Spiritual Training

It seems God wired us to appreciate excellence. Since we are created in His image, this should not be surprising. He is excellent in character and actions and created us with a drive to be like that, too. One example of human excellence that people love to watch is the Olympics. The same was true during the apostle Paul’s life, and he used the ancient Olympics to illustrate some spiritual principles:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NASB1995)

Run to win. Strive to be the best you can be. Rather than living half-heartedly for Christ, give it your all. While we are not competing against others for a single prize; our prize is a strong, healthy faith filled with the peace and joy of far more life that will continue for eternity.

Christ-following is an all-encompassing lifestyle. Christianity is not a part-time pursuit or a hobby; it impacts every aspect of your life. Like elite athletes, our goal requires us to live for more than temporary pleasures. To become the best, athletes must be self-controlled in their schedule, activity, rest, leisure, nutrition, and more. These are all areas that Christians can use for God’s glory — and find far more life along the way!

The prize is worth the investment. Ancient Olympians hoped to achieve immortality by winning their race. Although they and their olive wreath eventually died, we are promised eternal life through Jesus Christ. Dedicating our lives to Him and striving to glorify Him in every aspect leads to great reward! We are promised eternal glory that far outweighs our sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Similar ideas are communicated in another of Paul’s letters:

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  (I Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

The Greek word translated “train” is “gymnaze.” It literally means “to exercise naked, to train”. Why would God want us to exercise naked?

Ancient Olympians trained and competed naked, their physical features and flaws exposed to all. The contenders did not mind because they wanted to impress the Greek gods with their physical strength and muscular physique. While God is not impressed by our strength and physique, we are indeed naked before Him, whether or not we admit it.

In our spiritual training, it is beneficial to make ourselves naked by acknowledging our flaws, weaknesses, and sin. The writer of Hebrews describes it like this:

…Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

What else does the Bible say we need to put off to be spiritually naked?

…Lay aside the deeds of darkness. (Romans 13:12, NASB1995)

…Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22, NIV)

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices. (Colossians 3:9, NASB1995)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31, NIV)

Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent… (James 1:21, NIV)

Our spiritual training involves taking off sin, moral filth, evil, and old desires and habits that pull us away from God. We must stop lying to ourselves and others about our own spiritual power, physique, and abilities. The foundation of far more life is seeing ourselves as God does and understanding our true spiritual state. Without Him, we are depraved, helpless, and hopeless (Romans 2:5). In Him, we are forgiven, have power over sin, and hope for the future (Acts 13:38-39, Romans 15:13).

When we are spiritually naked, we are ready to train in godliness. While physical training puts on muscle or strength, spiritual training puts on character qualities and attitudes:

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14, NASB1995)

…Be made new in the attitude of your minds…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24, NIV)

…Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Colossians 3:10, NASB1995)

…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other… (Colossians 3:12-13, NASB1995)

Put on love… (Colossians 3:14, NASB1995)

…Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NASB1995)

Far more life puts on Jesus. Not in a fake way, like wearing a mask. Rather it takes on His character traits and becomes like Him. It adopts His values and goals as well as His likes and dislikes. It embraces His perspective and responds as He would. It believes what His Word says is true and acts on it.

Fortunately, it is never too early or too late to step up our spiritual training. God is always available and willing to help us take the next step. We have nothing to lose and far more life to gain by training with Him!

Sisters,
What excellence do you enjoy viewing?
In what do you strive for excellence?
Is the “prize” you are seeking in life perishable or imperishable?
How do you feel about being spiritually naked before God? Yourself? Others?
What do you need to put off to continue your training?
What are you ready to put on?
Enjoy far more life as you train with Him!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Persevering in Faith

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (James 1:2-3, NIV)

These are familiar verses to me — and maybe to you as well — but it is easy to skim over them. They can be hard to digest if we read them in the middle of a trial (also translated temptation, test, trouble, difficulty, challenge, and hardship). Joy often seems impossible at those times. But if we read them when life is pleasant, we are tempted to dismiss them as idealistic thinking. But I recently realized how powerful and life-changing this instruction can be if applied literally.

The testing of your faith produces perseverance. In the past, I have thought of perseverance as grinding through a hard time, not giving up, not turning away, digging in our heels. But that response to a test of faith leaves out God and increases our reliance on ourselves and our abilities. That is not what God intends! And that is definitely not far more life.

Looking into the original Greek, the word translated as perseverance (or endurance in some Bible versions) is hypomonḗ, which means “to remain under” or “be unswerving in deliberate purpose and loyalty to God”. God wants us to remain under Him, unswerving and loyal, through our trials. That is actually the best place we can be during hardship: under the care, power, and purpose of our loving Father. That is where we find far more life.

We are tempted to think difficulties mean God is displeased with us and good circumstances indicate His approval. If this is our view, it is impossible for us to remain under Him when trouble arises. Fear tempts us to hide from Him. But God has a glorious plan for the faith-stretching struggles He allows in our lives.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4, NIV)

…Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

We want to experience good circumstances for remaining under Him; while God sometimes blesses us in that way, we can always count on Him to increase our faith and grow our character. What does that mean? Is it worth the pain we suffer?

Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything. Paul describes the same idea three ways to make sure we catch it. We will become like Christ, perfect in character, with perfect beliefs, thoughts, actions, and understanding. Every trial has the potential to make us more like Him if we allow it. Trials offer us far more life.

Keeping this big picture perspective enables us to obey the beginning of the passage: consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. Knowing we can use each trial to make us more Christ-like is a reason to face it with joy. I have a friend who embraces this. He consistently responds to trials with the exclamation, “Oh, good. God has allowed a trial!” His response is authentic and automatic; he relishes the chance to see God work in and through his life. My friend has faced some very difficult trials yet remained under God; and God has faithfully shaped his character to be more like Jesus.

How do we face trials with joy?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

If you do not know, ask God! He will not criticize, berate, or belittle you. He will generously and graciously provide the wisdom you need to walk in far more life. But Paul does share this caution:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NIV)

You must ask God for wisdom with genuine faith. This is not the time for testing: “God, if you are real, give me wisdom.” It is not the time for bargaining, “God, if you give me wisdom now, I promise to never doubt you again.” It is good to admit that we lack faith; that is the first step in growing it! Use your doubt to uncover your core beliefs about God by asking yourself how you feel about trusting God and why you feel that way. As you alternate between these questions, digging deeper into your beliefs, you will encounter a core belief about God’s or your identity that does not line up with His Word. Turning to His Word for truth replaces that false belief, removes doubt, and allows genuine faith to flourish. And far more life!

I think this translation makes this passage relatable:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4, VOICE)

Do not run away from hardship. Instead run to far more life as you remain under God in your difficulties this week.

Sisters,
What is your first thought or feeling when a test, hardship, trial, or difficulty arises?
Can you think of a time when you relied on God through a trial and your faith in Him grew? Can you also think of times where you relied on yourself instead? What impact did those have on your faith?
How has your character grown more Christ-like through hardship?
Where do you turn for wisdom? What barriers keep you from turning wholeheartedly to God?
Thank God for His faithfulness and commitment to keep growing you. And for revealing far more life to you each step of the way.
-Shari

All We Need

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life …For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:3, 5-8, NIV)

God has promised to give His children all they need for life on earth. During challenging times, it is comforting to recall these promises and know that God has our back, that He will come through for us. But these verses make it clear His goal is not simply to make us more comfortable. If that is our expectation, we will be sorely disappointed and may even conclude that God is NOT keeping His promise to meet our needs. Far more life understands our comfort in this life is not God’s primary concern. He desires something better for us!

In the Bible passage above, God shared our biggest need: a godly life fueled by His divine power. This is His greatest calling for us. What does He tell us to focus on in order to attain it? Mostly character qualities. Rather than being concerned about our homes, possessions, or bank account, God puts the emphasis on growing our goodness and knowledge of Him, increasing our self-control and perseverance, adding to our godliness and affection for others, and expanding our love. Consistently choosing to let God’s power make us more like Jesus is far more life.

What is God’s purpose in developing our character so we can be empowered to live a godly life?

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

God has good works for us to do, to bring Him glory and accomplish His goals. We cannot see the big picture of His master plan. But we can trust that we each have a unique role to play in accomplishing it because He has told us so. He has given us particular talents, gifts, and interests that are necessary for the tasks He has assigned to us. We find far more life as we are engaged in His good works.

I encountered a wonderful God-loving manager in my first job out of college. He assigned work to his staff based on their skills and experience. Then he asked each person, “What do you need from me to be successful in your job?” He was not a cruel or demanding task-master. Instead he came alongside his employees to make sure they had everything they needed to do their jobs well. I appreciated his example of how God treats His children.

Sometimes God intends for our good works to benefit other people. Rather than looking only at our own lives, our own needs, and our own tasks, God instructs us to be involved with others. There are over 100 “one another” statements in the Bible and almost 60 of them tell us how to relate to others. Far more life gives to others, trusting God to provide for us. Although finances or material items are the first things that come to mind when we hear about “giving,” God’s economy is much more diverse! Sometimes we are asked to give our time. At other times it is our physical, mental, or emotional energy. On yet other occasions we need to give spiritual encouragement. Even praying for people is a form of giving! All are important to God and He equips us for all. Consider this exhortation from Paul to the Philippians:

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles….and my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:14, 19, NIV)

The Philippians invested in Paul and Timothy’s ministry by meeting their physical and emotional needs. Not just when they were together, but as Paul and Timothy traveled to multiple cities sharing the gospel, the Philippians continued to pray for, encourage, and financially support them. Here Paul is reminding them that God is dependable and trustworthy and WILL give them all that they need. It is not hard for Him. He is not inconvenienced or put out by having to supply it. He is rich and generous and wants to repay their blessing others with a blessing. Far more life invests in others, knowing God is the ultimate supplier.

