May peace be with all the brothers and sisters.
I believe there are fundamentals steps to the things we do. The same is true for our spiritual growth. I believe that every one of us after becoming a Christian would all like to grow in our faith. However, oftentimes we face obstacles for a variety of reasons.
Some of them might be because of misconception. Other times it could be due to influences from our family members or our friends. They may set bad examples for us, or we simply lack a spiritual friend to guide us. You may come to such self realization for a number of reasons. If so, there are some very basic Christian concepts that deserve our study. If we hold to such correct concepts then we can expand our horizon in spiritual growth.
First of all we have to establish the right concept of ownership or possession. As human being we love to possess things. Many people like to purchase things because we feel that once we buy it, it belongs to us. Many times when people wanted some things so bad;u they begin to quarrel with others.
Of course in the eyes of law if we purchase a house then the house belongs to us. But as Christians we need to hold a different concept about possessions. If we cannot have a breakthrough in such concept we will become enslaved by money. To have the correct concept of possession means we will not become slaves to money.
Matthew 6:24 says we cannot worship both God and money.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
I believe none of us will actually bow down and worship money. However, if we place money as a higher priority than Lord Jesus, we will soon discover how little Lord Jesus matters in our heart. If that’s the case how can we be called true Christians? We would become slaves to money instead. So the first concept we ought to have is that the Lord of resources is our God. That means the ultimate true owner is the Lord Jesus for all of our material or financial possessions. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11) You see. Everything belongs to God.
Even though we did spend money to purchase certain things, really the money belongs to God and same is true with the items we bought; because everything under the heaven belongs to God. This is the correct concept regarding possessions. Even though legally it seems the item belongs to us, but as Christians, in reality everything belongs to God.
So what does this mean to possess things as a Christian? To be an owner of certain things we need to understand that the Lord entrusted us with those things. This means we are given the ability to oversee and look after them. But we don’t possess them. Who is the true owner? Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in Genesis the Lord God told us this principle.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (Genesis 1:28-29)
Scripture here tells us a simple principle. All these things are for us to look after and manage them. All the other vegetable and fruits are given to us to eat. God did not say that these are given to you as possession. But rather it was given to us to look after and manage.
We must have such clear, unmistakable concept of ownership. It is God who entrusted us to look after the things in our possession. For example we offer our money to church. After we offered the money to God, we entrust the council members to use the money. The money in our pocket also belongs to God. God wants us to manage it and use it wisely. This is why Lord Jesus Christ told the parable of the talents. God gives us gifts and talents to each of us to use them wisely.
Everyone has different talents. In other words, we are given different resources from God. Some people are given 5000, some 2000, some others 1000. Lord God wants to see how we use and manage them. Even if we have money in our pocket, we still need to use it very carefully and wisely. When Jesus Christ told this parable, he laid down this principle. If we don’t use it wisely, the less the Lord will give us. If we know how to use it wisely then we will be given more and more resources. So how to use the resources that God has given us is an important lesson we must learn. This is the second concept we need to have about possession.
Thirdly, do not let possessions become a burden or stumbling stone. Material possession can become a burden to our daily lives. One time I overheard a sister speaking to another. This sister had just moved from one place to another. She discovered during her move that her daughter bought many clothes with the tags still on them. She also found some of the tools they bought were still untouched in original boxes. What happened was they bought those things when there a sale was going on. Once they found that there was no need to use them, these things were stored on the shelves and after awhile forgotten.
This is a common mistake we all make. When we move we need to organize and clean house. We may discover things that are still new and don’t feel like throwing them away. We then pack them away and bring them to the new house. But when we move to the new house we still put the items away if we find no need for them. By the time we move to another place, once again we go through the same process all over again. Such routines can become a burden.
A friend of mine loves to collect antiques. Some of the antiques he collects are extremely rare and valuable. He would tell me that this artifact is collected by one museum and another museum has the second piece. He possesses the third piece in the whole wide world. Yet, because of this he is scared to leave his own house. He has a child studying PhD in the states, and he spends a couple of weeks each year to visit his child. When he begins to pack up for his trip, it becomes a great burden. Because he is afraid that someone will break into his house. Even though he has a security system in place and there are guards watching his community, he still cannot be relieved. Though he may be out of the country his heart remained in Taiwan. It’s true to him that those antiques are very valuable, but they had also become a great burden in his life.
