Growing Faith

A few days ago I looked outside at our backyard and noticed the winter grass we had planted back in the fall was beginning to look dry.

Here in Arizona, we reseed our yards in order to have green grass in the winters. A completely foreign concept, I am sure, if you live in a state with cold, snowy winters! For me, planting winter grass means less dead, dry grass being dragged into the house by my little boys, which by the way is such a pain to clean up! Every fall, we (I say “we” but really my husband Billy) reseed our backyard and plant winter grass. My 4 year old Connor has become very intrigued with this process in recent years and has now become Billy’s little helper!

This reseeding process begins by first preparing the soil. So Billy mows the old, dry lawn down real low and then marches across the whole yard breaking up the ground with his baseball cleats. I know it’s not the conventional way to “till” the soil but it works! FYI… “tilling” means breaking up and loosening the soil. I needed to look that one up because it is a farming term and I really have never planted anything in my life!

The next step is to water the ground like crazy to make it moist and ready for the seed to be spread. In order to spread the seed, Billy will take handfuls of seed and toss it across the entire yard. Again, probably not the conventional way but it works! This is Connor’s favorite part because he gets to help by throwing seeds all over the place…and the best part?…he won’t get in trouble for it!

Then we cover the yard with top soil…we have used manure in the past and boy does that stink bad! The top soil prevents the birds from coming and snatching up the seeds.

And finally, we water the grass on a timed schedule, pray and wait. Pray? This past fall we began this reseeding process too late and we weren’t sure if the grass was going to grow. So, yes, pray! Wait? Definitely not a word in my 4 year old’s vocabulary.

The next morning, Connor raced to the window to see the grass and to his disappointment he only saw dirt. He couldn’t understand why there was no grass. I began to explain to him that the seed was underneath the soil and we need to wait patiently and pray for it to grow. We know the seed was planted even though we couldn’t see it. It was watered and was exposed to sunlight and now we must believe that it will grow. Day 2…no grass. He did this for about 3 more days, until the 5th day when we actually saw a few pieces of green grass that had grown! Oh, the joy on his face, this mommy will not forget!

As I look at my relationship with God, I have seen my faith and trust in God grow stronger through the years. But there are times even now that my faith doesn’t feel so strong especially in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Funny how you may not always have strong faith for every challenging circumstance, but if you depend on God through those difficult times he will meet you where you are at and your faith grows stronger.

When it comes to our faith growing, there are some important components. Just as we need good soil, water, sunlight, prayer and patience for our winter grass to grow, we similarly need God’s seed (his message of Christ) to be planted in good soil, watered and exposed to the light of God’s Word, then prayer and patience in our circumstances for our faith to grow.

Good Soil

Just as the first step is to prepare the soil for the grass seed, the first step in growing faith is to examine our hearts for God’s seed- his message of Jesus (aka God’s Word) to be planted. Luke 8:11 tells us that God’s seed is the word of God and it is important that it is planted in good soil.

I love the parable of the soils in Luke 8:4-18.  Some of you may be very familiar with this parable and some of you may not and that is ok! A parable compares something familiar to something unfamiliar. Jesus spoke in parables to help us understand spiritual truth by using everyday objects and relationships.

In this particular parable, Jesus describes 4 types of soils. The four soils represent four different responses to God’s message which therefore, represent 4 different conditions of our hearts. People respond differently to God’s message because they are in different states of readiness. For the sake of time, I will summarize the 4 “soils”. I highly recommend reading this passage in Luke 8:4-18 for a more detailed perspective.

The 1st “soil” discusses God’s seed falling on ground that is hard and has no chance to take root because it is quickly snatched up by the devil. The 2nd “soil” describes the seed falling on ground that is rocky and thus shallow also preventing it from taking root. The 3rd “soil” illustrates the seed falling on soil that is among thorns and weeds which may take root but is “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures” and therefore do not mature. Finally, the 4th “soil” describes the seed falling on good soil so that it may take root.

The first step for growing faith is for God’s seed – his message- to take root in your heart which happens when the soil is good.

What condition is your heart in today? Which soil best describes you?

Water/Sunlight

Once God’s seed has taken root (which basically means accepting God’s message) in your life, there are some important steps for your faith and trust in God to grow.

Many people have accepted God’s word but continue to live their entire lives with little or no faith. Once we have received God’s seed in our hearts, we must take action for our faith to grow.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not prove itself with actions, is dead. James 2:17

You see his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. James 2:22 NLT

As you recall in my opening paragraphs, water and sunlight were key components for the planted grass seed to grow in our backyard. In order for God’s seed to grow, we need God’s word. We must take action…“water” the seed and expose it to the “light” by reading God’s word. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul planted the seed of the gospel message in people’s hearts. Apollos’ role was to water- to help the believers grow stronger in their faith.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105 NIV

You see, it’s not enough just to “believe in God”…believe in his existence. We need to “believe God” …believe what his word says! The more we read God’s word, the more we will believe and consequently, our faith and trust in him will grow!

So faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. Romans 10:17NASB

Maybe God’s seed is planted in good soil in your life but it needs more water or exposure to light.

How often do you read God’s word? Our goal should be each day but honestly, a husband, 2 little boys, and a fulltime job…and now a blog? It just doesn’t happen every single day! But I try to use as many resources as I can like devotions sent to my email (similar to sweeter than honey blog), sharing a biblical concept with my children, or even incorporating a scripture I can focus on throughout the day. Whatever it takes to get a word from God’s Word!

Prayer and Patience

This is the most difficult part for me and maybe for you too. Why is it that most of the time we don’t get our prayers answered right away? Because if God answered your prayers right away or yanked you out of your difficult circumstances immediately (because he certainly does have the power to do so!), you wouldn’t need faith. Our circumstances give us the opportunity to draw closer to him to trust him more.

Think of when you rely on God most? Is it during the good times or the bad?

And finally, we need patience which doesn’t mean to just wait but to wait without complaining, getting angry or upset. It is through this waiting period that your faith will continue to grow.

Reflecting Points:

1)    Has God’s seed taken root in your life?

2)    Do you find yourself facing situations in your life with little or no faith?

3)    Are you reading God’s word on a regular basis?

 

Action Points:

1)    Determine what type of soil God’s seed has fallen on and if it has taken root. If it has not taken root, what do you need to do to prepare your heart to receive God’s message?

2)    Begin a habit of reading God’s word on a regular basis. And don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen every single day!

3)    Pray for your faith and trust to grow. If you have doubts, pray to overcome your unbelief! (Matt 9:24)

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It’s in the Approach!

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 NIV

Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]. Hebrews 4:16 AMP

A number of years ago, I worked for a professional baseball team as an athletic trainer. There was one particular person I had a very challenging and difficult time with…my immediate boss. He was a former professional baseball player and the manager for the minor league team I was working for.  He had an unusual personality and frankly never seemed like he was in a good mood. I really believe he had some bitterness because he was no longer a player and was now a coach. He was quite intimidating and I felt like I was always walking on eggshells around him. Whenever I had to approach him for something I needed, I hesitated and waited for what I thought was a good time…when really there was never a good time!

I was afraid of his responses to my questions and needs as I had already experienced his rude remarks on a number of occasions. I can recall on one particular instance, I approached him and asked him about an injured baseball player. His response? He yelled at me in front of the entire team. And the list of these experiences went on from him throwing a chair across the locker room to trying to fine me for being late…which I can honestly say I was not!

Have you ever had an experience like this?

Well, maybe not to the extent of having chairs thrown around on your behalf but maybe say approaching someone of authority like your boss for a pay raise or even a few days off? Have you been hesitant or intimidated because this person of authority was not very approachable for one reason or another?

Some of our needs today go far beyond asking our bosses for a pay raise or a few days off of work. You may be struggling with an illness or sickness in your body, a marriage that is falling apart, or a child who is resisting your authority (Oh, my Lord, I know this one too well having 2 boys!). You may be struggling with emotional pain from past disappointments or have suffered a major financial loss in this struggling economy. Maybe your need is to forgive yourself from past failures or simply to receive God’s forgiveness for your sins.

