When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time with body builders. This was the 80’s and it was considered cool. I started lifting weights in my early teens, and I know it is not obvious at all right now, but I used to power lift when I was in college. I worked out with all these guys who were very strong and spend time in body building competitions. It was my desire to have a body just like some of my friends who were huge. But, you know, it takes time to become a body builder (if you do it the right way), it takes discipline and commitment to grow the size of an Arnold Schwarzenegger (as big as he used to be). I have learned that anything worthwhile takes commitment and sacrifice; and many of those good things don’t come easy.
I remember when I was in the Navy, it was 1989 and I was watching a movie titled “Full Metal Jacket.” It is a movie about the Marine Corps and it shows the difficulties of basic training and how some don’t make it through basic training. As I watched the movie I remember feeling proud of myself because against all odds, I made it through boot camp (basic training). It was hard, but I made it, and it felt great. And a side benefit was that I was bigger and stronger as I came out of basic training. It was here that I learned the philosophy that good things are difficult and require sacrifice and commitment.
There is an exception to this, you know what that is? Salvation. Salvation is the best things we can achieve, and it doesn’t require any sacrifice, any difficult effort from our part, its free. Salvation is easy because God does all the heavy lifting. Isn’t this good news? However, one of the more frustrating things for some Christians is to live like a person that is saved. To stay saved and to grow in Christ. It is here that many people fail. How can we be sure that we will grow spiritually the way we ought to? What is the secret to growth? Well, the firs thing you need to understand is that growth doesn’t happen automatically. It is actually dependent on our own actions.
One of Jesus’ better-known miracles of that of the feeding of the 5000. It is in this story that we find steps that we should take to ensure we are growing spiritually. God with me to Matthew 14: 13-21, When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The passage starts with “When Jesus heard it.” What did He hear? Well, vs. 1-12 talk about the story of the death of John the Baptist. Truly, his death was a tragedy, and although we can assume Jesus was expecting it, this didn’t make it make less painful. Thus, Jesus needed to be by himself. Can you relate? When you are sad and depressed, when tragedy has struck you, you want to be alone. But, for Jesus, it was more than being alone, He needed to be with His Father. This, of course, wasn’t anything new with Jesus. The Bible speaks of the fact that Jesus spent a lot of time with His Father. The Bible records Jesus praying 25 different times during his earthly ministry. In Steps to Christ, EGW said that Jesus Himself, while He dwelt among men, was often in prayer.
Now, it is not accident that Matthew said that Jesus went to a place by Himself, we are assuming to pray, with the story that followed. Jesus was about to do a miracle, but more than a miracle, Jesus was about to do something that would help us understand how to grow spiritually. However, the first lesson is what Jesus did after hearing of a tragedy and before ministering to the needs of people, Jesus prayed. It is in prayer that we find the secret to His power. Jesus was tempted far more than we can ever be tempted. Think about it? When was the last time the devil tempted you to make a rock turn into bread? Now, I am not minimizing what you may be going through, but Jesus was tempted to use His divinity? Where was His success? In Prayer.
EGW continues saying, Our Saviour identified Himself with our needs and weakness, in that He became a suppliant, a petitioner, seeking from His Father fresh supplies of strength, that He might come forth braced for duty and trial. He is our example in all things. . . . His humanity made prayer a necessity and a privilege. He found comfort and joy in communion with His Father. And if the Saviour of men, the Son of God, felt the need of prayer, how much more should feeble, sinful mortals feel the necessity of fervent, constant prayer (pg. 94).
Notice she says, “constant prayer. You see, this is much more than just 2 minutes in the morning as we rush out of the house and a minute as we lay in bed before we doze off. I am talking about a commitment to spend time with the God we love. Much has been written about the importance of communication in relationships. When spouses stop talking to each other, the end of that relationship is near. While God doesn’t give up on us and continues to pursue us, if we are not communicating with God our relationship with Him will suffer and we will grow weak because prayer is the “breath of the soul.” So, be intentional. No matter how busy you think you are, pencil in your organizer or smart phone some TAG time. It will pay dividends. You want to grow spiritually? Then pray.
