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We’re Growing Spiritual Oaks, Not Weeds

We’ve been doing a lot of spring-cleaning around our house, and I came across some old family photos of when our kids were little. I thought back to those days and was amazed at how quickly the time has flown by. We’re getting ready to send our oldest off to college this coming fall, and the thought of him stepping out on his own is both exhilarating and a bit terrifying! All three of our kids have grown so much, and I pray their spiritual growth continues through the rest of their lives.


Sometimes you can see your children growing right before your very eyes with the wise choices they make and the maturity in their conversations. Other times it seems like growth is an agonizingly slow and painful process. The same goes for all of us. There are times when I can see my prayer life expanding and my yearning for the presence of God deepening. But there are also times when it seems like my growth is at a snail’s pace, and I’m not getting anywhere.


There is no quick fix to spiritual growth. We’re growing spiritual oaks, not weeds. Weeds grow fast. Oaks take time. So if you want to be a spiritual oak, you need a life-long commitment to be filled with the Spirit and to keep in step with the Spirit. But what does that mean?


Let’s start with that phrase “filled with the Spirit.” What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? This phrase is used thirteen times in the Bible, such as, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). And then we have this great teaching from the Apostle Paul, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).


If someone is drunk, he or she is under the influence of alcohol. They are being controlled by alcohol. That person thinks, talks and acts differently. Likewise, if someone is “filled with the Spirit,” he or she is under the influence of the Spirit. That person thinks, talks and acts as one who is under the control of the Holy Spirit. A person filled with the Spirit will begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). They will demonstrate actions of love, joy, and peace; and exude patience, kindness, and goodness. A person filled with the Spirit will show faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


These behaviors are an outflow of the inflow of the Spirit in our lives. If we’re not receiving from the Spirit, we will not be demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit. This is why we need to “keep-on being filled” with the Spirit. In the Greek text, “be filled with the Spirit” is a present imperative, which means to “keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.” This isn’t a one-time experience. This is an ongoing filling.


Once again, we’re growing spiritual oaks, and oaks aren’t going to grow if it only rains one time! The Bible says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). You don’t just take one drink of water when you’re thirsty--you take another and another. We keep on being filled with the Spirit. Don’t try to live today on yesterday’s filling.


When we live in the continual process of being filled with the Spirit, then we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Keeping in step with someone implies intentionality. The Holy Spirit is not just some force that comes upon us and makes us do bizarre things. He is a Person who leads and guides us. To be directed by the Holy Spirit requires us to learn how to listen to His voice. We come into His presence with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2) and singing (Psalm 100:2). We set our minds on the Spirit, and in doing so we receive life and peace (Romans 8:6). The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses and intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26). We are strengthened with power through the Spirit in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16).


Spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight; so don’t get discouraged in those seasons when you feel like you’re spiritually stuck. Keep on keeping on through daily yielding to the Spirit, being filled by the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. As you walk this path of perseverance, you will “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Mining the Gems of Life-Changing Application

Many years ago, I had the privilege of serving my home church as a brand-new, green, associate pastor fresh out of seminary. My granddad had retired from his role as senior pastor a number of years prior to my arrival, but by the time I joined the staff, he came out of retirement to serve as the senior-adults minister. Maybe he wanted to keep an eye on me. My dad was also on staff as the administrative pastor which gave him the challenging job of serving as my boss. So we had three generations serving on the same church staff, and it was wonderful, at least for us.


One of my cherished memories of those days was when my granddad would invite me to my grandmother’s and his apartment for weekly training. That’s right: weekly training. My seminary years and educational degrees just weren’t enough in his mind, and he was right. One-on-one mentoring gave me a whole new level of how to counsel people, study the Scripture, and pray. My granddad would share new insights he discovered from his own daily study time, which always amazed me, because I thought that at his age he surely had it all figured out.


He instilled in me a passion to study the Bible, to excavate the truths of God’s Word, and to mine the gems of life-changing application. Even this morning I came across a Scripture I had read many times before but never plumbed. In Galatians 4, we read that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). Notice what the text says. Because we are God’s children, He sent Jesus’s Spirit into our hearts. We have the Spirit of our resurrected Lord indwelling us—not just around us, going before us, watching our backs, but indwelling us. It is by the Spirit that Christ lives in our hearts. We are “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). In fact, without the Spirit, no one can belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).


Did you notice what the Spirit does when He indwells us? He cries out, “Abba! Father!” Abba is the Aramaic word for the usual, intimate name called out by a child to his or her father. Jesus used this word when He cried out to His heavenly Father in Mark 14:36. So in Galatians 4:6 we have the SPIRIT of the SON crying out to the FATHER within US the most intimate name used in reference to a dad. Amazing.


When I reflected upon this Trinitarian expression of intimacy within us, I asked myself this question: Is MY spirit joining THE Spirit in crying out to Abba, Father? The Spirit does His work. He joins with the work of the Father. But we are not simply vessels emptied of our spirits passively watching the Holy Spirit cry out to Abba, Father. We are to enter in to that joyous intimacy as well! Our spirits are to engage fully in the activity of praise, celebration, and connection with the Spirit of the Son to the Father.


Indeed, we are works in progress. Just as emotional and spiritual intimacy in marriage takes time, so does the development of an intimate relationship with God. Later in Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes how he is “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (verse 19). Christian spiritual formation is a process, but it begins with the simple truth that we are not on our own. We have the Spirit of Jesus already in our hearts crying out to our Abba, Father. Now it is time for us to join in. Let the Spirit of the Son teach us and be our guide in getting to know our heavenly Father not just as the Omnipotent One (which He is) but also as our Abba who has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

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