The Bible includes illustrations of people making wise and foolish investments (Matthew 25, Luke 9:1-9). God expects us to be discerning and use our knowledge, experience, and common sense to judge what and when we should give. But we can be confident that investing in God’s work will not spiritually bankrupt us. God can and will provide all we need.

Do you want to consistently experience far more life? Accept all God offers to develop your character, do the good works He has designed for you, and invest in others. You will see firsthand how He keeps His promise to provide all you need for godliness and far more life!

Sisters,
What is your response to the idea that God’s definition of “all you need” is not what makes your life comfortable?
Do you believe that living a godly life is your biggest need and greatest calling?
How have you seen God supply what you needed to do His good works?
Have you experienced far more life from giving to or investing in others? When?
Thank Him for providing all you need for godliness and far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso


Overflowing

I love this prayer for far more life that Paul raised to God on behalf of the Christians in Philippi. It is so rich!

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. (Philippians 1:9, NLT)

What does overflowing love look like in our lives?

  • Imagine God’s love filling you to the brim and naturally flowing out of you NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. When you encounter a difficulty your first words are genuine praise to God for giving you the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness. That is overflowing love.
  • Imagine your understanding and experience of God’s love enveloping those around you. When someone mistreats you, God’s love enables you to sincerely forgive and bless them on the spot. This is overflowing love.
  • Imagine having an eternal perspective on the challenges of this life. When you receive bad news, your immediate response is to thank God for giving you all you need in this life and for your future with Him in heaven. This response is overflowing love.

We overflow with God’s love when we immerse ourselves in Him. Some of us find this easy and dive headfirst into God’s love, drinking in as much as possible and reveling in it. We are quickly filled to overflowing. But others are hesitant and cautious. They may slowly tiptoe into the depths of God’s love, stopping to test the water before each step. It takes time for them to truly believe God’s love is safe because human love has been hurtful. Regardless of the path, we are filled once we are immersed. And when we are filled with God’s love, it naturally flows out of us and touches those we touch. It is part of us. Far more life overflows with God’s love.

Being immersed opens the door for the second half of Paul’s prayer: growth in knowledge and understanding. As we study God’s Word, we learn more than historical facts; we gain insights about His character and plan. This knowledge increases our understanding of what God has instructed and why. Increased understanding deepens our appreciation and love for God. We see Him as a Person and desire to know Him better. His Word is not a novel we read once from cover to cover. It is a love letter that grows more precious with each reading (Psalm 119:97-104). We come to view God’s Word as a guidebook filled with principles, practicalities, and warnings that enrich our life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The more we experience the benefit of following God’s Word, the more we seek it out. Far more life is pursuing deeper knowledge and understanding of God.

I love Paul’s heart for these dear saints, revealed in the next part of his prayer:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)

A deeper knowledge and understanding of God changes us! It opens our eyes to the difference between our limited insight and that of God, the Creator of the universe who knows everything. It frees us to pursue what really matters: a love relationship with God and people. Without this, we can get caught up in pursuing things that ultimately don’t matter — influence, popularity, security, escape, pleasure — and miss experiencing far more life in Christ. When our hearts are transformed by Christ and our minds are renewed by His truth, we want to pursue what matters to God. Our desires change to line up with His desires. Far more life eagerly pursues God and His purposes.

Notice that living a pure and blameless life comes AFTER we are overflowing in love, have gained knowledge, and understand what really matters. Too many Christians think that striving to live a pure and blameless life will lead to a changed heart and renewed mind. (The popular phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it,” supports this mindset.) Even if their external actions look good, they are not living far more life. God takes the opposite approach: get to know Him, embrace what He says matters, and THEN you will have the power to live in genuine righteousness. We find far more life in the places where our heart, mind, and actions are in alignment with God. We are refreshed and energized as we obey Him. And this encourages us to bring more areas of life into alignment with Him.

Paul concludes his prayer with a challenge:

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:11, NLT)

The fruit of our salvation is a righteous character that produces good works. Gardeners know that fruit is the desired outcome, the result. It is what we get excited about. Fruit is evident to all who look at the plant or tree. The fruit of righteousness — the power to overcome sin and act rightly — is available to everyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

It would be nice if we changed from fruitless (sinful) to righteous (completely sinless) at the moment of our salvation, but that is not God’s plan for us. Yet Paul’s encouragement is that we ALWAYS be filled with righteousness. His prayer is that we are always filled to overflowing with God’s love so we are eager to do good to and for others. Every day. As we mature spiritually. No matter our circumstances. This is how we bring the most glory and praise to God. This is where we experience far more life.

Sisters,
What helps you to continue going to God to be filled up?
How would you summarize what really matters to God?
What is the quality and quantity of fruit in your life? What is hindering its growth? How will you overcome that hindrance?
Pray these verses for yourself and overflow with far more life this week!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso