FAITH ADVENTURES "Breakthroughs to Spiritual Vitality" audio podcast by award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Recorded at Fillmore Bible Church, Fillmore, California, Circa 1982. Sponsored by BlyBooks.com Legacy Series.
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CLEARING ROADBLOCKS TO SPIRITUAL VITALITY
recorded Fillmore Bible Church, Fillmore, California
OLD TESTAMENT READING:
Joshua 7:10-13 NASB), “So the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them along their own things. Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the Lord, the God of Israel, has said, ‘There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.”
NEW TESTAMENT READING:
Mark 1:14-20 NASB), “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel.’ And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And they immediately left the nets and followed Him. And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and went away to follow Him.”
You Know You Need New Spiritual Life When . . .
You know you’re in spiritual stagnation when your six-year-old child gets you up on Sunday morning and dresses you to get you ready for church.
You know your spiritual life isn’t what it should be when you have intention in obeying last Sunday morning’s sermon. But you can’t remember last Sunday.
You know you’re in spiritual stagnation when you’ve been a member of the church sixteen years and you still can’t remember the preachers’ names.
Your spiritual life is on zero when the conversation about your commitment always begins, “One of these days . . .”
You’ll know your spiritual life isn’t going anywhere at all if you thought The Power of the Holy Ghost was the name of the latest Steven Spielberg movie.
You know your spiritual life is on dead center when the most modern hymn you know was written by some young whippersnapper by the name of Charles Wesley, whoever he was.
Your spiritual life isn’t what it should be if the most devotional act you have done in the last month was to open that mass mailing ad for the Christian obedience school for dogs.
Your spiritual life isn’t what it should be if the deepest you’ve delved into the Scripture lately was reading the L.A. Times book review of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the Bible.
Your spiritual life isn’t what it should be if the last person you shared your faith with was your third grade Sunday School teacher.
And your spiritual life is probably on zero if your nightly prayers begin, “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .”
Spiritual Stagnation and Doldrums
We all have them, but we hate to admit it.
Jerry’s spiritual life was on zero. From 1976-1981 he taught a Young Adult Sunday School class. He also served on the church board. He went to the yearly deeper life conferences. He had a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule that he faithfully kept. And he drove the bus for the youth group events.
But things are different now. He sees himself as still an active member. He’s still around. He’s in church most of the time. That means once or twice a month. But he says he’s coasting a bit, resting up. But the truth is, there’s no spiritual rest in isolation and his life is on zero.
Jerry felt the pastor had taken advantage of him some years back. He felt like he’d been manipulated. So, he got angry and he said some things in the board meeting, made some accusations, and resigned.
Then, a few months later, the pastor resigned. Before the pastor left town, Jerry wanted to go and see if he could make things straight. As they sat down to talk about their differences, he found out there’d been a great misunderstanding all along. The things Jerry thought had been said weren’t true. The pastor’s intentions were quite different. So, he apologized to the pastor. That was two years ago. And he still struggles with those past actions. They still remain a roadblock to his spiritual vitality.
Solution Found Here
There is a solution to be found. It’s found here.
Mark 1:5, “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”
Jerry had confessed his sin before God. He had confessed his sin before the offended one. But public sins need public confession.
Ezra 10:1, “Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women, and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly.”
We know from the book of Nehemiah that even sins of another generation need public confession. The people of Israel confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers publicly. Sometimes sin that has not been properly confessed causes spiritual roadblocks.
There is sin to be confessed to the fellowship. James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
We tend to stop short on 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
It’s like when we spill a cup of coffee. This verse promises us that we’ll not only be forgiven, but we’ll also be cleansed from all sorts of stains that sin might have brought into our life. Cleansing is often held up until the public profession of that sin.
Jerry will tell you that the toughest thing he ever did was stand up one Wednesday night at prayer meeting and confess that what he’d said about the previous pastor had been misquoted and been insensitive and, in fact, had been wrong and he wish he hadn’t said it.
Now, Jerry’s not the same young, crusading saint he used to be thought of, but what a difference. He’s taking night school classes in counseling because he heard others say, “You know, there are some things I’ve said I wish I could take back.”
Failure to confess sins stifles spiritual growth.
Mrs. Kline is in a rut, an orderly, well-mannered rut. Every Saturday night she stands in front of the wardrobe closet, with the decision of what to wear to church the next day. Sunday mornings are filled with Sunday School and church and a visit to the rest home, then Sunday evening worship and Wednesday morning Bible Study. She cooks monthly for the Youth Club dinner. She supports the ministry of the church like she always has. She donates to the church and supports a orphanage in Taiwan. She’s been part of the Billy Graham Association since 1949.
But every time she hears someone talk about a deeper spiritual or hears about someone being led to the Lord or being called to a new ministry, Mrs. Kline feels slighted because it doesn’t happen to her that way. She feels her spiritual life has been stuck on routine.
There’s a cure for such a thing.
Mark 1:8,12, “’I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” . . . And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.”
Mrs. Kline needs to release the Holy Spirit within her. It’s possible to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and not be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a person. The Holy Spirit dwells in all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit brings us assurance, power, and spiritual gifts. Sometimes we have a misperception of what the Holy Spirit is like.
We think of the Holy Spirit like in a cup. We sing, “Fill my cup, Lord.” But the Holy Spirit is more than a cup of water. He is like a roaring river. We went down the rivers in tubes when we were in Idaho. And it’s possible to get behind a large enough rock in a strong river and prop yourself behind the rock and not go anywhere. But if you pick up your legs and hold onto the tube, you’ll be moved down a river of excitement. The same is true with the Holy Spirit.
We can impede what He wants to do in our life or we can pick up our legs and hold onto the tube. We’ll know we won’t drown, but the ride will never be dull or routine. Release the Spirit.
Mrs. Kline was listening to a singing evangelist one Thursday morning. He mentioned letting the Holy Spirit control your life and he said anyone in the audience or at home could do that. So, she decided that’s what she wanted to do. She prayed this prayer, “God, I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do. And I will not turn down any ministry opportunity if I have prayed it through for at least a week first.”
And then she anxiously awaited the Lord’s leading. For the next six weeks she prayed through and decided not to teach pre-school, take a trip to the Holy Land, start a Kid’s Club in her backyard, attend a national evangelism conference in Washington, D.C., or teach English to Vietnamese immigrants. All of these things she prayed through, looking for the right opportunity. And then it came.
At the bottom of her monthly letter from the Taiwan ministry was one little sentence. Due to that sentence, Mrs. Kline leased her house to her granddaughter, packed up her bags, and flew a Pan Am jet to Taiping and dedicated her life as a volunteer cook at a far-east orphanage.
Failure to release the Spirit in your life is going to clog spiritual vitality.
Dr. Crowley is a professor of economics at University of Idaho in Moscow. While he was doing some undergraduate work at the University of Chicago, he had a car accident. The people in the other car were injured more seriously than he was, but they weren’t bitter towards him though it was his fault. He got to know who they were and found out they were both on the staff of InterVarsity Fellowship at Northwest University.
So, he went to some meetings there where he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. When he returned to his economics professorship, he came back as a believer. But as he would say, “That didn’t mean I accepted the whole fundamentalist thing.”
So, Dr. Crowley explained away any miracles in Scriptures, and doubted the Lord bothered with individual plans for a person’s life, and he had trouble with culturally related passages. He refused to read much of the Old Testament and found the Genesis account of creation as primitive and incredible. So, he put his compartmentalized faith with his infant Christianity and there’s no wonder there’s been no change in his life for twenty-three years.
Failure to believe the full gospel has kept his spiritual life on hold.
Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Some people’s spiritual life isn’t going because they don’t really believe the gospel. When you really believe, you find yourself searching for answers to contemporary questions. You’ll continually be surprised at any new things you discover. You’ll find yourself being protective of biblical truth, though it doesn’t need your defending. From time to time you’ll say, “Oh, I wish it didn’t say that,” because it’s so convicting and you know you’ll have to obey.
You’ll see a direct connection between exposure to the Word and change in your life.
Dr. Crowley was doing a study of the economic systems of the early Babylonians. In his research he discovered some books written by an organization called the Creation Research Society. He was surprised to find a logical and scientific explanation for many of the truths of Scripture. And he said to himself, “Oh, if I were twenty-three years younger, I could believe all of that. But I’m chairman of the department now and a person in my position can’t go overboard.”
So, Dr. Crowley remains a highly educated baby Christian.
Failure to believe the full gospel freezes spiritual growth and vitality.
They didn’t take a vote in the youth group, but if they had, Kathy would receive the award for Most Likely to Succeed in Mission Work. Born and raised in the mountains of Chile of missionary parents, she played the guitar and led singing. Every summer she spent in different kinds of mission work. By the end of her senior year, she had personally led over twenty other high schoolers to the Lord. And she was a straight A student with a strong math background. That meant she could get a good scholarship for Wheaton College and also got hired for a part-time computer job. She had some extra money to spend on a few luxuries after a lifetime in the missionary barrel.
When she completed school, she received a chance for a high paying promotion with that company and decided to take it. That meant a new red Camaro and an apartment on Northshore Drive. She enjoyed those things. Though she was still a member of the Young Adults class at the Evangelical Free church, she didn’t have much time to give to it, like she did in her earlier years of spiritual growth, what with weekend seminars and training of new people.
Failure to Sacrifice Stunts Spiritual Growth
Failure to sacrifice has kept Kathy from doing all she could have done for the Lord. We see a clue and a cure here . . .
Mark 1:18,20 “And they immediately left the nets and followed him . . . And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and went away to follow him.”
A solution to get your spiritual life going again is to give up something valuable for the Lord. I want to encourage you that this is the quickest way to get a spiritual life going. It’s also the most difficult and the one least used because it’s going to cost you something.
Consider what is your most valuable talent? Consider your most valuable block of time or material possessions. Give that to the Lord’s work and you’ll find yourself growing again spiritually.
One morning Kathy came outside and saw that somebody during the night had run into her red Camaro and totaled it. As she sat there with tears at the loss of her most treasured material possession, she realized God wanted her to give some things up. And she realized it was fortunate she hadn’t been in the smashed car. And she thought, “If my life is more valuable than this material possession, then there are other lives in the world more valuable as well.”
Kathy still works in computers and lives in the Chicago area, but now she works for a far-eastern organization. She rides the EL to work, gets by on half the salary, and the last I heard she’s organizing two dozen young people to go to the Philippines for summer mission work.
Failure to sacrifice crushes spiritual vitality.
Tony grew up on the streets of El Paso, Texas. Left to roam by his mother and threatened for his life by his father, his upbringing was tough. By the time of his teens he was getting by on cheap wine, shooting dope, and selling his body to the highest bidder. It was in a Juarez jail that he found some spiritual help. A couple members from the 2nd Baptist Church in El Paso brought him to Christ. When he was back on the streets, he was a regular attender of that church and he tried with all his might to change the bad habits. He dedicated himself to the Lord and he told all his friends that he was trying to overcome his past upbringing. But try as he may, Tony kept failing and failing.
The Spiritual Warfare
Somewhere in the teaching of that church they forgot to tell Tony about the power of Satan to attack a Christian’s life. He was trying to fight spiritual battles with earthly tools and losing.
Mark 1:25, “And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’”
Spiritual progress can’t be made without a spiritual battle. To rebuke Satan, you tell him you know who he is, and you know who you are, and you know what limitations he has in your life. Satan might not be the direct cause of all evil. Certainly, we battle the world and the flesh, as well as the devil. But if you’ve changed your environment and you have given it your best shot with your own strength and you still can’t overcome, chances are you’re dealing with Satan. You need to rebuke him.
