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OBSTACLES TO CHRISTIAN GROWTH
It is certainly no secret that the Christian is expected to grow. It is something that needs to start as soon as one obeys the gospel and it needs to continue throughout your service to the Lord upon this earth. In 1 Peter 2:2 we read, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” Peter understood that it is imperative that “babes in Christ” grow. We understand the principle from a physical perspective. Let us strive to apply it spiritually as well. As the mature in Christ, do we place enough emphasis on this with new converts? Do we strive to ensure that they understand they HAVE TO grow to be pleasing to Him?
And as Christians we also ought to know that growth can NEVER stop. There are some who have made considerable spiritual growth in their lives but they think they have come far enough. They have matured in the faith and they know it. While that maturity is good, it NOT a time for retirement. It is pure arrogance to think that you cannot learn anything more or that you have come far enough that you can “ease up” on the studies. Yet that is what many do. Rather than studying subjects and books of the Bible from a fresh perspective each time and building upon what they have learned, they stick to the same material they learned and used decades ago. What they learned back then may be right, but is there deeper understanding and can it be developed further? Peter in his second letter, written to Christians who already knew much of what he was talking about indicating a level of maturity (see 2 Peter 1:12-15), closes with this admonition, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) The word “grow” in that text is a present tense, active voice verb with a general meaning that the action is something that is to be happening right now (i.e. ongoing action) and is to be performed by the one being addressed. Thus growth is something that should NEVER end, especially spiritual growth. I am reminded of Hebrews 5:12 which begins, “for by this time you ought to be teachers…” indicating they had quit growing or had not grown at all. It was presented as a rebuke followed by a strong warning for those who fail to “go on to perfection” (maturity – NASU) (6:1). By the way, has ANYONE reached the state of perfection or maturity to the degree that they cannot grow anymore? Think about it and be honest before you answer that question.
But if growth is so important, why do we not grow as we ought to? The answer is because of obstacles that are put in our way. Obstacles would be anything that hinders or slows our progress toward a goal. Hebrews 12:1-2 calls upon us to “…lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
Satan wants to hinder each of us from growing as we ought to. He knows that spiritual maturity is his worst enemy. That is why he will do anything he can to keep you from growing. Paul warned the Corinthians to not let Satan take advantage of us, “for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11). He is looking for opportunities to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). He is a wiley being (Eph. 6:11). That is why we must be sober and vigilant at all times.
Let us take some time to notice some of the obstacles that Satan will put in our way to hinder spiritual growth. Here are two major obstacles to consider in this study.
Worldliness. This is perhaps one of the greatest hindrances to growth today. Far too many Christians fail to grow as they ought to because the world has too great of an influence in their lives. They want to serve the Lord, but they don’t want to give up the world in the process. As a result they seek for a happy medium. The problem is that what makes them happy displeases God. Jesus understood this mentality as He described the various soils in the Parable of the Sower. That seed (the word of God) which fell on thorny ground was described as, "he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful" (Matt 13:22). If we are going to grow we have to decide that God is going to be our ONLY ruler. Matthew 6:24 says, “"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.“ The gospels record an account of a ruler who met Jesus one day requesting information on inheriting eternal life. He admitted that he had been a devout Jew having kept the commandments since his youth. But Jesus knew his heart and said to him, “one thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come take up the cross and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21) Sadly, the rich, young ruler went away sorrowful, “for he had great possessions.” If we are not willing to give up the ways of the world, we will never grow to the degree we ought to. And Satan is fully aware of this and will do all that he can to keep the ways of the world coming. John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15)
Distractions. This is perhaps one of Satan's most effective weapons in hindering our growth. He knows that all the desire in the world to do something good is worthless if he can keep you busy doing everything else. You can know the word of God inside and out, but if you fail to apply it, you are not going to grow as you ought to. We live in a world that far too busy. From the time we wake up in the morning until we go to bed, our schedule is micromanaged. We have so many more things we think we have to do that there is little time left to do things necessary to grow spiritually. We “pencil in” a little reading time and maybe a short prayer, and a couple of hours of worship each week, but beyond that we are just too busy to take our spirituality serious. Growing in Him certainly does involve making time for Him, but it also involves a determination to NOT let anything thing distract us from that. On one occasion, some disciples came to Jesus offering to follow Him, but they had other matters to take care of first. Jesus was not willing to accept that. Luke 9:57-62 shows that Jesus must be first before all things if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. Consider what made Mary's actions more pleasing to Jesus than Martha when He was at their home. She knew what was most important while Martha was "distracted over many things" (Luke 10:38-42). If we are not careful, we will allow many things, some of the very honorable within themselves, to distract us from growing as we ought to.
