Lessons in faith are never easy, nor are they cheap. They cost us everything, but worth everything. Paying the price for faith is what we do in the wilderness. It is in this place, far from the noise of others, that Jesus teaches us about what uncompromising faith is all about. Here we learn the basic requirements for spiritual growth.
'Self' and spirit
During our wilderness journey we had to exercise our faith daily. The lessons we endured revealed an interesting picture of what lies in the core of every person. Each time we were betrayed, hated, loved or cared for, gave us opportunities to see what lay in our own core and what was in others. God never wasted an opportunity to expose the deepest roots in every person.
Eventually we realized that in the core of every human lay two distinct elements; the ‘self’ nature and the ‘spirit’ nature. If we nurture ‘self’ we will fall away from faith and become more selfish. If we nurture ‘spirit’ we grow into maturity. In this Jesus is our model. It takes no effort to nurture ‘self’ for that is our default. Nurturing ‘spirit’, however, takes a good deal of effort and training.
This exercise of faith is critical if we want to grow closer to Jesus. Our experiences with Jesus revealed that there are three spiritual basics that need to be present, and nurtured, if we are to grow into spiritual maturity.
If we nurture ‘self’ we will fall away from faith and become more selfish. If we nurture ‘spirit’ we grow into maturity.
The necessity of humility
The first basic we recognized as being crucial for spiritual growth was humility; a rare commodity these days. Humility brings down pride in ‘self’ and allows us to hear Jesus. God Himself is humble and so if we are to be like Jesus, we too need to be humble. It is not as easy as it sounds.
Growing in humility starts with making decisions that don’t feel good because they hurt our pride. Often those decisions also make us look bad in front of others, which is also hard. These decisions for humility are counter to how our world works, but then the entire world is counter to God.
By starting to make decisions that bring down pride, we find humility beginning to grow. As Wanda likes to say, “Go lower than the strife.” This means when conflict comes, we humble ourselves, and say I’m sorry. This is a brilliant start in our journey to spiritual maturity.
The importance of sacrifice
The second basic we found is necessary for spiritual maturity is self-sacrifice. In a world that pushes ‘self’ ad nauseam, these words are nothing short of heresy. There is a good reason God put such an emphasis on sacrifices in the Old Testament. From the very beginning Jesus has been trying to teach us that to give up, to self-sacrifice, is critical to spiritual growth. David said once that he would not give to God “that which costs me nothing.” We ignore his words to our peril.
On our journey we heard many friendly words from people but rarely saw sacrifice. When we received a little, it was usually what people no longer had use for. Very few people gave us something that really cost. This was sad to see, for these people missed the blessing that comes from giving, truly giving, of oneself for another.
When we look for ways to give what is precious to us, that which costs us something, the blessing will always return to us.
A foundation of empathy
The third basic we found to be critical for spiritual growth is empathy. For all the outrage at injustice these days, you might think empathy is paramount. It is not. Saying pleasant words isn’t empathy. Empathy means we enter another person’s situation. It means we walk with that person, giving of ourselves and loving them more than ourselves.
We are not naturally inclined to do this, so we must learn how. We must be trained and tested on how to enter another person’s world. Each difficulty we went through led us to a deeper understanding of what the poor and homeless go through. We had to make a deliberate choice to give up ‘self’ each time. Even when we needed food, warmth and shelter Jesus never excused us from putting others first.
The antidote to 'self' pity
Some that go through hardships inevitably will fall into the swamp of ‘self’-pity. These unfortunate individuals will often succumb to bitterness and anger over their hardships. It produces sour fruit that infects many. The antidote to such peril is always empathy.
By putting others first, laying down our lives for them, Jesus kept us from those horrible traps. We need to take the time to understand what another person is going through and ‘enter in’ to their world. By doing this we put down ‘self’ and nourish our ‘spirit.’ This always costs but the reward is greater, much greater, than anything we could ever imagine.
“We had to keep moving, and keep making decisions. Even if it meant making mistakes. God can, and does, over prepare us in faith during our training time.”
Basic requirements for spiritual growth
Our encouragement to you today is to start on the journey of faith. Take seriously the lessons Jesus gives and follow His voice. He will lead us into humility, ‘self’-sacrifice and empathy if we let Him. The Spirit of the Living God is always faithful to prepare us with the basic requirements for spiritual growth.
If you are serious about your faith, then pray and ask Him to teach you these basics. The lessons are not fun, we can assure you of that, but if you stick with Him, and don’t quit, you will grow in faith. If you are faithful to Him in these lessons, He will take you into the wilderness. There He will guide you to become a mature son or daughter and He will become your reward!
God bless you,
Homer and Wanda