Like a Tree- Lesson 4: The Root System

By Rev. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Most of us don’t consciously consider that when we look at a tree, we only see that which is visible above the ground. We are impressed with the great height of the tree. We are impressed with the mighty canopy that spreads out before us. We are impressed with the lush fruit that hangs from its mighty branches. The truth is, none of those public attributes would be possible without a healthy root system. The root system, although hidden, is the most crucial part of a tree. You can plant a tree in perfect conditions, considering its preferred soil type, sun exposure, and moisture requirements. Still, if the root system is not healthy, that tree will not live up to its
potential. And may I suggest that we too, as God’s planting, will not live up to our potential either, without good roots.

The first function of the root system is as an anchor and support for the tree. The tree has a foundation under the ground, much like a building does. If a house’s foundation is weak, no matter how pretty that home looks, eventually cracks will show in the upward structure. In our Christian walk, it’s what we do in private, in the hidden place, that allows us to produce fruit for the hungry and leaves for the healing of the nations. If we are not purposeful with those practices that anchor us in our faith, we will see it in the quality and quantity of the fruit we produce.

Let’s look at Matthew 7:15-20:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly
they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good
fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth
evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth
not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits
ye shall know them.

We can consider this passage to protect ourselves from false prophets and as a warning to protect and care for our root systems. We are all, in one sense, mouthpieces for the Lord. We will be known by the fruit we bear. Notice that King James calls the tree with evil fruit corrupt, and likens it to the false prophet in sheep’s clothing which is inwardly a ravenous wolf. Corruption begins in the inward parts and manifests outwardly. A tree may look good for a while, but eventually, the compromise of weak or damaged roots will show in the overall health of the tree.
I’m sure we can all think of ministers, ministries, or people in the pew, that looked good on the outside but suddenly fell because the hidden corruption manifested itself in destruction.

The anchoring aspect of the root system is further referenced by Paul in Colossians 2:1-7:
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at
Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts
might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full
assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and
of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and
beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have
therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up
in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with
thanksgiving.

Notice that rooting comes before the building. That’s an important statement. When I
worked as a retail nurseryman, we were careful to inspect the plants from wholesaler growers. One of the things an unscrupulous grower might do is to fertilize little 4” pots to produce a lot of top-growth. That accomplished, they would then transplant these 4” pots into one-gallon containers and charge us for the larger size. So the plants looked good on top but had underdeveloped root systems. We would then quarantine these plants for several months and sell them only when the root systems had grown in proper proportion to the top growth.

This also happens in a spiritual sense. Let’s continue reading in Colossians 2. Verse 8
says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Empty philosophies, traditions of men, and the rudiments of this world are like those plants’ top growth. It might sound impressive, look impressive, and even give an air of sophistication, but there is nothing to it but show. The roots just aren’t there. We must be rooted in Christ.

The anchoring aspect of a tree’s root system can be seen every time we have a wind
storm. Without roots that hold it to the ground, a tree would soon be lying on its side. We too, as Christians, need to be grounded. Did you know that a tree’s root system is often 4 times the circumference of the tree’s canopy or drip line? That’s some long roots! But unless the root system has some width and depth, there is always the danger of being blown over.

Ephesians 4:11-15 says:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.

Here again, we face the deception of the top growth; every wind of doctrine, by the
sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. As I just said, as we looked at Colossians, it might sound impressive, look impressive, and even give an air of sophistication. Still, there is nothing to it but show. The roots just aren’t there. If we want to grow up in all aspects of Christ, we can’t continually be blown around and tossed like waves. We need not only wide roots but deep roots.

Many Christians have grown wider than they have grown deep, and here is why. I
believe, for the most part, the church has surface-watered its members to a place of shallowness. Our typical Western church system provides excessive splash that we drink up readily without going to any depth. Placing the responsibility of Christian maturity on the Christian himself or herself is undoubtedly out of vogue. The system we now have is to show up for your shower once or twice a week, and all is good. So our roots run wide as we drink a little here and drink a little there, with no incentive to dig a well ourselves. Roots have a tendency to grow only as deep as the water source. Has the church hindered her own ability to weather the storm? Has adding
program after program at a surface level made her members lazy in searching for the Spirit’s deep things? And not only lazy but unaware that there is anything deeper. Discipleship has slipped from the meaty process of ever more significant discovery, devotion, and development it was meant to be, to a meager diet of milk and cookies.

Where a shallow root system shows up most is in times of drought. When I landscaped my former property, I put in a drip system that watered more heavily on a less frequent basis. This forced the trees to search deeper for the water than they’d have to if I watered more lightly daily. The result of that strategy was that those trees developed a healthy deep root system. They could easily handle times of drought because they were forced to find a deeper source of moisture in the ground.

It may seem odd, but one of the other ways to ensure profitable, healthy root growth is to offer some resistance above the ground. A newly planted tree will often be anchored with a tree stake. This helps to keep the tree upright in its initial season of grounding. In most cases, though, it is recommended that the tree stake be removed after the first year so that the tree feels the need to hasten the growth of roots and the anchoring process independently.

Suppose we are always relying on someone else to see us through the latest spiritual
storm. In that case, our roots will forever remain shallow and ineffective. The job description of the fivefold ministry is one of equipping. There are two sides to this task. One is to walk beside a person, or group of people, in discipleship. The other is to know when to challenge that person or group to put down some roots of their own. When someone becomes dependent on prophecy or comes for counsel time and time again for the same issue, it may be they want a word from God without making effort to get the word of God into their lives. In other words, they want the benefits of someone else’s root system without taking the initiative to grow their own. By
carefully reminding them we are not their source, we put the responsibility on them to search for and find God’s grace for their situation. I’ve heard of one pastor who will not pray with someone in his congregation who has not prayed themselves first.

In Matthew 25:1-13 we read:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Our root system is like that oil. We must be proactive about our spiritual development and relationship with Christ. The hour that our roots are needed is not the hour to decide we need to grow them.

Besides being an anchoring system, the root system of a tree is also the conduit through which water and nutrients are accessed by the capillary network and moved to the tree’s upper part. The water and nutrients are essential in themselves, but they are worthless without proper means of transport.

The Winter 2014 issue of Leadership Journal, a quarterly for ministry leaders, featured
an article by Jen Pollock Michel titled, “The Force of Habit.” In the article, she writes about the long-term advantages of cultivating a commitment to reading her Bible and prayer that began in her youth. She says:
Perhaps those commitments sound legalistic. I’m sure I kept them for years in that spirit. Perhaps daily disciplines seem to reduce the desire for God to a dry perfunctory routine. At times, these habits, I admit, have all the explosive fireworks of a child practicing their times tables. And although these criticisms may be valid, they do not invalidate the beautiful and nearly invisible process of transformation that was inaugurated in my life when someone recommended to me the value of spiritual habits, and I took them seriously.”

It’s important to note that spiritual exercises are not an end in themselves. They do,
however, provide a valuable service, as do the roots of a tree. The same article also quoted from the book “Sacred Rhythms” by Ruth Haley Barton: “I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God.”

You see, people are content living with what they receive from the outside rather than
creating conditions for spiritual vitality on the inside. Imagine a tree trying to maintain growth, health, and fruitfulness on just the rainwater that fell upon its leaves. Yet how many Christians are content to sit in a pew once a week for an hour, convinced they are getting all they need to live a growing, vital, fruitful Christian life? It’s no different than putting on the newest, trendiest exercise clothes with no intention of going to the gym. Our hour to “weigh-in” is coming. What will we have to show for our pretty outfits?

We can further learn from the coppice. A coppice is a wooded area where certain shrubs and trees are repeatedly cut back to the roots. This creates abundant small shoots to appear that eventually grow to become a source of firewood or small poles. The early shoots are good for nothing. 17th Century English writer, Owen Feltham, said, “He that would build lastingly must lay his foundation low. The proud man, like the early shoots of a new-felled coppice, thrusts out full of sap, green in leaves, and fresh in color, but bruises and breaks with every wind, is nipped with every little cold, and, being top-heavy, is wholly unfit for use. Whereas the humble man retains it in the root, can abide the winter’s killing blast, the ruffling concussions of the wind, and
can endure far more than that which appears so flourishing.”

The root system of a tree anchors the tree and provides for the essential feeding of the tree and serves as food storage for current needs and future growth. The food-producing process of photosynthesis ends with colder, darker weather when leaves fall to the ground. In anticipation of this, the root system “puts something back” to sustain the tree through winter and prepare it for spring growth. It’s easier to create those opportunities of availability to receive of the Lord when we aren’t so burdened with the affairs of life, or illness, or emotional distress; those times we need
refreshing the most. But there is also the tendency to get caught up in the pleasure of these unburdened times and forget to “put something back” for the cold, dark, stressful times we all face.

We are reminded of the ant in Proverbs 6:6-11. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”

There is spiritual poverty that awaits us if we fail to gather our provision and lay it aside when the time is right. In other words, as I recently read, we need to have more in the pantry than we do on the shelf. The root system of a tree knows this well.

Now that we’ve looked at the three functions of a tree’s root system and applied them to our spiritual lives let’s look at what actually makes up a spiritual root system. Turn with me to Acts 2:42, as I believe it gives an accurate description of the parts. “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Here is the foundational root system that will anchor, feed, and provide for us as we endeavor to grow into Him in all things.

