother Teresa said, “I don’t do big things. I do small things with big love.”
If I do not make all the small decisions according to my belief, how then could I make big decisions? It is in our daily life that we are continually challenged.
Applying the Checklist
Next week will be Easter, a time when we remember the great work of salvation completed when Christ died on the cross for us. I would like each one of us to take at least 20 minutes in the next week to go through the seven questions. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us about our spiritual life. Ask Him to help us to improve on areas that are weak.
Maybe we need to turn more to the Lord in times of trouble and to learn from Him.
Maybe we need to reorientate our thinking to be more spiritual than religious. Seek for a living relationship with Jesus.
Maybe we need to be authentic. To be what we say we are.
Maybe we need to find a quiet centre to our life.
Maybe we need to go on a diet.
Maybe we need to be more aware of our daily obedient.
You do not need to improve all areas at once. It is impossible. You need to identify one specific area to work on. Achieve what you want to achieve. Then go onto another area. The Holy Spirit is here to help us.
Soli Deo Gloria
"treat, heal, and comfort always"
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