AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
The desire to mature in your relationship with God does not come from you, it comes from Him. The Holy Spirit is the One who is stirring you up to long for positive internal changes which only He can make happen. But though you keep searching for some evidence of change, you don’t see anything. This is discouraging. And whenever you’re discouraged, demons show up to stomp you down even more. Suddenly you find your mind flooded with a bunch of depressing thoughts:
- Look in the mirror: that’s what spiritual stagnation looks like.
- You’d think by now you’d have stronger faith.
- All these years and you still barely know anything about the Bible.
- Everyone in your home group knows more about God than you do.
- How embarrassing to be such a spiritual infant at your age.
- You’ve been carrying around the same questions for years. Clearly God isn’t interested in teaching you anything new.
- God only matures His favorites. He doesn’t bother with souls like you.
Demons are such an encouraging lot. They know how to drain all hope from your life with their poisonous little lies. Yet despite what they say, you have the evidence of your progress right in front of you. Your desire to grow comes from God, and He doesn’t encourage you to want things that He isn’t interested in giving you. So then, do you want to grow? You ARE growing. The fact that you don’t see any measurable progress doesn’t mean anything.
By now you’ve identified the areas where you feel you need the most work. Maybe your top concern is patience. Boy, you have a short fuse. Clearly God needs to work on your rage issues because as long as you’re smacking your wife around, you’re obviously not growing in the faith, right? WRONG. How much do you want God to be pleased with you? Is His pleasure something you can take or leave or is it something you desperately crave? Your answer reveals how your soul is responding to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to draw you closer to Himself. When you are longing for God in your heart, you are in an excellent position and you are NOT stagnating. You are moving forward and blossoming like a flower that is opening up to the sun. You’re only discouraged because you’re trying to rate all of your progress based on a list of qualifications that demons have come up with.
Demons have a much more accurate view of your spiritual progress than you do, and they’re in a much better position to tell what God is working on with you. To keep you discouraged, they have two main strategies: either keep your focus off of the area God is working on, or keep you focused on how far you still have to go.
Suppose there’s a picture hanging on the wall of a room that I don’t want you to see. The problem is that I can’t stop you from coming into the room, and I can’t hide the picture. This leaves me with only one option: when you come into the room, I’ve got to try and keep your attention focused elsewhere for as long as possible. This is the position demons are in with you. They see you maturing in the faith and it intensely bothers them. They know that if you see what they see, you’ll start getting all encouraged and more determined in your walk with God. They can’t have that, so they have to come up with some kind of diversion to keep you from noticing your growth. Going on and on about your current flaws is their best option. No Christian is perfect. We all have glaring imperfections which God isn’t choosing to work on at the present time. These things give demons their best material.
- As long as you keep cussing, you obviously aren’t progressing in the faith.
- If you were really growing, you wouldn’t keep losing your temper so easily.
- You should have grown past this temptation a long time ago. Clearly you’re still an infant.
This first strategy is all about keeping you looking in the wrong areas for signs of spiritual progress. It’s very effective, and demons use this one on all of us at one time or another.
Let’s go back to that room with the picture in it. I’ve got my distractions all set up and I’m waiting for you to walk through that door so I can call your attention away from the picture. But instead of coming in alone, you come walking in with someone else, and that someone else takes your hand and leads you right over to the picture that I don’t want you to look at. Now he’s got you staring right at it. Well, rats. What can I do now? I want to discourage you, but this other fellow is standing there pointing out how pretty the picture is. My best chance to ruin this moment is to hustle over and start trying to point out flaws in the picture that will ruin your positive view of it.
This second strategy is what demons resort to when God is being very vocal with you about what He’s working on. When the Holy Spirit starts coaching you about principles of trust, you get all excited about growing in that particular area. So you listen to what God tells you and start trying to apply the things He says. He tells you to focus on the fact that He is in control when crises arise. He tells you to turn your mind off of your circumstances and onto Him. Sounds great. You’re raring to go. A short while later, some fresh crisis lands in your lap, and the first thing you do is go into a total meltdown of doubt and panic. Demons instantly move in.
- All your “Yes, Lords” aren’t worth much in the crunch moment, are they? You know what He wants, so why are you refusing to do it?
- Well, and here you thought you were growing. How is your reaction now any different than it was a year ago?
- Just focus on God and not your circumstances: this isn’t rocket science, so what’s the hold up?
- Just because your life is obviously ruined and there’s no way this situation will ever get resolved—still, you could at least try to practice some trust.
- Oh sure, now you’re trying to focus on God. Well, late doesn’t count. You were supposed to focus on Him first thing, not after your hissy-fit of doubt.
- After all of the coaching He gave you, God is really disappointed in your lack of progress.
Demons know that spiritual progress takes a bunch of time and practice. There’s a whole lot of bumbling and fumbling between the moment that God illuminates your soul with some higher principle and the moment when you can actually put that principle into practice. Falling forward and landing flat on your face is still moving in the right direction, but demons will work hard to tell you that any stumbling is a sign of stagnation. This second strategy is about you discounting anything that is less than perfection. They know that as long as you think maturity looks like perfection, you’ll never think you have any.
There’s a third strategy that demons love to use to keep you convinced that you aren’t growing as a Christian. Suppose I hand you a box of cake mix and a baking pan and I say, “Here’s an oven. Let’s see you bake a cake now that I’ve given you everything you need.” You dump the dry mix into that pan, stick it in the oven, and crank up the heat. Half an hour, later you have burnt powder, not a cake. This is when I say to you, “What’s wrong with you?! I gave you everything you needed to make a cake and this garbage is what you bring me?!”
Demons understand the process of spiritual growth a lot better than you do. They understand that deeper trust in God doesn’t just spring out of thin air—it is the result of a deeper understanding of several essential truths, such as God’s good Character and the reality of His personal love for you. They also know that you don’t know what ingredients you need in order to gain deeper trust in God, therefore you don’t recognize when God is putting more of those ingredients into your life.
Does a finished cake look like it is a combination of dry powder, water, oil, and eggs? No, it doesn’t. Someone has to teach you how to make a cake before you can recognize essential cake making ingredients in your own cupboards. In the same way, God has to teach you what goes into trust before you can learn how to pull the essential ingredients of trust together. Because God isn’t interested in overloading you with too much information at once, He often doesn’t tell you what specific goal He is working towards when He starts introducing you to new essential ingredients for the thing He wants to create in you. Instead of saying, “I want to teach you how to trust Me more,” He starts talking to you about His goodness of Character. To you, this seems like a random tangent that God has pulled out of the air. But it’s interesting, and you’re eager to learn, so you listen to what He tells you. After talking about His goodness for a while, He then starts talking to you about His personal love for you, and His great faithfulness towards those who are sincerely wanting to please Him. It’s only after He has had you study each essential ingredient by itself that He finally teaches you how to combine them all together to obtain stronger trust. This is a process which takes time, and while God is working through His ingredient list, demons are harassing you about producing something which they know you’re not equipped for yet.
- Where is your trust? Why do you still doubt so much? Come on, apply yourself! You should be further along than this by now!
When you listen to demons, you reach inside yourself to try and strain up some deeper trust, but it’s just not in you. What you find instead are some deep core insecurities and fears that you have no way of combating. This is because God is still in the process of equipping you. You’re not failing or stagnating—on the contrary, you’re gaining major ground in many key areas. But until God finishes walking you through His whole list, you won’t be able to find everything you need to come up with stronger trust. The most you’ll be able to do is come up with some burnt cake powder—a very unsatisfying result which demons can easily talk you into being ashamed of. But the key here is to realize that demons are always pushing you to embrace a set of goals that is different than God’s goals for you.
Finish this sentence: “In my relationship with God right now, I wish I had more ____.” What did you put in the blank? Was it a goal that made you sad or one that made you feel inspired? Goals that depress you and bring up feelings of failure and shame are goals that demons have shoved on you. These things need to be rejected. Sure, more faith is a great thing. But if you can’t think about your current level of faith without thinking about what a loser you are, then demons are clouding this issue for you. Remember that towards souls who want to please Him, the Holy Spirit is very positive and upbeat. When He excites you about having more faith, you feel encouraged. You see signs of progress and you feel like you’re getting somewhere, even if it is by micrometers. When He is busy working on some other issue with you, the Holy Spirit doesn’t harp on your lack of faith. He doesn’t talk about faith at all, because He is focused elsewhere. And as soon as God moves on to some other area of your life, demons will try to either hold you back or drive you in a different direction.
It’s vital to realize that the Holy Spirit has a different teaching plan for every soul. If He’s working on patience with your best friend, then that might be all your friend is talking about right now. Christians who are excited about their personal progress with God sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we’re all supposed to be working on the same thing. Maybe your friend starts pressuring you to apply the principles she is learning in her own walk. But this won’t work for you unless the Holy Spirit is also interested in working with you on patience right now. It’s far more likely that the Holy Spirit is working on an entirely different issue with you, so when you start fretting about your short fuse, you don’t get any support from Him. God doesn’t let you rearrange His priorities for Him. He’ll get to patience with you when He feels it is important to do so. If you try to work on patience without Him, you’re just going to end up beating your head on a wall and feeling discouraged. You have to stick with God’s schedule for you and let the Holy Spirit lead you in a different direction than He is leading the other Christians you know.
Because demons know how unique each soul’s growth path is, they are always trying to shove us into uniformity. Bring on the sermon series at church: suddenly the whole congregation is being lectured about serving for six weeks straight. Every midweek bible study and home group is told that they all have to teach on the same subject, so that the whole congregation will be on the same page. Well, this is stupid. God doesn’t want us all on the same page, He wants us all on different pages. While He’s talking to you about reverence, He’s talking to your pastor about perseverance, He’s talking to your friend about dependency, and He’s talking to your home group leader about spiritual discernment. Everyone’s focusing on something different in their own walks, and this is why teachers who are really listening to God will find Him jumping all over the place with His lesson topics. One week He wants the pastor to preach on the mechanics of faith, the next week on the spiritual valley, the next week on God’s wrath, the next week on the role of the Holy Spirit. Sermons aren’t supposed to be preplanned months in advance, nor are we supposed to think it’s wonderful when every church in the area is preaching on the same subject. When this happens, it just means that most, if not all, of the churches are refusing to let the Holy Spirit lead them. Why would you want to waste your time listening to some dribble that a human cooked up without God’s permission?
Ever find yourself sitting bored stiff in church or in that midweek bible study class? This is because God isn’t talking to you through the current speaker, and often the problem started when the teacher didn’t let God write the lesson plan for him. It’s always suspicious when churches roll out these prepackaged materials and advertise their next series of sermons weeks in advance. Where do we get off telling God what He’s going to say? He’s supposed to be telling us. Sure, sometimes God will run with a certain theme for a while, but then He’s going to change things up. God is full of surprises and unexpected stops and starts. His refusal to be predictable is one of the things that makes serving Him such a challenge, because we can’t maintain any sense of control. We don’t get to tell God what He will teach other people through us, and we don’t get to choose what He will teach us personally. God writes His own lesson plans and He never hands us the master binder.
So then, do you want to grow closer to God? Are you hankering to grow and mature? Have confidence in your Teacher and stop trying to measure your progress. With the Holy Spirit on the job and your willing heart, growth is inevitable. If you can’t see evidence of it right now, it’s because you don’t know what to look for or you’re too busy focusing on the wrong things. God isn’t interested in teaching you how to rely on sight and senses—He wants you to put your trust in His faithfulness to you. God doesn’t get you excited to grow just to leave you by the side of the road. When He extends an invitation for growth to you, He always makes good on His offer. If you are saying yes in your heart to the invitations that God is giving you, then you can be sure that you’re progressing. Yes, the evidence of it will eventually surface in a recognizable way, and when it does, you’ll be saying, “Wow! How did I make such a huge leap forward all of a sudden?” Only there won’t have been anything sudden about it. Spiritual growth happens in baby steps. It’s only because we don’t recognize the first 1,000 steps that we are shocked by the sudden progress that we see. If you want to grow, you are growing. If you want to be closer to God, you are well on your way. It has nothing to do with your ability to see things as they actually are. It has everything to do with His goodness, brilliance, power, and faithfulness to you.