Whether you are in leadership or not, the issue of how to keep spiritually strong is an important one. It is critical when you are a church planter or ministry starter, though. I have heard a lot of talks on leadership and the subject that keeps coming up is character. A failure of leadership is almost always a failure of character. No one feels qualified to talk about how to be spiritually strong and maybe those most qualified are those who think they are least qualified to talk about this subject. One thing I’ve learned is that the closer to God you go, the more you become conscious of sin in your life. Nevertheless, my blogging schedule says this is the topic. (I’m kicking myself for picking this topic months ago when I made the schedule. Thanks self.)
Let me be specific about what I am talking about. There are two different areas of being spiritually strong. 1. Spiritually strong might mean a day to day filling of the Holy Spirit where you are godly by virtue of having your mind on Jesus each moment and far from sin. 2. Spiritually strong might also mean having a godly character generated by a lifetime of growth. We call it spiritual maturity. There has been so much written about the first kind of spiritual strength, I don’t think I can add much to it. It is simply the fruit of fighting your sins, filling your mind with the Word of God, fellowship, being a living sacrifice to God and so on. People much greater than I have written about it. CRU International has a The Spirit Filled Life, it is worth a few hundred reads or so. I will be talking about the second kind. How do you develop a Godly character?
You Cannot Develop Godly Character
Okay, I get it, you want to slap me. This only proves that you are a sinner. All kidding aside, it’s only God who can develop in you Godly character. All you can do is cooperate in the process. First let’s get out of the way a myth we believed when we first became believers. We had it in our minds that we could set up a checklist of sins we could conquer, then attack each item and remove the sins in our lives day by day, year by year. When we conquered this list we would be godly! I remember setting up just such a list in my mind, I began attacking item number 1 on it. Many, many years later I’m still struggling with item number 1. Although that is pathetic, that is also for the best. The people who get their “godliness” this way don’t actually become godly. We have a word for them, “legalists”. Every success on your list brings with it a measure of pride until your godliness becomes self-righteousness. The real number 1 on everyone’s list should be pride. You can never check this one off. Once you do, you know you are prideful.
Godly Character is Not About Removing Sins
Sinlessness does not make a person godly. People in a coma are sinless. That does not make them godly. You spend 6-8 hours a day in a sinless state but we call that sleeping, not godliness. Your wife may call it noisy if you snore. The point was never about not sinning. In fact, not sinning is only half the equation. The other half is doing what you ought to. In fact, godliness is not about what you do in the first place. It is character. It is a heart condition. If you want to be godly, you must change your heart and that cannot be arrived at in a straight-forward manner.
How Do We Grow?
Romans 13: simplifies this for us: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except to the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” A godly heart is a heart that loves like Christ does. How do we develop this heart? We develop it by experiencing love. I John 4:19 – “We love because he first loved us.” How do we experience love? Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Here is the center of it all: Your godly character will come from a lifetime of grace. Grace makes us feel loved. This awakens our hearts and makes us love. Love fulfills the Law. This is where godliness comes from. It is from a lifetime of us being unfaithful and yet needing his forgiveness, having his forgiveness and experiencing his love. This godliness is not apparent to you. You only realize it is there when others see it in you. You’re surprised to see it there. What you’re used to seeing yourself as is a person who struggles and needs grace. What the rest of the world sees is humility, love, kindness, gentleness and more. Godliness is not sinlessness, it is a heart condition and you need it. It will make the difference between whether you encourage someone or discourage them. It will make the difference between listening to God’s voice or going your own way in a crisis. It does not come cheap.
Believe it or not, it comes from fighting your sins with all your heart, mind and soul. Why? No one who capitulates to sin feels its power. You only realize how far short you fall when you give it your all and still manage to mess it all up. In those moments you realize your need for grace. If your pride is willing to accept that grace, the grace infects your heart. This same mechanism happens in personal (not moral) failure and in suffering. It is those moments when you feel not good enough on a deep level and Jesus comes in with grace and says, “you are perfect in my sight.”
There it is, how to be spiritually strong. It is no easy road. God can form you, though. I have no instantaneous answers for you though. This is a process and at no point will you feel like you have arrived. In fact, its hallmark will be that you will never see it in yourself. It is, though, every bit your act of service to those who serve under you and to those you minister to.