First and foremost is the centrality of the apostles’ teachings: God’s word, the Bible. This happens at three levels. The first level is that we simply read the Bible. No other book has impacted mankind more than the Bible. In a country where we are still allowed to read the Bible, we have no excuse not to. Harper Lee, the American novelist best known for his 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning, “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, said, “The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.”

If reading the Bible is the first level in being rooted in scripture, the second level is
understanding it. Regular Bible study will open up new horizons and reinforce established truths in your life. A.W. Tozer, one of the most beloved Christian pastors and thinkers of the 20th Century, said, “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” In other words, be a person of the book…the whole book.

The third level of being rooted in the scriptures is allowing the Bible to speak to you.
This is when in your reading and understanding, the Bible becomes alive to you on a personal basis. It is when the complete thought, the logos, becomes a nugget of truth for you alone. The words of a passage may jump off the page at you. The Holy Spirit may illuminate and bring new light to scripture you’ve read many times. When the Bible speaks, be prepared to hear it and obey what is said.

Following being anchored in scripture is being rooted in fellowship. The Greek word
koinonia means much more than coming together for a common cause. The church is more than a civic group, common interest club, or political party committee meeting. The fellowship of God’s people is a sharing of oneself with God and others as we gather around the person of Jesus. This kind of transformation comes only when we are rooted in Him so profoundly we can confidently say, “Lord, not my will, but Thy will be done.”

Along with being rooted in scripture and fellowship, we also need to be rooted in the
breaking of bread. This aspect of our rooting also happens at three levels. The first level is the communal meal. The early church, whether meeting in smaller groups of two or three families, or larger groups as space was available, had as part of their gathering what was called a love feast, or what we would call a pot luck.

The second level, that of Communion or The Lord’s Supper, was included in this love
feast. At a point in their meal, they shared the bread and cup as a memorial of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way He shared with His disciples in the final Passover meal.

The third level of breaking bread is in the Lord using us as broken bread to feed each
other and a hungry world around us. After we come alive in His presence, He can break us and use us to do His will in the Earth.

The final element we need to be rooted in is prayer. Prayer is two-way communication
with God. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:12 to be instant in prayer. The word instant means to persevere, to attend to, to give ourselves to. In 1 Thessalonians, we are admonished to pray without ceasing. That means we are to do more than just be mindful of it. We can intellectually assent to any of these spiritual practices; point out how wonderful and beneficial they are without ever practicing what we preach. Felicity Dale of SimpleChurch.com says, “The first thing to understand is that God wants to communicate with us. Following Jesus as a system of rules and traditions is merely religion. Jesus wants to have a vital, living, vibrant relationship with each
one of us. Living that way becomes an adventure! In John 10, Jesus tells His disciples, ‘My sheep hear/recognize My voice.’”

John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of Methodism, called the roots of our faith “means of grace.” He explained these as ways God works invisibly in disciples, quickening, strengthening, and confirming their faith.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the need for a healthy, vibrant root system for your success in growing up by growing down. Although we looked at this scripture earlier, I believe it a fitting way to end. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. Top growth in plants might be impressive, but if there is not a healthy root system in place to sustain that growth, disaster is imminent. Have you ever tried to do something without the support system needed to be successful? What was it, and what was the result?
  2. It is easy to get blown around if we are not rooted and grounded. In reading Ephesians 4:11-15, we see the fivefold ministry’s primary purpose is to equip or perfect Christ’s body for the work of ministry, for the edification (building up) of the body. Much of that perfecting or maturing of the body comes by encouraging deep spiritual roots. Are you surrounded by leaders who teach you to grow deep, or are they more interested in performance (top growth)? What are ways you can help
    yourself to grow deep?
  3. I talk about surface watering that produces shallow roots. Do you feel ready for times of spiritual drought and opposition that are common to all Christians? Have surface programs and activities replaced concrete foundational building in your life? When the heat abounds, what do you have spiritually set back in reserve to see you through?
  4. Read Acts 2:42 and reflect on apostolic teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. At what level are you participating in these areas of root development in your own Christian walk? How can you strengthen weaker areas so that a balance is achieved?
  5. Read Jeremiah 17:7-8. Write out the passage as I have done below, replacing your name where appropriate. This is a blessing, and hope you can walk in. This is what God says is available to you! Meditate on it. Be fruitful.
    Blessed is the man/woman that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For____________ shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out his/her roots by the river, and ___________shall not see when heat cometh, but _____________’s leaf shall be green; and ___________shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall___________ cease from yielding fruit.



Like a Tree- Lesson 3: Soil

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

Along with light and water, healthy trees need good soil. Soil contains micronutrients
vital to tree health and helps to retain moisture so the roots can utilize it. A good tree planted in poor soil will struggle. In nature, the soil is called a planting medium. Soil, in our spiritual life, can be likened to the condition of our hearts. In Matthew 13:1-9, Jesus introduces the parable of the sower:

The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great
multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat;
and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them
in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some
seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell
upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up,
because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were
scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell
among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into
good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some
thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

We see in this parable of the sower, the condition and yield of four different types of soil. In fact, there is much more said here about soil than about the sower. The great thing about this parable is that Jesus goes on to explain it in verses 18-23:

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the
kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth
away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way
side (Mat 13:18-19).

The wayside or roadside is a condition of busyness. And I believe the more profound
question here is, “How are we spending our time?” Notice that the seed was sown, the word was heard, but there was no understanding. Understanding will not come in our spiritual lives if we have no time to invest in it. No matter how much light God shines on us, if we do not take time to sit in the glow, we find ourselves almost in the same condition as Adam and Eve, trying to hide from God’s voice and presence.

The wayside is also hardly packed ground. Many different people and ideas travel upon the wayside, trampling the seed and compacting the soil. This makes it almost impossible for the word to lodge. The enemy then comes and steals any hope of thoughts being germinated. A person on the wayside may hear the story but is down the road and onto something else before anything can register. There is no fruitfulness in this situation.

Ephesians 5:15-17 tells us, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as
wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but
understanding what the will of the Lord is. “Here Paul tells us to walk carefully and to redeem, or buy back, the time. If we are to understand what the will of the Lord is for us, we must buy the time to do so. It may cost us friends, it may cost us activities, and it may cost us opportunities. But this is foundational for our Christian walk. Continuing on in Matthew, we read:

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the
word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth
for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by
and by he is offended (Mat. 13:20-21).

The stony place is a condition of not being rooted and grounded. The more profound
question here is, “What are we paying attention to?” There is no root because attention is dispersed. The seed was sown, the word heard and even received with joy, but the heat of adversity brought offense because of the lack of depth. It not only takes an investment of time to grow spiritually, but it takes an investment of attention. A person’s attention can be dispersed in religious activity, church membership and programs, and a dozen other things. People pay attention to things that seem to bring temporary relief to their loneliness, their need for belonging, and their need for significance. But none of these surface things will bring lasting
change or suffice when your faith is challenged.

Ephesians 3:16-19 tells us, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

Do we want inner strength wrought by the Spirit in our lives? Do we want to comprehend and be filled with the fullness of God? We must be rooted and grounded in His love; we must pay attention. This is part of walking our path of good works. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. “

Moving on to verse 22 of Matthew 13 we read, “He also that received seed among the
thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful (Mat 13:22).”

The thorny place is a condition of preoccupation with what we have and how we will maintain our lifestyle. The more significant question is, “Where do we put our thoughts?” There are thorns because our focus has been hijacked. The seed was sown, the word was heard, but the cares of this life were too great a
competition. Getting and keeping became the idol to which our thoughts paid homage. When our thoughts are fixed on the acquisition, use, or maintenance of material things, the seed of the word is choked. A fruitful spiritual life takes not only time and attention but thought.

If it’s not possessions, maybe it’s power or position that has become the hands that throttle your faith walk. Has worry about the future captured your thought life? Is it fear of what may be coming that has replaced an abiding faith in the One who Paul calls blessed: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2Co 1:3-4).

Have we rejected His mercy and comfort by setting our focus on the wickedness of the day? Do we have any comfort left to give to others facing hard times? Yes, we acknowledge that the days are evil, but even more so, let us recognize and cry out to the Ancient of Days, the One who holds all eternity in His hands. In Matthew 6, Jesus has some explicit teaching on this subject:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other;
or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and
mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall
eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the
life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for
they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father
feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought
can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like
one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is,
and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of
little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall
we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the
Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these
things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these
things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the
morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the
evil thereof (Mat. 6:24-34).

Jesus is not saying here that we should not consider the natural things of life. He is saying to seek the kingdom first. Do not let His word be choked. Do not let the concerns of this life become the majority of our thinking; let the Kingdom have that place. A person whose mind is on the Kingdom will grow to be a person of faith, clearly asking and receiving what they need.

We’ve seen that none of the soil conditions considered so far have been fruitful. In all
these instances, the seed was sown, and the word was heard. But various states of soil preparation and soil maintenance made it impossible to bear a harvest. In the first instance of seed sown on the wayside, the seed had no chance to germinate. The fowl of the air, the evil one, was able to snatch it right away. The seed sprouted in the next instance, but lack of any real depth in the soil produced an exciting burst of growth, followed by death. In the third instance, it seemed the plant was coming up, perhaps the best chance for fulfillment, but was choked out and became unfruitful.


