Even though I wasn't feeling up to par today, I decided to spend a little bit of time in my flower beds cleaning them out. The sun was warm and the first breezes of spring caressed my face. As I was digging around I thought about the things that inhibit growth in my garden. The wrong ph balance in the soil, insects, poor weather and too much shade versus too much sun can all affect how plants grow. The same is true in our walk with Christ. Things can inhibit our growth. Instead of becoming a beautiful plant full of life and color I can quickly become a shriveled up mess, looking for a way out. I'd like to look at four areas that stunt our growth as branches of the Vine.
1. Unconfessed Sin. I mentioned this last month when we were looking at Easter and spring. Unconfessed sins have a way of building and gaining momentum. We get caught in a torrent of rationalization and pride which makes it harder and harder to get back to center - the place where we are focused on Christ. Maybe you've gone down this road: "It was only a small thing. Nobody will really notice." "Well, they weren't using it anyway. They'll never miss it." "I deserve it more than they do. I've worked harder and been here longer than them! It's my right." The voice going through your head will sound a little different depending on the sin, but you get the idea. Sin spirals and keeps us from thriving.
Another thing we can lump under unconfessed sin would be bad habits. This is harder to talk about because all of us struggle with some bad habit or other. I eat and shop too much. And if you don't think that affects my walk with Christ, you are wrong. Sadly, I still struggle so one thing I do is pray God would move in my life to draw me closer to Him and lessen my desire for fulfillment in "stuff". Think about your bad habits. Maybe you smoke or drink. Maybe you stay up real late or watch movies that don't edify (Walking Dead anyone)? And I am not here to point fingers. I am only here to get you thinking. Wasting time can be a bad habit. Wasting money can be a bad habit. All of these things can and will affect your life with Christ. They may not be noticeable, but the effects are real.
2. Hurts. Pain is real. Life can get overwhelming with disappointments and discouraging circumstances. At times the only thing I feel like I have going for me is the fact that Jesus loves me, this I know! And that is okay. He is enough. However, pain and hurts can grab hold of us like a crab grabbing onto a delectable piece of fish. It doesn't want to let go. We have two choices: let pain overwhelm and paralyze us taking us away from Christ, or let pain drive us closer to Him. You can say, "I'm not going to make either of those choices," but by not choosing you have made a choice. If we do not choose to move closer to Jesus, the current of life and all it's difficulties will take us away from Him.
Both Job and the Psalmist knew pain, difficulty and discouragement, but they chose to focus on God.
3. Busyness. If you don't think life is busy then please share your secret with me. I used to think that when my girls were grown and moved out that I wouldn't be as busy any more. Granted I am no longer homeschooling, so I don't have lesson plans and all that goes with being a homeschool mom, but look, now I have a blog! Life is busy. If you have young children, school age children, kids in college, adult children, grandchildren, aging parents, work, social responsibilities, church and more, you are busy. When I get busy the first thing I toss is my quiet time. The more I do, the less I pray. I more things I'm involved in, even the good things, the less time I have to delve into God's word on my own and the less I am growing. Jesus is just like your friends or your spouse or your children. You have to make time for Him.
Ezra made a choice, he set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it. No matter how busy we are, we have to make a choice to spend time with the Lord, in order to grow.
4. Filling our minds with things other than Christ. Let me preface this by saying, I am not against studying books other than the Bible, music, movies or other things that we tend to fill our time and our minds with. What I am saying is that we can spend so much time on these other things that they have more of an influence on our lives than the things of Jesus. There are learned men and women who claim Jesus as their Savior, but restrict their learning to books that others have written about Him. I know young people that spend more money and time on going to concerts to hear secular artists than giving to their churches. I am guilty myself of spending more time watching reruns of TV shows than reading the scriptures over again.
That verse doesn't say that if you watch movies you are going to die. It does say that if we set our mind, meaning we keep our mind in that place all the time, on the flesh, and all of these things we do to satisfy our flesh....that will be death.
If we don't water the flowers and give them fertilizer and prune away the dead stuff they will die. Growth in our Christian lives is about letting Jesus water us, fertilize us and prune away the dead stuff that has settled inside our hearts. I believe we need to allow Christ to work in the garden of our hearts to grow us, so we can bear His fruit.