By Dr. Richard Ing
April 25, 2007
Compared to the total number of members in our church, the attendance of our Tuesday night teaching sessions and our Thursday and Friday night prayer sessions is miniscule. Like almost every other pastor, I was wondering why the other members stop coming to church or stop supporting church activities.
No doubt, some members feel that they are wasting their time. Nothing new ever happens. Their life hasn’t changed much and they don’t seem to grow in the Spirit. They feel dry and unfulfilled. So, why bother coming to church and waste time? They’ve heard the same things over and over again and it hasn’t made one ounce of difference in their life. They still struggle to earn a living and they worry about things the same as they did before they became Christians. They feel that their evenings are better spent resting for the next day’s arduous activities in earning a living.
Some have gone to many Christian seminars, conventions, and meetings. They have watched countless religious shows on TV and heard many sermons on radio and nothing much has happened in their life, in the Spirit or otherwise. They are unfulfilled and haven’t grown in the Lord for years. Things have become boring and they are hanging on by their fingernails. Even deliverances, healings and other miracles do not help or impress them. It’s old stuff. They have reached a plateau and have been stuck and stagnant there for years. On the other hand, a few come all the time and seem to be happy and fulfilled. Why the difference? How come a few seem to grow in the Spirit by leaps and bounds and others never grow?
I’ve got a few answers I want to share with you. You may not agree or like them, but they are the truth, at least from my perspective.
Basically, most Christians are totally passive in their walk with God and don’t know it. They’re accustomed to it. The modern church system of preset services and meetings does not help. In fact, it contributes to it. I’ve read books claiming that pulpit preaching, singing, scripture readings and prayers by the pastor do nothing for the individual member. The whole thing encourages passivity and was never part of first century Christianity. Truth is you can’t change your life by simply sitting in a pew and absorbing a sermon or by being entertained by music.
That is why I have attempted to change the way the service is conducted with the intention of getting our members to be proactive. I have requested that everyone come to church prepared to share, give a testimony, a praise report, ask a question, tell us about what God has done in your life the past week or sometime in your life. Supposedly, this would teach every member how to minister and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them. Sadly, only the same zealous people get up and share Sunday after Sunday. The rest are passive as ever. Active participation in church is part of growing up and maturing in the Spirit.
WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT?
The Bible tells us that we are accountable for our own growth and changes in life. The apostle Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12-13. We are to work at changing. Most Christians misread the passage and think that God is going to do the work according to His good pleasure. Therefore, if God doesn’t change your life and help you to grow, there is nothing you can do about it. That is a misconception. The Bible is filled with instructions about how to be more Christ-like. However, changing must be sought after diligently by the individual. It is a matter of intention.
Many Christians think that it is the responsibility of the pastor and the church to change his life and make it better. Therefore, if you are dry spiritually and have not grown, you should look for another pastor or church. Your pastor or church is to blame. Some Christians have been going to church for 50 years and have not really changed into the image of Jesus or anything close to it. After a while, they give up and only pretend to be mature in Christ. They quote scriptures, say and do all the right things, but inside they remain dry. The few times they heard from God become landmark events that they cling to, but these events have become more distant with time.
Please be aware that every individual is personally responsible and accountable to God for their own spiritual growth in Christ. The leaders can only guide you and show you the way, but they cannot do the things you need to do for yourself.
One of the important steps to spiritual growth is to listen to and obey leadership. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy; and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” A shepherd cannot be held accountable for sheep that do not obey him. American independence, liberty and self-promotion do not wash with God.
Obedience is a relative thing in the heart of a disobedient person. To a person with an obedient heart, it is absolute. A person with disobedience and rebellion in the heart will see every command as optional, to be obeyed only if he agrees with it. If it is disagreeable or inconvenient, he will not obey. When he sees a person in spiritual authority, he only sees a man like himself, who has no right to tell him what to do.
As Watchman Nee says, a person with an obedient heart will take almost every word spoken by a person in spiritual authority as a command by God to which obedience is mandatory. He sees a leader not as a man but rather sees the spiritual authority in the man. He strives to obey leadership and anyone in spiritual authority.
A disobedient person is lax in his attitudes towards leadership. He has little respect for spiritual authority and is unaware of its consequences. People want to grow spiritually, but they will not obey and do the things that will grow them up. Then, when they do not grow, they blame the pastor, the church or others. It is irresponsible.
OBEYING THE BIBLE
The Bible was meant as a guide to all those who want to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Ro. 8:29; 2 Co. 3:18. However, most Christians don’t read the Bible at all, so they don’t know what needs to change in their life and therefore, never change. Others approach the Bible like reading a novel, - not to be taken seriously. They read for the stories and to get knowledge of what the Bible says, but that is all.
