How are you growing as a Sportsman? What lengths do you go to in order to become a master of your craft? We invest in new tools and sharpen old ones. We prepare our bodies through strength training and practice, our minds through studying our targets and tested practices from around the world. Where seasons for fishing and hunting can often feel so short, the off-seasons feel even shorter when there is so much for the sportsman to do in order to prepare.
Sure, there are many who fish, hunt and partake in creation simply for the fun of it. There are also those who obsess in the “off-season” in order to become stronger, stealthier, more innovative. Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, you can still proudly wear the badge of “Sportsman”.
Where there is room for the weekend-warrior in the recreation of the outdoors, God does not seek the same for His own family. He calls us to be His people. We are chosen to follow Him and transformed by the gospel for His glory. There is no room in Christian-living for the leisurely participant. Jesus’ command to “come and follow me” is not an invitation to dabble in religion. It is a call for radical life-change, and the beginning of a relationship with Jesus from which there is no way back.
The Apostle Paul calls us “slaves to Christ”, committed to to the pursuit of God’s glory and a life lived God’s way. We will never fully realize our potential as Christ-followers in our pursuit of holiness this side of heaven. But we are still called to constantly exercise the ordinary means of grace (the spiritual disciplines) in order that we might continue to grow on our relationship with God and become more obedient children of God.
God’s Glory and Our Obedience
The Bible clearly lays out the expectation that the Christ-follower is to be ever-growing in our walk with Jesus. The process is called sanctification. Sanctification is defined by the Westminster Catechism, Question 35 as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” As Paul states it, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:4, 6, 14 ESV).” Simply put, sanctification is the process of expected and certain growth the believer experiences through their whole, earthly experience as a Christ-follower.
Make no mistake, you are called to play an active role in your maturity as a believer. God is still the source of power and “glory-receiver” of your sanctification, but by His design, you are called to influence the rate at which you grow as a believer. It is proportional to your engagement with God. This is because He has provided us with the tools necessary to grow as His sheep. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit (Acts 1-2) and with Him, ordinary means by which we might grow in our walk.
Jesus earned salvation and redemption for us in grace by His obedience, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies that grace to us. He grows us through four things: Scripture, Prayer, Christian Fellowship and the Sacraments. It is through these things that the believer continues to grow in our piety and in our ability to serve God as we play our part in His mission to bring the lost to Himself.
If a husband and wife slept in different rooms, never spoke, ate every meal separate from each other, what would happen to their marriage? Would they even have a marriage at all? What one thing in common do you have amongst all of your lasting relationships with friends and family? You communicate. Communication is key in nurturing every relationship. Our relationship with God is no different. When He calls us to Himself, he calls us to a deep, intimate relationship. He wants to communicate with us through prayer and His Word. Psalm 119 (ESV) says, “Oh how I love your law. It is my meditation all the day.” Consume God’s Words and grow in your relationship with Him.
Psalms sets the tone for the expectation of the Believer’s engagement with the Words of God. Psalm 1:2 (ESV) says, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Do you delight in God’s Word? Do you think, read and pray on it each day? You should. Just as a good hunter learns to speak the language of his prey, knows it’s habits, desires, and calls, the Christian must learn to hear the voice of the Shepherd. The more we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, the deeper Holy Spirit applies grace and growth.
As we engage in His Word, the Holy Spirit takes them and works out our hearts, growing us stronger as children of God. Speak to your Heavenly Father daily and read His responses in written language. Oh, how we take it for granted! To think that an infinite God would humiliate Himself into human language so that we might know him? How amazing!
Focused, daily prayer is an Achilles’ heel in the western believer today. If you’re honest with yourself, you will likely admit that your prayer life is not great. I find that we don’t make it routine. Many believers often feel unequipped to pray, and too often only turn to prayer in crisis like financial trouble, health issues or something severe such as being on the last day of rifle season with nothing but empty tags! 1 Thessalonians (ESV) makes the formula simple for us on how often we should pray: “pray without ceasing.” Pray at scheduled times and when unexpected opportunities arise. In those moments also ask God to open your eyes to more impromptu opportunities where you should be drawn into a conversation with the Lord.
In Luke 11 the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. He responds with the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The Lord’s Prayer contained four elements that we should always remember when we pray: ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication). If we remember to think on these topics while we pray, we follow in the same model of Jesus. For example: Thanksgiving. When we read “give us our daily bread,” it implies recognition that our substance in survival comes from the Lord only. In our petition for Him to provide, we recognize that He alone can provide what we need physically and spiritual. It is in the recognition that we find gratitude. Adoration (praising God), confession and supplication (asking for what we need) are the other obvious themes in the Lord’s Prayer and should be the foundation of our prayers as well.
The ACTs prayer model equips the believer with a simple tool to begin to develop stronger prayer content that should be used throughout the day. Your prayer life should mature beyond this basic formula over time, but is a great place to start.
The Sacraments (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism)
For most hunters and fishermen, the best part is when the prize hits the skillet. I for one can’t get enough backstrap or smoked trout! The meal in many ways completes the whole outdoor experience. Genesis 25:28 shares how Isaac loved His son Esau more than Isaac because Esau was a hunter and Isaac loved eating the wild game. This is why I’m always sure to share my harvests with my Father and fight to be the favorite child!
In all seriousness though, the preparation, the pursuit, and the processing all comes to a head when we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
I feel similarly about partaking in the Lord’s Supper. At the moment we partake of this sacrament we find ourselves within a flurry of purpose and meaning. We are stirred to think upon Christ’s sacrifice, we anticipate His return, we celebrate His sure victory, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit applies upon us the grace secured for us at the cross and the empty tomb.
Baptism is celebration of new members coming under the covenant, the promise God made to be our God and to call to Himself a people (Genesis 12). Watching new members of God’s people celebrate baptism is a reminder of my membership in God’s family and the display of His love that He called me to Himself.
Partaking of these sacraments are some of the rewards of the Christian life, this side of Heaven. They are just some of the ways by which we exercise our faith in our relationship with Jesus. The Scriptures are clear: the sacraments belong only to those who belong to the people of God (I Corinthians 11:23-32, Matt 28:19). Like prayer, Scripture and fellowship with believers, the sacraments are a gift from God and a means by which the Holy Spirit continuous to applies grace to us. Believe in the Lord Jesus, partake of the sacraments in context of corporate worship, and cherish the saving grace that is given to those who belong to Jesus!
The key to being able to partake of these sacraments is to be in worship with other believers. It is not possible for the believer to partake of the sacraments, in obedience to scripture, outside of the church. It is only within the context multiple believers that this can be done. We are called to worship as “a people” in the body of Christ. It is pointless to claim to love Jesus, but to reject His bride. So go to the King in His place, at His time, and with His people. Go and worship regularly with the body of Christ.
I had two very different weekends this past rifle season. Opening weekend I went to deer camp with my father, my father-in-law, and a good friend from church. By far the best moment of the weekend was when my father shot his biggest buck and first deer after a ten year dry spell. When I heard that shot come from his stand opening morning, I felt like the weekend was complete! However, the rest of the weekend was amazing as I got to fellowship with my brothers in Christ and enjoy swapping jokes, stories and wisdom about life. Some moments were filled with laughter, others were more mild as we discussed challenges in life. For my buddy and me, we were able to gain wisdom from the older guys, and they were able to gain purpose as they passed on to us their experiences and lessons learned.
The second weekend started out with just me a deer camp. It was quiet, still and often lonely. Although I enjoyed the time to rest and think, I craved the fellowship from the weekend before. The same goes for the church. The church is not a building where people go to do “church-things” on Sundays. She is the body of Christ, made up of those whom God has called to Himself. He calls us to be in fellowship with one another. He designed our faith to be grown through the Holy Spirit when we engage in relationship with others who belong to Jesus. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV) says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
We are given clear direction by the writer of Hebrews to be involved in each other’s lives, spurring one another into maturity as Christ-followers (sanctification). Do not neglect time with believers or corporate worship on Sundays at church, this is a means of grace by which the Holy Spirit grows us into more effective vessels for His kingdom work. Partake in the diversity and experience the many members of the Church posses and become more sanctified through the relationships and wisdom others have gained through their walk with God.
How have you experienced spiritual growth recently? Leave a comment!