Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China, is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. To view its towering cliffs in all their glorious splendor, you must take the Tianmen Shan cable car, which covers a distance of 7,455 meters (4.5 miles). It’s amazing how this cable car can travel such long distances and scale such steep mountains without any motor on the car itself. Yet it moves safely up these spectacular heights by keeping a strong grip on a cable that is moved by a powerful motor.
In our journey of faith, how can we finish the race well and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus”? (Phil. 3:14). Like the cable car, we keep a strong grip on Christ, which is what Paul meant when he said “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). We have no resources of our own. We depend fully on Christ to keep us moving forward. He will take us through the greatest challenges and lead us safely home.
Toward the end of his earthly life, the apostle Paul declared, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). You can too. Simply keep a strong grip on Christ.
Fire can be one of the worst enemies of trees. But it can also be helpful. Experts say that small, frequent fires called “cool” fires clean the forest floor of dead leaves and branches but don’t destroy the trees. They leave behind ashes, which are perfect for seeds to grow in. Surprisingly, low-intensity fires are necessary for healthy growth of trees.
Similarly, trials—pictured as fire in the Bible—are necessary for our spiritual health and growth (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12). James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
It is in the season of trial that God’s purposes are often realized, for there the conditions are right for us to grow into spiritual maturity. This growth not only equips us for living, but it also enables us to more accurately reflect Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.
In the hands of our Father, our trials can achieve His purposes for our good and for His honor. They can shape us into the likeness of His Son.
Life’s path is often difficult. So if we expect that God will always give us an easy road, we may be tempted to turn our back on Him when the terrain gets tough.
If you’ve ever considered doing that, think about the people of Israel. When they were given freedom from the Egyptians after hundreds of years of bondage, they took off for the Promised Land. But God didn’t send them straight home. He “did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter” (Ex. 13:17). Instead He sent them on the hard road through the desert. In the short run, this helped them avoid wars (v. 17), but in the long run, there was something bigger at work.
God used that time in the desert to instruct and mature the people He had called to follow Him. The easy road would have led them to disaster. The long road prepared the nation of Israel for their successful entry into the Promised Land.
Our God is faithful, and we can trust Him to lead us and care for us no matter what we face. We may not understand the reason for the path we are on, but we can trust Him to help us grow in faith and maturity along the way.
The neighborhood fitness center where I have worked out for years closed down last month, and I had to join a new gym. The former place was a warm, friendly facility, patronized by older folks who liked to socialize while they worked out. We hardly ever broke a sweat. The new gym is a hard-core facility filled with serious men and women, earnestly invested in building better bodies. I watch these people strain and toil. Their bodies look strong, but I wonder if their hearts are being strengthened with grace.
Physiologically, the heart is a muscle—the muscle that keeps the other muscles going. It’s good to build and tone our other muscles, but the essential thing is doing whatever keeps the heart strong.
So it is with our spiritual heart. We must strengthen and tone the heart through the Word of truth, receiving its message of God’s goodness and grace. Keeping our spiritual heart strong and fit must be our first priority, the one thing we do above all others.
Paul would agree: "Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:7-8
In Debbie’s new home, she discovered an abandoned plant in a dark corner of the kitchen. The dusty and ragged leaves looked like those of a moth orchid, and she imagined how pretty the plant would look once it had sent up new bloom-bearing stems. She moved the pot into a spot by the window, cut off the dead leaves, and watered it thoroughly. She bought plant food and applied it to the roots. Week after week she inspected the plant, but no new shoots appeared. “I’ll give it another month,” she told her husband, “and if nothing has happened by then, out it goes.”
When decision day came, she could hardly believe her eyes. Two small stems were poking out from among the leaves! The plant she’d almost given up on was still alive.
Do you ever get discouraged by your apparent lack of spiritual growth? Perhaps a frequently lost temper or that spicy piece of gossip you just can’t resist passing on. Or perhaps you get up too late to pray and read your Bible, in spite of resolving to set the alarm earlier.
Why not tell a trusted friend about the areas of your life in which you want to grow spiritually and ask that person to pray for and encourage you to be accountable? Be patient. You will grow as you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you.
Watching my young grandson and his friends play T-Ball is entertaining. In this version of baseball, young players often run to the wrong base or don’t know what to do with the ball if they happen to catch it. If we were watching a professional baseball game, these mistakes would not be so funny.
It’s all a matter of maturity.
It’s okay for young athletes to struggle—not knowing what to do or not getting everything exactly right. They are trying and learning. So we coach them and patiently guide them toward maturity. Then we celebrate their success as later they play with skill as a team.
Something similar happens in the life of those who follow Jesus. Paul pointed out that the church needs people who will “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). And we need a variety of “coaches” (pastors, teachers, spiritual mentors) to help us all move toward “unity in the faith” as we strive to “become mature” (v. 13).
The goal as we listen to preaching and teaching and enjoy life together in the church is to grow up to maturity in Christ (v. 15). Each of us is on this journey, and we can encourage each other on the road to maturity in Jesus.
As a child, I loved to climb trees. The higher I climbed, the more I could see. Occasionally, in search of a better view, I might inch out along a branch until I felt it bend under my weight. Not surprisingly, my tree-climbing days are over. I suppose it isn’t very safe—or dignified.
Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, set aside his dignity (and perhaps ignored his safety) when he climbed a tree one day in Jericho. Jesus was traveling through the city, and Zacchaeus wanted to get a look at Him. However, “because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). Fortunately, those things did not stop him from seeing and even talking with Christ. Zacchaeus’s plan worked! And when he met Jesus, his life was changed forever. “Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said (v. 9).
We too can be prevented from seeing Jesus. Pride can blind us from seeing Him as the Wonderful Counselor. Anxiety keeps us from knowing Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Hunger for status and stuff can prevent us from seeing Him as the true source of satisfaction—the Bread of Life (John 6:48).
What are you willing to do to get a better view of Jesus? Any sincere effort to get closer to Him will have a good result. God rewards people who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
My husband and I read in different ways. Since English is a second language for Tom, he has a tendency to read slowly, word-for-word. I often speed-read by skimming. But Tom retains more than I do. He can easily quote something he read a week ago, while my retention can evaporate seconds after I turn away from the screen or book.
Skimming is also a problem when I’m reading the Bible—and not just the genealogies. I’m tempted to skim familiar passages, stories I’ve heard since I was a child, or a psalm that is part of a familiar chorus.
Proverbs 2 encourages us to make the effort to know God better by carefully seeking a heart of understanding. When we read the Bible carefully and invest time memorizing Scripture, we absorb its truths more deeply (vv. 1-2). Sometimes reading the Word aloud helps us to hear and understand the wisdom of God more fully. And when we pray the words of Scripture back to God and ask Him for “insight and understanding” (v. 3), we enjoy a conversation with the Author.
We come to know God and His wisdom when we search for it with our whole heart. We find understanding when we seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure.
A middle-aged man approached me after I led a workshop at his place of employment and asked this question: “I’ve been a Christian nearly my whole life, but I’m constantly disappointed in myself. Why is it that I always seem to keep doing the things I wish I didn’t do and never seem to do the things I know I should? Isn’t God getting tired of me?” Two men standing next to me also seemed eager to hear the response.
That’s a common struggle that even the apostle Paul experienced. “I do not understand what I do,” he said, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). But here’s some good news: We don’t have to stay in that trap of discouragement. To paraphrase Paul as he writes in Romans 8, the key is to stop focusing on the law and start focusing on Jesus. We can’t do anything about our sinfulness in our own strength. The answer is not “try harder to be good at keeping the rules.” Instead, we must focus on the One who shows us mercy and cooperate with the Spirit who changes us.
When we focus on the law, we are constantly reminded that we’ll never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. But when we focus on Jesus, we become more like Him.