I bought a new pair of running shoes Monday. My old ones were pretty worn out and I begin to experience some discomfort. Buying these new shoes reminded me of the story my parents always tell about buying me new tennis shoes growing up.
I usually got two new pairs of shoes at the beginning of each school year and I absolutely loved going to pick them out. Whenever we got home, I would put on the new shoes and beg my parents to come watch me run down our driveway. You see, I had this grand illusion that my new shoes made me run faster. If you have ever seen me run, you would know that running fast is not my specialty. In fact, my grandfather would say, “Michael, you run hard but you just run in the same place too long!”
As my mind was wondering back in time, I was struck by a thought. We, as believers, have the same tendency in our spiritual lives. We believe that a new Bible reading program or a new worship CD will magically enhance our spiritual growth. If we can just get to this conference or go hear this celebrity pastor speak, then we will take leaps and bounds in our Christian life.
The only problem is that this is an illusion. I fully believe Bible reading programs, worship CD’s, conferences, and celebrity pastors can be beneficial tools in our lives. Here is my concern: We are prone to believe these things will make us grow spiritually, in the same way I thought new shoes would make me run faster.
We often lose sight of the fact that apart from the Holy Spirit working in our lives, these tools will have little value for us at all. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as our helper (paraclete) and Scripture emphasizes that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is expansive. Consider that it is the Spirit, which dwells within us and guides us into all truth (John 14:26), intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27), produces fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), gives us spiritual gifts (Ephesians 2:8), empowers us and gives us boldness to tell others about Jesus (Ephesians 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:13).
While these tools may be useful in our lives, the true power of spiritual growth rests with the work of the Holy Spirit. I know I often find myself focusing much more attention on the tools than on the Spirit’s work. In a real sense the tools become nothing less than gods in my life.
So what do we do? How do we approach these “tools” knowing that true spiritual growth comes from the Holy Spirit at work within us? Here are a few practical things I was reminded of:
1. We need to be filled with the Spirit. Even though the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, we are reminded that we need to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is a continual action verb – the Spirit should continually fill us. By this, Paul means that the Spirit should control us. Consciously we make the decision to yield our will and desires to His will and work in our life. When we are Spirit-filled we can be assured that the tools described above are best understood and appropriated. We will hear, read, and apply things that the Spirit deems most important instead of deciding what we, in our flesh, deem as most important. Whenever we read Scripture, worship, attend a conference, or hear the Word of God preached, we should be conscious to yield ourselves to the Spirit and give him free reign to work in our lives.
2. We should not grieve the Spirit. Sin in our lives grieves the Holy Spirit. John Wesley shined light on this passage when he wrote, “Do not force Him to withdraw from you, as a friend does whom you grieve by unkind behavior.” Sin that is not repented of and not confessed should not be in the life of a believer and when it is, we are assured that the work of the Holy Spirit is stifled. We must beware of our tendency to compartmentalize our lives in such a way that we allow sin, that has not been confessed and turned from, to remain in our lives while at the same time attempting to grow spiritually.
*Let’s use the available tools but remind ourselves, daily, that our greatest need is for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives!