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Why Am I So Stuck In My Growth As A Christian?

Written By Tan Chew Suan

Chew Suan got to know Singapore Youth For Christ in her teens and now serves as a full-time staff in Teaching Ministry. She counts it a great privilege to devote her time to the studying and teaching of God’s Word for the purpose of equipping gospel workers.

 

“I always seem to come back to square one.”

That was what I said to my leader many years back, while a university student serving as a youth ministry volunteer. I have wept a copious amount of tears in youth camps while listening to preachers or our youth leaders challenge us about our Christian growth.

But, after a few weeks, the tears dry up, the routines of life set in, the messages and challenges become a fading memory, the recently started spiritual disciplines become harder to maintain, and I go right back to where I had started.

These cycles of emotional response, resolutions made, resolutions broken, left me tired and discouraged. It seemed so hard to live the Christian life, let alone grow as a Christian. Even the very basics of reading the Bible and prayer in a Christian life were a constant struggle. There were so many demands upon my time: classes, homework, family, friends, school activities, church activities. At the end of the day, I was just too drained to read my Bible or to pray. Furthermore, even if I did maintain my daily Bible reading for a while, I did not see much growth in my Bible knowledge or in my Christian character. I was back, as it seemed, to square one.

Is Christian growth a hopeless endeavor? Not according to the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:3-8. In fact, what Peter wrote in this passage gives me great assurance that Christian growth is not only possible, but unavoidable, if I were to heed what he wrote.

 

1. Jesus empowers me to live a godly life

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

In my struggle to grow as a Christian, there are times when I think I cannot change, especially when I struggle with the same sin again and again. But Peter’s assurance to me is that I can, but not because of me, but because of Him, who has called me into a relationship with Him. He is none other than Jesus our Lord (1:2). If I look to myself for my own growth, then I must confess I do not have the power within myself to change. But Peter exhorts us to look to Jesus’ empowerment.

Christian growth is not only possible, this verse says it is unavoidable if we continue to stay in relationship with Jesus. There is no excuse for not growing. Jesus’ divine power has given me everything I need to live a godly life; He has not left out anything, but has given us everything necessary for our growth. While Peter did not list for us what these things are, we can have a sense of what these things may include by looking at Ephesians 6:10-18. In the passage, Paul begins by urging the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph 6:10). So what has the Lord provided for the Christians to make them strong? It is the armor of God which includes: belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, word of God, and prayer.

If I am to grow, first and foremost, I need to put my trust in Jesus, not just for salvation, but for sanctification—my becoming holy—as well. I need to know that my power to change comes from Him and not from me, and thus I need to constantly depend upon Him in prayers and He empowers me.

2. Jesus expects me to put in the hard work to live a godly life

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness . . .” (2 Peter 1:5)

I wish Jesus would just zap me and grant me instant godliness. I want to increase in my knowledge of Him, but I am not prepared to put in hours of studying the Bible. I want self-control, but when temptations come, I fall right in. I want perseverance, but I try to get out of a difficult situation as soon as possible. I want to be loving, but I avoid people I dislike as much as possible.

I want godliness without having to make the effort to be godly.

I would have thought, since Jesus empowers me, I could let go and let Him do the work. But Peter tells me otherwise. For the very reason that I have Jesus’ empowerment and His promises to enable me to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3–4), all the more I should make the effort to live a godly life.

Knowing that I have Jesus’ empowerment becomes the motivation to exert effort, because my effort by His empowerment will not be futile, but will produce a godly life. Why am I so stuck in my Christian growth? I want the growth without the growing process; I want the results without the effort.

But that is not how Jesus’ empowerment works. When He empowers me, I exert effort to grow. In fact, His empowering includes enabling me to exert the effort that is crucial for my growth. Philippians 2:12–13 captures this balance well, “. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”

I know that when I trust His word and pray for His help, He gives me a yearning for His word that makes me keep to the discipline of reading the Bible despite my tiredness, a greater willingness to set aside time for it, as well as a growing love for others and willingness to serve despite myself. I attribute it to the work of the Spirit, or as in the verse, God working in me to will and to act.

 

3. Jesus ensures my life will be effective and productive

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).

Christian growth is for the long haul. The qualities of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love are to be worked out in my life over and over again and as Peter says, in increasing measure. This will take time.