We next look at the good soil in verse 23. “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Mat 13:23). This final example of soil is what Jesus wants us to be. Those that hear His word, understand His word, and persevere unto harvest.

Jesus seems far less concerned here that some only produced a thirtyfold harvest, and others a sixtyfold, and still others a hundredfold. His concern is that they bear fruit and bring forth. Whether we are talking about seed being sown or trees being planted and sustained, the soil condition is vital to health, fulfillment, and longevity. In John 15, Jesus shares a timeless truth:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it,
that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I
have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am
the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in
me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast
them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father
glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples (John 15:1-8).

I believe we must take responsibility for the condition of our own soil. The integrity of
the sower is never in question. The quality of the seed is not an issue. It’s what we’ve done to prepare our soil for planting that’s the determining factor here. Do we want to be fruitful?

Questions for Reflection

  1. The Parable of the Sower gives us the condition and yield of four different types of soil. The first is the soil of the wayside or roadside, which represents our busy-ness. Read Ephesians 5:15-17. How are you spending your time? Are you walking carefully, or are you being distracted by your natural life to the point you have no time to invest in your spiritual life? How can you redirect and buy back some time?
  2. The second soil is stony. The condition resulting from stoniness is not being rooted and grounded. The more profound question of the stony place is, “What are you paying attention to?” We focus a lot of attention on surface pursuits that may keep us from growing more in-depth in the Lord. Read Colossians 2:6-7 and ask yourself, “Am I too involved in important things that are keeping me away from vital things?” If so, how can you redirect your attention?
  3. The third soil is thorny. The cares of this world choke out God’s word. The more profound question here is, “Where do I put my thoughts?” Read Matthew 6:24-34 and ask yourself, “Have I been preoccupied with the cares of this life and failed to put the Kingdom of God first? Do I trust in myself rather than God as my ultimate provider?” If so, how can you redirect your thoughts?
  4. The fourth soil is good. This represents a life where the word of God is received, understood, and acted upon. Write down the harvest you would like to produce in the soil of your heart. What kind of yield are you after? Are you willing to do some regular spiritual maintenance to ensure your field is kept ready for the sower’s good seed? What might these maintenance steps be for you?
  5. The integrity of the sower and the quality of the seed was never an issue in this parable. Does the faithfulness of God inspire you to make adjustments in your life to more fully cooperate with Him? Write a short statement of gratitude to God for being such a loving and caring Father.

Like a Tree- Lesson 2: Water

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Fabian Reitmeier on Pexels.com

Light is only one component of the photosynthesis process used by trees to produce food. The other piece is water. Water is essential in transporting nutrients from the soil through the roots, by the tree’s capillary system, to the leaves. Without water, the tree’s tissues become dehydrated, and the health of the tree is jeopardized. Like light, not all trees require the same amount of water. Different soil and light conditions affect the amount of water available to roots and the amount of water lost by transpiration through the stomata of the leaves.

One of my favorite references to water is Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in
the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the
law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be
like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly
are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the
ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the
righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the
ungodly shall perish (Psalms 1:1-6).

We are told here that a man who does not walk in ungodly counsel, stand with sinners in their way (path), or sit (establish himself) as a mocker of Godly things will be like a tree. But not just any tree. This is a tree planted by the rivers of water.

This plentiful supply of water brings with it fruitfulness. God desires for your fruit to
bring forth at the right time. When is the right time? When the fruit is ripe! What is your fruit? In Galatians, the apostle Paul names the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The fruit we want to exhibit as followers of Christ is the ripe fruit that contains His
sweetness. We want the sweet juice of His love to drip down the face of everyone who gets a taste of Him through us. When we come to God in faith, we exchange the bitter fruit of our old life with the ripe, lush fruit of our new life in Christ. There is no pleasure in biting into a piece of unripe fruit. It can be hard and flavorless, and sometimes bitter or sour. As God works in us by His Word and His Spirit, we get sweeter with each passing day, and our crop looks and tastes better and better to those around us.

Fruit also represents the individual motivation, calling, skills, gifts, and service
opportunities God gives us to walk in. For a woman, that fruit might include motherhood, a career, or a church ministry. For a man, it might consist of fatherhood, a particular trade, or the call to be a missionary in foreign lands. The possibilities are endless because we serve a God of creativity. He loves to express that creativity through His people. We will discuss fruit more in a later chapter.

Going back to Psalm 1, we also notice that the leaves of this tree will not wither. As was said earlier, withered leaves are a consequence of a lack of water. Spiritually speaking, leaves are sometimes depicted in scripture as healing for the nations (Ezekiel 47:12 and Revelation 22:2). We see this also in the natural realm. Many leaves have medicinal properties. Leaves not withering indicate the water has been accessed. These two scriptures also speak of fruit becoming ripe continuously for food. We are also told in Psalm 1 that the man that is like a tree will be prosperous in all he does. This also speaks of fruitfulness. We can be spiritual food and
healing to those around us if we access the water. But we must realize that we are only conduits within a simple but complex process and must be willing to give what we’ve received.

Transpiration is a term used to describe the beneficial loss of water through leaf stomata into the atmosphere. As water pressure is lost in the tree’s crown through evaporation, it causes a decrease in hydrostatic (water) pressure. The tree then “draws” water up from the roots. This process has a spiritual analogy, as well.
We can look at transpiration as the Holy Spirit working through us. As we give what God has given us, it creates a thirst to receive more. We know that God gives to us in many ways. God wants us to enjoy what He provides for ourselves but also wants us to give it away. “How does that work?” you might ask. “How can I be filled if I give my gifts away?” Because there is more waiting to be given! The Creator has a limitless supply for us but desires that we be agents, ambassadors of His goodness to those around us. It is in the giving that we will receive.

In Isaiah 58, the prophet is called by God to cry aloud to Israel about their conduct of religious piety that falls short of what He desires from them in righteous action toward others. We read in verses 6-11:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo
the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou
hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the
morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall
go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call,
and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou
take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and
speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the
afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the
noonday: And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in
drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like
a spring of water, whose waters fail not. (Isaiah 58:6-11)

Their light breaks forth as the morning, which represents them giving of what they had received. We also see the result of that giving in continual guidance, provision, and being like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. God says if we give out, He will give back in abundance.

In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has just begun preaching to the multitude in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. The first twelve verses are part of this longer sermon referred to as the Beatitudes. In verse 6, Jesus says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Sounds a lot like Isaiah 58, doesn’t it? In John’s Gospel, chapter 4, we read of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at a well in Samaria. Jesus had asked this woman for a drink. The woman was surprised that a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, against the social and cultural norms of that day between the two peoples. And she said so. But Jesus had a ready answer, not only to her but to all mankind:

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:10-14)

In these two passages, Jesus points to thirsting for the spiritual water, righteousness, the water that is Him and in Him and only He can offer. Thirst after unrighteousness, and the world is there to provide in abundance. But the water is unclean and cannot give life. We see this in going back to Psalm 1:4-6, where we read, “The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Instead, let us be in the receiving mode of Jesus’ offer of living water. As the woman at the well said in John 4:15, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”

Psalm 23 reinforces this. Suppose we allow Jesus to be our shepherd. In that case, we are promised clean water and good food, spiritually and naturally, even in the most challenging situations.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth
me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod
and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the
house of the LORD forever. (Psalms 23:1-6)

Jeremiah also gives us a picture of imagery from Psalm 1 and Psalm 23 above:
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For
he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the
river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall
not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Whether it is called the valley of the shadow of death or when heat cometh, the result is the same for those who seek the water of His Spirit in their lives. There is hope in the refreshing shower that awaits those who draw near. As Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

As in nature, our spiritual lives flourish only when there is a correct balance between
light and water. Too much of either, neglecting the other, hinders growth and vitality and can have deadly long-term consequences. There is an old adage that says if you have the Word but not the Spirit, you will dry up. If you have the Spirit but not The Word, you will blow up! If you have The Spirit AND The Word, you will grow up. Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.”

God knows the thoughts He has for us. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells Israel, “For I know
the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” We, too, can have an expected end. It comes by walking in a balance of Word and Spirit as we maneuver the path toward that destination. Our goal is to grow up into Him in all things. (Ephesians 4:15) We can be a healthy, fruitful, steady tree if we are faithful to take in what the Father has provided for us in proper proportion.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are there times in your walk with Christ that you feel a little withered? If so, read Psalm 1 and decide if you are walking, standing, or sitting with the wrong people in the wrong places. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern who these people or places are and decide how you will redirect your associations with them.
  2. Psalm 1 also talks about the benefits of meditating on God’s Word and the fruitfulness that comes from being a tree planted by the rivers of water. As you read the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, inspect the spiritual fruit in your life and decide if it is ripe and ready to eat or if it’s undersized and unripe. Is there something you can do to help it grow and ripen?
  3. Is spiritual transpiration happening in your life? Are you giving of what you’ve received? If you don’t feel that need for more, perhaps it’s because you are keeping it all for yourself! List several ways you can be more giving.
  4. Because we live in a physical world and have physical needs, we often have material things on our minds. The Holy Spirit has to remind us that we are spiritual beings who need spiritual input to sustain us. Has God ever used a time you were physically hungry or physically thirsty to speak to you about your need for spiritual nourishment and refreshing? How did He remind you of your condition? How did you respond?
  5. A proper balance between the Word and the Spirit is essential for sustained growth and vitality. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you are significantly off balance, overemphasizing one and neglecting the other. What are ways you can correct this imbalance?

Like a Tree- Lesson 1: Light

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

In horticulture, trees are classified as to the amount of light they need to grow properly. If you go to your local nursery you will see trees designated as needing full sun, partial sun, or shade. In nature, certain trees need shade to flourish. Some trees grow in all light conditions. Others prefer the morning sun only and enjoy being shielded from the hot afternoon sun. But the majority likes as much sun as they can get.

The leaves or needles of trees convert light energy into food by the process of
photosynthesis, enabling the tree to grow and develop. Lack of light will inhibit growth, fruitfulness, and overall health. In fact, leaves are arranged on a tree to receive the maximum amount of solar energy.

Light will do the same for us spiritually as it does for trees and plants in the natural
realm. Unlike some trees in nature, God made us to get as much of His light as we can. We were made to bask in the light of His love and thrive in it. We know about the light of the sun that warms the earth and provides light for vegetative growth.

But are we aware of the Light of the Son that strangely warms our hearts of stone and makes them hearts of flesh? This is the light that will feed our hidden parts and cause growth, health, and long life in our inner man.

Isaiah, the prophet, had some remarkable things to say about light in chapter 60.
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but
the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the
Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising (Isa 60:1-
3 KJV).

We know God created light (Gen. 1:3) and He is associated with light throughout the
scriptures. Isaiah exhorts us here to arise (grow) and shine (flourish) because our light (speaking prophetically of Christ) has come. He tells us that although darkness will cover the earth and its people, we will harbor a light within us that manifests itself on the outside; a light that will draw the nations to God brightly shining in and through us.

God has called us to be sources of light and also reflectors of light. Some days we might not feel like we are very bright. Many things in life try to snuff out our light. Even if we are having a “low-voltage” day, we can still be reflectors of God’s light by getting out in the sunshine of His love and walking on the path He’s prepared. His grace is there for us to keep on walking. And as the warmth of His Son-light shines on us and the winds of His Spirit blow, our flame suddenly flares up in a renewal of light within us.

The psalms have many passages that portray God as light. Perhaps the most well known is Psalm 27, where David proclaims:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Here David attributes God himself as his personal light and salvation.

In another favorite psalm, God’s light is attributed to His word:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

There is no contradiction in God and His word both being described as light. As John 1:1 tells us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Just as we know a person by their word, we know God by His word; both the written word, the Bible and His incarnate word, Jesus Christ.

Other wonderful wisdom literature of the Old Testament also shows us the quality of
light. Here and elsewhere, light is often associated with God’s righteousness, and contrasted with lack of light; that is, darkness, wickedness, sin:
The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall
be put out (Proverbs 13:9).

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:13, contrasting wisdom and folly, that light excels
darkness: “Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” While these verses acknowledge the darkness, light is given the overcoming position.

Moving to the New Testament, we again go to the Gospel of John. This beloved disciple and friend of Jesus gives us foundational truths about light as it applies to God’s Son:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and
without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life
was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness
comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John [the
Baptist]. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men
through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of
that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the
world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew
him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as
received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them
that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:1-13).

We see here that Jesus is God’s essential manifestation, or word of God, from the
beginning; active and sustaining in creation, and life-giving and light-bearing to mankind. The word was with God and is God. This Light was never first kindled, it always was. And it can never be quenched, it always will be.

Jesus referred to Himself as the light. In John 8:12 we read, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’” Jesus is the life-giving light, the light that allows us to grow and flourish. But we must follow.

What does this following consist of? Is “following Jesus” just an abstract term we can
add our own set of qualifiers to and come up with our own path to follow Him? We read further on in John 8 that Jesus had preached and many Jews believed in Him. In verse 31-32 we read,
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The rest of the chapter tells of how indignant the Jews became over this statement Jesus made. They wanted to rely on their association in the flesh with Abraham rather than walk by the true and living way (path) Jesus offered. They rejected His word and by the end of the chapter, they were ready to stone Him.

If we think of light as intimacy with God, we get a clearer picture. Remember in the
Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God’s presence. They
tried to cover themselves with leaves and hide amongst the trees when they heard God’s voice call to them. Before they sinned they were naked and didn’t know it. There was no shame (Genesis 2:25). But because of sin, they feared the intimacy they had enjoyed with God and with each other. The Light of His love was no longer comfortable to them.

The light preference of human beings, unlike trees, has to do with the sinful nature we inherited from our spiritual parents, as well as free will and personal choices we make along the way of life here on earth. Quit hiding! Be honest.

Jesus was talking to a Jewish leader named Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 and was sharing
with him about the need to be born from above. In the course of this conversation, Jesus talked about those who would rather hide in the darkness of condemnation than come out into the light:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest,
that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21).

We have a choice in what we do with the light given us.

Do you remember hearing the song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine?”
Jesus talks about this in the gospel of Luke:
No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a
bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light
of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is
full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take
heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body
therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as
when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. (Luke 11:33-36)

Who would light a candle to see and then try to hide it? What if what is shown by the
light makes that man uncomfortable? What if he’s embarrassed about the dark places in his life and doesn’t want anyone to know about them? Jesus encourages us here to see the light, embrace the light, and let the whole body be filled with light.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he offers a prayer for enlightenment in the hearts of the Ephesians:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the
spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your
understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his
calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians
1:17-18)

Wisdom, revelation, and knowledge all speak of light. Paul was praying for light upon them so they would know the purpose, path, and glory they were to walk in as part of Christ’s inheritance in them. It takes light for us to understand what God’s will is for us.

Again in Ephesians, Paul says this about light and how vital it is in our walk with God:
Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the
wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers
with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord:
walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and
righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no
fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is
a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make
manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the
dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as
fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be
ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:6-17).

In the first letter of John, the apostle talks about God, the light, and gives us instruction how to follow this light:
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship
with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the
light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of
Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

John tells us that God’s nature is one of light with no darkness. So as God is light and is in the light with no darkness, we are to walk. We are to stay on the path and continue to walk in the light. The words path and walking depict the journey of life; where we’re going and our determination to get there.

Proverbs 4:18-19 says, “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they
know not at what they stumble.”

The longer we walk on the path of the light, the more brightly we shine. Our first light
may seem like the dim light of sunrise, as it begins to replace the darkness we previously walked in. But just as the sun rises in the sky, we become more and more reflective of the light and life He gives us as we continue to walk with Him.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Would you say at this time you are getting all the spiritual light you need? If not, how can you expose yourself to more?
  2. We are to be both carriers of light (the internal dwelling of the Holy Spirit) and reflectors of light (the external manifestation of the Holy Spirit). How would you rate yourself as a carrier of light? Are you internally a bright or dim bulb? If you are a dim bulb, how might you increase your spiritual wattage?
  3. How would you rate yourself as a reflector of light? Is the Holy Spirit actively manifesting Himself to others through you? If so, in what ways? If not, how can you increase your reflective quality?
  4. Have you in the past, or are you currently trying to hide yourself from God or others because of sin in your life? How did you feel while you were hiding? Religious activities, isolation, denial, overworking, and many other fig leaves may work for a season to make us feel covered. But eventually, God leads us through conviction and repentance to forgiveness. If you are hiding now, will you trust God to renew you and clothe you with His righteousness?
  5. Do you sense areas in your Christian life that could use more of God’s illumination? If so write out this prayer of Paul’s for the Ephesians, inserting your name where indicated. Make it a daily part of your life to read the prayer and agree that God is enlightening your eyes of understanding, imparting to you more wisdom and revelation of who Jesus is, and revealing to you His calling for your life.

    That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto __________
    the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes
    of _______________’s understanding being enlightened; that______________ may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:17-18)

A Thief in the Night

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by KoolShooters on Pexels.com

Several years ago, my friend’s house was broken into. The thieves took some valuable electronic stuff from a workroom and some not so valuable snack food from the kitchen counter. They even got into the refrigerator and left the door open when they left. Such punks! My very nice Nikon camera had found its second home at their house, and yes, it was taken also, along with several computers and other cameras.

And the thing is, this all happened in the middle of the night when they were at home sleeping. They had no idea anything was missing until they woke up, saw the refrigerator door open, the snack food gone, and then began to notice the things of substance that were gone. The thieves were either very quiet with their actions or my friends are very sound sleepers.

Our country is asleep and very soundly. The church is asleep, too, and snoring to boot. America is losing freedoms it paid a high price for and may not have what it takes to get them back. The church is not exercising the privileges it has left in an environment that is noticeably more hostile with each passing year. And still we sleep, and snore, occasionally rolling over and stretching to get more comfortable for the next round of slumber. Fluffing the pillows just won’t do it.

For some, the dawning of a new morning will bring exceeding joy, to others great pain and a sense of doom. Yes, Jesus will come like a thief, too. For those who know Him, He will steal away all pain, sorrow, and inadequacies we have borne in this life. For those who do not know Him, the clock will stop. Time to repent will be stolen away. Regret will remain. They will say, “If only we had woken up in time.”

“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Thess. 5:1-9).

