For the longest time in my life, I (John) didn’t know where to put Jesus. As a child I can remember seeing God the Father as someone who could help me with things such as good grades, getting me out of trouble with my parents, and having my team win in baseball.
In college, I learned about the Holy Spirit’s ongoing ministry in my heart, and I studied Christ’s sacrifice for my sins, giving me a righteous standing before God. But though I saw the Father and Spirit’s roles in my spiritual growth, I didn’t realize what the Son did beyond salvation.
Then, during my graduate studies in theology and psychology, I looked at the unique role Jesus plays in the spiritual growth process. As I did, I realized I could not imagine genuine spiritual maturity without the contributions of Jesus.
The Ongoing Relationship
First, Jesus is “with” us. Jesus has gone to be with the Father, but He also lives in the heart of each believer:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. — Matthew 28:20
By faith, He lives inside us,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. — Ephesians 3:17
This means we have an ongoing, sustaining relationship with Him. In some mysterious way, Jesus and the Holy Spirit indwell us. In the Old Testament, God resided in the temple. Now people are the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
With Jesus we have a personal, living connection with God.
People need two sorts of relationships to grow: the divine and the human. If you are helping people grow, make sure you look for how connected they are to the indwelling Christ. No matter what the issue or struggle, relatedness must come first. It is as important as checking the gas gauge before you leave on a car trip.
Much of this process involves learning to become aware of Jesus. Our natural bent is to use only our five senses to experience this world and its realities. However, the Bible teaches that the spiritual reality is just as real as the physical world. Growers need to know that being aware, responsive, and dependent on Jesus is a daily part of life.
If you are a growth facilitator, you will often find that people who have been hurt in relationships may have difficulty trusting God or anyone else. Others may have become emotionally detached to the point they have become self-sufficient and insular. They are glad Jesus is there, but they don’t know what to do with Him. Still others may see Him as dangerous, because they view all relationships that way.
Help growers see that God is good, that Jesus lives in the believer’s heart, and that trusting relationship brings good things.
Another way Jesus is essential to spiritual growth is called identification. He serves as a model that can teach and comfort us in many growth situations. Biblical principles tell us how people grow; Jesus shows us. He gives us a personal and human example we can see and internalize within our hearts. We have a living, breathing picture of how God wants us to live.
Response to Suffering
One of the most important tasks of spiritual growth is to understand how to suffer. No one grows to maturity who does not understand suffering.
Normalize suffering. Jesus shows us much about how to respond to suffering.
Most important is that He did not avoid suffering, but saw it as part of the growth path:
Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered. — Hebrews 5:8
He resolutely moved toward the pain ahead for Him (Luke 9:51).
Jesus turns our natural bents upside down. In the world’s view, the path to glory is “having it all together.” In Jesus’ way, the path to glory is experiencing pain and suffering:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. — Romans 8:17
Choose Godly suffering. Sometimes people have difficulty understanding when they should suffer and when they should avoid it. Some suffering needs to be avoided (Proverbs 22:3). Conversely, some people will avoid good pain for fear of conflict or abandonment.
Jesus is a wonderful example of embracing needful suffering and rejecting that which is not. He understood that pain must have a purpose. He chose the path of the Cross because of the fruit it would bear for all of us. Yet He refused to enter suffering that would be inappropriate to His purposes (John 10:39).
One way to bear necessary pain is to be humble. If we are humble, we will be willing to allow something uncomfortable to happen to us if it is the right thing to do. This is because part of being humble means not perceiving ourselves to have rights or privileges that we do not possess.
The opposite of humility is grandiosity, a defense mechanism that prevents us from suffering rightly. There are several types of grandiosity. Some people deny their experience, trying to be strong and saying, “This doesn’t hurt me.” Others insist their righteousness should prevent their suffering, saying, “Why me? I’ve been good.” Still others attempt to avoid suffering altogether, saying, “Because this is uncomfortable, I will not experience it,” and they thwart suffering’s growth benefits.
Jesus’ example is so instructive here. He could have rightfully claimed His divinity and avoided all He went through. Yet He
did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. — Philippians 2:6-7
Ultimately, He humbled Himself and underwent pain He didn’t bring on Himself. This is a wonderful example for people in your growth groups. It will help them see the value of humility in suffering rightly.
Depend on God and people. While we must endure the work of growth, we can’t bear it alone. Jesus was dependent on God and people. He taught us to be like Him and ask God for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Yet He also asked His closest friends to be present with Him in His dark hours (Matthew 26:38).
We can’t bear life on our own, nor were we created to. Jesus did not model independence, but dependence.
Submit to God’s way. In the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus realized that the time of His crucifixion was drawing near, He in deep anguish asked God for His suffering to end. He did not want to go through what He had to go through. Yet He submitted to the path God had placed before Him and said,
Not My will, but Yours be done. — Luke 22:42
Jesus made the same choice when the Devil tempted him (Matthew 4:1-11). Satan first approached Jesus after He had fasted many days (Matthew 4:2) and told Christ to command the stones to become bread, so that He might eat. At a deeper level, this was a temptation to Jesus to get His needs met in ways other than God’s. Jesus responded by going back to Scripture and confronting Satan with the reality that He could get His needs met God’s way. The Devil then told Jesus to test God by throwing Himself off a temple (Matthew 4:5-6). This was a temptation to control God rather than to trust Him and His ways. Jesus confronted that strategy also.
Finally, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world for His worship (Matthew 4:8-9). Had Jesus accepted, He would have not had to die on the Cross. Yet He strongly rebuked the Devil. This was a temptation to avoid suffering. Jesus’ response to this temptation is a living invitation for us to see that when we follow His path, we may suffer. However, that suffering is a small price to pay for the spiritual growth that results.
Excerpted with permission from Growth Has No Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, copyright Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
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2020 is a great year to grow spiritually! As believers, we want to become more like Jesus, to step heavenward every day, and to be more submitted and in love with Him every day! Come share your thoughts on building an even stronger living connection with God. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily