This month I have been talking about the idea of growth; growth in our faith, families, friendships and our diets. As we draw near to the end of the month I'd like to look at tools that we can use to help grow the gardens that we tend called life. When I decide to do some work in my flower beds I get out my gardening tools. I put on gloves, pull out my kneeling pad and gather my pocket pruners, trowel and cultivator. For bigger jobs I might need a shovel or a full sized rake. I pick the tools according to the job I am going to do. Our faith needs to be tended in the same way and we need to seek God's wisdom for the appropriate tools to bring growth in our lives. The following are just a few of the tools I use to grow my faith.
1. Bible study. In my belief system the Bible is God's written word to humanity. I go to His word to learn about His character and to read the history of the nation of Israel and the church. Often people are intimidated by the Bible saying it is too difficult to understand. Others believe the Bible to be full of contradictions and fairy tales. Still others feel that the "religion" that is based on Biblical belief to be harsh and legalistic. I feel that in order to have a better understanding of something or someone I must do research myself. If I want to cook, I don't just watch cooking shows. I have to actually buy the ingredients, get out the tools, mix it together, turn on the stove and put it in. Growth in any area requires a genuine interest in learning and having an open mind about the subject in question. When I go to God's word, I want to learn. I want to know Him more. I want to delve into His deeper layers. If I want to know more about my azalea bushes I need to read about them. If I want to help them to grow and flourish I will learn what is best for them. If I want to grow and flourish in my Christian faith, I go to the source. He knows what is best for me and He wants to see me flourish.
2. Other authors. There are many good authors who write about topics that can help us grow. Many of these authors have educational and experiential backgrounds that have given them knowledge of life and how to live it responsibly. They also have the Holy Spirit who has given them Godly wisdom and insight.
Sometimes I will choose a book based on a study of the Bible such as Oswald Chambers' Our Ultimate Refuge: Job and the Problem of Suffering. Or I might choose a book based on the author's reputation for biblical teaching, like Ravi Zacharias' The Grand Weaver. I have also heard of books through my friends including One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. My other personal favorites include authors from years ago such as A.W. Tozer's The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience or Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray. Any of these books or other books by these authors and many others provide added wisdom and knowledge about God and the Christian life that will help us to grow.
3. Fellowship. Webster's dictionary defines fellowship as "a community of interest, activity, feeling or experience." My husband and I currently do not attend a church regularly. We had been regular attenders at a local evangelical church for many years. We enjoyed the community of people who had interests in faith like our own and we raised our girls within that community. Unfortunately last year we learned a devastating piece of news which caused us to leave that fellowship. Having been without regular interaction with others who share our faith we feel a sense of sorrow and loss that watching preachers on Youtube cannot fill. While we do intend to eventually find a fellowship again, this experience has caused me to realize just how important a community of believers is to the regular growth of our faith. We know that no fellowship where people are involved will be without difficulty, but community is what God desires for us as we walk in this world. We can learn from each other and we are also supposed to be there to help others in their pain and difficulties.
4. Circumstances. I shared with you earlier this month one of my own personal stories of growth. I believe that God uses the circumstances in our lives to mold us, teach us and help us to grow. That being said we do have a choice as to whether we do grow or not. God isn't going to force us. Part of growing is taking ownership, not only of my beliefs, but of my thoughts, actions and reactions to the circumstances I find myself in. I have found in my own life that obedience is key to growth. When I am struggling with something, say my relationship with my spouse and God shows me an area I need to bring under His authority, I pray that He will help me to make the better choice. When I do make that choice (and I don't always) then it seems as though God opens up a deeper layer of Himself to my spiritual understanding. Growth happens when the choice is made to obey what God is speaking into our lives at the moment. That doesn't mean you won't struggle with the same thing again tomorrow, but it does mean that today you made the choice to grow.
God is capable of causing us to grow in many ways and the ways I mentioned above are a few of the things He has used in my life to bring about growth in my faith. In the comments section below I would love to hear your stories of growth, or some of the tools God has used to bring growth to your garden.