Some get knowledge and quote scriptures to show off. Others read the Bible because they feel that Christians have to know the Bible and it is their duty. But very few study the Bible so that they can change into the image of Jesus. They read, but they don’t do. They are totally passive when it comes to changing their own character and life.
STUDYING THE WORD AND DOING IT
Reading is not the same as studying. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We are commanded to study and not just read.
We study to find out what God requires of us so that we can change our behavior. True, one cannot really change through his own efforts and it takes the Holy Spirit, but without a desire to change, the Holy Spirit is not going to do it for you without your cooperation. Changing your heart and character is part of growing up.
Paul says to Timothy, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them: that thy profiting may appear to all.” 1 Ti. 4:13-16. (Underlining added) Meditate to find out the deeper meanings, to determine how it applies to you and how you need to change certain things in your life so that you line up with the Word of God.
Again, we are to work at it. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We are to work out our own salvation - the salvation of our mind and body. Instead, most Christians do very little of what the Bible says, and expect God to change them.
If you don’t read the Bible, use it to change your character, and do not trust God for all your needs, God is not going to do it for you and your pastor cannot do it either. Some examples of character traits we are to embrace: A) Esteem others better (Phil. 2:3); B) Submit unto one another (Eph. 5:21); C) Wives submit unto your husbands as to all things (Eph. 5:22); and D) Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it (Eph. 5:25). These are only a few of the many instructions.
All the knowledge is not going to change you. That is why coming to church on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays is a waste of time to most. They have the wrong attitude. They think that a sermon or meeting is supposed to change them without them having to obey and do the things taught. They are looking for a magic, supernatural formula to grow them up without any effort on their part. They think that if the pastor lays hands on them and prays for them, they will be zapped and changed instantly. When that doesn’t happen, they are disappointed.
Reading the Bible is only accumulating book knowledge but is not the same as submitting to God and obeying Him. As the apostle James said, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.”
I know lots of Christians that can quote scriptures but never apply them. After 40 years, they are still proud, rebellious and carnal.
No pastor or church can get you to a higher level with God without your obedience, submission and doing. People become church-hoppers looking for that one pastor or church that is going to get them into the presence of God and change their life without involvement on their part. There is no such pastor or church in the world. Even getting “zapped,” slain in the Spirit or healed, will not necessarily change a person into the image of Jesus.
With most Christians, there is a lack of personal commitment to change and a lack of accountability and responsibility. Without personal commitment to change and to do the things necessary to grow spiritually, nothing will happen. That’s why Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights are unfruitful – wrong expectations. In fact, the very act of attendance is a test of diligence, loyalty, love and support of your church, if nothing else.
FURTHER EXAMPLES OF PASSIVE DISOBEDIENCE
Jesus said not to worry about what to eat, drink, and wear or about money, but “seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Mt. 5:24-34. He sent His disciples out into the world to preach the gospel, and commanded them not to take any money, extra clothes or shoes or staves. Mt. 10:9-10; Lk. 10:4. God would provide for them, and He did. By doing so, they climbed to a higher level with God. It was a test of faith.
But very few Christians believe that it applies to them, so they just go on trusting in their own abilities and strengths and their life does not change. They do not build up their faith in God. They still strive to earn a living by the sweat of their brow, not trusting in God. They are under the curse made over the fallen Adam. Gen. 3:17-19. They have not made that leap of faith and do not trust God for their keep. Like Adam, they want to be independent of God and make their own decisions. They blame the pastor and God or the church, but they refuse to take the step of faith and become dependent on God. Therefore, they continue to live in the flesh and cannot grow in the Spirit. They have no faith.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11:6. Growing up in the Lord requires lots of faith. How can one expect to grow spiritually without faith in God?
A second example of passive disobedience is the fact that Jesus said to go out and preach the gospel of salvation to all nations and all creatures. Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15. But many Christians sit in the pews for 10-20 years and never preach the gospel to a single person or bring anyone to church. They are in passive rebellion to God; yet, they expect power and spiritual growth. It is the very act of preaching the gospel to every creature that gives us boldness, a burden for the unsaved and produces faith in the cross. The Holy Spirit was given us to provide spiritual power to preach with signs and wonders following. Ac. 1:8. Yet, many saints pray for boldness, power, and a burden for the unsaved and do nothing about preaching the gospel to the unsaved.
If a Christian took the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, Chapters 5, 6 and 7, seriously and obeyed it, his life would change and he would grow quickly. But most Christians only see it as an interesting discourse on morals, not to be taken seriously. I pray that you will take time out right now to read those three chapters. After that, do what it says.
There are many other instructions given by the apostles, designed to help us grow in the Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul says, “. . . be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God.” When was the last time you spoke to yourself in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Or made melody in your heart to the Lord, thanking Him all the time for all things? Do you really expect to grow spiritually without doing any of the things in the Bible?
