Spiritual GIANTS

by Lowell Hargreaves


An Amazing Fact: The world's smallest known vertebrate fish, the pygmy goby, is found on coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean, and is only about a quarter of an inch long when full grown. The Latin name of this fish, Nanus comes from a word meaning "dwarf." You can understand why the pygmy goby babies can only be seen with a magnifying glass when they first hatch from their teeny, tiny eggs!

I suppose few people would choose to be dwarfed. It seems that every little school-age child dreams of growing up to be big and strong. Likewise, each individual who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour desires to grow to become a strong, tall Christian. Unfortunately, however, many people have a dwarfed experience with God. They're Christian pygmies, as it were. In fact, some churches contain so many spiritual pygmies that the occasional "normal" Christian, who is growing daily in his religious experience, is looked upon as something of an oddity!

How can we grow spiritually to become strong, beautiful believers-giants among the pygmies? First of all, a most basic step must take place. There must be a birth! In order to "grow up" spiritually, a person MUST be born again.

Experiencing the New Birth
The new birth involves two simple yet essential steps. Jesus Himself outlined them for us in a night interview with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He began, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John 3:3-5.

Did you catch both steps? The Lord declared that we must all be born of water and the Spirit. To be born of water represents baptism, and to be born of the Spirit represents conversion-accepting Jesus as our personal Saviour. These two simple steps are also given in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus declares, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Mark 16:16. In order to enter heaven, we must take these dual steps.

The first step in the new-birth process is to be born of the Spirit. God tells us in John chapter one how this is to take place. "But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power [margin references translate this word "the right, or privilege"] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12, 13. Those who receive Jesus and believe in Him as their personal Saviour are born of the Spirit or, as it says here, "born ... of God."

Receiving Jesus into our lives is not difficult or complicated, and we need not fear rejection. Jesus tells us, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20. When guests knock at our door, we "receive" them by opening the door and inviting them to come inside. In the same way, we receive Jesus by opening our hearts to Him in prayer and then inviting Him to come in and transform us by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

After Christ enters our lives, a dramatic change takes place. Paul states, "And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." Romans 8:10. The old man of sin dies; and as with any death, it is appropriate to have a funeral and bury the corpse. Spiritually this is represented by the baptismal service. In chapter six of Romans, Paul says: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Romans 6:3, 4.

A baptismal service is the happiest funeral you could ever attend! That's because it combines the symbolism of a funeral, a resurrection, and a wedding all together in one service. Baptism celebrates the new birth and represents a new beginning. In baptism we unite with Christ and with His body-His church (Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18). The baptismal service is not an indication that an individual is perfect. Rather, it is a public testimony of a person's love, commitment, and union to Christ.

FIVE STEPS TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Physical birth is just the beginning of a long and perilous journey, and the "new birth" is no different. Growth must begin instantly after spiritual birth, or else the individual will soon fall prey to a spiritual grave. Jesus says, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Matthew 24:13.

To discover how we can grow spiritually after we've been born again, let's consider for a moment how children grow. There are at least five basic things they do (either consciously or unconsciously) in order to grow. They eat, they drink, they sleep, they breathe, and they exercise (play and work). Those same five things apply to spiritual growth, as well. Let's consider each step.

Step #1-Spiritual Food
What do babies need in order to grow and develop? Milk and love. Without these two things, infants will not even survive, much less grow. A spiritual newborn is no different. The church family is to provide the loving support for the newborn Christian. But what is to be our spiritual milk, and where do we get it? The answer is found in Peter's epistle. He says, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." 1 Peter 2:2. Milk makes babies grow, and our spiritual milk is God's Word.

In reference to spiritual food, Jeremiah says, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart." Jeremiah 15:16. Job had his priorities right when he said; " I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food." Job 23:12. It was the Master Himself who said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4. To live "by every word" means not only that the Scriptures sustain our spiritual life, but more importantly that we live in harmony with the instructions and principles given in the Bible.

Jesus told us how to feed on the Word when He said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." John 5:39. The prophet Isaiah spoke of comparing Scripture with Scripture (Isaiah 28:10), and Paul stressed the importance of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

There is no benefit in sitting at a table filled with food and simply viewing it. You must put the food into your mouth (one bite at a time), chew, and then swallow. But does the process end there? Oh no! Your body still must digest the food (which is automatic if you've done the first three steps correctly). In the same way, to receive nourishment from the written Word, we need to take bite-sized portions of it, chew on them, swallow, and then digest them. This all takes time, of course, just as with eating a decent meal. Don't try the fast-food, drive-thru approach to Bible study!

The spiritual nourishment gained from such a study of the Bible will strengthen and enable us to resist temptation. The Psalmist wrote, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Psalm 119:11. Shortly after His baptism Jesus used Scripture as His defense when facing the devil's most subtle temptations. Three times He answered, "It is written" (Matthew 4:1-11). God's Word equips and empowers us to live a victorious Christian life.

You see, the Bible is God's voice speaking to us. Through the written Word, we come in contact with the living Word-Jesus. As we associate with Jesus in Scripture, we become like Him in character (2 Corinthians 3:18). By feeding on the written Word, we are eating the bread of life (John 6:51-58). We are partaking "of the divine nature" through the precious promises of Scripture and daily growing to reflect ever more of the divine character of Jesus.

"When" we eat can be just as important as "what" we eat. If you fast all week long, hoping to thrive on the nourishment gained from a spiritual potluck in church on the seventh day, your soul will be stunted and starved! You need at least one good spiritual "feast" each day. Write out a Bible promise on a card and stick it in your pocket or purse. That way you can pull out a spiritual "snack" several times throughout the day! The best time to eat spiritual food is in the morning. And just as we thank God in prayer for physical food and ask for His blessing upon it, so we should ask God to guide, instruct, and help us understand the Bible before beginning each spiritual meal.

Step #2-Spiritual Drink
A person can survive several weeks without food, but only a matter of days without water. What is to be our spiritual water, and where do we go for a drink? Jesus gives us the answer. He says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit...)." John 7:37-39. The water Jesus promises to give us is the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever been thirsty while visiting in someone's home? To quench your thirst, you simply must ask, "Could I have a drink, please?" I have never seen anyone refuse that request. In fact, most hosts not only give you one drink, but also ask if you'd like another!

Notice Jesus' promise: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" Luke 11:13. To receive this spiritual water (the Holy Spirit), all we have to do is ask for it! God promises that if we come to Jesus just as we are and ask for living water, we will receive a spiritual drink.

Then, just as water cleanses, purifies, and refreshes every cell in our physical bodies, so the Holy Spirit cleanses, purifies, and refreshes our souls. However, when the Holy Spirit is convicting us of something we should do or quit doing, if we refuse to surrender and to accept the purifying work of the Spirit, we can hardly expect to receive another draft of this blessing. It is the Holy Spirit's work to convict us of sin (John 16:8) and to guide us to all truth (John 16:13). Then, as we respond to the leading of God's Holy Spirit in our lives, He becomes our Comforter (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Of this life-giving water we may partake freely (Revelation 22:17).

Step #3-Spiritual Rest
Most growth in children takes place during sleep. They grow the most when they are thinking about it the least!

The secret of experiencing spiritual rest is contained in one of the most encouraging promises Christ ever spoke. He said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:28, 29. Our souls can find rest only as we come to Jesus and place our trust in Him. When we learn to trust God in all situations, we experience a blessed peace that no psychologist can simulate.

In contrast, consider the wicked: "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." Isaiah 57:20, 21. The wicked have no rest or peace. This is because "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them." Psalm 119:165. A person who loves God's law will naturally obey it, and the result is "great peace." The wicked have no peace because they are breaking God's law. It is abundantly clear from Scripture that there can be no rest in disobedience! If we are willfully breaking one of God's commandments or refusing to following His leading in any area, we will never have peace.

In the New Testament, Paul tells us that God has a sign of this spiritual rest-a sign of our trust in Him. Hebrews 4:3, 4 says: "For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works." The rest to which God is referring, which is only for "we which have believed" or trusted in Him, is clearly the Sabbath rest. God rested "the seventh day" after completing the work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11). We mark this day on our calendars as the time between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday.

Now notice verse 9 of the same passage: "There remaineth therefore a rest [marginal references translate this word as "keeping of a Sabbath"] to the people of God." During the past four years, our family has been living and conducting evangelistic seminars in the country of Ukraine. Since the country was once part of the vast Soviet empire, nearly all Ukrainians understand Russian. We passed out Russian Bibles in each seminar to those who were faithful in attendance. In the Russian Bible, Hebrews 4:9 reads thus: "There remains therefore a keeping of Sabbath for the people of God." For the believer, the Sabbath remains!

Paul makes it crystal clear in the New Testament that the Sabbath hasn't changed. God didn't change it; the apostles didn't change it; and Paul didn't change it. The Sabbath still remains as a sign of rest-not only physically, but also spiritually. Thousands of Christians today are lying dead or dying along the route to the celestial city, their spiritual energies wasted because they have willfully refused to enter into God's rest, embodied in the Sabbath.

Step #4-Spiritual Breath
Life can be sustained only a few brief moments without breath. One of my favorite authors wrote: "Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. ... Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality, the religious experience lacks health and vigor." (Gospel Workers, pp. 254, 255.)

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus "spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." Luke 18:1. During some of my prophecy seminars in Eastern Europe, I have seen individuals faint during the meeting simply because there was not enough oxygen to sustain so many people crowded into one room. If you were to hold your breath long enough, you too would pass out. The same goes for your spiritual experience. Neglect to pray, and you risk spiritual fainting or even death.

There are three conditions to having our prayers answered:

 

  1. We must recognize our need of God's help (Luke 18:10-14).
  2. We must have faith that God will hear and answer as He sees best (Hebrews 11:6).
  3. We must forsake our sins (1 John 3:22; Proverbs 28:9, 13).

The good news is that in prayer, we can ask God to help us fulfill each one of these three conditions.

Step #5-Spiritual Exercise
The final step to becoming a spiritual giant demands the most action. If you're a parent, you've probably noticed that it's almost impossible to keep a child from activity. Children are so full of energy and enthusiasm; they have to be active. Likewise, a child of God cannot be kept from spiritual activity.

If all you did was eat, drink, sleep, and breathe, what would happen to you? Well, in a spiritual sense, your veins would soon clog up with the cholesterol of selfishness and self-pity. You'd have a spiritual heart attack and die! Literally thousands of churches today have become like morgues, filled with the corpses of Christians who have long ago died for lack of spiritual exercise.

The following exercise program was prescribed by Jesus for His followers: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 28:19. "Go" is an action verb, as well as a command.

Jesus went on to state, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts 1:8. We are not called to be the Judge! Neither are we called to be the prosecuting or defense attorneys. Instead, God has called us to be witnesses. In a court setting, witnesses simply tell what they have seen and heard. For Christians, that means telling others about our experiences with Jesus.

The first missionaries sent out personally by Jesus were two men who had been dwelling in filth among the tombs on the eastern shores of Galilee. Before encountering Jesus, they had been controlled by a legion of demons (Matthew 8:28-34). After the Saviour delivered them from a living death, these two men wanted more than anything else just to accompany Jesus. "Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." Mark 5:19.

Had either of those men attended a prophecy seminar? Had they been through a Bible-study course? What, then, did they have to share? They had a testimony of deliverance, the power of Christ to rescue humans from the lowest depths of hell. Possessed now with a burning desire to tell others of the blessed Saviour, they went out as missionaries to witness for the Master.

Has Jesus done anything for you? If so, then you are a key witness for your Saviour! You have a testimony that no other person can share.

Believe it or not, witnessing is probably the most important of the five steps. Spiritual exercise is what triggers your spiritual appetite. It will make you hungry for the Word and thirsty for more of that living water-the Holy Spirit's presence and power in your life. Exercise also enables you to sleep better. Your spiritual rest (trust in God) will be more sweet, more secure, more refreshing! Spiritual exercise will cause you to breathe deeply, too. You'll have a richer, deeper prayer experience.

In a nutshell, witnessing is what keeps you spiritually healthy. Your spiritual muscles will grow strong through exercise. Just as athletes are known to have bigger hearts because of rigorous workouts, so you will become "large-hearted" through continuous spiritual activity.

There you have it-five simple steps to becoming a spiritual giant. We must take them ourselves every day. God is not going to send an angel from heaven each morning to read the Bible to you, pray for you, or do any of those other steps, for that matter. These things we must do in cooperation with God; and by so doing, we will become little in our own eyes, but great in the eyes of the Lord.

Ask the Lord just now to help you take these five simple steps each day and become a spiritual giant for Him!

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