I can tell you that I used to feel hesitant turning to God in praying for my needs. At times, I felt fearful approaching God (and I don’t mean the healthy fear of God defined as reverence) because I struggled with trusting him. I felt at times that I didn’t want to “bother “God and other times I was convinced that he didn’t hear me especially when I didn’t get my answers right away!

Well, I can tell you today that you have someone that you can approach who welcomes you and your requests with open and loving arms, who you can approach with no fear or hesitation, who can fill your needs better than any person ever will, whose responses are gentle and full of grace, mercy and love, and …who wants you to come to him!

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 NIV

I absolutely love this scripture! And want to share it with you in more detail with hopes of it encouraging you to draw closer to God with greater confidence and faith(not hesitation) and to pray for all (not some) of your needs and requests with greater boldness(not fear)!

Hebrews 4:16 begins with “Let us.” That means you and me. We as Christians have been given the awesome privilege to approach God. Thanks to Jesus Christ, by faith we can enter directly into God’s presence through prayer. We know we will be welcomed with open arms because we are God’s children through our union with Christ.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12

The next word “then” can easily be overlooked but is so important. It means next or afterward. So this implies that we need to look at the scripture just before Hebrews 4:16 at verse 15 to gain a better perspective.

For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning. Hebrews 4:15 AMP

So amazing that Jesus was both God and man and as man he shared in our weaknesses and temptations but was without sin!  As my pastor always says, Jesus came to us as “God in a bod” (aka body) when he walked here on this earth. This verse also exemplifies Jesus’ power and sovereignty as well as his understanding and sympathy towards us as our high priest. And knowing this, “then” we can approach him.

“Approach” The word “approach” means to come near or nearer to someone or something in the distance. It is a verb and therefore requires us to take action.

Have you been standing back and waiting to approach God with your needs? Well, it is time to step forward and to him with your prayer requests!

“The Throne” What is a throne a symbol of? The Greek word used here is thronos, indicating “a stately seat, implying power.  In other words, a throne is a position of power and authority and therefore whoever sits on the throne carries all the power and authority implied.

But it isn’t just a throne…it is a throne of grace!

“Grace” is unmerited favor. The Greek word for grace is charis meaning “benefit, favor, gift, graciousness. This benefit, favor or gift is not earned but is due to the generosity of the giver and in this case our God.

So we are approaching a God who extends grace to us even when we don’t deserve it!

Ok…stay with me! I know this is a lot to take in!

“With Confidence” So how do we approach God’s throne of grace?…with confidence! According to the amplified version of the bible, “fearlessly”, “confidently, and “boldly”. “Confidence” means firm trust, faith, reliance.

How confidently are you approaching God with your needs? How much are you trusting him when you come to him with your issues, problems, and requests?

Here are a few ways we can perceive the God that we are approaching in contrast to someone of authority in our lives who may be unapproachable:

1)    He has the reputation and character that denotes the fruit of the spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. (Galations 5:22-23)

2)    He is never in a bad mood nor are his emotions fickle or changing. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8)

3)    God’s resources will never run out. You can’t out ask, out request, or out petition God with your prayer needs!

4)    There is no need to determine the right timing to ask him. Although his answers may be based on his timing, your requests are not!

Excuse my lengthiness today as I have obviously taken a lot of time focusing on the first half of Hebrews 4:16 and may continue the rest of this scripture in a later blog. But I hope to have encouraged you in knowing that you and I have the privilege to come near our gracious God with firm trust and reliance “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Reflection Points:

1)    What are you in need of today?

2)    Have you approached God in prayer with confidence or hesitation? Why?

3)    How confident are you that he hears you? (Psalm 116:1)

4)    How well do you know who you are approaching?

Action Points:

1)    Approach God confidently today with your requests.

2)    Trust and have faith that he hears you.

3)    The more you get to know God, the more you will understand and trust who he is, not just what he can do for you. A perfect way to get to know God better is by reading his word!

Toning Up!

