3 Things We Can’t Miss if We Want to Grow Spiritually

I know many northern gardeners probably don’t grow much okra, but in the southern part of the U.S. here in Alabama we grow a lot of it. Hailing from the continent of Africa, in the late summer it is a staple when other plants have given up in our southern heat. Picking can be quite the chore (the pods grow so fast you have to pick every other day) and it is normally a relief when the first frost puts an end to their generosity.

Several seasons ago I had an okra patch that was looking great. The plants grew large and had lots of healthy looking foliage. But even though they were growing well they lacked something. Blooms and okra pods! Since I had planted them for food and not just for looks I wasn’t exactly pleased.

The Unfruitful Fig Tree
Jesus once told a parable about a fig tree with a similar problem. “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any . Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

As Christians we should all want to mature in our walk with Christ and bear fruit. We want to get a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ at the end of our life. But how do we measure maturity? How do we know if we are being faithful so we can bear fruit? Here are three things I would encourage us to monitor if we want to grow spiritually.

1. How much we Know of what God tells us.
One area we need to monitor in our life is how we are progressing in our knowledge of who God is, what He has done, and what He requires. If we love him, we will want to hear from Him, especially through the Bible, God’s love letter to us. The more we grow in our relationship with Him, the more we will know about Him and the more we will want to know. One way we can evaluate this in our lives is by measuring how familiar we are with the Bible and the stories of how God has worked throughout history.

2. How much we DO of what we know God tells us.
Another area we need to monitor in our lives is our level of consistent obedience to what we have learned about what God requires of us. How well do our lives reflect what we have been learning about who God is? Just like with my okra or the fig tree in the parable above, just being a good looking plant isn’t enough, we have to bear fruit. Jesus said his disciples will be known by their fruit. We can’t just say “But I am a Christian! I know a lot about the Bible!” My okra plants could claim, “But we are okra plants!” But we can claim to know God and deny Him with our actions. (Titus 1:16) We are told that even the Demons believe in God. The evidence of our faith comes when we act as if the knowledge we claim is true.

3. How much we SHARE with others of what we do (of what we know God tells us).
In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”(emphasis mine) If we have learned something from God and found it to be true as we have lived it out, then we will want to share it with others! Sharing is both evidence that we really believe something and a way that we can find out how well we really do know something! As a father there have been many things I thought I knew until my sons or wife asked me to explain it to them. To obey Jesus’ great commission to make disciples we must be progressing in our desire to share with and model for others in our lives.

Finding Balance
Often I fall into measuring my maturity in Christ in just one of the areas above. In the Church especially we often tend to use knowledge of spiritual things as a measurement for how spiritually mature someone is. But that means nothing because Satan probably knows more Scripture than any Christian alive. Instead, our maturity is measured wherever our knowledge, application, and sharing have all reached the same level. It is the balance of the three. Sometimes a newer Christian can end up maturing beyond an older one even if they have less knowledge because they are actually obeying and applying the little they do know.

Basic Faith in Action
The balance of knowledge, application, and sharing is just basic faith. It is evidence that we believe in something. If I say I believe that heirlooms varieties produce the best vegetables, but I grow hybrids, do I really believe it? If I really believe that Brandywine tomatoes are the best, then I will not only know why, but I will grow them and encourage others to do the same! Why do we think it should be any different with our faith in Jesus?

Without balancing these basic areas of faithfulness we can’t expect to see fruit in our lives. With my unfruitful okra plant I eventually ‘switched’ them with a stick which shocked them into producing fruit. Sometimes God, in His mercy, brings trials in our lives to help us wake up to the reality of what we are actually putting our faith in. Other times He gives us time, just like in the fig tree parable. But may we all be motivated out of love and fear of God to be faithful and produce fruit so we can bring Glory to the One who has saved us.

What about you? Is there something that has been particularly helpful to you in growing as a Christian? How have you tried to find balance with these three things in your spiritual growth? Do you have a point of disagreement? I welcome any feedback or discussion in the comments below!