It has been said many times that spiritual growth comes when you are on your knees, and although we have many testimonies about how prayer brought Christians into a close relationship with God and changed their lives, few Christians are committed to prayer. They are either lazy or have wrong priorities. Praying definitely gets you closer to the Lord and grows you in the Spirit. As you get closer to God, He will reveal Himself, He will answer your prayers, and He will change you. Life will never be the same.
The Lord showed a friend of mine that as she continued to fellowship with Him in prayer, He would change her heart, give her the fruit of the Spirit and show her many mysteries. He would take her to His throne room and hide her against the enemy. Only those who have entered into close relationship with Him will survive the end times. As she entered into fellowship, demons fled and angels came to minister to her. She was taken to the throne room of God many times and is known by the angels as God’s handmaiden. She has spoken with Jesus face to face many times.
Jesus said that all the treasures we are seeking are found in Him. As we seek Him in prayer and fellowship with Him, He will change us and bring us to a higher level in the Spirit. His blood will take you into the holiest of all. Heb. 19:19.
The apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” 1 Th. 5:17. We have had intercessory prayer on Thursday nights for over 15 years. We have been fasting and praying on Friday nights for over four months. Few have obeyed. If you are not praying every day or night and not fellowshipping with the Lord on a steady basis, you cannot grow. No one can do it for you.
If you are not growing, it’s because you are not praying and you are not searching the Word for answers. Do not blame the pastor or the church or God. Blame yourself.
There is no magic bullet. A great sacrifice is required if you follow Jesus. You are commanded to take up your cross daily. Very few have made the decision to go all the way with God. If you haven’t, you cannot expect to grow in the Lord.
You can come to this church or any other church in the world, but without searching for the Lord in the Bible with an eye to changing, and without constant prayer, you cannot grow spiritually. It just cannot be done. You can have the best pastors and teachers in the world and it will mean nothing. No prayer, no change.
MY WIFE’S DREAM
A long time ago, my wife had a dream that she was in heaven. She saw beautiful and colorful flowers and a large building of translucent gold. At the far end of the hallway was a nursery. She saw many baby cribs and a baby that looked just like her. There was a bottle next to the baby. She picked the baby up and began to feed her the contents of the bottle. As she fed the baby, the baby began to grow and grow until its legs touched the ground. You have to feed yourself the Word and pray.
Another reason you are not growing spiritually is you have the wrong priorities in life. Because of the fast paced life the world offers today, with all of its inventions, pleasures, hobbies, entertainments and high demand for time, we tend to put our physical needs first. We rarely make prayer, fasting, seeking God and reading the Word our top priority. We hardly ever put changing into the image of Jesus Christ on top of the list of things to do. Instead, we put many other things first – job, hobbies, entertainments, family. We need to put God first, marriage second, family third and then work and other things. God is worthy.
Many excuses will get in your way of making God the highest priority in your life. The lusts of the flesh, the devil and the world will always demand your attention. You cannot grow in the Spirit if you don’t make any attempt to overcome the flesh, the devil and the world. That’s the devil’s plan. The fast food mind set does not work with God. You cannot just drive up to a church, pay your tithes and pick up your blessings and life-changing formulas at the pickup window.
Those who do not make knowing and loving God and changing into His image their top priority in life, will fall to the wayside and never bear fruit. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature.” Jesus told us in no uncertain terms, that if you put the things of the world first, you will not mature and bear fruit. If life’s worries, riches and pleasures are your first priority and not God, you are accountable for your own results.
Another reason you are not growing is because you neglect spiritual warfare in your everyday life. The apostle Paul made it very clear that we are in a constant war against the forces of darkness. Ephesians 6:12-13 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
The apostle James said, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Ja. 4:7. The apostle Peter said, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Pet.; 5:8-9. If you are not fighting against the kingdom of darkness daily, growth will be stunted. For one thing, fighting against the demonic kingdom is required of every Christian. Second, without struggling against the forces of evil, Satan wins by default; third, we will not be strengthened in our spirit and our faith in the power of God will not grow. The very act of warring in the Spirit will give you more faith and power.
Tradition and doctrine have prevented many evangelical Christians from fighting back against the devil. They are taught that there is no such thing as demons or a Satan or that Christians cannot have demons. Therefore, evangelicals are automatically passive towards spiritual warfare and never grow into spiritual maturity. Other Christians learn about spiritual warfare but do nothing about it except for the occasional deliverance in church. They do not apply deliverance and binding up of spirits at home or at work and they have no desire to become experts at it.