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:8 NIV

 About a year and a half year ago when my youngest son Bryce was 6 months old, I was determined to get my pre-baby body back! So my husband Billy and I committed to working out every day for 2 months straight to the exercise videos called INSANITY. As you can guess by the name, it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park kind of workout! With both boys occupied with their breakfasts, we rearranged the furniture in our family room and began this quest to tone up our bodies and get into better physical shape. When Billy nearly threw up and I almost passed out after our first work out, I knew then that the gentleman on the TV screen, yelling at me to push harder, was no joke. That gentleman Shaun T was certainly not a “gentle” man! I am not even sure if gentle existed in his vocabulary!  I vividly remember trying to walk the next day with every muscle in my body feeling sore and achy!

This muscle soreness I was feeling was really a result of my muscles tearing slightly during my workout. Did you know that you actually have to tear your muscle fibers before you build and tone them up? I know that sounds pretty crazy! When you lift weights or exercise to tone or build your muscles, you actually create tension of the muscle. This causes stretching of the muscle and consequently tiny tears. Cells in your body sense this trauma and begin to repair the tears. As a result of this repairing, the size of the muscle fibers increase and you get greater muscle tone and strength!

According to some recent polls, this year’s top New Year’s resolution is to exercise regularly or exercise more …Not surprising! I think I hear this every year, don’t you?

Getting into better physical condition may actually be one of your resolutions this year and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! The bible even tells us that we honor God by caring for our bodies.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own: you were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20

It is clear that taking care of our physical body is important but what New Year’s resolutions have you made to help your spiritual well-being?

1Timothy 4:8 says “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

You see concentrating only on our physical well being is temporary and benefits us only while we are alive here on earth, but godliness not only benefits us now but also for eternity.

So where can we begin with getting stronger and toning up in our relationship with God?

Whether you are new in your relationship with God or have been walking with him for years, one way is our willingness to allow God to tear us. I believe that just as our muscles must tear in order to get stronger and built up, so too it is with getting stronger in our relationship with God.  God may need to tear away or “cut” away certain areas of our lives that hinder our growth so we can be built up stronger with him.

“When you came to Christ, you were circumcised, but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision- the “cutting” away of your sinful nature.” Colossians 2:11 NLT

Just as muscle tears result in muscle growth, God’s tears result in spiritual growth. 

What areas in your life is he trying to tear away to make you stronger? What areas in your life are you willing to let him tear away? What areas are you holding on to?  Is it physical impurity, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, pride, anger, impatience, grudge holding, materialism, gossip, jealousy, impure thoughts?…oh the list can go on and on!

Trust me…I know it isn’t easy. When I look back I can remember the many years God was poking and prodding me to turn from my sinful lifestyle and to turn to him. I kept resisting him and continued in my ways until one day I made a decision to follow him and put him first in my life.  

You see, I believed I was following him but I had so many areas of my life that didn’t line up (or follow) with God’s word. It was real hard for me because I gave up a lot but I knew I was gaining something far more valuable.

Even now, after years of following Christ, he continues to tear away areas of my life to make me stronger. It certainly can be challenging when we want to hold on to certain areas but unfortunately they may not be pleasing to God and can hold us back from growing stronger.  When God tears away areas of your life sometimes it feels like that muscle soreness from a tough workout and sometimes it can hurt pretty bad, but this is part of the molding/shaping, strengthening, and transforming process for us to become more and more like him. No matter where we are in our relationship with God, his tearing will continue for the rest of our earthly lives (as long as we are willing). And the results of toning up with God will far outweigh the temporary soreness we will feel!

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” NLT Philippians 1:6    

Oh, and if you are wondering if my husband and I continued with our 60 day INSANITY workout, I am happy to say (soreness and all), we did!

 

 Reflecting Points:

1)    What is he trying to tear away in your life? How willing are you to let him?

 2)    What is keeping you from letting God tear away a certain area of your life?

 Action Points:

1)    Do a self –examination. Identify areas in your life that God is trying to tear away.

2)    Pray and ask God to show you the areas that are not pleasing to him. (Pray Psalm 139:23) For some of us this can be quite clear but for others this may be something that is less obvious like a bad attitude, tone of voice, critical thoughts etc.

3)     Be willing to let God tear these areas away in your life. Pray and ask God for his power, strength, and peace to let go.

4)    Find bible scriptures specific to those areas that you struggle with so that they can encourage and strengthen you.