Do you mostly focus on superficial teachings that make you feel good about yourself, or do you pursue righteousness (Hebrews 5)?
I came across an old home video this week while looking through archived files on my computer. It was of my youngest kiddo eating in a highchair. He had just learned to pick up finger foods, and he was eating peas and Cheerios – complete with green mush on his chin. The kids had a big laugh watching the video, especially with my sing-song voice in the background praising him for being such a big boy and feeding himself.
With kids, we get excited about every little milestone, don’t we? We ooh and ahh about moving from milk to baby food, then finger foods, and finally table food using a fork and spoon. In some ways, this progression mirrors our spiritual development. We start out our new spiritual lives needing to be nourished with the simple truth of the gospel. Peter described it this way: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3, NIV). Yet, our development doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) stop there.
In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he scolded them by saying, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV).
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews challenged readers for being unwilling to grow in faith: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14, NIV).
What, then, does it mean to be ready for solid food, spiritually speaking? Partly, it means that there should be evidence of our growth. We should seek out spiritual instruction that challenges us to stretch and grow even more. It also means that we should begin teaching, mentoring, and leading others to help them grow in faith.
At least 15 times in the book of Psalms, the author asks a prayer along the lines of, “How long, O Lord?” Sometimes, the psalmist is referring to rescue from his enemies, but other times, he is crying out for God’s attention in his own life – for forgiveness and mercy. If I’m completely honest, I have prayed numerous “How long, O Lord?” prayers in the years since my two nephew-sons joined my household: How long will their grief manifest in anger? How long until they can understand and manage their emotions in a healthy way? How long will it take for their own tragedies to become tools that will equip them to minister to others? How long until it feels like I’ve done the right things for them as a parent? Those aren’t rote prayers that I recite, but the questions have been on my heart for a long while. Well, I learned this week that one of them was asked to be desk buddies with a new kid in his class. The new boy had a traumatic situation in utero and suffers from physical and cognitive challenges. He’s in a mainstream class but needs extra help. My son came home positively bubbling over and raving about how excited he was to be asked to help. As I listened to him share and sensed his compassion and kindness toward his new friend, it felt like those prayers that I’ve lifted up for years were coming to fruition. In the psalms mentioned previously, the author tends to conclude with an account of God’s goodness. In Psalm 35, David writes, “My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long” (NIV). The author of Psalm 79 declares, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise” (NIV). Psalm 94 declares, “But the Lord has become my fortress and my God the rock in whom I take refuge” (NIV). After crying out to the Lord for who knows how long about enduring certain trials, the writer remembered to go back to the source with praise. Each of us has a different faith-journey, and the challenges in my life will look different from the trials in your life. Yet, one thing remains constant: We serve a great and mighty God, and he will never leave you stranded (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20). I also believe that he’s got a big enough lap for his children (that’s you & me!) to climb into his arms and cry out, “How long, O Lord?” when life feels like it is beating us up. I am confident that he can handle our tough questions, but we need to be like the psalmist and lavish him with praise when we witness the answers to those prayers.
What does the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) look like in your own life?
I love the word picture in Isaiah 61:10 about the Lord clothing us in his righteousness – a blanket of salvation, warm & secure in his arms.
Isaiah 61:3 also describes God’s people as “oaks of righteousness” planted for his glory. What are you doing today to grow in faith?
Do you remember the jingle from the Klondike® commercials, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” with people doing silly antics to earn one? What if the stakes were higher than just a square chunk of chocolate-coated ice cream?
What would you do for $100? $1,000? $1,000,000? Would you eat bugs? Would you violate your moral convictions? Would you put your life at risk?
In this age of reality TV, it’s obvious that many people will do just about anything for attention: live in the wilderness for months, subject themselves to public scrutiny and berating, face grueling physical challenges, even marry a virtual stranger. What if the stakes were higher than just a few minutes of television fame or a prize jackpot?
What if the stakes were eternity?
The Amplified Bible translates Psalm 125:3 as: “For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the [uncompromisingly] righteous, lest the righteous (God’s people) stretch forth their hands to iniquity and apostasy.” Uncompromisingly righteous … that seems to mean that people who otherwise live righteously still make unrighteous choices sometimes. We compromise. We give into lesser stakes—but for what? For fame? For glory? For something that feels like love? For a sense of self-worth? For spite?
The Psalm goes on to say, in verse 5, that our “crooked ways” boil down to our indifference toward God. When we compromise, we say to the Lord that we don’t care what he thinks. The Bible is clear that God does not want anyone to perish (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), but when we turn our backs on him, sometimes he lets us keep walking. Psalm 125 ends with a sobering image of God’s people walking off with evildoers. Is any amount of worldly gain worth separation from God?
Originally posted July 31, 2011