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Part 2

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

In verses 15-20, we see what had happened and what was happening.

Woe for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, And it will come as destruction
from the Almighty. (Joe 1:15 NASB)

This verse is our first real clue that the judgment that came was not just a fluke of nature. It was God’s hand moving swiftly against God’s people for God’s purposes. Moreover, perhaps this was just a foretaste of more that would come. Their relationship with God eroded by layer upon layer of unrepentant sin and failing to hear God’s voice. Their condition was now a national calamity, a judgment of a nation. The Almighty had a controversy with His people.

Has food not been cut off before our eyes, and Joy and rejoicing from the house of
our God? The seeds have dried up under their shovels; The storehouses have
become desolate, The grain silos are ruined, Because the grain has dried up. How
the animals have groaned! The herds of cattle have wandered aimlessly Because
there is no pasture for them; Even the flocks of sheep have suffered.
(Joe 1:16-18 NASB)

Joel reiterates once again the horrid state of affairs the people find themselves in. The meat is cut off from before their eyes. Joy and gladness are absent from the house of the Lord. Again, his first concern is for God’s house, the house of prayer. He knows that until revival happens inside the house, nothing will improve outside the house. The seed, or promise, of next year’s crop, is rotten. The barns are broken down with no resolve in the farmers’ hearts to restore them. They will lie empty and in disrepair. The herds and flocks are groaning for their hunger. Even the sheep, who are content with very short grass, are without. We now hear Joel, this prophet crier of God proclaim what he will do:

To You, LORD, I cry out; For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness,
And the flame has burned up all the trees of the field. Even the animals of the field
pant for You; For the stream beds of water are dried up, And fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.
(Joe 1:19-20 NASB)

It seems as though we should mention Psalm 1 again. Not only have the locusts come like a fire, but the rivers of water are dried up. There are no trees planted by the rivers of water. They are burned, their leaves are withered, they sit whitewashed in the heat of judgment, and the water is gone. Joel says I will cry unto thee, O LORD, like the beasts of the field. Is there any other way to cry in light of what has happened?

As we begin chapter 2, Joel once again makes a plea to leadership:

Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the
inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Indeed, it is
near, (Joe 2:1 NASB)


It was the business of the priests to blow the trumpet and sound the alarm. We read in Numbers 10:8-10:

“The sons of Aaron, moreover, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall
be a permanent statute for you throughout your generations. “And when you go to
war in your land against the enemy who attacks you, then you shall sound an
alarm with the trumpets, so that you will be thought of by the LORD your God,
and be saved from your enemies. “Also on the day of your joy and at your
appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets
over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and
they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God.”
(Num 10:8-10 NASB)

There was no need to blow the trumpet for war. The enemy that opposed them was God himself. There was no gladness, there were no feasts, and there were no offerings. Joel was here urging the priests to blow the trumpet in Zion for another reason: complete, unconditional surrender. They had a choice to make; continue, in their haughtiness, fighting with God, or lie before Him and cry for His mercy. For the day of the Lord is at hand. Joel continues his description:

A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As dawn is
spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has
never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many
generations. A fire consumes before them, And behind them a flame devours. The
land is like the Garden of Eden before them, But a desolate wilderness behind
them, And nothing at all escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of
horses; And like war horses, so they run. With a noise as of chariots They leap
about on the tops of the mountains, Like the crackling of a flame of fire
consuming the stubble, Like a mighty people drawn up for battle. Before them the
people are in anguish; All faces turn pale. They run like warriors, They climb the
wall like soldiers; And each of them marches in line, Nor do they lose their way.
They do not crowd each other, Every warrior of them marches in his path; When
they burst through the defenses, They do not break ranks. They storm the city,
They run on the wall; They climb into the houses, They enter through the windows
like a thief. Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the
moon become dark, And the stars lose their brightness. The LORD utters His
voice before His army; His camp is indeed very great, For mighty is one who
carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome,
And who can endure it?
(Joe 2:2-11 NASB)

Again we learn that it is God commanding this great army of opposition against His people. God’s hand moving swiftly against God’s people for God’s purposes. It is His day in His way.

Joel now offers hope in a hopeless situation:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with
fasting, weeping, and mourning; And tear your heart and not merely your
garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and
compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in mercy And relenting of catastrophe.
Who knows, He might turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him, Resulting
in a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God.
(Joe 2:12-14 NASB)

Here God asks His people to do what the Shema commands them to do: love the Lord with all their heart. It will take more than what they have been doing to make it right; fasting, weeping and mourning. Moreover, God is not interested in an empty, half-heartedness here. He tells them to forget their religiosity in rending their garments; He wants their broken hearts. The sign without what it signifies would only be a mockery in God’s sight. We read of King David calling on the Lord for mercy after he had transgressed with Bathsheba and killed Uriah the Hittite:

Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God, the God of my salvation; Then my
tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. Lord, open my lips, So that my
mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I
would give it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God
are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.
(Psa 51:14-17 NASB)

Even in the midst of the judgment, Joel reminds them that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, able to repent Himself of the evil He has laid upon them if they will only repent and turn to the Lord and cry out as King David cried in Psalm 51:10:

Create in me a clean heart, God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psa 51:10 NASB)

Joel next throws out an honest question. He says, in essence, I do not know all the details. I do not know how God will exercise His grace and mercy to us. I do not know to what extent we will be restored as a nation. Nevertheless, regardless of the outcome, our course of action can be nothing else but repentance before God.
He answers his question in the following verses as he again places responsibility on the priests to blow the trumpet and rally the people for repentance:

Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, Gather
the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children
and the nursing infants. Have the groom come out of his room And the bride out
of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the LORD’S ministers, Weep between the
porch and the altar, And let them say, “Spare Your people, LORD, And do not
make Your inheritance a disgrace, With the nations jeering at them. Why should
those among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”
(Joe 2:15-17 NASB)


Everyone is to be included in this solemn assembly; the elders, the children, the babies, and even those who otherwise might be off-limits to interruptions, a newlywed couple. The priests are called upon to weep between the porch and the altar. They are to offer up spiritual sacrifices. They were to move out of their normal sacrificial duties, which were now suspended, and intercede for the people: Spare thy people, O LORD. Do not allow a human enemy to bring them to reproach and give them the right to say, “Where is their God?” The leadership was to call, not on God’s justice, but God’s mercy. Furthermore, in faith that if mercy is asked for, mercy will be given.

Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And will have compassion for His
people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I am going to
send you grain, new wine, and oil, And you will be satisfied in full with them; And
I will never again make you a disgrace among the nations.

Here is a promise from God. If you do what I have required of you, then. Then will the LORD be zealous. Then will the LORD have compassion. Then will the LORD send corn and wine and oil. Then shall the LORD remove your disgrace. Then. Moreover, here is the restoration that awaits them:

“But I will remove the northern army far from you, And I will drive it into a dry
and desolate land, Its advance guard into the eastern sea, And its rear guard into
the western sea. And its stench will ascend and its odor of decay will come up,
Because it has done great things.” Do not fear, land; shout for joy and rejoice,
For the LORD has done great things. (Joe 2:20-21 NASB)


Joel paints quite a picture here of restoration. The army of locusts will be removed in a judgment not unlike the one in which they had been used. The recompense here is great. The great things that the enemy had done will now be reversed with the greatness of mercy upon God’s people. Joy will be restored to God’s house and His people.

Do not fear, animals of the field, For the pastures of the wilderness have turned
green, For the tree has produced its fruit, The fig tree and the vine have yielded in
full. So shout for joy, you sons of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For
He has given you the early rain for your vindication. And He has brought down
for you the rain, The early and latter rain as before. The threshing floors will be
full of grain, And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.
(Joe 2:22-24 NASB)

His mercy shall come as needed and when expected, in such measure and schedule that the people will be once again glad and rejoice in the Lord. Even the inferior creatures shall be comforted.

“Then I will compensate you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust— My great army
which I sent among you. “You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied, And you
will praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you;
Then My people will never be put to shame. “So you will know that I am in the
midst of Israel, And that I am the LORD your God And there is no other; And My
people will never be put to shame. (Joe 2:25-27 NASB)


The restoration of the Lord is wonderful for those who know they need to be restored. We sometimes miss the process of God’s goodness by rushing to read Joel 2:28 and following without realizing that it took 37 previous verses to get there. Remember Joel 2:28 begins, “And it shall come to pass afterward.” Revival comes afterward.
I am certainly not here pointing my finger, but I am here to ask some hard questions of myself and others that deserve active consideration and response. I will ask some of the same questions I believe Joel would ask the Priests and ministers if he were here now.

Are we willing to awake from the stupor we find ourselves in and look at how we as a nation and His church have offended a Holy God? Is church leadership willing to lead the way in calling God’s people to prayer and repentance? Are we willing to spend less time asking God to bless the plans we have made and spend more time asking God what He would have us do? Are we willing to slow down and show restraint in our personal lives and schedules, allowing God the time He wants to speak to us? Are we willing to do what God asks us to do, even if it is not seeker-friendly and may offend some? Remember, revival comes afterward.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Part 1

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ” is a cry originating long ago when a small village or larger city would appoint and pay men to act as town criers. Often, they would sound a bell with their cry, which means “Hear ye, Hear ye.” It would alert all hearers to be still, quiet, and listen because an important message was about to be proclaimed. Sometimes it would be the decisions of the local courts, at other times, local news and events. Sometimes these criers were even used for advertising purposes.