Tony was sitting by a railroad track in Las Cruces, New Mexico, when he first heard about the power of Satan. He realized what he needed to do. He jumped to his feet and shouted words that sent chills down everyone’s spine, “Satan, I’m a child of God and I’ve been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you have no power to keep me tied to these old, sinful habits. And I renounce you and cast you out of my life.”
Nowadays most everyone in the Rio Grande Valley has heard of Tony’s renouncing of Satan. He still does it from time to time whenever he’s confronted with any of those old habits. He seems to have that ability with that loud voice that everyone on the street could hear. He smiles when he shares the fact, “You’d be surprised how quickly those spirits flee to the other side of the street when I shout, “I renounce you, Satan!”
Those are extreme measures, but Tony’s case is extreme. But anyone who thinks they can find as vital Christian life and never, ever confront Satan are in for a disappointment.
Failure to deal with Satan can put your spiritual life on a dead-end street.
Dave came to the Lord in 1969. He was so excited about his faith he wrote out his Christmas cards early to all his relatives. He told them about how he accepted the Lord. And then he sent Christmas cards to all of his friends to tell them about his new and spiritual religious experience with Jesus Christ. Then he took his high school annual and tried to find as many addresses as possible of his classmates and sent them Christmas cards with the story of his conversion.
That Christmas for Dave was really different. A lot of people avoided him. And some pretended like nothing had happened. But others took time to talk to him about spiritual things. Meanwhile, Dave was the one who dominated the Sunday School class with questions because there were so many answers he needed for his new-found faith.
Dave was convinced that this faith would lead to a life of adventure, but that was fifteen years ago. A lot of refinement has come since then. There was college to finish and seminary to attend and then there was seven years as assistant pastor at a large, urban church. He was involved with organization and planning, administration and education. Right now, Dave is bored. He wonders if there’s some other church ministry to go to. And he’s thinking to himself, “Will it be like it is now? And is it only new Christians that get excited about their faith?”
Failure to bring new meaning to Christ hampers spiritual vitality.
Mark 1:30,32, “Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her . . . And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began brining to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed.”
There are a lot of needy people in the world. A needy person to me is one who hurts and knows they hurt. And the world is full of those. They hurt physically, spiritually, socially, as well as mentally and emotionally. And they need what Jesus has to offer. We need to be around people who hurt.
The longer we’re Christians, the less hurting people we see. For one, we isolate ourselves from everyone except Christians. And everyone knows, Christians don’t hurt. Anyway, that’s the image we put forth. But we need to bring the hurting into the Lord’s presence, expecting Him to meet all their needs.
Dave has just accepted a position with the denomination. He’s going to be the new director for Missions and Support. He’ll do a good job, but he’ll never experience the thrill of those early years until he personally begins leading hurting people to the presence of Jesus.
Failure to lead the needy to Christ leaves your spiritual life flat.
If there’s one thing Margie wants in life, it’s to see her church grow. She and her husband were among twelve couples who started the church in 1939. And since times were financially hard then, the only thing asked was how many hours a day would you commit in prayer to support this new church work? Margie pledged while the kids were still in diapers ten minutes a day to pray for the church.
Then right into the 1940’s and 50’s she kept that pledge. And into the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s you could hear that Margie prays for the church every day. She even taught others how to be faithful in prayer for the church. The trouble is, now it’s been months since she prayed for ten minutes a day for the church. Even though she makes that pledge yearly, it seems to be slipping. And though some wonder why the church lacks vitality, Margie knows better. The solution comes here . . . Jesus alone in prayer.
Mark 1:35, “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and was praying there.”
Failure to remain faithful in prayer will hamper any spiritual life.