Recently, I met my distant niece whom I had not seen for about seven years. I marveled at how she had grown, from a young girl to a young lady. This was because the lapse of seven years had made her growth very evident. The youth ministry leader whom I cried out to said to me that though I might move up and down in my Christian growth—three steps forward, two steps back—I would not go back to square one. The growth might not be very evident in a particular year, since it would just be a step forward, but now that I have lived for another twenty-five years, I would have grown twenty-five steps forward.

From my vantage point now, my growth is a lot more evident. Peter’s assurance is that as long as we keep working on these qualities and growing in them, we will be fruitful and productive. There will be no end to our growth until we reach the end.

How do I become unstuck in my Christian growth? I believe that when Jesus said He has given me everything I need for my growth, He has. Based on this confidence, I work hard at the qualities He told me to. I am going to struggle many times, fail at many points and seemingly get stuck at ”square one.” But I am going to keep trying, so that I may keep growing.

The Christian life is not a joyless and fruitless struggle. The growth may not be perceptible at a particular point in time, but I know when I look back years from then, I am going to discover my life has been useful and fruitful, because He has promised so (2 Peter 1:4).

Hope Through Struggles

Title: Hope Through Struggles
Materials: Watercolor Painting
Artwork by: Janelle Loh (@thehopeletter)
Description: Whenever you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts, remember. Whenever you can’t seem to find your way out of darkness, remember. Whenever you feel alone and can’t seem to get through the next day, remember.

Remember that He’s always there with you, even in the midst of your struggle. He has not abandoned you.

He cares for you and He loves you.

 

 

 

 

What to Do When We Are Prayerless

On one occasion, my little girl drove me to tears.

She opened her arms the moment she saw me walk into the bedroom. There was no doubt in her mind that her father was going to receive her. She knew that I loved her and was full of joy to see her.

Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was to pray and spend time with God?  You knew that He would acknowledge you and your greatest desire was to just be before Him? What has changed since?

We know how crucial prayer is in the Christian walk. To be a Christian without praying is akin to be a human without breathing—we’re as good as dead. Prayer is about connecting with God and loving Him. It is about being God-centered, learning to look at life from God’s perspective, and finding out what He wants.

Maybe you’re struggling to pray today. You feel like God does not care enough to listen. I can recall a time in my spiritual journey when I too struggled to pray. My heart was heavy and it almost felt unbearable. My prayers felt as though they were not heard and I was attacked from the evil one from every side. My desire to pray dwindled as I wandered in the spiritual desert of isolation. I began to question: Does God really listen to my prayers? Does he really hear me when I cry out to him?

Through that season, these three reminders spoke to me:

 

1. Forget your insecurities, remember His love

Ask yourself honestly. Why are you not coming to God? Is it because you feel too sinful for Him? That you’re not enough for Him?

Often, I look at myself and wonder why God would want Jonathan Hayashi’s love. Why would He want to bother with a worthless being like me compared to great men-of-faith like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, or Jonathan Edwards?

When we make prayer all about us, focusing on our inadequacies or insecurities, instead of Him, that’s where the problem arises.

Combat your insecurities with truths from the Bible; don’t let Satan tell you that you are too sinful to come to Him. When we became God’s children, our sins were taken care of. When Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30), it was a done deal. He made it possible for us to have a restored relationship with Him and He wants to have a relationship with us.

 

2. Pray even when you don’t feel like praying

I know how counter-intuitive it sounds. However, I have learned over the past few years that the best way to ignite my dullest moments is to simply obey in faith. I come to God in prayer, trusting and believing in Him more than I believe in my own feelings.

When I was a new believer, I would lock myself in a closet, desperate to feel the presence of God. I prayed for the Lord to come and reveal Himself to me. And in the quietness of the silence, I experienced the presence and the joy of God.

If you feel like you don’t have the words to say to Him, take heart in the fact that the Spirit intercedes for us. We just need to come to Him. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26). John Bunyan, a puritan preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, said it well, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

 

3. Read and pray from the Scriptures

The Word of God is living and abiding and can give us words to pray when we don’t have the words to say. The Scriptures, isn’t just for teaching and correcting us. We can find comfort in His promises and use the Psalms to cry out to Him. Psalm 86 begins with a plea for God to hear David.