Well, the story continues in Matthew 14. As usual, multitudes followed Jesus, they want to be where He was, they wanted to hear Hs wisdom. So, we can surmise that Jesus spoke all day; so, after a while, the people got hungry. As if this little detail had escaped Jesus, the disciples told Him, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food” (Vs. 15). This would have been the prudent thing to do, but Jesus, as a mighty leader, was a master at delegating. He said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (vs. 16). Now, this seemed like a silly response, but you see, Jesus already knew what He was going to do. He already knew that somebody and 5 loves of bread and 2 fish. How did He know? Because it is our God who supplies our bread. So, Jesus had already supplied His disciples with the means of blessing others, Jesus supplied the bread.
This leads us to the second thing we must do in order to grow spiritually. In John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Friends, it is through the word of God that we come to Jesus. In His mercy, God has supplied us with spiritual bread. In an article titled “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” the author writes, While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. . . . Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates. Every person who is a born-again believer starts life as a baby in Christ. Whether the new convert is six or sixty, that person is still a new Christian and needs to grow in the Lord. A baby Christian who has been saved for forty years is a tragedy. God intends for us to grow and mature so that we can be a positive influence in the lives of others. Until we learn to dig into the meat of the Word for ourselves, we will never grow.
If we want to grow spiritually, we must eat of the bread of God daily. Now, here I like to be practical. You have heard of reading the bible in a year. You know, 3 chapters a day, 5 on Sabbath and you will ready the whole bible in a year. However, this is of no benefit if we are just reading for the sake a meeting the yearly mark. There must be understanding. So, if all you can read to understand is just one chapter, then read just that. The important thing is that you are spending time with God in the study of His word. Set some time aside for this too. You want to grow spiritually? Eat the bread of God, study His word.
So, in the story, the disciples brought Jesus the bread and the fish. Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained (vs. 19-20). I want you to take a mental picture now, once Jesus prayed, He calls the disciples to Him, Jesus gives the food to the disciples and they take it to the multitude. This leads us to the third step we must take in order to grow spiritually; we must witness. Notice the order, Jesus provides the bread, He gives the bread to the disciples, and from the disciples it goes to the hungry multitude. Now, Jesus is God, He can do anything, but, there were 5000 people there, if they were all going to be fed, Jesus needed His disciples.
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said that “This gospel shall be preached in all the word.” If this is going to be accomplished, Jesus needs His disciples. Now, I want to tie together these three steps that we have been talking about. Prayer, study of Gods word, and witnessing. From the story, we know that the disciples were using baskets to give out the bread and the fish. What did the disciples need to do when their baskets were empty? They needed to return to Jesus who provided the bread. What if the disciples decided to stop, not give out more bread, and keep the bread for himself? If that was the case, he would have no need to return to Jesus. Thus, Jesus gives us bread through His word, but if we don’t share it, eventually you may stop coming to Him for more bread. This tells us that all of these steps are important in the process of spiritual growth. If you spend time with Jesus in prayer and study, but don’t witness, eventually you will stop praying and studying, and obviously, we can’t witness if we are not praying and studying. Do you see how all three are important?
Now, when I say witnessing, I am not saying that we all have to give a Bible studies. No, giving bible studies is a spiritual gift that some have, and some don’t. Witnessing is sharing what Jesus has done in your life by taking advantages of opportunities God wants to give you. You say, how do I know I will have opportunities to witness? Well, pray for these opportunities. In fact, I know that each of us can come up with at least one name of a person we would like to see in the kingdom of heaven. So, choose a person (I would choose 2 or 3 because some people may not respond). This person you have chosen doesn’t yet know that you have chosen him/her. Then, pray for that person by name. Bring that person to God, ask them to save him/her and to give you an opportunity with that person. At some point you can tell that person you have been praying for them and ask if there is anything they would like prayed for. This can open opportunities to speak of spiritual things and even to invite them to church where they can hear the WOG and meet other Christians.
As you are doing this, you are led to pray more, and study more and witness more. So, maybe you have been struggling in your walk with Jesus. You may have received them as Savior and Lord some time ago and were even baptized. Everything was so good initially, but you have noticed you don’t get excited about the Bible and church anymore. You have noticed that Satan is having more success with you in distracting you and making you do things that you know you shouldn’t do and you feel so weak that you would like to throw the towel and simply give up. Well, you are not alone, this is an area we have all struggled with, but Jesus has provided us with the tools to help us grow. Pray, Study, Witness, and you will be a stronger Christian each day.