[ WordBytes on Spiritual Growth ]
Here’s a list of scriptures that contain the keys to true joy — the kind of joy that isn’t easy, the kind of joy that only God can provide and that is only learned by following Jesus.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matt. 13:44 NIV).
The time to be self-centered is only when you are looking at someone else’s sins or faults. Center yourself on you: Why are you bothered by that other person’s shortcomings? What does it say about your own need for growth? Let this be an opportunity to purge yourself, with God’s help: There is an unloving attitude within you that the other person’s actions have brought to the surface. This truly is a hidden treasure; it brings us joy. Give thanks and praise to God for bringing that person’s faults into your life because they got your attention and provided you with new growth.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12 NIV)
Whatever is happening, God is still in charge. Remember this when you feel impatient or dissatisfied. If you have given God control of your life, then trust in His merciful love and infinite power to take care of every moment of every day of your life. This is the reason for your joy! When circumstances don’t happen the way you want them to, realize that you’ve not departed from God’s control, realize that the other people involved can still be influenced by God’s control, and realize that the devil is not powerful enough to overcome God’s control. Consider this: God lovingly chose to allow the circumstances to happen in a different way than what you wanted because He is leading you through a better plan.
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:22-24 NIV)
If you’re praying a lot for someone else, you’re praying too much. Why aren’t you choosing instead to trust God? You have already placed the matter into God’s loving hands. Now leave it there and go on with your own journey. Stop watching for signs of change in the person for whom you’ve been praying. Stop searching for clues that your prayers are being answered. Because God cares far more about your prayer requests than you do, He is answering your prayers in the perfect way in the perfect time, even though it might not be the way you want Him to!
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5 NIV)
If you’re praying for someone else to change, also ask God to change you. Spend the greater portion of time seeking what needs to be changed in you, asking God to empower you to make the changes. Most likely, what you see in the other person that needs changing is exactly what needs to be changed in you. You will find joy when you humbly repent of your sins before trying to help someone else.
Consider it 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. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:2-8 NIV)
When Jesus and the disciples were riding through a storm in the boat that was about to capsize, Jesus didn’t help His friends survive the storm. Jesus calmed the storm! Jesus wants to calm your storms, too. What are you doing that keeps the storm raging? How are you contributing to its forces? Turn around and see Jesus standing in the boat next to you. See His lack of fear, His lack of worry, His lack of making any attempts to steer the boat through the rough waters and high winds. What is He doing? He is saying, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who are creating the storm. Live My way, and though the storm might continue to rage around the others in your life, you will be standing with Me where the sea is calm and the wind is but a gentle breeze refreshing your soul.”
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2 NIV)
Hope is as elusive as a rainbow. We can’t bottle it to store it for the day we need it most. We can’t touch it and hold it and feel any firmness in it. We can’t find it whenever we wish to, and we can’t make it last long once it occurs. Its colors are beautiful, but it is nothing more than a refraction of God’s light.
God gave us the rainbow in the ancient days of biblical history as a reminder that there is always reason to hope and to teach us that He is the reason. But hope is only a fruit of the Spirit, a product of a life lived in the Spirit. It is not love itself. It is not the fulfillment of the promise for which we wait.
I am always running out of hope. My rainbows fade away. I am continually begging God to give me another rainbow, another sign of hope, whenever I look too long at problems. God is good and does not grow impatient with me, but He does not want me to be like a boat on the turbulent seas, rocking to and fro, swaying from trust to fear and back to trust and then again to fear.
God wants us to rely on faith. Faith is not a fruit of the Spirit. Faith is a gift of the Spirit. At our baptism, He provided us with all the faith we need to stand strong in the truth, including the truth evidenced in His promises. He promises that our lives will result in goodness and not disaster if we remain in Him and follow His guidance. Even when we stray from Him, He promises to seek His lost sheep and come after us to bring us back to the safety of His pastures.
When I hope that His promises will come true for me, I fade in and out of belief like a rainbow. But when I rely on the faith He has given me ~ and ask Him to increase this gift ~ I can stand firm. Faith is like a rock on solid ground. Faith is the presence of the Holy Spirit in me. He doesn’t hope for anything. He has no hope ~ He has faith. He knows the Father’s promises, He is convinced of the Father’s love, and He understands that the Father is always dependable.
The more time we spend in prayer, communicating with the Father through the Holy Spirit, the stronger our faith will be. Why? Because it is not our faith that we are relying on ~ it is God’s own faith!
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. (Matt. 26:41 NIV)
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal. 5:16-17 NIV)
Be mournful when your flesh-nature conflicts with the Holy Spirit, for you are dying to self again. It is a struggle to let the Spirit overcome the flesh, and often it is agonizing. Go ahead and weep, complain to God, and feel the pain of letting go of a sinful habit, for “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4 NIV). But do not be sorrowful for too long, lest you become self-absorbed and remain so around others. Keep your complaining limited to God’s ear. Don’t look for sympathy from others. Find encouragement from those who’ve been through this before, and then move on. Your sins have died on the cross. Now get out of the tomb and live in the resurrection!
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:11-13 NIV)
C.S. Lewis said: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and probably be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the coffin or casket of your selfishness. But in that casket ~ safe, dark, motionless, airless ~ it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable … The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thess. 5:16-18 NIV)
Take a Vow of Poverty in Prayer. In other words, pray constantly, remaining in communication with God at all times. This is accomplished by doing everything for Him, in Him and through Him. Offer up your work, your struggles, your sufferings, your recreation, your time spent with others, etc. to Him, so that even when you are not using words you are still in connected to God. In addition to this, pray daily, taking time out from your busy schedule to be with God and give Him undivided attention. This daily prayer time must be a sacrifice. When it becomes easy to do, add to or change your prayer time so that it is difficult and therefore a sacrifice of devotion to our Lord.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (James 3:9-10 NIV)
Take a Vow of Silence in Conversation. Knowing that our tongue can be the greatest source of sin, refrain from gossip, slander, bad-mouthing, tearing-down, cursing, and giving advice where it is not wanted. Pray before speaking, sometimes with a specific request for help, but always by desiring to speak only what God wants you to speak. When you feel the urge to say something that God is telling you NOT to say, remember your Vow of Silence and keep your mouth shut. When you identify an area of your life where you have the most difficulty controlling your tongue or in which you are too talkative, make the sacrifice of words through a Vow of Silence before God, allowing Him to forbid you from talking about that subject to anyone (except in counseling or spiritual direction) at any time (except when praising God for what He is doing in this situation). And offer up this sacrifice as a prayer for the redemption of that situation.
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matt. 6:24 NIV)
Imitate the Saints in their desire for mortification: Mortify your attachments to this world. Sacrifice what is difficult to let go of, for the sake of your love for God and His love for you. What is it that you’re attached to? Try wearing your watch on your other wrist and see how attached you are to familiar routines. And what desires are you attached to? What addictions? What bad habits? What possessions? What people? What goals? What worldly wisdom? St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
If we care nothing for any created things, but embrace the Creator alone, His Majesty will infuse the virtues into us in such a way that, doing by degrees all that is in our power, we shall not have to struggle much longer, for the Lord will defend us against the devils and the whole world as well…. When we are attached to anything we must turn our thoughts from it and fix them on God. His Majesty will help us do this.
I assure you that the soul and poverty of spirit pay dearly for any comfort that the body may gain.
Unless we take great care and each of us makes it her most urgent business constantly to renounces her self-will, many things will deprive us of the holy freedom of spirit which our souls seek in order to soar to their Maker, unimpeded by any leaden weight of the earth…. It is here that true humility can enter, for this virtue and that of detachment from self, I think, always go together.
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© 1998 by Terry A. Modica
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