How can some Christians go years without growing spiritually?
I mean, isn’t that equivalent of getting married, and then ignoring your spouse? You thought an inked marriage contract was all you needed, rather than the flourishing love relationship the contract was designed to protect.
Yes, I follow Jesus, they say. I believe in him, but I’m not growing. I don’t pray. I don’t study Scripture. I don’t serve in the body of Christ. I’m not accountable to Christian brothers and sisters. And I’m not any stronger in faith or deeper in spirit than I was five years ago.
How is that even possible? Jesus gave one answer to that: kingdom life can be choked by lesser priorities.
In his famous parable of the seeds, Jesus pointed out four broad responses to his kingdom message. In his third example, he pointed to people who, “like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-19 NIV)
Lesser priorities choke out the kingdom growth Jesus desired. Worries, wealth and wishes for “other things” are the classic signs of a choked out life.
How do these three priorities choke our spiritual life? And what can we do?
First, worries choke our minds.
What is worry? Worry is inverted prayer, where our minds comb through, again and again, the areas of our lives we feel in least control. Worry indicates our primary concerns–it’s what we fix our minds upon, what we wake each day thinking about. And worry is powerful, for under its power, it is difficult to experience the peace and power of God in our lives.
What’s the remedy? We combat worry by praying the truth of Scripture. (You can read more about one way to do that here.) Recognizing all our concerns, we express them to God by receiving his truth into our minds, and speaking the truth back to God about our situation. Worry, turned to prayer, produces growth in our own lives.
Second, wealth chokes our hearts.
There’s a reason Jesus calls it “the deceitfulness of wealth,” for it is exactly that: a sneaky slit that leaks away the life Jesus wants for us. It’s not that wealth itself is bad, but we usually have no idea how powerful it is, and how easily we can be won over by our wealth without ever realizing our loyalty has shifted. Jesus warned, over and over again, that we can’t serve God and money. When we try, it’s our relationship with God that withers.
What’s the antidote? Only one thing: generosity. Giving to Jesus’ kingdom priorities–the poor, the church, missions–is the only way we can get wealth right. Don’t think so? Listen to Paul’s challenge: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)
Giving generously releases the choke-hold of wealth on our spiritual lives. You can take that to the bank.
Third, wishes choke our passions.
What do we really want? It’s a powerful question. A happier family, a more comfortable job, a better body, a kinder climate? The answers will be as varied as we are. And under this final caption, Jesus catches everything else which shifts our passions away from him and on to “other things.” Rather than seeking first the kingdom of God, we passionately pursue lesser things. We wish for __________ (you fill in the blank), rather than wishing for a stronger church, a more effective witness, an opportunity to show love to a neighbour, a breakthrough in our relationship with our son, or a deeper understanding of God’s grace.
How can we combat lesser wishes? By utilizing our gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. We can realign our passions by actively realigning our service, for employing the spiritual gifts God gave us for the purpose of building up the church (the only reason he gave them to us) leads us to greater wishes, deeper desires, an increase in passions for the same things Jesus is passionate about: lost people finding him, broken people being restored, hurt people healed, and a people of God more vibrant and alive to him than ever. That’s what it means to seek first the kingdom of God–we desire what Jesus wants more than anything else. And when we do that, growth is inevitable.
So what about you?
Which of these three–worry, wealth or wishes–have been choking your growth the most?
And what will you do about it? Jesus wants you to grow in relationship with him, and he’s doing everything possible to help you do that. But you’ve got to choose to grow: to pray God’s truth into your situation, to give generously from your wealth, and to serve passionately the kingdom priorities of Jesus. Get that choke-hold off your neck, and grow.