I recall a time a few years ago when I was struggling with sin. As I mourned over all the ways I had failed and fallen short of His glory, I felt like God couldn’t accept me and I wasn’t able to come to Him because of what I’d done. Yet, I longed to be pleasing to Christ and be a blessing unto Him.

Then I stumbled over these words in the Scriptures, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The verse blessed me, reminding me that He accepts and takes delight in our prayer of repentance.

Ultimately, prayer is not about mastering the mechanics of how to come to God, or reciting poetic literature, or bringing a shopping list to Jesus. Prayer is communion with God.

Satan hates prayer because it is the most important thing you can do in your life. Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his knees before God. Don’t be dismayed (Isaiah 41:10) and don’t give up on praying (Luke 18:1).

Have a little talk with Jesus today. Have a honest conversation with Him. As Oswald Chambers once said, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works—prayer is the greater work.”

4 Struggles We Face in Ministry

Serving people can be hard work, whether in or out of the church.

In church, I am thankful for the support I get from family and friends as I serve, but there are still many moments when I feel discouraged and insufficient to continue what I set out to do—and it’s usually because of people. In those moments, I try to comfort myself by saying: “If it is not hard, then it is not ministry.”

But I also believe that God wants to teach me through my struggles.

1. People are uninterested

Are you leading a cell group, trying to organize an event or planning an outreach, and find your group members or co-leaders showing disinterest? Sometimes, I feel most unappreciated and resentful towards people for not putting in as much effort and not supporting me as much as I think they should.

But God has reminded me to take a step back, in order not to completely miss the point of ministry—that it is about people, not about my programs and my plans. Ministry is about helping people grow in their faith and love of Christ, and about caring for their needs.

So I am learning to care for people instead of programs, by being interested in their lives and the problems they are facing. I am also learning to be open to feedback, and to organize events or cell meetings that can meet their needs.

2. People are discouraging

Sometimes, we get disheartening response to our service, or feedback from leaders that seems harsh or unfair. At other times, our peers may just seem critical or plain unhelpful. When that happens, I can feel the seed of discontentment growing into bitterness and making me harbor grudges against them.

But God has taught me to show grace—to my leaders, peers, and juniors. And I have found that those whom I had been disappointed in, turned out to have a story behind them that explained their actions. Once, I felt extremely ashamed of myself when a co-worker—who I thought was just being sluggish—told us that his non-believing parents had been deterring him from being active in church. I realized that I had been unfair and too quick to judge his attitude, and that my own attitude towards him might have even discouraged him further.

Unless I have tried to step into the shoes of another, I will not know how much they are struggling, fighting, and striving to love God. So I am learning to show grace to others, just as Christ has shown grace to me.

3. People are different

Are you facing differences in doctrinal beliefs, convictions, or ministry focus among fellow believers? Do you find these differences causing rifts and misunderstandings that slow down progress in your ministry and affect your “efficiency”?

Perhaps this is the wrong way to think. I’ve learned to see that differences in opinion can in fact broaden and enrich my perspective—if only I lay aside my pride. I tend to get impatient with people who seem to be overly excited about things like spiritual gifts, but a friend hit the nail on the head one day when she told me, “You’re never going to understand if you’re always going to judge them first!”

Her words hit me hard: they reminded me about the judgmental attitude I had been holding against people whose ideas did not seem to align with mine. I am thankful for friends and co-workers who constantly step in to help me see things in a different light.

4. People judge us by our service

Am I serving too much or too little? Am I overbearing or being a pushover? All these thoughts run through my mind every time I try to do something. I know that keeping my focus on Christ is more important, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about these things and looking at my shortcomings.

I used to judge the effectiveness of my ministry by the number of people who turned up for fellowship, events, or anything that I planned, and felt discouraged whenever the response was low or people were tardy. But I have learned to remind myself that other people’s judgment of my event is not a judgment of my character or person, and that a poor response is not the result of my lack of faith or effectiveness. After God brought about this change in me, I was able to rejoice in serving even when attendance was dismal. Serving became a lot easier and happier when I stopped worrying about what people thought of me.

 

It is normal to feel disheartened by ministry; no one is immune to it. But these places of discouragement may be where God is pushing us to rely on Him more. God does not need us to help Him do His work, but it pleases Him when we rely on Him when we minister to others. God is far more interested in who we are, than what we do for Him.