Why It’s Good to Make Plans Even When they Don’t Work Out

When I was close to finishing high school I wanted to start a small farming business. So my father gave me an assignment to write a business plan. I didn’t really know how to go about it. But I researched it and wrote descriptions, goals, production schedules, infrastructure needs, budgets, and marketing strategies. The next year I began executing my plan during my first season of commercial production. And not surprisingly everything didn’t go as planned! For example, my plan was to have vegetable production be my core enterprise, with pastured broiler production second and egg production third. But the garden flooded and was my least profitable enterprise. Then I ended up buying out another farmer’s layer operation which made eggs our core product. So my strategy didn’t go as planned, but I ended up reaching my income goal for the first year of my farm anyway!

I am grateful for my father encouraging me to take time to plan. It is something I ‘plan’ to teach my three sons how to do. As some of you may consider helping your sons or family learn how to plan here are a few lessons that you could consider sharing with them . . . (Read the rest of this blog post here.)

-This blog post was written for the ManAbout ministry. You can learn more about the amazing work they do in equipping Dad’s to lead their sons into manhood at https://manabouts.com/

What Does God Think about Gift Giving?

We went through lots of different phases of gift giving when I was growing up. I remember one time when my siblings and I woke up on Christmas morning to find the living room transformed into a child’s wonderland of carefully arranged toy sets (put together by my parents the night before). But our parents also didn’t want to cultivate greed in us kids so we tried times where we focused more on other aspects of family and traditions and just gave small gifts in stockings. As a parent now it can be hard to know how to balance gift giving with my own family and kids.

 

Gift giving can be a slightly controversial topic during Christmas time especially among the church. We see so many abuses and experience the extreme commercialization of Christmas (advertisements seem to come out earlier and earlier!). We understandably try to save Baby Jesus from being smothered and forgotten by our piles of presents and wrapping paper. And it is a legitimate concern. But if we can step away from everything everybody else makes about gift giving and presents I think it would be helpful to just think a moment about what God thinks of gift giving. Here are four things to consider and keep in mind this Christmas season.

 

  1. God is the Ultimate giver of gifts. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” A gift is something freely given to someone without requiring payment. All the good things we enjoy around us; fresh air, sunshine, delicious food, family, and health, aren’t something we receive a monthly bill for. God delights to give us good gifts. He gave us the greatest Gift in his Son, Jesus. And since we are made in His image and are His ambassadors the act of giving gifts is a way we can reflect his character to the world around us.
  2. Gift giving is a key part of the spiritual economy. For the most part we live in a society of consumers. We are told that to prosper we must acquire and get more stuff. But God’s economy is different. In God’s economy, the more we give, the more we are entrusted with. “Give, and it will be given to you. . . For with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) Not that gift giving should be done with a selfish heart, but it is actually a way we can be faithful with what God has given us. God is a shrewd investor, and if we don’t use what he has given us to bless others He will find another place to invest.
  3. Spending resources on relationships increases our value of them. My mother-in-law once told me that I would never regret money spent on my relationship with my wife. And so far it has proved true. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. (Luke 12:34) While it is true that the place someone spends their treasure indicates where their heart is, it is also true that where we want our heart to be, that is where we should invest our treasure. So if we find our heart not being as drawn to our wife, or to God, then we just need to find some way to practically spend money and time on them. The more we spend on something, the more we treasure it. Gift giving can be a way to help us value important relationships even more.
  4. Generosity is how we invest in eternity. (1 Timothy 6:17-19) We can’t take anything with us to heaven. But we can transfer funds to heaven. And one way we can do that is through giving it away. Jesus said to store up treasure in heaven. In Proverbs we are told that he who is generous to the poor lends to the Lord. If done with a truly selfless and generous heart gift giving shows that we are living with Eternity in mind.

 

I am by nature a very bad gift giver. Probably because I struggle with being a very selfish person. But I am trying to learn from God and others around me how to live with a generous spirit. When it’s all about the getting, then gifts can distract us from the very things that offer us real satisfaction and joy. But I am learning that when it’s all about the giving, then gifts can help us represent God, be faithful stewards of what we have been given, value our important relationships more, and store up treasures in Heaven! I pray that God helps me to become an expert Gift giver.