• James provides a wealth of information to help us  identify areas in which we can grow spiritually. In the past two issues we have considered 8 of  the 12 keys to spiritual growth:
  • key 1: Count trials as a joy to grow
  • key 2: Saying ‘no’ will help us growy
  • key 3: Read and obey the word of God to grow
  • key 4: Love thy neighbour to grow
  • Key 5: Practise genuine faith to grow
  • Key 6: Tame the tongue and grow spiritually
  • Key 7: Replace earthly wisdom with godly wisdom
  • Key 8: We are engaged in a battle against the flesh and the world

Let’s now look at the remaining 4 keys and see how Jesus Christ perfectly reflected all 12 keys in his life.

Key 9: We depend more on God, not less

James 4:15 says: “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”

When children are young, they depend utterly on their parents or caregivers. This hit home recently when I took my six month old baby into a swimming pool for the first time. While the baby is happily splashing away, unaware of the dangers, they are safely in your hands – hands which will never ever let go.

As children grow older, they start to gain independence. They get to a point when they start to say ‘no’ or they come to you proudly saying, “Look at what I did all by myself ”. It is in our nature to desire independence. By the time we have reached adulthood, our culture teaches us to do things all by ourselves, to be self-made and self-reliant. Spiritual growth means that we have to depend more on God, not less. As we grow older we need to do things that are the will of God – to become Godmade and God-reliant. Do we still think of ourselves as little children, being held up by the hand of God? Isaiah 41:10 (Amp) puts it beautifully: “Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.” This is exactly the type of support we need and can rely on – the mighty hand of God that will never ever let go.

James is showing us that when we depend more on God, it should change the way we approach our planning and goal setting. He is showing that we shouldn’t make our plans based on our desires, our ambitions or what we want in life. Instead, we should make sure that God is at the very heart of our goal setting and planning. In fact, our goals and plans should be nothing less than God’s goals and plans. Our dependence on God starts with our acknowledgement that we can do nothing without Him, that He is totally in control, that what we do, we do if it is His will. God wants us to depend on Him and to call on Him when we need His help, to plan our lives based on Him. He wants us to grow spiritually by relying less on ourselves and more on Him.

Key 10: Overcome greed and grow

In the first six verses of James 5 he turns his attention to those whose ambition in life is the accumulation of wealth by any means necessary. These rich men focused on:

  • Hoarding a great deal of wealth – much more than they would ever need in their whole life; so much so that James says their riches are rotting away and their many garments are moth eaten.
  • Defrauding the brethren and sisters to increase their own wealth.
    James is not condemning wealth, money and riches. Abraham was a very wealthy man by any standard and James referred to him as the Friend of God (James 2:23). David was king of the nation and had riches yet he was described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

What James is condemning is selfish greed: those who worship money and make it their God, those who are devoted to nothing else except acquiring money and using it for selfish purposes. As Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

It is possible for anyone to lose focus on God and err from the faith. Greed can do this because our focus shifts to satisfying our greed instead of God. Our spiritual growth will be stunted if money provides us with comfort, diverts our attention, gives us a feeling of self-reliance or fills us with pride in our own success.

Why? Because in God’s divine will, He should be our only comfort, doing the work of God should be our only diversion and God should be in control of our lives. Rather than celebrating our own achievements, God should receive our gratitude as the One who provides our needs.

In order to grow, we need to shift our focus away from the temporary things of this life toward the eternal things of God. God wants us to lay up our treasure in Heaven.

Key 11: Actively and patiently anticipate the coming of Jesus

James instructs us in 5:7 to “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” One day, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth and establish the Kingdom. God will renew this earth, save His people and fill the earth with His glory. It’s an amazing hope and a day deeply longed for by many past and present. Until that day, we have opportunity to grow spiritually by developing a keen anticipation for the coming of Jesus. James reminds us of the coming of Christ. We are growing spiritually when we don’t give up, when we don’t throw in the towel, when we wait actively and patiently for the Lord to return.

James gives us 3 examples of this type of patience and what we need to be doing:

  •  5:7 “The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for  it.”All believers can develop a ‘farmer’s temperament’.  Farmers don’t sow a seed and then the  next day wonder if the crop is ready. They know it will happen in the set time. Just as the fruit will come, so too will the Lord come – we have to wait patiently. But also the farmer doesn’t just sit back and watch the seed grow. He continues to work and plan for the eventual harvesting,  packaging, transport and sales. Like the farmer, we  are encouraged to grow spiritually as we continue to wait and work in faith until the Lord returns.
  •  5:10 “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” All believers  can develop the ‘prophet’s temperament’  – look at how patiently they endured and what  they suffered. When we consider their examples,  it will give us the comfort and stamina to endure.  Like the prophets, we are encouraged to grow spiritually by witnessing and watching until the Lord returns. There is no better way to do this than by keeping an eye on the current events to see the hand of God in the nations and by preaching our Hope to others.
  •    5:11 “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job.”  All believers should have ‘Job’s temperament’ and  follow his example of patience and endurance. Job suffered many things and was humbled, but was then honoured. Just as Job was able to meet God on the other side of his suffering, a new man, and knowing Him in a deeper way, so God is going to meet us in a deeper way. Just as God gave a double blessing to Job so too will He bless us. Like Job, we are encouraged to grow spiritually by relying on the tender mercy of God until the Lord returns.

God wants us to realise that everything that we have suffered, every false accusation, every pain we have been through, will be restored in the harvest. Our blessings will be multiplied beyond our expectations:  just wait, patiently.

Key 12: Pray and grow

James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. Here James gives us the twelfth key to spiritual growth – prayer. Prayer is our direct communication with the Father. If we are communicating with God then we are building a relationship with Him. If we are building a relationship with God then we are growing spiritually. To not pray or communicate with God will stunt our spiritual growth. As Jesus said: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matt 26:41).

Elijah is used by James as an example of the need for prayer. Seemingly out of nowhere, Elijah bursts onto the scene and says to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). James notes in verse 17 that before Elijah even stood before Ahab he had “prayed earnestly that it might not rain”. Such is the power of prayer.

The Scripture provides us with a very simple outline of how we can grow spiritually through prayer. It teaches us the ‘when’, ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘for whom’ of prayer.How often should we pray? Paul provides us the answer in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing”.

  • How should we pray? The psalmist writes in Psalm 66:17, “I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue
  • What should we pray for? James provides a number of examples in 5:13–20. He shows that we should: pray when we’re happy or sad (v13), pray for the sick (v14), pray for forgiveness of sins (v15–16), pray for the will of God to shape the plan and purpose of the earth (v17) and pray for the faithfulness of others (v20).
  • Who should we pray for? In 1 Timothy 2:1–2 we read: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”.

We can turn to no better person for a model prayer than the Lord himself. We know the prayer well in Matthew 6:9–13: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

We can take encouragement that our prayers are heard and answered by our Father. God wants us to pray to Him. He wants us to share our innermost feelings, our concerns, our goals, our motives, our heartbreak, our joy. Regular communication with our Father is going to ensure that we grow spiritually.

Jesus the ultimate example of growth

The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of a man who exemplified spiritual growth. We know from Luke 2 that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. This is a comforting fact for us to consider, that even Jesus grew. In his life we find examples of the 12 keys of spiritual growth we have considered.

Jesus knew the trials he would suffer and faced them with an unflustered heart. With a resolute determination he said, “The Son ofThe Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of a man who exemplified spiritual growth. We know from Luke 2 that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. This is a comforting fact for us to consider, that even Jesus grew. In his life we find examples of the 12 keys of spiritual growth we have considered.

  1. Jesus knew the trials he would suffer and faced them with an unflustered heart. With a resolute determination he said, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22).
  2. He said ‘no’ to the temptations and fled from them. While Jesus fasted in the wilderness, the tempter appealed to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Each time, Jesus said ‘no’ and told the tempter, “Get thee hence, Satan” (Matt 4:10).
  3. He read the Scripture and obeyed every word. Paul wrote that Jesus “became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8).
  4. He loved his neighbours, even giving his own life for them. As Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).
  5. His faith was put into action every day he walked the earth. Jesus had genuine faith and was able to pray to his Father to heal the sick, raise the dead and forgive sins, having faith that God would respond. This is why he was able to say, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matt 17:20).
  6. He had complete control over his tongue. Isaiah noted that Jesus was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).
  7. Jesus filled his mind with the wisdom of his Father rather than the wisdom of the world. So much was his mind filled with the wisdom of God, that God was able to say of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt 17:5). His words would reflect the wisdom of God.
  8. Jesus was victorious over sin and death, he did not give into his human nature and did not give in to the world. Paul spoke about the battle Christ won over sin and death: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
  9. He had utter dependence on his Father. Jesus said of himself, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30).
  10. He instructed people that to give was better than to receive and was never greedy. In Acts we are told “to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
    He now sits on the right hand of the Father, waiting patiently and actively for the time appointed to return. The last chapter of the Bible shows us that Jesus is anticipating the day, as he promises us, “Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me” (Rev 22:12).
  11. He prayed continually and is now a mediator between God and us. There are many examples of Jesus praying. Perhaps the most powerful scene is in the garden of Gethsemane. We find that, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly”. Paul points out that Jesus is “even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).
  12. Jesus committed his whole life to these things and will soon return to this earth. Let us follow his example and, in the time we have remaining, strive not only to grow spiritually ourselves but to help each other grow. man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22).
  13. He said ‘no’ to the temptations and fled from them. While Jesus fasted in the wilderness, the tempter appealed to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Each time, Jesus said ‘no’ and told the tempter, “Get thee hence, Satan” (Matt 4:10).
  14. He read the Scripture and obeyed every word. Paul wrote that Jesus “became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8).
    He loved his neighbours, even giving his own life for them. As Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).
  15. His faith was put into action every day he walked the earth. Jesus had genuine faith and was able to pray to his Father to heal the sick, raise the dead and forgive sins, having faith that God would respond. This is why he was able to say, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matt 17:20).
  16. He had complete control over his tongue. Isaiah noted that Jesus was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).
  17. Jesus filled his mind with the wisdom of his Father rather than the wisdom of the world. So much was his mind filled with the wisdom of God, that God was able to say of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt 17:5). His words would reflect the wisdom of God.
  18. Jesus was victorious over sin and death, he did not give into his human nature and did not give in to the world. Paul spoke about the battle Christ won over sin and death: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
  19. He had utter dependence on his Father. Jesus said of himself, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30).
  20. He instructed people that to give was better than to receive and was never greedy. In Acts we are told “to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
  21. He now sits on the right hand of the Father, waiting patiently and actively for the time appointed to return. The last chapter of the Bible shows us that Jesus is anticipating the day, as he promises us, “Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me” (Rev 22:12).
  22. He prayed continually and is now a mediator between God and us. There are many examples of Jesus praying. Perhaps the most powerful scene is in the garden of Gethsemane. We find that, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly”. Paul points out that Jesus is “even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).

Jesus committed his whole life to these things and will soon return to this earth. Let us follow his example and, in the time we have remaining, strive not only to grow spiritually ourselves but to help each other grow.