Galatians 5: 16, 17
In Part 1 of this message I said that since plateaus occur naturally in many parts of the world, they serve a particular purpose in creation. While we tend to look at “spiritual plateaus” negatively, they are actually natural, normal and necessary. Necessary - how could plateaus be part of God’s plan for our spiritual growth? “Where it rains a lot and the winters are mild, the trees are not put under a great deal of stress, and therefore their wood is soft. If you get strong winds, they snap off or uproot. Where it is dry and the wind blows and the winters are harsh, the trees grow slowly. While it seems they have plateaued in their growth, they are actually forming the hard growth rings which give them strength to withstand the storms. Their roots go deep for moisture and their wood is hard because of the slow growth.”
Plateaus actually make us stronger because the blowing winds that discourage us actually cause our roots to go deeper. Plateaus are meant by God to develop stronger, tougher, deeper, more resilient Christians.
“God isn’t in the business of growing mushrooms.”
Our problem is that we’ve got too many “spiritual mushrooms” when God wants us to become oak trees with deep roots and strong limbs. In order to do that, we need to spend time on the plateaus of life, letting the wind blow against us so that we can learn to stand firm in hard times. So it turns out that God uses the plateaus that discourage us to advance our own spiritual growth. I said that I wanted to share 3 key principles about living on a spiritual plateau. We’ve already talked about the first one:
1. God Intends to Shape Us Into the Image of Christ.
Our Father fully intends that someday we will look like Jesus. We will have a character like his. He is so determined to see this happen that he has predestined us to be shaped into the image of his Son (Romans 8: 29). Like a patient sculptor, he chips away at us, he chisels here, he cuts there, he polishes, and then he cuts some more. All of us are “in process” right now, and none of us is a finished masterpiece yet. If we listen closely, we can hear the faint sound of God’s hammer and chisel chipping away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus. Plateaus are very useful for this sort of “spiritual sculpting."
To grasp the next 2 principles - Galatians 5: 16, 17. Important passage on the Christian life - answers a question all of us have asked at one time or another: Why is it taking me so long to get better? We’ve all wondered about that, haven’t we?
“I thought by now I wouldn’t struggle so much with anger. Why is it taking me so long to get better?” “I still get tempted by pornography. Why is it taking me so long to get better?” “I go to church every Sunday but I still have so many doubts. Why is it taking me so long to get better?” “I thought I’d be a better person by now but I’ve got so many bad habits. Why is it taking me so long to get better?” “I’m a bitter person even though I cover it up most of the time. Why is it taking me so long to get better?”
We wish had an answer to that question. We assume that upon conversion, we rapidly sprout wings and fly to heaven. But it doesn’t happen that way. God has ordained that even though we are being made like Jesus, it only happens a little bit at a time. Sometimes that “little bit” seems very little indeed. Leads us to the 2nd principle about living on a spiritual plateau:
2. God Uses Our Struggles for Our Spiritual Growth v. 17
Many Christians prefer not to hear this truth because they want a Christianity that proclaims “all victory all the time.” They want a guarantee that all their problems will be solved if they will follow the right formula. But that is not realistic nor is it biblical. We are to fight the good fight of faith, putting on the whole armour of God, standing in the evil day and enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
2 principles are at war within us. One is called “flesh – sinful nature.” The other is called “the Spirit.” These 2 principles are in constant antagonism to each other. They are constantly at war with each other. The flesh is the depraved nature inside all of us by virtue of our physical descent from Adam. That depraved nature is hostile to God, selfish, and utterly evil. When we come to Christ, we become a new creation by virtue of the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us. Even though the dominating power of the flesh is broken, the pull of evil remains with us. Evil desires arise from the flesh like smoke from a chimney. Flesh is what we are by natural birth; the Spirit comes to us by our spiritual birth.
A. Flesh and the Spirit are fundamentally opposite. They do not and cannot cooperate.
B. The conflict between our flesh and the Spirit is continual and inevitable.
C. That conflict produces opposing desires in the believer.
So with the same mouth we swear and we bless. We love and we hate. We serve and then we steal. We proclaim Christ and then we lie to our friends. We forgive and then we lose our temper. We read the Bible and then we watch suspect movies. We sing in the worship team and then we have an affair. So it goes. The details differ, but all of us feel the struggle in one way or the other.
Some people think, “If I come to Christ, all my problems will be solved. I’ll never struggle again.” Think again, brother/sister! If you come to Christ, your problems are just starting. As a lost person, you sin because that’s your nature. As a Christian, you have a new nature that pulls you toward God while the flesh remains with you until you die. In one sense, Christians have conflicts the unsaved never know about. Our rewards are great but so are our struggles.
Have you ever thanked God for your spiritual struggles? Maybe that’s a new thought to you. We ought to praise God for the war within. The deadly feud between flesh and Spirit is one sign that we are the children of God. Do you desire to be holy? Do you want to please the Lord? Is there a hunger in your heart to know Jesus and to love him? Do you desire to live a higher and better life even though you cannot seem to attain it? If you answer yes, that is strong evidence you are born again. Despite your personal failings, do you truly want to do what God wants you to do? Then you may rest in the knowledge that you are a child of God. Your struggle with sin is proof of your divine heritage. If sin is a burden, at least it is a burden and not a joy. If you can swear and hate and steal and mock and lust and think all sorts of foul thoughts and speak harsh words, if you can do that and feel nothing, then you are truly without hope in the world.
