Today's selection comes from a book given to me by a fellow missionary friend in Honduras many years ago. We were walking along the shoreline of a coastal island discussing the struggles of ministry, the knowledge of our own sinfulness, and thus our mutual sense of feeling unworthy for the task, when suddenly he voiced the phrase I myself have used so often: "Hey, I have a short little book you should read...." Not much later it was in my hands, and like many other books I've read, I found it very helpful.
So these many years later I will share with you some of the parts I found helpful and highlighted about 20+ years ago. (Yes, to the horror of many fellow book lovers, I do mark up all my books, and love picking up used ones where others have done the same!) The book is called "Principles of Spiritual Growth," and was written by Miles J. Stanford. Each builds upon the others. Enjoy.
"Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that our failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, leads naturally to a false conception of the way of deliverance. If we are preoccupied with the power of sin, and with our inability to overcome it, then we naturally conclude that to gain victory over sin we must have more power. 'If only I was stronger,' we say, 'I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper." And so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise self-control. But this is altogether wrong. This is not Christianity. God's means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. 'This is surely a peculiar way of victory,' you say, but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man, but by crucifying him. Not by helping him to do anything, but by removing him from the scene..."
"Immaturity considers the Lord Jesus to be a Helper. Maturity knows Him to be Life itself. Dr. J. E. Conant wrote, "Christian living is not our living with Christ's help, it is Christ living His life in us. Therefore, that portion of our lives that is not His living is not Christian living; and that portion of our service that is not His doing is not Christian service; for all such life and service have but a human and natural source, and Christian life and service have a supernatural and spiritual source." Paul insisted, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)."
"In preparation, there is a tearing down before there can be a building up. "Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, and He will heal us, He has smitten and He will bind us up" (Hosea 6:1). This applies to both growth and service. J. C. Metcalfe writes: "It is more than comforting to realize that it is those who have plumbed the depths of failure to whom God invariably gives the call to shepherd others. This is not a call given to the gifted and highly trained, or the polished as such. Without a bitter experience of their own inadequacy and poverty they are quite unfitted to bear the burden of spiritual ministry. It takes a man who has discovered something of the measures of his own weakness to be patient with the failings of others. Such a man also has first-hand knowledge of the loving care of the Chief Shepherd, and His ability to heal one who has come humbly to trust in Him and Him alone. Therefore he does not easily despair of others, but looks beyond sinfulness, willfulness, and stupidity, to the might of unchanging love. The Lord Jesus does not give Peter the charge "Shepherd my lambs" on hearing Peter's self-confident affirmation of undying loyalty (Matthew 26:33). He gives it after Peter has utterly failed to keep his vows and has wept bitterly in the streets of Jerusalem."
"The first step in getting out of the struggle of the seventh chapter of Romans, and into the victory of the eighth chapter, is to pass through the struggle spoken of in the seventh. Of all the needy classes of people, the neediest of this earth are not those who are having a heartbreaking, agonizing struggle for victory, but those who are having no struggle at all, and thus no victory, yet do not know it. Those who are satisfied and jogging along in a pitiable absence of almost all the possessions that belong to them in Christ. J. C. Metcalfe gives this same fact an added witness: "Many a young Christian, who has not been warned of this necessary voyage of discovery upon which the Holy Spirit will certainly embark him (Rom. 7), has been plunged into almost incurable despair at the sight of the sinfulness which is his by nature.
He has in the first place rejoiced greatly in the forgiveness of his sins, and his acceptance by God; but sooner or later he begins to realize that not all is well, and he has failed and fallen from the high standard he set for himself to reach in the first flush of conversion. He begins to know something of the experience Paul so graphically describes: "The good I want to do, that I do not do, but what I hate, that I do" (Rom. 7:15). And, in consequence, he feels that the bottom has fallen out of his Christian life. Then, perhaps, the Devil whispers to him that it is just no good in going on, because he will never be able to make the grade. Little does he know how healthy his condition is, and that this shattering discovery is but the prelude to a magnificent series of further discoveries of things which God has expressly designed for his eternal enrichment.
All through life God has to show us our own utter sinfulness and need, before He is able to lead us on into the realms of grace, in which we shall glimpse His glory. Self-revelation (regarding our sin) precedes divine revelation -- that is a principle for spiritual birth and spiritual growth. The believer who is going through struggle and failure is the Christian who is being carefully and lovingly handled by his Lord in a very personal way. He is being taken through the experience (years in length) of self-revelation, and into death -- the only basis upon which to "know Him" and the power of His resurrection... (Phil 3:10).
God works by paradox. Success comes via failure; life springs out of death, etc. The only element in the believers life that crumbles is that which has to go anyway. New life can never be harmed or affected. This disintegration is something the believer cannot enter into or engineer on his own. Self can never cast out self. He has to be led into it by the mercy of the Holy Spirit -- into failure; abject and total...
So often the means utilized by the Spirit is an unsaved mate, or even a saved one! Or poor health, yes, and good health too! A thousand and one things are used by Him -- in fact, everything (Rom. 8:28-29), to bring out the worst in us, ultimately enabling us to see that the Christian life has to be, "not I, but Christ." People, circumstances, etc., are never the cause of failure. Self's reaction to them is the cause, and the one problem to be dealt with. "It's me, it's me, O Lord."
Just some helpful contrary-to-the-ways-of-the-world Gospel truth to chew on and be encouraged by!
With you in the Bonds of this life's struggles, Pastor Jeff