The next few articles in this bulletin will be devoted to examining some other obstacles to our spiritual growth and some things we can do to overcome them. Let us never forget that we have to grow to please our God. Are you growing as you ought to? TATJR
OBSTACLES TO CHRISTIAN GROWTH (2)
It is my hope that we have seen and understand that growth in the Christian's life is something that is expected. Whether it be the growing that every newborn in Christ needs (1 Peter 2:1) or continued growth throughout your life as a Christian (2 Peter 3:18) growth is a key element to being pleasing to God. If that be the case, why is that so many either fail to grow or their development is much slower than it ought to be (cf. Hebrews 5:12)? The main reason can be attributed to the obstacles Satan puts in our way. He knows that if he can find something to put in your way it could keep you from becoming what you ought to be. If his efforts persist he will cause you to be lost. We must take every step we can to remove all obstacles to our spiritual growth if we are to be pleasing to God. That begins with understand what obstacles are standing in your way. In our last article we noted two major obstacles – worldliness and distractions. Today, we want to examine a few more.
Indifference. Perhaps you have heard the joke about the man who was asked by a preacher if he knew about the dangers of ignorance and indifference. He responded by saying, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” While such may bring a chuckle, the truth is many possess one of these attitudes (or both), and that is NOT funny. Such obstacles will get in the way of one’s own spiritual growth as well as the growth of others. The fact is that many fail to grow because they simply do not care as they ought to. They know they ought to grow and often they know what they need to do. They may even be concerned (i.e. worrying) about their spiritual malnutrition. But they are do not care enough to do something about it.
Continually, the Bible speaks of the heart. It is at the center of that which drives our moral, spiritual and intellectual life in whatever direction we are going. It is sometimes described as the seat of our emotions, passions and appetites (ISBE). The spiritual heart is very important. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders because their heart was not pure. Quoting from Isaiah 29:13 He said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Matthew 15:8-9. If the heart is not pure, God will not accept you actions. Another example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 where the importance of love is described. I encourage you to read these verses.
Indifference is a matter of the heart. It is an indication that your heart is not spiritually pure. At best, indifference means that you serve God with divided loyalty. Jesus said that such is unacceptable. He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
Indifference WILL manifest itself sooner or later. It will be seen in unfinished projects, poor execution of tasks, slow learning, slopiness and unpreparedness. Indifference caused 5 virgins to be left outside of their wedding because they were unprepared. Solomon wrote, “I went by the field of the lazy man, And by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with nettles; Its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well;I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest; So shall your poverty come like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:30-34. When one doesn’t care it shows up and affects all that you do. It was indifference that made Laodicea such a distasteful church to the Lord (Revelation 3:15-16).
Ask yourself, Is my service to God offered with a divided heart? When I look at the church, do I assume that someone else is going to handle the problems for us and do all the work? Do I expect the preacher to give us all of the Bible we need and the assembly to give us all the worship to God we need. As soon as "church" is over, am I out the door and on with my live until the next "appointed time"? The answer to such questions will help determine whether or not you are indifferent. And such shallow Christianity will NEVER produce the growth that God expects of us. You can rest assured that Satan will capitalize on it. We have to "desire the pure milk of the word" that we may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2).
To deal with indifference you have to make up your mind that you are going to care more. All of the good intentions and even actions that you do take will not overcome this attitude until it becomes something you determine to do to the degree that you will not allow anything to distract you from it. If you are not growing as you ought to, is it because of your attitude? Think about it.
Ignorance is another deterrent to spiritual growth. Satan loves the soul that fails to investigate truth. He takes delight when someone reasons “I will simply follow my heart” instead of determining whether or not something is the truth. The Lord spoke of Israel saying, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”(Matthew 7:21)
There are others who reason that as long as we live a moral life and believe, that such is all God expects. I have heard it said before of some moral individual that was not a Christian, but attended services more faithfully than some who were and acted better as well, being told, "Why don't you obey the gospel? You won't have to change much in your life." The true believer knows better. If one is considering obeying the gospel they need to know ahead of time that they are expected to GROW and keep growing until they leave this earth.
There are some who have never been taught that they need to grow. Others who have obeyed the gospel have never been shown what they need to do. They assume that all that is expected is to "go to church on Sunday" and maybe give a little in the collection. Jesus demanded growth and we know that ignorance is NO excuse (Acts 17:30). Consider the final instructions of Jesus as He was about to ascend to heaven. In Matthew 28:19-20, He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you..." This last phrase does NOT mean one has to know everything before they become a Christian, but they DO HAVE TO understand the concept that whatever the Lord commands they must do. How will they find out "all things"? There is only one way. “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7. Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul is here calling for STUDY so that we can handle God’s word accurately.
Solomon also said, “When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you,” Proverbs 2:10-11
Satan thrives on indifference and ignorance in our lives. Let us determine that we will remove such obstacles and grow as God would have us to grow. In our next article we will examine some more obstacles to growth.
OBSTACLES TO CHRISTIAN GROWTH (3)
Let it be clearly understood. If we are to be pleasing to God, we have to grow. In previous articles we have been noticing some obstacles to Christian growth. Thus far we have discussed how Satan will try to distract us, appeal to worldliness in our lives, produce indifference in our hearts and ignorance in our minds. These are some of the key attitudes that will hinder our growth. While others could be added to these, let us now turn a different direction and notice some things in our lives that either produce these attitudes or keep us from being able to develop to the degree we ought to.
Remember that the Hebrew writer said, “For by this time you ought to be teachers” (5:12) indicating they had let some things get in their way. I am convinced there are many who know they need to grow and want to grow but their lives are set up in such a way that they have made it either impossible or much more difficult than it ought to be. Let us notices some of these obstacles
An improper mindset. Growth starts in the mind. I am convinced that most people with the desire to grow who do not start with an attitude that they can’t grow. They have good intentions, but when they see how much effort it will take, they become overwhelmed. The Bible is a big book to learn, changing behaviors after years is such a hard thing to do, altering your schedule takes tremendous effort, etc. The result is many think they cannot grow. Here is a fact: If you don't think you can grow, you are right (until you change your mind).
However, it does not have to be that way. While it is not easy, you can reprogram your mind. In fact that is what Paul called for in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” We all have things we are passionate about. Whether it is a hobby, a cause or a television show, we find ways to do what we want to do. When obstacles arise, we find ways around them. It’s all about our mindset.
So how does one reprogram his mind to grow spiritually? It starts with determination. Remember what Jesus said to Satan as He was being tempted, “Get behind me Satan” (Matthew 4:10). He was determined to not let the devil deter His work.
Start thinking about spiritual things and you will start becoming more as God would have you to be and thus growing. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” In Philippians 4:8, Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”
Another step that can help you is to pray to God for strength. James said that if we lack wisdom, we ought to ask of God (James 1:5). On one occasion Jesus called for a man to believe so that his child would be healed. He responded, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). On another occasion the apostles of Jesus asked Him, “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Are you allowing Satan to influence your mind to keep you from growing?
Poor planning. Often we fail to grow because we don’t give ourselves the time to do the things we need to do to promote growth. There is always something else to do so that we don’t have time to study, pray, visit our brethren, teach others, and for some, even worship. When we make plans or set up commitments we don’t think about how it will affect our spirituality. When we apply for a job, we make no efforts to build in time to attend the worship services. When we go on trips, we just cast God aside to pursue our pleasures. Is it any wonder we don’t grow?
Others do not have a systematic plan in place to ensure growth. For example, if your knowledge is to increase, there needs to be some sort of plan with which you will systematically read and study the Bible. There needs to be a time set aside regularly so that you can develop your knowledge. Another example is our failure to take a spiritual inventory (2 Corinthians 13:5). We need to know where we are and where we need to be if we are to start reaching toward our goals. We also need a plan to get there.
Formulating a plan is not an easy task. Often people see where they are and where they need to be and they see the huge gap between the two. As a result they are overwhelmed. Many in discouragement give up. Good planning not only involves the long range goal (growth), but short range goals and directions on how to get there. Jesus told us to count the cost of serving Him. In Luke 14:26-33 He used the examples of building a tower and going to war with a smaller army than the enemy. Such efforts require planning.
Truly, growth takes effort and good planning. And Satan would love nothing more than to hinder your good planning.
Lack of discipline. We have already noted that spiritual growth takes planning and a proper attitude. Implementing these plans takes discipline. When we lack spiritual discipline, we are not going to do that which will promote our growth. We will allow everything that comes along to distract our growth. Everything we start will either fail to be completed or finished with less than our best. One who lacks discipline is quick tempered, easily discouraged and led into sin. Because of a lack of self-control, he might set out to do right, but quickly he returns to his old ways. Satan loves the one who doesn’t have discipline. It doesn’t take much effort for him keep you from growing.
Christians are called upon to exercise self-control. It is one of the “Christian graces” (2 Peter 1:6) and a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23). Whether it be our tongues (James 3), our fleshly desires (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Corinthians 6:18), our dealing with others (Colossians 4:5) or our tempers (Proverbs 16:32; James 1:19) we need self-control in all we do. To achieve our spiritual goals we have to stay the course and “press” (Philippians 3:14) toward the prize. Jesus said, “No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Hebrews 10:38 says, “Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in Him.”
While it is not easy, self-discipline can be learned. It is something that must be practiced every day (1 Corinthians 9:27). As we learn to bring every thought into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:5) and all of our actions following the will of God we are destined to grow spiritually.