Once there was this news report about a woman whose house caught on fire. At first she escaped unharmed since the fire was not too fierce. Later she recalled that many of her jewelries were still in the house and wanted to go in and retrieve them. She thought the fire was not too bad yet to collect these things. Unfortunately, she went in but never came out. After the firemen put out the fire they found her body. In one hand her fist tightly closed around something. Once they pried open her hand, there was a diamond ring. Of course the diamond ring was valuable, but it turned into a stumbling block to her life. If she had not gone in to get the diamond ring, she would not have lost her life.
When God was going to destroy the city of Sodom, the family was forewarned to depart from that place. Nevertheless, the family did not listen to this warning but delayed in fleeing the city. In the end, God told the angels to grab the family and drag them out of the city. Why is it that the family of Lot couldn’t bear to depart from the city of Sodom? In that city they owned so much possessions. Those very possessions had become their own stumbling block.
In life once people possess power and authority to manage great resources they start to corrupt. Such things would become stumbling blocks for them. Although silver and gold can be valuable, however, if we are not careful these treasures will turn into our stumbling blocks. So the third concept is not to allow our possessions to turn into stumbling blocks.
To possess something doesn’t mean we own it forever. If we think about it, the things we had decades ago, how many of those things do we still possess today? If God wants to take away the things we have today, he can do so at any given moment. Let’s let it sink into our heads—to possess something doesn’t mean we own it forever.
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:20-21)
Sometimes we may envision beautiful dreams and strive to make sure everything is laid out nicely according to our plans. Yet, if God were to take away our lives, what can we do? To possess and own something doesn’t mean we have it forever. We have to see whether or not Lord Jesus Christ will allow us to keep it. By God’s grace, he gives us resources. It is our responsibility to use them wisely.
In order to grow spiritually, we have to live a proper and balanced life. We need to live a simple life. Many of us live a complicated life. We work very hard. Some people jam pack their schedule with all kinds of activities. In the end it’s as if we had given our life away. We turn ourselves into slaves to time. When we become slaves to time, it is very difficult to grow spiritually. Thus, living a simple life is a must. If we examine Lord Jesus Christ, Paul, or the apostles, they all led very simple lives.
Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20)
The life of Jesus Christ could not be simpler. This does not mean we need to return to the Spartan life of Lord Jesus. Now we live in a different time and society. However, we need to consider the spirit of the Lord.
Sometimes we feel that we are so busy and the activities we scheduled to attend are absolutely necessary. To flaunt our own status in the society as members of the upper class, there maybe some social functions which we think we must attend. My friends have attended many of these social clubs to demonstrate that they are busy and they have wonderful relationship with all kinds of people. It is due to such vanity that they become slaves to time and squander their lives away.
Switzerland is a country with the highest income per capita, but the Swiss live a simple life. They do not purchase anything they don’t need. They are wealthy but not wasteful. Many people do not care about social functions. Sometimes when they host parties, they may even use wine glass to hold beer, which is a social faux pas. You asked them why let the guest drink beer. Don’t you understand the proper etiquette at a party? They responded that’s untrue, but rather some people need to drive home. Alcohol content in beer is lower and is cheaper.
Sometimes we hear about certain news and think it’s unthinkable unless we see it. Warren Buffet is one of the wealthiest people in this world. If we examine his life we will be quite surprised. He offered over 30 billion dollars to charities. However, he still lives in a house with only 3 bedrooms. It is a house he purchased some 50 years ago when he got married. Many reporters were quite curious. They asked him, “You are so wealthy, why would you live in the same dingy house?” His answer was quite simple. “That house has all the things I need.” In other words, he doesn’t need a whole lot. He drives himself to work. There’s no chauffeur and no guards. If he goes to conferences, he never takes personal jets.
We see in many larger companies the chairman or CEO always flies on corporate jets. Warren Buffet never rides on those. Yet under his company’s control he owns the largest fleet of personal jets. Under the umbrella of his company there are more than 36 companies. Every year he sends these CEO’s one letter to tell them the goal of that year. He would not even have meetings with them or call them.
Very rarely will he attend high society functions. Some of these social gatherings are what people dream about. At home he has no personal computer or cell phone. Because when he goes home he doesn’t need all these. It’s hard to imagine a person who has so much wealth and in control of so many companies living such a simple life. We look at this person and wonder if he can do it why can’t we?
Sometimes we are so busy we have no time for God. Is it true we are so busy or is it because how we arrange our own time. Maybe our life is too complicated. Therefore, we need to re-arrange our time appropriately. Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us to treasure our time.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
If we examine our lives today we would realize how much time we waste. We spend a lot of time on things that may seem beneficial but in reality damaging. In Taiwan, I have a friend who loves to exercise. He would play 2 tennis games and 2 golf games each week. The main reason was to maintain good health. Nevertheless, these past few years have been quite painful for him. Both of his knees had problems, so last year he had surgeries but was unsuccessful. Last month he invited me for a meal. I got to the restaurant first. I observed that it was quite pitiful to see him walking so slowly. Though he was so tall and handsome, his knees got hurt and became a totally different person.
In northern CA, I have a relative that seldom comes to church service. Each week he plays 2 tennis games and goes on hikes. He also belongs to some political group and became the chairman. He had a lot of political activities and is very busy every week. It’s unfortunate he does not have time to come to service.
When we look at our children, we find that they too are very busy. They are learning many things. Some send their kids to study math, piano, violin. Some learn art or judo. Some mothers accompany their kids so neither come to Sabbath. Since a lot of these activities take place on the Sabbath.
I believe if we have extra strength and ability to pay the expense then it’s ok to do it. However, if it compromises our faith we have to examine why we do it. For we have given our children a message that learning such things is more important than church services. I don’t know if we thought about this. But if the end day comes will Lord Jesus ask if we’ve learned judo, drawing or mathematics. I don’t believe Jesus will ask such questions.
We neglect to understand what is more important to us. We need to arrange our time appropriately. Only then can we find time to cultivate spiritually. If we don’t want to waste time, we can write down our activities each day. Then after a week we can review whether we have spent our time wisely. Only when we live a simple life and arrange our time appropriately will we not become slaves to time. Only then can we grow spiritually.
Fourthly, we need to grow in serving the Lord. We need to learn how to serve God and serve people instead of being served by others.
“…and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:27-28)
We often read these verses. Truly we need to learn to serve God and others. Loving God and others is something we need to put into action. Only through actual actions in loving others can we experience love. Only then can we experience the abundant grace from God because serving others and God is something very practical. It needs to spring from our heart.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Here scripture tells us clearly about loving not merely in our tongue. It’s not enough simply paying lip service because that would be superficial. Love must be in deed and in truth, coming from our heart. We all need to learn how to serve God and serve others. Only through such services can our spirituality grow. For through servitude we also learn the effectiveness of prayer. When we begin to do holy work, we often discover our own inadequacies. So we realize we need the help and strength from God and the need to pray. By serving we get to discover our many weaknesses.
In Taipei church there is a group of brothers and sisters who love to preach. Ten some years ago I witnessed how they preached. Since then I found that over the past 10 years their zeal had not diminished. At first they were unfamiliar with the bible, but these few years you can tell how they have grown very familiar with the bible. Their familiarity with the bible is quite thorough. They have also experienced the need for prayer in order to learn God’s word.
There are people belonging to other denomination who have great courage to preach under all circumstances. They preach even as they are waiting at the bus stop. We would grow too if we could try to learn such servitude.
We need to rely on the strength of God in order to do the work of God well. It is not through our might, but by the power and spirit of God. If in our servitude we discover we are inadequate, we need to turn to God. Many servants of God drew closer relationship with God through prayers.
“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18)
Those who call upon the Lord in truth, the Lord will be near him. If we are very close to Lord Jesus Christ will we not grow in spirit? We must strive to integrate spiritual growth into our lives. It is something we need to pay special attention to and pursue after. We must make faith an integral part of our lives. To do that we must hold the correct concept about possession. Without the correct concept, we will waver between our spiritual and physical life. Oftentimes, we cannot escape from this vicious cycle. Though many members service and serve God, but how come we still discover members stumbling in their faith? It is because they could not breakthrough the concept of possession.
Let us not become slaves to money. If we can live a simple life and wisely arrange our time then we will not become slaves to time. Only then can we find time for spiritual cultivation and draw closer to God. Moreover, we need to learn how to further grow in serving God and serving others to make us grow strong in areas which were once weak.