Ancient Israel also had criers. They did not dress in the fine, multi-colored
costumes of the typical town crier or the fine robes of their priesthood. They were simple folk who simply spoke. As you might have guessed, these were the prophets, most often obscure and hidden, except when they were proclaiming the word of the Lord unto His people.

Their messages were often harsh: judgments to come for rejecting the laws of a Holy God. Yet, always with the judgment, an announcement of repentance and renewed relationship with the Creator was offered. The prophet’s ministry was looked upon as suspect; loved, if the news was good, and reviled if the news was bad. A correction was seldom welcomed and often resisted.

A prophet’s life, then and now, is unique in many ways, for they see far more than the Lord will allow them to speak. He more often moves them to a level of intercessory prayer that seems extreme and strange to those in the camp. And even more so to those who share a tent with them. Their hours and sometimes days or weeks of quiet contemplation and separation mixed with long hours of crying before the Lord for the lives of those who fail to understand them are seldom appreciated. Yes, these criers cry much more in private than they ever cry in public. They are the Town Criers among the people of God

Let us look at one such crier in Israel’s history that spoke a harsh message of judgment on a nation, instructions for its leadership, and a promise of redemption. I
will not be able to hit everything, but there are specific points I would like to apply as lessons we can learn regarding the current state of our nation. Please, join me in Joel, chapter 1.

The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: Hear this, you
elders, And listen, all inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this happened in
your days, Or in your fathers’ days? Tell your sons about it, And have your sons
tell their sons, And their sons the next generation.
(Joe 1:1-3 NASB)

What we see first is the crier Joel saying to the elders and then generally to all the
inhabitants, “Have you ever seen or heard of anything like this? Can you ever remember your father’s talking about anything like this?” Oral tradition played a significant role in the history and culture of the people. Joel was encouraging some thought on their part to recollect anything happening like this before.

Joel also admonishes the people to tell their children to tell their children, and into another generation. In other words, this is not something that should be forgotten. This is more than a curious thing. It is a warning to future generations not to invoke
the wrath of God. An obvious question arises. What is this? To what is Joel referring?

What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; And what the
swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; And what the creeping
locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.
(Joe 1:4 NASB)

Joel describes here a systematic eroding of livelihood and provision by a progressive plague of locusts. He describes the destruction by the different stages of locust development and how what one stage leaves, the next stage devours. The Hebrew words give a much more vivid scene than the NASB brings out. The gnawing locust in Hebrew is gawzan, which means the cutter off. They cut down stems and leaves, eating everything they can. In this stage, the female drills millions of holes in the ground to lay their eggs, which hatch 7-60 days later.

The next stage is what the NASB calls swarming locusts. In Hebrew, the word is arbeh, meaning multipliers. These swarmers ravenously consume everything the adults have left behind.

The swarms then develop into creeping locusts, or as the Hebrew calls them, yehlek, or lickers, which gnaw and lick anything green that tries to reemerge.

The final stage is the caterpillar, or khaw-seel, stripping locusts that strip the bark off of trees as they grow their wings.

So we can see that when they finally lift off and swarm away, they leave complete ruin in their wake. Imagine what hopelessness would fall on this agrarian society that lived season to season and harvest to harvest. Even those given to much drink were called to wake up and mourn the loss of their libation.

Awake, you heavy drinkers, and weep; And wail, all you wine drinkers, Because
of the sweet wine, For it has been eliminated from your mouth.
(Joe 1:5 NASB)


Rather than be roused by the horror of what was happening around them, they slept in lethargy, not even realizing what they were losing until it was cut off from them. And Joel continues to liken this plague to an invasion of a mighty nation upon Israel.

For a nation has invaded my land, Mighty and without number; Its teeth are the
teeth of a lion, And it has the jaws of a lioness. It has made my vine a waste And
my fig tree a stump. It has stripped them bare and hurled them away; Their
branches have become white. Wail like a virgin clothed with sackcloth For the
groom of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off
From the house of the LORD. The priests mourn, The ministers of the LORD.
(Joe 1:6-9 NASB)

Even the means to sacrifice in the Temple is cut off from the ministers. There is no tithe being brought to the Lord’s house because there is nothing to bring. There are no services at the altar, no oil, no wine, no grain, no meat for sacrifice and the sustainment of the priests and Levites.

The field is ruined, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine has
dried up, Fresh oil has failed. Be ashamed, you farm workers, Wail, you
vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field is
destroyed.
(Joe 1:10-11 NASB)

The wheat loaf for the rich and the barley loaf for the poor is cut off. It mattered not which social strata you were in. It was hard times for everyone.

The vine has dried up And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate, the palm
also, and the apple tree, All the trees of the field have dried up. Indeed, joy has
dried up From the sons of mankind. (Joe 1:12 NASB)

Joy had left the camp. It withered away. Psalm 1 gives us an idea why:

Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in
the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the Law of
the LORD, And on His Law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree
planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does
not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they
are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in
the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows
the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
(Psa 1:1-6 NASB)

Where were they walking, where were they standing, where were they sitting? Why was this calamity happening in the land of Israel, and are there parallels here for our own country? We have no idea from the text of Joel what specifics of offense would cause God to send this kind of judgment on His people. Idolatry was always Israel’s first and foremost sin, so it is pretty safe to assume that idolatry played a role here in God’s displeasure. Perhaps along with idolatry, there had arisen a coldness and callousness among the priests and ministers. Maybe it had become business as usual. Perhaps abundance before the plague allowed the people to grow too fond of their good life and created a lack in the devotional fervor that once sustained them as a nation. The prophet’s voice is usually the last voice heard before judgment. Moreover, it is usually God’s tool only when the people have not heard God’s still, small voice within their
hearts and repented. Where are we walking, where are we standing, where are we sitting?

In verses 13 and 14, we hear a cry to lament the Lost Sacrifices. Israel’s unique identity and purpose for existence was its covenant relationship to God. In Joel’s eyes, this was the paramount reason for mourning. Moreover, he singled out those in ministry to lead the way:

Put on sackcloth And mourn, you priests; Wail, you ministers of the altar! Come,
spend the night in sackcloth, You ministers of my God, For the grain offering and
the drink offering Have been withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a
fast, Proclaim a solemn assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the
land To the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.
(Joe 1:13-14 NASB)

Joel urged the religious leaders to mourn and repent themselves and call the people to mourn and repentance, also. This is something they should have seen the need to do long before this without the bidding of the prophet. The nature of the offense called for a public humiliation of the people to confess and repent of their sins and to honor a Holy God as the one they had offended and the only one who could restore them.

I think a question we need to ask ourselves is, “Have we, in our seeker-friendly, program-driven ministries, become those asking God to bless what we are
doing rather than seeking God’s face to see what He would have us do?” A harsh question, perhaps, but one that we cannot afford not to ask. It is evident from our text that this was not a question the religious leaders of Israel had asked recently and certainly were not asking when the crier Joel appeared in the city square.

The Greater Part of Responsibility

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

According to the dictionary, responsibility is “the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.” That definition immediately brings two questions to my mind. The first is, “What exactly is being responsible, answerable, and accountable?” and the second is, “What is within my power, control, or management?” In trying to answer these questions, I believe we can gain a greater understanding of what should be meant by the term ‘responsible Christian living.’

When you look up the definition for the word responsible, it again brings out the words answerable and accountable, but adds “often followed by to or for.” For the Christian, I believe before we can be fully responsible, answerable, or accountable for something, we have to be totally responsible, answerable, and accountable to something, or more accurately to Someone. Only when we are responsible to God does He give us response-ability, the ability to respond in the right way. So in my opinion the greater part of responsibility is response-ability. This ability to respond is spelled out in another part of the definition of responsible: “having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable.” We are accountable to Someone regardless of whether we accept the fact or not.

The Old Testament is about God’s desire for man to be responsible, answerable, and accountable to Him. It starts in Genesis and runs the full length of the Hebrew Scriptures. Responsibility to God began in the garden where Satan enticed mankind to exercise their will in his own power, control, and management against God. God gave man power, control, and management of his domain. This was good as long as it was carried out with responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God. As long as the responsibility to was directed properly, the responsibility for was productive and life-giving. When man redirected their responsibility, answerability, and accountability to another someone, the power, control, and management became corrupted, as well. God’s dealings with man are portrayed with vivid detail in the rest of the Old Testament, with the same outcome. When individuals or nations were responsible, answerable, and accountable to God, they were blessed and prospered. When they responded as Adam and Eve did in the garden, they encountered hardship and loss.

So what happened when Jesus came? Did His coming to earth change God’s mind on the issues of responsibility, answerability, and accountability? In Luke, chapter 2, we see a story that establishes early on in Jesus’ own life His responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God.

40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; 43 and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48 When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:40-52 NASB).

This pattern early established produced favor with God and men in Jesus’ life.

Let’s next look at what Jesus dealt with directly after His baptism by John. Matthew 4:1-11 tells the story.

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him (Matthew 4:1-11).

We see here that Jesus was responsible, answerable, and accountable to God for those things He had power, control, and management over. Here we see the divine pattern set in the life of the second Adam as Jesus exercised His will and responded in God’s response-ability to the same temptations Satan used in the garden.

During His ministry we see time and again a Jesus responsible to the Father. His own words to this effect are recorded in the Gospel of John 5:19:Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” One has only to look at the gospels and examine the ministry of Jesus to come to the same conclusion. His greatest example of this was in another garden, the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36-50 again shows Jesus’ responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God. Without response-ability at Gethsemane, there would have been no crucifixion.

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” 47 While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” 49 Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 50 And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.

We see here both the weakness of men and the strength of a Man. His inner circle went to sleep on Him, but Jesus persevered in giving His will over to the will of the Father. And in doing so gave up power, control, and management to those who seized Him in order to fulfill the Father’s purpose. After what Jesus suffered, His dying words asking the Father to forgive were a response-ability only God could give.

We see not only in Jesus’ life but also in His teachings this mandate of responsible Christian living. In Jesus’ life, we see Him fulfill the law. In His sermon on the mount, we see Him set forth a raising of the bar for those called disciples. As we read and re-read Matthew chapters 5-7, we come to a better understanding of what response God wants to give us ability for. Jesus spoke above the letter of the law, calling for a Spirit-birthed response to God and to our fellow man. Our ability to respond comes by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He spoke of behavior and thinking far above what man can do in the natural.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

In condensing the law and prophets to two commands, one would think the responsibility would be less. But it actually raised the level of responsibility. and along with greater responsibility, the Holy Spirit gives greater response-ability.

Exploring the Posture, Purpose, and Results of Church Ministry

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Exploring the posture, purpose, and results of church ministry must be centered around the One to whom the church belongs: Jesus Christ. It is only as we take a Christ-centered approach that we give heed to Jesus’ declaration in Mark 16:18 that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

As Jesus came in humility to serve fallen humanity, the posture of church ministry must likewise be that of humble service. Service is rooted in humility and manifests itself in three primary ways. Foremost, there is service directly to God. Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1 to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, which is our reasonable or spiritual service. This is a mandate to all believers, but especially to be exemplified in those in the fivefold ministry; those appointed by Jesus as gifts to the church to share in her temporal teaching, training, and leadership (Eph 4:6-11).

Secondly is service to our fellow believers. The gospel of Christ is a gospel of service. Paul shows us an example of his service to God through service to His church in praying for them.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
(Rom 1:9 KJV)

Paul directs his son in the faith, Timothy, in his duties as a minister of the church.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry (2 Tim. 4:2-5).

But we also note the instruction of Paul to Timothy on how to exercise his authority:

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim. 2:22-26).

Notice gentleness, patience, and meekness associated with the ministry of the servant of the Lord.

The willingness to serve in prayer, exhortation, teaching, and other forms of service is not only noted in the writings of Paul, but of the other New Testament writers, as well. A thorough reading of the New Testament shows countless examples of the underlying theme of humility and service as it applies to church ministry. This posture is the one that Jesus exemplified and taught to His disciples to model in their own ministries. Jesus made a point of this theme of humility and service and also the rewards of such a posture when speaking to His disciples in Luke 22:24-30:

“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Thirdly, this posture of humility and service extends beyond service to God and His church as it reaches out to a hungry, hurting world. The great commission gives us direction from Jesus as to a wider focus of ministry outside the local assembly of believers.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).

In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul tells us of five ministry gifts that Jesus gave to His church to help fulfill His intentions for her. Within this giving is the purpose of church ministry:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

If humility in service is the posture of church ministry, then the perfecting, or maturing of the saints so they can minister in building each other up is the purpose of church ministry. This equipping, or perfecting speaks in the Greek of fitting a ship for the waters it will sail in, making the saints ready for whatever storms they may find themselves. Perfecting also speaks of the setting of a bone, being put in the proper place in the body, being placed for optimal service. The building up is the outcome of the proper equipping and placement. Peter tells us how this building up looks in 1 Peter, chapter 2:

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Isaiah tells us Jesus is the chief corner stone of this spiritual house, rejected by man but accepted by God:

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

Looking back to 2 Timothy 4 as an example, we see the fitting together sometimes calls for reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all longsuffering and doctrine. But even the chiseling away of the rough edges to produce a proper fit in the building is to be done in the Spirit in love with the structural integrity of the building in mind. Building with living stones is a more delicate task than building with dead materials and therefore calls for the gentle, patient, and meek posture of humility to accomplish what the Great Architect desires in His purpose.

According to Ephesians 6 the result of church ministry, when a posture of humility and a purpose of edification are employed, is that we grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. This is not only the result of church ministry but a signpost of the duration of the fivefold ministry: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The goal of the fivefold ministry in reaching the purpose of church ministry should be to work itself out of a job. That can only be done with humility and edification in mind, as Peter gives instruction to elders in his first epistle.

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:1-6).

So, we have seen that humble service, edification, and true spiritual growth in the body is the culmination of a proper manifestation of the posture, purpose, and result of church ministry. The effectual outworking of church ministry will bring much clearer focus to the other side of this ministry question, the effectual outworking of the ministry of the church.

Evangelical Fears and Concerns Regarding Spiritual Formation- Part 3

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Having touched on the fears and concerns of some in the Evangelical tradition regarding spiritual formation, we will now reconstruct spiritual formation in a manner useful for further thought.

Working Definition of Christian Spiritual Formation

The first task is producing a working definition of spiritual formation. To do this I took a sampling of definitions from ten evangelical sources and composed a composite definition from them. It includes a primary definition, secondary definition, a human response, and an outcome:

“Christian spiritual formation is a Spirit-driven process in the tradition of Jesus Christ in which God uses every circumstance in saints’ lives for the purpose of conforming them to the image of Christ, by the transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself, a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical standards for the glory of God and for the sake of others.

“Formation is an organic, life-long, and holistic process involving right thinking (orthodoxy), right behaviors (orthopraxy), and right feelings (orthopathy) of individuals and communities, done in the power of Christ, through the character of Christ. This process involves the transformation of the whole person in desires, thoughts, behaviors, and styles of relating to God and others with love, where the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus.

“We believe to be formed by the Holy Spirit in this way requires both participation and intentionality. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him. We foster this ongoing relationship in part through the learning and practice of spiritual disciplines such as meditating on scripture, practicing silence and solitude, and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

“They are methods we use to “put off [the] old” and prepare our hearts for God to “put on the new” (Ephesians 4:20-24). As we make efforts to obey the directives God gives us, we begin to know Him more. Such life change is manifest in a growing love for God and others—a dying to self and living for Christ, where we find true satisfaction in life.”

Components of the Working Definition

We now examine the four paragraphs of the working definition more fully. Spiritual formation is first a process. Process, defined, is “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”[1] Although we participate in the process, our working definition places the impetus of Christian spiritual formation on the Father. This realization displaces the fear that “works righteousness” is a motivating factor in spiritual formation at its inception.

Our spiritual journeys are inspired by God, the Father. He has a vision for our lives to which he is absolutely committed. Romans 8:29 says, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his son, so that his son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” The Father knew you before the foundations of the world. He chose you. You are one of his many sons or daughters. And, he is committed to your becoming like Jesus. Everything that he allows or ordains in your life is connected to his resolute commitment for you to become like his Son.[2]

However, the process of spiritual formation is also Spirit-driven. In other words, the Father uses the divine agency of the Holy Spirit in accomplishing His wishes for our formation. Genesis 1:2 tells us, “And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2 NASB). We begin our formation with God in the same way.

 Additionally, this process is in the tradition of Jesus Christ. We notice that Jesus called His disciples, and as they traveled with Him, He modeled His ministry before them, instructed them, and imparted anointing to them for service (re: Matthew 4-10). The Gospels show this tradition as a distinct mentoring model of discipleship.

Mentors give themselves over entirely to engendering in their chosen pupils essential qualities of character or skills that are crucial to the continuance of a practice or way of life.
     Jesus mentored the Twelve—“his own who were in the world” (John 13:1)—to know him (and, through him, to know the Father) and to re-present God’s love in the world. Even as he reminded them “servants are not greater than their master,” he washed their feet. It was a sacramental act—for it enacted God’s grace that transcends his simple deed—and a mysterious one. To Peter he said, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (13:7). By his simple act Jesus exemplified God’s love for them and called them to love one another.[3]

Using this mentoring style, Jesus fulfilled the entire first paragraph of our definition as He used “every circumstance in saints’ lives for the purpose of conforming them to the image of Christ, by the transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself, a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical standards for the glory of God and for the sake of others.”

While it has once again become a priority in commerce to mentor and be mentored,[4] the church has failed, in many ways, to adopt the tradition of Jesus in spiritual formation and leadership development.[5] 

The second paragraph of our composite definition of Christian spiritual formation begins, “Formation is an organic, life-long, and holistic process…” There are three key words here to consider. The first is organic.