Our ongoing struggles and temptations are not in themselves sinful. We are not condemned because we struggle. The sin is in giving in, not in the fight itself. No one escapes the conflict. No one can avoid the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.
No one gets a Christian life free from outward pressure and inward turmoil. Our ongoing struggles and temptations are not in themselves sinful. Remember that God allows the struggle as part of our ongoing spiritual growth. Strange - but we need to struggle because that’s the only way we can grow in grace.
Here are a few benefits of our ongoing struggle with sin: It reveals to us our weakness. It kills our pride and arrogance. It humbles us again and again. It forces us to cry out to God for help. It reveals the uselessness of human effort apart from God’s strength. It teaches us to rely on the Lord alone. It causes us to love the Saviour who delivers us from sin. It leads us to a life of continual repentance. It forces us to lean on our brothers and sisters to help us out. It leads us to look for daily solutions instead of instant miracles. That brings us the third principle we need to know about living on a spiritual plateau:
3. God Calls Us to Walk in the Spirit v. 16
It means to walk from one place to another. It’s in the present tense, which means “keep on walking." Walking is a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time.
Walking implies steady progress in one direction by means of deliberate choices over a long period of time. To walk in the Spirit means something like “let your conduct be directed by the Holy Spirit” or “make progress in your life by relying on the Holy Spirit." It has the idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide every part of your life on a daily basis.
Walking is slow compared with driving a car or flying in a plane. It’s not flashy at all. Sometimes walking can be tedious, slow, dull, drab, and downright boring. Yet if you’ve got to get from Point A to Point B, walking will get you there eventually. All you have to do is just start walking and don’t stop until you arrive at your destination.
The Bible doesn’t say “fly in the Spirit” or “run in the Spirit” or “jog in the Spirit.” It tells us to “walk in the Spirit." Walk . . . in . . . the . . . Spirit. One foot after another. One step after another. If you started in Cape Town, and if you had the time and strength, you could walk to Johannesburg, Nairobi or even to Cairo. Walking will get you from here to there. It will get you from where you are to where you need to be.
That’s why walking is the perfect picture of the Christian life. It describes the ordinary action of ordinary people in their ordinary routine. Walking works because all it requires is a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time. Just walk and keep on walking, and you will end up exactly where you need to be. Walking implies 2 things that are vital for the spiritual life:
A. Steady progress
B. Deliberate choices
You’ve got to get up every day and start walking, and you’ve got to make the right choices to get where you want to go.
All of life is a series of small decisions we make over time. I am what I am and who I am and where I am because of thousands of decisions made over many years. Most of those decisions seemed small and insignificant at the time but taken together they make me who I am today. On the good side and on the bad side, I’m the sum total of a lifetime of decision-making.
Every day when we wake up, we all have decisions to make. Small decisions. Tiny choices. Most of them seemingly insignificant. But here’s the key insight. We tend to look at life as made up of “Major decisions” and “Stuff that doesn’t matter.” Most of life falls into the second category so we think it has no moral component. Who cares what you wear? Well, you should because your clothes shape your mood and send a message to others. Who cares what music you listen to or what TV shows you watch or who you greet at work? You should because all of those things shape your heart and your mind and ultimately set the course of your life.
There are no neutral decisions. Because every choice we make is intricately linked with every other choice before it and every choice we will make later, all our “little” choices are not really little at all. Every choice we make either takes us a step toward the light or a tiny step toward the darkness. Even the “meaningless” choices lead us in one way or the other. The sum total of those tiny choices shapes us (for good or for bad) into the people we are today. We are becoming what we choose to be . . . One tiny step at a time.
This illustrates the true power of walking in the Spirit. It’s not some mystical experience reserved for a special category of “super-spiritual Christians.” No, this is God’s plan for normal Christian living, and it is within the grasp of every believer every day. As we consistently take tiny steps toward the light, we find ourselves walking in the right direction and making real progress. It’s not that the darkness disappears. That won’t happen until we get to heaven. We’ll fight the darkness within us and around us until the day we die. But by God’s grace if we keep walking in the light and toward the light, the light of God’s love will surround us and fill us and change us.
Just keep on walking! All we have to do is keep on walking. Tiny steps. One after another. Small steps in the same direction over a long period of time.
How do we get off a spiritual plateau? We don’t! If you find yourself on a spiritual plateau, just keep on walking. Remember, “God is not growing mushrooms.” He uses the spiritual plateaus to grow oak trees with deep roots and strong branches. The plateaus of life make us deeper, stronger, tougher and more resilient. If you’re on a plateau right now, give thanks to God because it’s part of his plan to make you more like Jesus.
When the time comes, God will change the terrain for you.
Until then, just keep on walking!