The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes

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God loves you and He wants a close relationship with you. Your life is not a series of random events, but a carefully directed sequence of experiences which are all designed by God with the specific goal of strengthening your personal bond with Him. Once you understand this, you learn to start viewing your life as the very personal interaction between you and God that it is. You aren’t going through motions on earth while He’s off in Heaven barely noticing you. God is with you in life, and He is intimately involved in every aspect of your existence. You are never alone. You are never acting independently of Him. He is ALWAYS involved. Imagine what it would be like to have a human friend going with you absolutely everywhere. No matter what you were doing—eating, working, sleeping, showering, driving, thinking—this person was never more than six inches away from you. If you really had someone sticking this close to you in life, you’d naturally talk to them a lot. It would feel weird to ignore them because they were always in your face. Well, this is how it is with you and God: He is ALWAYS with you. In the bathroom, at the office, in the park, in the car, in bed—He is there. He is always focused on you, always listening to you, and constantly interacting with your soul. The only reason you forget about Him is because you can’t detect His Presence in a sensual way. But this doesn’t change the reality that He is always right there.

Now once you realize that God is paying so much mind to you, the correct response is to want to learn everything that He wants to teach you. God always has new things He wants to teach you. All those experiences He brings into your life—both the good and the bad—are about guiding you into new insights and revelations about who He is and how He wants you to relate to Him. These experiences are also the tools He uses to mature and change you.

We must all undergo immense changes if we’re going to form an intimate bond with God. He demands certain attitudes from us—attitudes which we do not come by naturally. But He then helps us slowly acquire those attitudes by placing trials into our lives that challenge us to practice new ways of thinking and responding to Him. In this post, we’re going to talk about four essential attitudes that we all must acquire before God will allow us to enter into intimate communion with Him. These attitudes are so important to God that He is always working on developing one or more of them in us. As long as we are receptive to developing these attitudes, God is pleased to draw us closer to Him. But if we become stubborn and refuse to embrace one or more of these four essential attitudes, then things change. God will NOT draw near to souls who refuse to allow Him to cultivate these four attitudes in them.

Now whenever some trial comes into your life, the first question you want to ask is “What is God trying to teach me?” Because God is a multitasker, there are often many lessons He is teaching us at the same time, yet somewhere in the mix, we’re going to find that He is working on one or more of these four essential attitudes. Our entire relationship with God revolves around these four pillars. With practice, we can learn to swiftly identify common markers of trials which have been designed to make us practice one or more of these attitudes. We’ll discuss these common markers in this post.

REVERENCE (THE FEAR OF THE LORD)

The first of our four essential attitudes is reverence. This is a concept that is very poorly understood by Christians today. Reverence is a word that often evokes confusion or dread. Yet without some degree of reverence, it is impossible to become saved, so it’s very important that we have a good understanding of this concept.

Why don’t you stick your hand into a fire? Because you revere its heat. Reverence is a fear based respect that is a natural consequence of understanding that something has the power to harm you. Why don’t you grab hold of an electric fence that’s buzzing with voltage? Because you revere its power to fry you. Do you think that the fire or the electric fence have personal negative feelings towards you? No. Reverence is not the belief that God is mad at you. It is simply a healthy fear of His great power.

As you sit in your living room basking in the heat of the fire in your fireplace, are you worried that the fire might suddenly leap out of the fireplace and burn you? No. The fact that you revere the fire’s power doesn’t mean you’re afraid to be in its presence. It just means that there are certain lines you’re not going to cross—like sticking your hand into those flames. In the same way, revering God does not mean we’re afraid to be near Him. On the contrary, we enjoy God far more than we enjoy the comfort of a cozy fire on a cold winter night. We want to be near God—we feel strongly attracted to Him and our souls feel deeply blessed by basking in His great love for us. But because we revere Him, there are certain lines that we just don’t cross. We don’t mock His Authority. We don’t try to provoke Him to anger. We pay attention when He speaks to us.

So why is it impossible to get saved unless you have reverence? Well, if reverence is a natural outcome of recognizing God is far more powerful than we are, then to not have reverence, you’d have to be in total denial of God’s power. The only way you can end up not revering God is if you refuse to believe He is who He says He is: the all-powerful Creator who sustains everything in existence. If you’re flatly denying who God is, He certainly isn’t going to save you. God DEMANDS that we revere Him before He will grant us eternal life—it isn’t an option. But it isn’t hard, either. Once we learn about the reality of God’s wrath and Hell, we should instantly find ourselves filled with reverence.

If we’re listening to the Holy Spirit, reverence is going to be automatic. The more we learn about who God is—His awesome power, His supremacy over all things—the deeper our reverence for Him becomes. Reverence is not something we check off like a chore on our to-do list. It is a mindset that God continuously develops in us. The more we revere God, the more eager we are to swiftly obey Him, and the more His approval means to us. Reverence is an essential part of developing a rich soul bond with God. So how does He help us develop this attitude in day to day life?

RECOGNIZING REVERENCE TRIALS

Because reverence flows from an understanding of God’s great power, shocking us with displays of that power at work is a key way that He inspires greater reverence in us. These displays of power can be positive—like miraculous healings or resurrections. They can also be negative—like incidents of mass destruction. The negative examples are far more effective, so when we see God working to spiritually revive large masses of people, negative displays of His power are what He emphasizes. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods—we are often quickest to see God’s hand at work when He uses what we call “natural disasters.” But if we’re paying attention to the Holy Spirit, we will learn to see His hand at work in outbreaks of diseases, wars, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, and mass collisions as well. In the Bible, God teaches us that He is really the mastermind behind ALL calamity in this world. He teaches us that the rise and fall of governments is entirely His doing. Because they are taught to blame Satan and human beings for many negative events, Christians are often slow to recognize God’s hand at work in the negative, and this results in a much slower development of reverence. But as the Holy Spirit educates us about God’s sovereignty, this helps us recognize His power at work all around us. The more we recognize His power at work, the more reverence we develop, and the closer we get to God.

RESPONDING TO REVERENCE TRIALS

Once you realize that God is working on reverence with you, how should you respond? The useful prayer here is, “Lord, deepen my reverence for You. Teach me how to fear You in a way that honors You.” Those last six words are very important.  When God is acting in a way that terrifies us, our natural instinct is to cower in a corner and respond to Him like He’s a frightening Monster. God doesn’t like it when His dearly loved children treat Him like He’s an abusive, cruel Father (see How to Recognize a Destructive Fear of God.) He wants to teach us how to balance reverence with confidence in His love for us—to bow down before Him with a mix of awe and adoration, not terror and dread. When we ask God to help us revere Him in a way that honors Him, we please Him with our willingness to be taught and He will certainly grant our request.

SUBMISSION

Submission is our second essential attitude, and this one is also vital for salvation. You cannot get into a right relationship with God without submission. Now once we have some reverence, submission becomes the natural next step. If God is so much more powerful than we are, then clearly it is ludicrous to think we can rebel against Him and win. Submitting to God as the Supreme Authority is our only hope of pleasing Him.

Now there is positive submission and there is negative submission. Negative submission is when we grovel in the dirt, viewing ourselves as loathsome worms who a holy God wants nothing to do with. In other cases, we view ourselves like so much chattel—lowly slaves who God enjoys wiping His feet on. Neither of these mindsets is correct. God wants joyful submission from us. If you have a kind and generous boss who you know really cares about you and your family, then it becomes a delight to work for him. You work hard and try to be as productive as you can as a way of expressing gratitude for his kind treatment of you. You respect his authority as the owner of the company and you aren’t interested in ousting him from that role because you are benefiting so much from him being such a good leader. This is the kind of submission God wants from us: joyful submission which is motivated by sincere gratitude and love. We don’t just serve God because we have to, but because we want to. We consider His pleasure and approval to be our highest rewards. We delight in being His creatures. We aren’t jealous of His power—on the contrary, we’re greatly comforted to know that Someone so good and kind is on the throne.

Now when submission is combined with reverence, we end up with a marvelous combination of attitudes which keeps us highly motivated to obey God through both the easy and hard times. When God is giving us pleasant assignments, we joyfully do them out of love for Him. When He hands us difficult assignments that we really hate, reverence steers us away from defying His Authority. There are times when we really don’t want to do what God says, but we do it out of fear of what He’ll do to us if we disobey Him. This is like the child who obeys his father’s commands because he doesn’t want to get a spanking. This is an appropriate fear to have with God because God is reasonable, not an Ogre. He doesn’t give us hard tasks just to make our lives miserable, but to help us mature in our relationships with Him. While some human fathers can be quite unreasonable and delight in making their child’s life a misery, this is never the case with God. He loves us deeply and He is always steering us down roads that are best for us. When we resist, He disciplines us back into alignment with Him because He loves us and wants us to thrive. We want God to discipline us because we know that there are times when experiencing negative consequences is the only way we’ll be driven back onto the path that is best for our souls. Reverential submission is a mindset that unlocks all kinds of doors to a closer walk with God. But submission is not easy to learn when we are all born wanting our own way in life, so how does God help us develop this critical attitude?

RECOGNIZING SUBMISSION TRIALS

Whenever God is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, or withholding something from you that you really want, He’s working on deepening your submission. It’s not hard for us to go along with God’s program when He’s doing what we want Him to do. To develop submission, we need God to do things to us that we don’t want or like so that we can practice saying, “Not my will but Yours be done.” The death of loved ones, health problems that can’t be cured, being stuck in a job we dislike—these are all common examples of submission lessons. If it grinds on your pride, it’s about submission.

Now in their zeal to get closer to God, some Christians try to help God persecute them in life by seeking out miserable situations. The classic picture of the barefooted monk living a hard life of voluntary poverty is a picture of a man trying to help God speed up the process of his own spiritual growth. The priest who takes a vow of celibacy and then tries to endure a tormented existence out of loyalty to God—this is another example of submission gone awry. We can’t choose our growth lessons. We can’t control our rate of maturity. We shouldn’t seek out misery for misery’s sake. Instead, we need to let God bring a balance of blessings and trials into our lives. We don’t want to reject His blessings out of fear that they’ll stunt our growth. God knows what He’s doing. Too much hardship isn’t good for the soul. Self-inflicted hardship results in frustration and delusions, not growth and maturity. We need to give God room to develop a unique growth curriculum for each of us. We need to let Him choose the order in which He will teach us and let Him control the pace. If we sincerely care about pleasing God, we never need to fear lagging behind or stagnating because He won’t let this happen.

RESPONDING TO SUBMISSION TRIALS

There are several key prayers that will help you lean into the lessons that the Holy Spirit wants to teach you during submission training.

“Make Your pleasure mean more to me than anything else.”
“I know that You want what is best for me. I really wish this situation could change, but not if it means losing an opportunity to be closer to You.”

Submission trials can be quite brutal, and God doesn’t want you to try and hide your frustration from Him. When you want things to go differently, be honest about it, but always end your request with “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

Submission is so important to your relationship with God that the Holy Spirit is going to be constantly pushing you to deeper and deeper levels of it. His goal is to get you to the point where you will permanently surrender your entire self into His hands, inviting Him to totally control, dominate, and override you for all of eternity.

TRUST

Trust and submission go hand in hand. Trust in God’s goodness and love for us is a key motivation for submitting to Him during difficult trials. Trust is the foundation of faith. Faith is an attempt to believe in what cannot be seen. You don’t bother with faith until you have some measure of trust that the God you’re trying to have faith in is actually worth believing in, meaning that He is good. Trust in God’s goodness is the foundation on which all of your peace, confidence, and security with God is built. Why do you believe you’re going to Heaven when you die? Because Jesus atoned for your sins? So what? He could take back that atonement tomorrow if He wanted to. Ah, but He promised that you’d have eternal forgiveness if you submitted to Him. So what? A promise is only as good as the character of the one giving it. You have to have some measure of trust in the goodness of God before you can put stock in any of His promises. Trust is huge. You will never be able to relax in God’s Presence and feel safe in His care unless you trust Him, so He is going to permeate your life on earth with trust lessons. In every trial you go through, trust will be one of the things He’s working on with you.

RECOGNIZING TRUST TRIALS

Anytime you find yourself asking:

Does God really know what He’s doing?
Is God really good?
Is God really in control?
Can I really count on Him to do what’s best for me?
Does He really care about my troubles?
Does He really listen to my prayers?

you’re experiencing a lesson on trust. There are so many things we need practice trusting in: God’s goodness, His great love for us, His interest in us, His wisdom, His sovereignty, His faithfulness, His mercy, His compassion, His empathy. We don’t learn these things easily. We all start off with a very warped view of God that is largely shaped by our interaction with other people. If our father treated us harshly, we think God is harsh. If our earthly guardians abandoned us, we’re afraid God will, too. If people are always spewing hate at us, we think God must hate us as well. It takes a lot of time and coaching from the Holy Spirit to learn how to see God as He actually is: our good, kind, compassionate Father who delights in taking care of us. By putting us through stressful times when the quality of God’s care of us seems questionable, we have the opportunity to practice rehearsing truths about who He says He is.

RESPONDING TO TRUST TRIALS

There are two stages to trust lessons. First is the identification of false beliefs that you have about God. Second is the identification and rehearsal of truths that directly counter those false beliefs. A common place Christians fall down is by refusing to face their false beliefs about God. We do this because many of these beliefs are associated with intense fear. What if God doesn’t really love us? What if He really is evil at heart? We’re afraid to ask these questions, yet avoidance doesn’t make these questions go away or lose their power. Instead, fear grows stronger within us and we find ourselves trying to avoid certain subjects that make us uncomfortable. Why are Christians so intimidated by the subject of Hell and God’s wrath? Why do we try to avoid talking about God lying to us? Because we’re afraid that openly discussing these things will end up confirming some deep core fears we have about God. But no, this is not what happens. By allowing the Holy Spirit to help us confront our fears and honestly face some frightening questions that we have about God, we discover that He has answers for us—answers that bring great relief and peace to our souls. God IS good. He IS trustworthy. He does NOT flip out on souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. The only way to put fears to rest is to face them head on, so we mustn’t shrink back from this first step in trust training. Instead, whenever you feel anxiety getting stirred up within you, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what false belief is fueling that fear. ALL negative fear about God is driven by false beliefs. Once those fears are identified, they can then be countered with positive truths. To learn more about how this works, read Faith in Crisis: How to Grow Through the Storm.

DEPENDENCY

Dependency is the fourth critical soul attitude that we must develop in order to know sweet communion with God. Dependency is different than our other three attitudes because it is not about choice, but rather about waking up to see a reality that has always been there. God gives us the option to not revere Him, not submit to Him, and not trust Him. But no one has the option to not depend on Him. We all depend on God for absolutely everything. Trying to deny that this is so is like trying to claim you don’t need oxygen to breathe. It’s sheer lunacy, yet we do it all the time. In the Church, we are constantly taught to downplay our dependency on God by buying into the absurd notion that we have enormous influence over Him. No Christian leader is going to say “You don’t need God.” But by the time they’re done telling you how desperate God is to love you, how much He needs your money to further His ministries on earth, how He can’t come back until we all spread the Good News to every corner of the globe, and how you can get Him to do anything you want by nagging Him and throwing Bible verses in His face, they have completely reversed truth. According to them, God needs you, depends on you, and takes orders from you. The common Christian style of praying is nothing more than bossing God about. “Fix her. Heal him. Be with me. Don’t allow that. Cause that. Do that faster. Stop doing that.” The heady titles of “intercessor” and “prayer warrior” are just synonyms for “God’s commander.” When people boast about their prayer power, they’re really boasting about their ability to make God do what they want. In the Church, we’re taught to try and dominate God and reject our absolute dependency on Him for all things. How quickly we forget that we don’t get to define reality. Try standing in the path of a semi that is barreling down the freeway and start claiming that it isn’t really there. Will your foolishness save you from being run down? Not hardly. By trying to deny reality, you only set yourself up to become severely injured. In the same way, when we try to deny our dependency on God, we end up greatly harming ourselves. God WILL NOT allow you to venture beyond certain levels of intimacy with Him when you’re refusing to acknowledge your total dependency on Him. And since knowing God is the whole purpose of our existence, barring ourselves from intimacy with Him by clinging to foolish notions results in an immeasurable loss. We must remember that this life on earth is not a separate story from our lives in eternity. They are all one continuous journey. The choices we make down here are shaping our eternal futures. The heavenly experience will be vastly different from soul to soul. Some of us will be invited to come very close to God while others of us will be kept at arm’s length. God WILL NOT share glorious secrets about Himself with those who refuse to honor Him. Is a brief life of ego-pleasing delusions really worth eternal losses? Not hardly. We need to fully embrace our absolute dependency on God for all things, and that means changing the way we pray, changing the way we serve, and changing the way we think.

We’re all born wanting the universe to revolve around us. Once we realize we are totally dependent on God, we are quickly ousted from that center stage. Even worse, we realize that we can’t possibly take the bows for anything good that we accomplish because “we” aren’t the ones who did it—God is. Jesus tells us, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. You can’t do anything good apart from Me.” What does a branch do? It just sits there. It’s only alive because of the sap that flows to it from the main vine. If the branch is cut off from the vine, it dries up and decays. We can do NOTHING apart from God. Once we realize this, is there any room for self-promotion? Is there any room for standing in the spotlight, soaking up the glory for the lives our ministry has impacted? Is there any room for boasting of our effective witnessing strategy? Is there any room for claiming that we have any wisdom on our own? Certainly not. If we share some insight that God has taught us and lives are positively impacted, clearly He is the ONLY ONE who is deserving of credit. If He downloads some sermon into our brains and souls end up saved because of it, clearly He is the ONLY ONE who is deserving of glory. We simply can’t take credit for ANYTHING once we really grasp how dependent we are on God. To do so is like a man with a broken leg claiming that he doesn’t need a crutch to get around while he stands right in front of you leaning on the thing for support. It’s ridiculous.

Embracing our total dependency on God results in humility. Godly humility is a sincere repulsion to hearing anyone other than God being credited for the things He has done (see What is humility?). Humility is a shockingly rare mindset in the Church today. Everyone’s going around title flashing, filming themselves, posting statistics, and boasting of their glorious accomplishments. All of this is quite repulsive to God, and yet it is so appealing to our egos that we have a very hard time leaving these things behind. We desperately need His help to drill the reality of our dependency on Him down deep into the core of our beings until it so glaringly obvious to us that we can no longer consider trying to deny it. Here is where dependency trials come in.

RECOGNIZING DEPENDENCY TRIALS

There are many ways that God helps us embrace our dependency on Him. If we’re in a habit of bossing Him about in our prayers, then we need to experience Him refusing to grant our requests even when we use all of the fail-safe formulas that the Church teaches us. Rebuking demons, flinging holy water, holding up crosses, quoting Scriptures, declaring things in Jesus’ Name, getting other Christians to lay hands on us, getting large groups of Christians to all nag God constantly on our behalf—the Church teaches us many ways to try and control God. At some point, we need Him to make a mockery out of all of those methods by causing them all to fail us bitterly. This is the only way we will break out of the delusion that we have ever controlled God. A big dose of disillusionment becomes a priceless gift when it comes to dependency training.

Another very effective method here is to strip us of the things we view as evidence of our self-sufficiency. Inflicting us with health problems that turn our joyful outlook into grinding despair is a very effective way of crushing our delusion that we are in control of our quality of life. Forcing us to take medications just to be able to stay sane and functional—here is another great dependency lesson. Leaving us saddled with embarrassing addictions that He refuses to cure no matter how much we beg and plead, keeping us financially strapped no matter what we do, plaguing us with problems that no one else seems to have—these are all classic markers of dependency training. When you find yourself being forced to receive God’s help through pride grinding channels—medications, charity, physical assistance—you are in dependency training. Why is it so miserable? Because we all start out wanting to be our own little gods. It’s wired into us—we can’t help it. We loathe the idea of being limited and controlled by Someone Else. The famous story of the Fall was a great depiction of the human craving for autonomy: Adam and Eve had a whole garden full of delicious food, yet they had to sample the forbidden fruit. Why? Because they thought it would make them God’s equal and somehow lessen the difference between Him and them. Then they could feel more in control, more self-sufficient.

Dependency and submission go hand in hand. When God refuses to give us what we want, we are forced to recognize our dependency on Him. Whatever that thing is, we’re unable to get it on our own. Chronic infertility is a classic example of this. We desperately want children, yet nothing we do resolves our inability to procreate. When all logical options are exhausted and everyone around us is giving birth to their third and fourth child, we’re forced to face the fact that new life comes from God and until He’s willing to give it to us, there is no way we can force it from His hand. To find peace in this situation we must embrace our dependency on Him and then try to submit to His will for our lives. It isn’t easy. It’s gut-wrenching. You don’t have the core of your being overhauled without some degree of pain. But is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY. The more we acknowledge that we can do NOTHING apart from God, and the more we submit to HIS choices for us, the freer and more joyful we become. Of course in the early stages, it doesn’t look at all like this road will lead to freedom. It’s easy for Satan to convince us that if we really acknowledge how intentionally God is withholding things from us, we’ll end up feeling utterly rejected by Him. But no, this is not the end result. Always when we listen to the Holy Spirit, we end up in a place that is a billion times better than we ever imagined.

RESPONDING TO DEPENDENCY TRIALS

“Help me to embrace my total dependency on You,” is what we want to pray when we recognize the markers of dependency training. “Help me to see my dependency on You as a joyful thing.” The more we learn to trust in God’s great love for us, the more comforting our total dependency on Him becomes. Because we can do nothing without Him, we are never left to manage some great burden alone. God doesn’t ever stand back and say, “I’m not helping you with that—that’s your department.” Instead He is always with us, always involved, always infusing us with the spiritual resources we need to lean into His lessons. We might not be joyful about our trials, we might be griping and groaning and hating life. But when we really want Him to have His way in our lives and when we really want to be as close to Him as possible, He WILL cultivate all four of these essential mindsets within us. We will learn to deeply revere Him. We will learn to totally trust Him. We will learn to fully submit and we will learn to fully embrace our total dependency on Him. As we make progress in these areas, our lives will become richer, more meaningful, more satisfying. Nothing compares to the joy of discovering your true purpose in life and embracing that purpose with all that you are. Our purpose is to know intimate communion with our Maker—to love, serve, and adore Him with all that we are. An all-out pursuit of God is the only way to live. Anything less is a tragic waste of time.

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