How Do We Grow Through Difficulties?

Have you ever had a situation where you wish you reacted differently? Maybe you wish you were more gracious, or more loving and kind. Maybe it wasn’t even something you verbalized, but something you thought in your mind. Perhaps you’re reading this and you wish the default of your mind was “trust in God” and not worry. Do you ever wish you could navigate stressful situations while not getting so stressed? You want peace, joy, faith, hope, and love to be your daily experience, but it just seems so elusive. Difficult seasons make us very conscious of how much we need to grow. They often bring out the worst in us and we are left being very aware of our sin and shortcomings. 

So we go out and look for the silver bullet that will fix us. Or we set out with fresh determination and zeal and try hard, thinking this time things are going to be different, this time we actually will change. But we quickly learn there is no silver bullet and we don’t have what it takes. Growth doesn’t happen by just trying harder. Growth doesn’t come from some elusive piece of information that will magically fix us. So how do we grow?

In Colossians 1 the Apostle Paul is going to show us how we already have everything we need in Christ for our growth. We don’t have to run around and be frustrated with where we are at spiritually. We can grow into the person that God has saved us to be.  

Step One: Fill Your Mind With God’s Word

The first “step” in our growth as Christians is to allow your mind to be filled with the knowledge of God. 

Colossians 1:9 For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,

To be filled means being filled to the brim, stuffed, or complete. The idea is we are so filled with God’s Word that it has the controlling influence over our lives, to the point we do things we wouldn’t usually do. Writer Max Anders said, “Being controlled by God’s will should cause us to do things we might not otherwise do-things like enduring rather than giving up, like being patient with others rather than getting angry with them.” 

The Apostle Paul is praying in Colossians 1 that we would grow to a place where what God says has the ultimate influence on our lives. People that are centered on Christ the living Word will always be centered on the Bible the written Word. We will begin to experience spiritual growth when we grow in our comprehension and application to the Word of God. The more we grow in our knowledge of God, the more we will know his character, his ways, and his expectations; the more we will grow into being like Jesus.

People that are centered on Christ the living Word will always be centered on the Bible the written Word.

God has given the human brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells or neurons. For adults, this happens whenever something new is learned and memorized. Every time we learn something new our brain forms new neurons and makes the pathways to those neurons stronger or weaker. Neural pathways are the paths your brain takes to find what it has learned. 

All of us have had that experience when we couldn’t remember something that we were sure we knew, only to remember it hours later. That’s because the neural pathway to that information was weak and it took your brain a while to find it. If we don’t do anything with that information, those neurons eventually fade out of existence. If you don’t use it, you lose it. (Think Bing Bong in the movie Inside Out. Great, now I’m crying. Why Pixar, why?)

On the flip side, all of us have things we know a lot about and we could instantly rattle off facts and information about. That’s because we have a strong neural pathway to that information and our brain knows exactly where to find it. So when the Bible tells us to renew our minds or fill ourselves with God’s truth, it’s telling us to re-write our brains with the truths of scripture so that we can be transformed and walk worthy of God. And as we live out God’s Word, those neural pathways in our brain become stronger and stronger. And the neural pathways that lead to worry, or sin, or fear, grow weaker and weaker. As we do this our minds and hearts will more quickly go to God’s will when we are confronted with a choice and then our actions will follow. Renewing your mind allows the fruit of the Gospel to become the default of your life. 

Step Two: Live Out God’s Word

Colossians 1:10 so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God,

The phrase “walk worthy” refers to the way we live our lives. Walking worthy of God is not about making God love you more, it’s more about being an accurate reflection of who God is. Paul is praying that we would look like Jesus. Because while we enjoy God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, we can do things that don’t please God. So what does walking worthy of the Lord look like?

Walking worthy of God is not about making God love you more, it’s more about being an accurate reflection of who God is.

We bare fruit in every good work – vs. 10a Good works are not a means of grace, but a result of grace. Authentic saving faith always produces the fruit of good work.  

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

God has a plan and a mission for you to do. One of the ways we spiritually grow is by becoming more involved in God’s mission. The idea that we need to grow before we can be involved in God’s mission hinders our growth. We don’t grow before we get involved, we grow by getting involved. 

We endure with patience, joy, and thanksgiving – vs. 11b-12a Have you ever heard someone say “Don’t pray for patience? Because God will give you opportunities to be patient.” What they mean is they don’t want to be confronted with things that make them impatient. It’s sad but instead of relying on God to grow, often we would rather avoid our need to grow. But we don’t usually grow inside of our comfort zone. Take nature for example. A seed has to be buried, die, then break apart for something grow. Every time a person or any living thing is born, it’s born through pain. As little kids grow up they get growing pains. The same is true in our lives. We don’t grow by staying in our comfort zone. Inside of our comfort zone, nothing will reveal our need to grow. That’s why Paul prays that we would lean into those growing pains with endurance, patience, joy, and thanksgiving.

Step Three: Trust In God’s Strength

Colossians 1:11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully

Now, a lot of what I just wrote in the last step is hard. I might even argue impossible. We have all tried and failed. We have been weighed, measured, and found wanting. The good news is we don’t have to avoid difficult situations that reveal our need to grow because we can be strengthened by God according to His glorious might. Not our strength. God’s. Check out what Paul also said in Romans 5. 

Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces enduranceendurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Our strength will not give us the endurance we need to grow, but God’s strength will. The supernatural endurance that God gives will allow us to be faithful throughout our lives, it enables us to joyfully give thanks to God even when things are difficult, it allows us to be long-suffering with people and not retaliate, and it keeps us from throwing our hands up in the air and quitting on God. Our need to grow is often incredibly overwhelming, the good news is that the power of God is available to make that growth possible. We can walk worthy of our Lord with endurance and patience and joy through life’s difficulties because we are strengthened by the power of God according to his glorious might. We don’t have to shy away from difficulties, we don’t have to shy away from the hard work of growing, we can face them head-on and grow because we have God’s power at our disposal. Trust in God’s strength. This requires a heart posture of humility and dependence while we do the hard work of growing. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians. 

Our strength will not give us the endurance we need to grow, but God’s strength will.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

By the grace of God, we can work hard at growing, while keeping our dependence on Christ, not on our work. 

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