We need to narrow down those things that are worthy of our constant prayer. We need to pray for a lot of things, but not everything requires a lifetime commitment. If your lifetime prayer list has pages upon pages, chances are you’ll grow tired of it some year. Determine what requests to pray for all the time and others as they arise.
What is worth praying for the rest of your life? Your children? Every day, no matter how old, be in prayer for them. What are those things? Put them on the permanent list.
Margie went to a Women Who Pray conference. Convicted she wasn’t being as faithful as before, she started again praying ten minutes a day for her church. After eight weeks of prayer, she could see no signs of change at all. But that’s okay. Her prayer didn’t depend on the changes but on her faithfulness. She’s not bargaining with God. She’s committing herself. And her spiritual life is growing again.
Dorothy Mason lives in a stately white house on the shore of Lake Erie. She hires someone to shovel the snow in the winter, to plant the garden in the spring, to mow the grass in the summer, and rake the leaves in the fall. A housecleaner comes in three times a week. She likes to spend September in Hong Kong doing her yearly shopping. But at Christmas and holidays she’s just a middle-aged lady sitting in her big house looking out at the lake all alone.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Her husband lives down the freeway in Akron. And her daughter and family live in Cincinnati. Her son attends the University of Pittsburgh. But she hasn’t seen any of them for three years.
Five years ago, after twenty years of bickering and complaints and constant pushing to earn more money, Dorothy’s husband came home to another nagging tirade and said, “I need some rest.” He walked out of the house and hasn’t been back.
For six months after, she continued a vitriolic attack on her husband with her daughter and her son. Then, her daughter decided to get married and her son went away to college. They returned for a few holidays but things got worse and now they don’t come home at all.
The only friend Dorothy has is Carrie Field whose the host of a local call-in radio talk show. And over and over again you can hear Dorothy say on the radio, “After all, I’m not the one who made all those mistakes.”
Failure to expose personal ugliness to the Lord kills any chance of spiritual growth.
Mark 1:40, “And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’”
A leper coming with the most hideous of all diseases, showing himself to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, look at this. Look at how awful I look. How ashamed I am. But you can make me clean.”
The solution is to open up your ugliness to the Lord and beseech Him to change you. Let Him know you’re fully aware of your own condition, with tears, if sincere, until the answer comes. Show that your serious. Here’s a leper begging God to touch the ugliness in his own life. Whether physical, spiritual, or mental illness, follow his instructions He might give.
After Dorothy spent some serious time in prayer one day, she said to her housecleaner, “You know, the kids are lucky. They can leave. They don’t have to live with me.”
It wasn’t much, but it was the first time she had ever admitted that maybe she was part of the problem. And over the next several months of prayer, she began to open up more to her housecleaner, admitting a few more things, confessing some failures that were her fault.
Now, there’s a change in Dorothy Mason. While she’s still going to Hong Kong in September, now her daughter’s going with her and Thanksgiving her son said he would come home for dinner. And she hasn’t seen her husband yet, but he knows he has a standing invitation for a candlelight dinner. Dorothy says if he ever enters those big double doors next to the lakeside that she and Chinese silk have a plan to keep him there.
I saw on the news about Big Sur country on Highway 1 and how the storms have damaged it with big mud slides and whole chunks of highway gone. They interviewed various people and one person said, “You know, it’s a real tragedy. I don’t know if it will ever be the same. Everything’s going to be different with such a loss.” He seemed so depressed.
And then the reporter interviewed others who were dancing and having a party on a stretch of the pavement still left. They celebrated because they liked the isolation. “This is great,” they said. Then they showed huge tracklayers moving dirt, dust, and grime. They interviewed one of the drivers who said, “Just around the corner are some of the most beautiful vistas in all the world. And I want to make sure people get a chance to see it.”
Spiritual roadblocks . . . the storms in our lives bring them. We certainly don’t have the same ones. But if we refuse to remove the ones we have, we could miss the most breathless vistas we could ever imagine, that full life of adventure and faith with Jesus, with His love, encouragement, and help along the way.