When my wife and I found out about deliverance, we determined to be good at it. We would volunteer to deliver people all the time. Our pastor would go home at 10:30 p.m. and my wife and I stayed many nights until 1:00 and 1:30 in the morning, casting devils out of the people that had come for deliverance. We had to work the next day too and we were only members. No one else had the zeal and intention to grow in the Spirit. As a result, I wrote a book on Spiritual Warfare and God used us to teach His army all over the world. We were not passive. All the others were just mediocre at deliverance and today, not many are continuing to conduct spiritual warfare.
The same thing is true about healing. To be good at it, you have to go out and use it. We taught Charles and Francis Hunter’s method of healing for over four months. This is true also in Santa Rosa, Philippines. Yet, on my last trip, I listened to the pastors pray for healing and they failed to use even one of the Hunters’ techniques. At home in Hawaii, I don’t know of anyone practicing their healing today. We used to go around asking people if they needed healing and I even followed a known healer on her weekly healing sessions at hospitals and in homes, just to learn more and to apply what I learned. Lack of zeal and intention on your part may be to blame for your lack of growth.
Failure to resist the devil hinders us from attaining what God has set before us and makes it difficult to fulfill the Great Commission. We have lost the signs and wonders that confirm the gospel and we are getting beat up by the enemy. In order to come into full spiritual maturity and to fulfill the Great Commission, we need to confront the enemy on all sides and defeat him.
We need a biblical world view that includes the reality of an ongoing battle with the kingdom of darkness. If we do not see that there are two opposing kingdoms constantly at war, we will not fight and grow in Christ.
STRUGGLES CREATE DISCIPLINE AND FAITH
God uses the struggle with the kingdom of darkness to strengthen His people and to mature them spiritually, especially in the areas of faith in the sovereign power of God, assurance of our identity in Christ, and our overall faith in the Lord. If you do not resist and are passive against the kingdom of darkness, you will miss it.
Passivity affects us mentally, emotionally and physically. Because we are passive, Satan has a free hand in destroying our bodies, affecting our thoughts and emotions and weakening our wills. We do not challenge our thoughts that are inconsistent with the word of God. Yet, 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us that we are to pull down strongholds and every vain imagination that exalts itself against God.
The enemy plays with our emotions and stirs us up. Anger, frustration, discouragement, hopelessness cripple us. Many Christians still go around without any control over their emotions. They are up one day and down the next, frequently begging the pastor and others for prayer.
God has called us to fight and enter into a relationship with Him, trusting in His power and resisting the devil at every turn. We are called to daily resist the temptations of the flesh, the devil and the world. Because of our passive behavior, we cannot grow spiritually. Our faith never grows, the enemy continues to bounce us all over the place, we find it difficult to serve God with all our heart and we cannot resist temptation. We do not trust the Word and have no faith in God because we are passive in our attitudes toward spiritual warfare and the Word of God. We should be fighting against the demonic kingdom on behalf of our family members, neighbors, friends, church and fellow members every single day.
You want to grow up spiritually? Then follow this: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Make seeking God your number one priority in life. Trust Him for all your needs.
It doesn’t mean to quit your job and do nothing. It means to seek God’s commands for your life, and then obey. Christians tell me that they cannot seek the kingdom of God first because they cannot see quitting their jobs. That’s a misunderstanding. God does not require that you quit your job, sell your house and give the money to the church unless you are able to handle it, if that is His will for you. At this point, all He is asking is that you come to church on Tuesday nights to learn spiritual warfare and come on Thursday nights to pray. If you cannot seek God first and obey in little things, God is not going to require huge things from you.
Read the Bible daily – not for just knowledge, but to find what you need to do to be more like Jesus, and then do it. Esteem others better than you. Obey God. Love Him with all your heart. Forgive others. Stop sinning and repent.
Pray every day and whenever possible. Seek His face with all your heart. Pray, pray and pray more. Fellowship with Him. Never give up. Begin to war daily against the powers of darkness working against your family, your fellow employees, against your friends and those that don’t know the Lord, against evil in society, and you will grow into a powerful warrior for Christ.
Change the way you pray. Don’t just pray to get things from God. Love Him with all your heart. Pray to get closer to Him and to know Him. He loves to give things to His children, but He wants a love relationship with you. For that, you need to pay attention and fellowship constantly.
Stop blaming God and others for your lack of growth, boredom and frustration. Take responsibility and be accountable for your own progress. Come to church seeking not knowledge only, but opportunities to participate, and to obey and submit to leadership and the brethren. Come seeking to get closer to God, to pray and study the Bible together so your can encourage one another. Submit, submit, submit. Obey, obey, obey. I earnestly pray that you will open your heart and ears to this message. Time is short. If you don’t take hold of your life and grow spiritually now, you have only yourself to blame. God knows why you are not growing. I know. Now you know.