In our next article we notice some more obstacles to our growth. TATJR
OBSTACLES TO CHRISTIAN GROWTH (4)
This study is dealing with an important area in the life of every Christian – growth. We have noted that growth is an important part of our lives. The past few articles have addressed some of the obstacles that stand in the way of our growth as Christians. Some of them are placed there by Satan and others through our own negligence simply hinder us. In this article we want to notice some external factors that hinder growth.
Poor role models. Sometimes people don't grow because they don't see growth in those they look up to. The scriptures teach the importance of being a proper example (Matthew 5:14-16). This is important not only in dealing with those of the world, but our brethren as well. When one first becomes a Christian he begins observing his brethren. While he has a fervent desire to do what is right how long will it last? What happens if he sees everyone in the congregation simply existing as they always have? What if in time he sees that the only thing that happens is the members “go to church”? Unless he is taught different, he is going to adopt that same attitude. Which means his growth will be stunted.
Paul told Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2. How was he to teach? One way was found in an earlier letter, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” 1 Timothy 4:12. Consider also Titus 2:3 notes that older women are to be “teachers of good things” to the younger. This is one of many examples that could be given which call for proper role models in all things, including growth.
Our entertainment driven society. While this actually fits under the category of worldliness; it deserves its own attention. We live in the television, video game, computer age. For many hours are spent every day in front of a screen at home and now, even as we are driving around town. The goal is to be entertained. While such media can be good, and in reality they are a blessing, often they become the primary reason why we don’t grow spiritually. We spend so much time being entertained that we have little time left to study God’s word, pray and visit those who need edification. Also, because of the intensity of entertainment they offer, it can make worship, prayer and bible study boring.
There are reasons why we are called upon to make a total commitment to God. The allure of the world is one of them. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You CANNOT serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24). John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). Paul warned Timothy of those who would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” ( 2 Timothy 3:1-5). He concluded this by saying, “and from such people turn away!”
When we allow entertainment to become an obsession in our lives, we will be affected by it. And it WILL stunt our spiritual growth.
Discouragement. Often times when one observes a failure to grow in others or in one’s own life, he becomes discouraged. When things don’t progress as quickly as he would like, he can become frustrated and tempted to give up. Obviously, as long as this attitude is present, growth will not be.
Jesus described this heart in the parable of the Sower. It is the stony ground. Matthew 13:20-21 says, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
The fact that one is discouraged is not wrong within itself. We all become discouraged from time to time. Even Jesus was discouraged occasionally. But the key is to keep going and not let whatever it is that is so discouraging hinder our spiritual growth.
Realize that growth also takes time. In Galatians 6:9 Paul said, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Growth will come “in due season”. I am reminded of the child who can hardly wait to grow up. First, he can’t wait to become a teenager. Then he wants to be sixteen so that he can drive. As he reaches that milestone, he wants to be an adult, and so it keeps going. We tell them, “be patient, growth takes time”. We understand that physically, but when it comes to spiritual matters, we want growth and we want it right now. Well, growth doesn’t work that way spiritually either.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT OBSTACLES?
The answer is found in Hebrews 12:1-2 which says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Note how we are called upon to lay aside every weight and run with endurance.
First, we have to set aside whatever it is that is an obstacle. While that is usually not easy, it means doing all that we can to remove the obstacle. If we have attitude problems, adjust your attitude. If the conduct of others is discouraging you – don’t let it. Talk to them about it (souls are at stake). Or better yet, don’t worry about them, worry about yourself. I love what Jesus said to Peter when he inquired about the future of John. Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:22) What is needed in this situation is for YOU to step up to the plate and do your job. MAYBE your conduct will inspire them to do better.
We MAY have to turn off the television and computer games.
If our obstacle involves sin, we need to repent and pray (Acts 8:22)
Second, make a plan to grow. We have already noted that poor planning hinders growth. The opposite is also true. If you want to grow spiritually, you need to set aside time to study God’s word on a daily basis. Do your Bible lessons. Pray regularly and study HOW to pray. As much as possible, don’t neglect the church. You NEED the local church and she needs you. Set goals to reach the lost and keep at it.
Third, be patient. As we have already noted, growth takes time. It also takes great effort. If you are going to grow in knowledge, you have to keep studying for years. This requires planning. If you want to be able to teach the lost, get to work and keep at it. In time, you will begin to see the fruits of your labor. We need to set aside time in our lives to grow. Think about that child that can’t wait to grow up. Growing requires several things including he has to go to school (education), eat, exercise, and do many other things that will promote growth and health.
Truly, Satan will put many obstacles in our way as we strive to grow spiritually. I am sure there are others that could be added to this list. But these are sufficient to keep us aware of his weapons. Let us not let ANYTHING get in the way of our growth. TATJR