Organic process is a principle in the sciences, the arts, and many other arenas. We can borrow from its meaning in biology, which says, “the process of an individual organism growing organically; a purely biological unfolding of events involved in an organism changing gradually from a simple to a more complex level.”[6] The definition can be restated in spiritual terms as, “the process of an individual growing spiritually; a purely spiritual [God initiated] unfolding of events involved in a believer changing gradually from a simple to a more complex level.”Formation is also an individual process. “Even though we’re purposed for the same destination, we’re individual people on unique journeys. We have different backgrounds, different shaping events, different struggles, and different needs for character development. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transformation.”[7]

Spiritual formation is also a life-long process. As stated above, formation is a gradual change from a simple to a more complex level. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), an American theologian and Baptist pastor wrote, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of getting individuals into heaven, but of transforming our life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”[8] The implication of this is:

Thus, the Christian life is a life-long realization of what our lives can be when lived fully aligned with God’s purposes for us. This is a journey in which we must be fully and daily engaged. Imitating Jesus and becoming like him fully depends upon our cooperation with the grace he willingly extends toward us. Of course, Jesus made it clear that his work of transformation would progress from the inside out: a new mind and heart with new motivations would generate new ways of behaving.[9]

The process of Christian spiritual formation is additionally holistic. Holistic, defined, is “dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.”[10] One writer put it, “Christian formation spans everything we do as people of faith. From our architecture to our word choice, from how we greet one another at the door to how (or if) we allow space for doubts and questions of faith.”[11] She went on to say, “ A deep, lasting, durable faith grows within our youth [but certainly not limited to youth] when they are invited to participate alongside a community that actively lives out its love for Jesus in the world; when they see the faith we proclaim actually makes a difference in life. This is faith formation. It is a holistic approach to spiritual formation.”[12]

Healthcare providers have placed increasing emphasis on the complexity of the human being in saying, “The main concept behind the mind-body-spirit connection is that we are all more than just our thoughts. We are also our bodies, our emotions, and our spirituality … all these things combine to give us identity, determine our health, and make us who we are.”[13] The apostle Paul realized this when he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Honoring the holistic process of spiritual formation offers a wider application to the when, why, and how of living responsibly before God.

In recognizing and practicing Christian spiritual formation as an organic, life-long, and holistic process, the outcome will include right thinking (orthodoxy), right behaviors (orthopraxy), and right feelings (orthopathy) of individuals and communities, done in the power of Christ, through the character of Christ. It will involve the transformation of the whole person in desires, thoughts, behaviors, and styles of relating to God and others with love, where the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus.

The third paragraph in our composite definition of Christian spiritual formation begins, “We believe to be formed by the Holy Spirit in this way requires both participation and intentionality. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.” Author Mindy Caliguire brings out this participation and intentionality in writing:

Spiritual growth and intimacy with God are cultivated by attending to what’s current between us and God. When we become aware of how God is currently growing us, we are wise to divert energy there rather than try to forge a different path based upon an artificial growth map that we or anyone else might impose on our spiritual journey. If we respond to God as he makes us aware of areas of growth, we will become exactly who he has in mind for this season- and then the next, and then the next.[14]

But in what ways can we open the door to become aware of how God is currently growing us?  As our definition continues, “We foster this ongoing relationship in part through the learning and practice of spiritual disciplines such as meditating on scripture, practicing silence and solitude, and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.” This is the “scary” part for many Evangelicals, as we already discussed. The fear of falling unawares into Eastern religious, New Age, or Roman Catholic practices have caused a hesitancy to participate in legitimate spiritual disciplines that are deemed too subjective in nature. But in doing so, many have sidetracked the holistic aspects of spiritual formation we just addressed.

However, not every Evangelical organization has written off the subjective elements of spiritual formation. The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary at Evangel University offers a 3 Credit Hour course in Practical Theology, “PTH 557 Spiritual Formation of the Minister.” The stated course learning objectives in the syllabus include the following, which they label “a ‘toolbox’ of five spiritual formation means that will help students discern and conform to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.”[15] The formation means are:

  • Experiential Learning including a Mentoring Dynamic: This means is centered on experiential learning with the three components of (a) doing ministry, (b) reflecting on ministerial experiences with a mentor, and (c) determining how to approach leadership issues in the future. Students will explore the Biblical mentoring through the Paul and Timothy dyad. A personal ministry readiness assessment and a 360 assessment will be utilized to help students discern developmental emphases.
  • A Wesleyan Model of Accountability: This means of spiritual formation is centered on a list of questions shared in a small group setting that will promote encouragement and accountability to personal and ministerial growth. Students will explore the accountability model of formation emphasized by John Wesley in the First Great Awakening in the 1700’s.
  • The Spiritual Exercises: This means of spiritual formation centers on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Students will explore five foci within the Spiritual Exercises which include (a) discerning God’s love, (b) discerning what distorts God’s image inside you, (c) aligning your heart with Jesus’ mission in the world, (d) learning how to suffer for God’s mission in the world, and (e) entering into the joy of God’s work in and through your life.
  • Key Dynamics within Personal Devotion: This means of spiritual formation will help students conceptualize how to center the personal voice of God for one’s life in a way that is highly personalized and practically applied. Students will explore mystical aspects of spirituality from the 17th century’s influence of Jeanne Guyon and note its correlation to early Pentecostal pioneers of the 20th century.
  • Soaking in His Presence with Others: This means of spiritual formation will center on      altar experiences and how they practically shape our destinies.[16]

It is important to note that each of these formation tools has predominantly subjective elements to them. We can break down these tools into the basic components of spiritual mentoring, small group accountability, spiritual disciplines, personalized and practical devotions, and group experiences. However, it is uncertain how these same practices have or have not been promoted in a congregational setting by students after their ordination.

The final paragraph of our composite definition begins, “They are methods we use to “put off [the] old” and prepare our hearts for God to “put on the new” (Ephesians 4:20-24). In other words, these methods are meant to be transformational as opposed to strictly educational or inspirational.

Mulholland has written:

When spirituality is viewed as a journey, the way to spiritual wholeness is seen to lie in an increasingly faithful response to the One whose purpose shapes our path, whose grace redeems our detours, whose power liberates us from crippling bondages of the prior journey and whose transforming presence meets us at each turn in the road. In other words, holistic spirituality is a pilgrimage of deepening responsiveness to God’s control of our life and being.[17]

The efficacy of something is determined by assessing the purpose for which it is intended and measuring how close it comes to fulfilling that purpose. There is a danger in substituting the original intended purpose in spiritual formation for another purpose (re: education or inspiration) that may be easier in its implication but misses the mark. Inspirational education may help define what spiritual formation is but can never be a substitute for the actual process.

Our composite definition ends with, “As we make efforts to obey the directives God gives us, we begin to know Him more. Such life change is manifest in a growing love for God and others—a dying to self and living for Christ, where we find true satisfaction in life.” So, there is proof to the efficacy of Christian spiritual formation. It will be the ripe fruit of the Spirit manifest in our lives to feed the spiritually starving around us.


[1] Oxford Languages. “Oxford Languages and Google – English.” Languages.oup.com, Oxford University Press, 2022, languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/.

[2] Whiteaker, C. J. The Process of Spiritual Formation CJ Whiteaker. Shepherd’s Inn, 1 Jan. 2020.

[3] Kruschwitz, Robert B. “What Do You Think? Christian Reflection Christian Reflection the Real Meaning of Mentorship.” The Center for Christian Ethics, Baylor University, 2008.

[4] Huls, Thomas. “Council Post: The Experience Cycle: Why Mentoring Is Important.” Forbes, 7 July 2021, http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinessdevelopmentcouncil/2021/07/07/the-experience-cycle-why-mentoring-is-important/?sh=2869702e3645.

[5] Robinson, Natasha S. “Answering the Call: Why Mentoring Is so Important in the Church.” Urban Faith, 23 Nov. 2018, urbanfaith.com/2018/11/mentoring-church-important.html/.

[6] “Organic Process.” TheFreeDictionary.com, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/organic+process.

[7] Whiteaker, C. J. The Process of Spiritual Formation CJ Whiteaker. Shepherd’s Inn, 1 Jan. 2020.

[8] Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. 1917. London, Forgotten Books, 2017, p. 134.

[9] Orthner, Dennis K. “Assessing Spiritual Development: Reflections on Building a Community Measure.” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, vol. 14, no. 2, 12 Aug. 2021, pp. 198–210, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/19397909211036138, 10.1177/19397909211036138. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

[10] Cambridge Dictionary. “Holistic.” @CambridgeWords, 19 Jan. 2022, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/holistic.

[11]Gerber, Rachel. “Deep Faith: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Formation.” Mennonite Church USA, 18 Oct. 2016, http://www.mennoniteusa.org/faith-formation/deep-faith-holistic-approach-spiritual-formation/.

[12] ibid

[13] Mehr, Bonnie. “The Importance of the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection during Times of Stress and Anxiety.” EHealth Connection, 24 Mar. 2020, blogs.cooperhealth.org/ehealth/2020/03/24/the-importance-of-the-mind-body-spirit-connection-during-times-of-stress-and- anxiety/#:~:text=The%20main%20concept%20behind%20the.

[14] Caliguire, Mindy. Discovering Soul Care. Downers Grove, Ill., Ivp Connect, 2007, p. 53.

[15]Oney, R. Michael. PTH-557-Spiritual Formation of the Minister. The Assemblies of God theological Seminary, Oct. 2017, agts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/PTH-557-Spiritual-Formation-of-the-Minister-Oney-SP18.pdf.

[16] ibid

[17] Mulholland, Robert, and R Ruth Barton. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. Downers Grove, Il, Intervarsity Press, 2016, p. 16.

%d bloggers like this: