The principle of response is vital to spiritual progress. You see, our walk with God is kind of like a game of checkers. He moves. Then we move.
What is the purpose of your life as a Christian? Have you ever thought about that? I have. Back when I was first born again, I used to think the reason God saved me was to keep me out of hell. As I grew up in the Lord and began to learn about His goodness, I upgraded my ideas. I decided that God’s reason for sending Jesus was not just to keep me out of hell, but to get me to Heaven. So my purpose in life was just to get to Heaven.
In later years, however, I began to see that my purpose was much bigger than that. I realized that God had something truly magnificent in mind when, through the blood of Jesus, He gave birth to the Church.
I saw in the Bible that God saved us so we could do the same thing that Jesus was sent to do—manifest God in the earth!
Just as Jesus was born as a man so He could make God to be seen and known by men, just as He was sent to display God’s righteousness, His character, His nature, and His power, we were born again for the same purpose (see John 17:18).
God’s ideal Christian is not just a person who is ready to go to Heaven. It’s not just a person who lives a good life and has victory over sin and sickness and the Devil. It includes all those things, but it’s a million times more than that. God’s ideal is spelled out in Ephesians 4 and it is this: “That we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God, that we might arrive at really mature manhood (the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ’s own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him” (v. 13).
That is where we are headed. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, has planned for us to keep growing spiritually until we are just like Jesus.
Changing by Degree
The Bible tells us how it will happen. It will happen a little at a time. God is not going to hit us with one big glory ball one day and transform us in an instant. He is changing us by degrees. Second Corinthians 3:18 says it this way: “And all of us, as with unveiled face, because we continued to behold in the Word of God, as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another.”
When we think about our lives being changed, we usually think about the changes that need to take place in our attitudes and our actions. Certainly, those are things that need to be changed in all of us. But did you know that the more we change, the more we will progress spiritually? As God takes us to new degrees of glory, we will grow keener and more sensitive to the realm of the spirit. We’ll be able to perceive things by the Spirit, just the way Jesus did.
When Jesus walked into a difficult situation (and He certainly walked into many of them), He never stopped and said, “What’s going on? What’s the deal here?” No, He always knew what was going on, because He was spiritually keen.
Do you think Jesus was born with that kind of spiritual sensitivity? Do you think keenness just hit Him automatically like whiplash, because He was the Son of God? No, the Bible says He grew into that. It says, “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52).
In His life and ministry, there was a progression. The same is true for us. Our walk with God is truly a walk! It is a step-by-step progression into higher places in Him. We don’t leap into spiritual places. We don’t pole vault into them. We walk into them one step at a time.
Response: A Key to Spiritual Advancement
If God’s will is for us all to be continually progressing spiritually, if it’s His will for us all to be walking continually, step-by-step, up this glory road, why do some people stop? Why do they reach a certain place with God and get stuck there?
There are two reasons. The first is this: They stop using their faith for spiritual advancement. Remember how much faith it required for you to speak in tongues for the first time? Or raise your hands in worship the first time? You felt uncomfortable, and you had to exercise your faith to stretch spiritually to that new place. But after awhile, you could speak in tongues or lift your hands without using an ounce of faith. It was familiar territory, and you weren’t venturing out into anything more. If you ever stop using your faith to advance in God, you will stagnate spiritually.
The second reason people stop making spiritual progress is the one I want to focus on most. It is this: They stop responding to God. I’m telling you, God doesn’t want people who just routinely get their list of right things to do, and say, and pray—people who just work their list without ever checking with Him. He wants a living relationship with people. He wants people to respond to Him.
The principle of response is vital to spiritual progress. You see, our walk with God is kind of like a game of checkers. He moves. Then we move. Then He moves again… and we respond to that move.
The moment we stop responding, the game is over. God can’t take us any higher.
One person that always comes to my mind when I think about responding to God is Moses. He had an awesome call of God on His life. He was called to be a deliverer of the Israelites. But the first time he set out to do that, he did it all wrong and he ended up on the backside of the desert tending sheep.
Do you remember what happened in that desert? God started a fire in a bush. Actually, God Himself got in that bush so it looked like it was burning. Now Moses didn’t know that was God. He just noticed this bush kept burning without being consumed. So what did he do? He turned aside to see it.
In other words, Moses responded to God in that bush. If he hadn’t, that would have been the end of that story. But thank God, it wasn’t. Moses turned aside “and when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, Moses, Moses! And he said, Here am I” (Ex. 3:4).
Can you see the pattern? God moved. Moses responded. Then God moved again.
I’ve noticed over the years that many times when God prompts me in my heart to do something it may not seem very spiritual at the time. It might be something very natural like taking a walk in my neighborhood. But if I’ll do it, God will open up something new for me.
Recently, I heard a well-known minister give a wonderful example of this. He said a few years ago, the Lord impressed on his heart to get in his car, drive down to the church parking lot, and sit there for a while. He didn’t know why. He didn’t understand it. But nonetheless he obeyed.
That minister sat in the parking lot of the church all afternoon. He kept expecting something to happen. He kept expecting God to tell him why he was there. But hour after hour went by with no hint as to why he was there. Finally, the sun went down and the minister sensed a release in his heart that it was all right for him to leave and go home.
The very next day, God gave him the vision for a worldwide ministry. He showed this minister what to do and how to do it. And in the years since, that vision has come to pass.
Do you know what God said to that man about the day he spent in the parking lot? He said, “If I couldn’t trust you to obey Me when I told you to go sit in that parking lot, I wouldn’t have been able to trust you with the vision for this ministry.”
Natural Things Bring Supernatural Results
If you’ll look through the Bible you’ll find that time and again, God led people to do things that were seemingly very simple and natural. But when they obeyed, their obedience opened the door to the supernatural working of God in their lives.
In the New Testament, we see Jesus telling people to do very natural things. He put mud on a blind man’s eyes and told him to go wash it off in a particular pool of water. He told Peter to launch his boat out into the deep and let down his net for a catch of fish. He told the servants at the wedding feast of Cana to fill six water pots with water.
Not one of those things brought any Holy Ghost goose bumps. None of them seemed at the time very spiritual. But all of them opened the door for God to do the supernatural in the lives of those who responded.
So often we, as believers, miss what God is putting in our hearts because we’re waiting for Him to lead us to do something tremendously spiritual. We’re looking for a mountain to split. We’re looking for angels to sing. But all the while, God is moving on our hearts in some simple fashion, just impressing us to drive down the street, make a certain phone call, or just pick up the Bible and begin to read wherever our gaze happens to fall.
How often do we fail to respond to those things? How often do we doubt those leadings and say, “Oh, that probably wasn’t God. It was probably just my own idea.” Listen, we have to begin using our faith to get past that kind of thinking. People who have truly amazing adventures in God, people who progress to wonderful places in their walks with Him don’t think that way. They don’t think they’re just little natural people living little natural lives with little natural thoughts.
No, they actually believe the God of the universe is living inside them. They believe the very same Holy Spirit that set the stars in their courses and created the earth, is moving in their hearts. They believe He is talking to them, and they are listening and responding.
It takes faith to live like that. You have to actually believe that Jesus meant it when He said, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things” (John 15:26).
Meditate on scriptures that assure you of His leadership in your life. Then build yourself up on that faith by praying in other tongues (Jude 21). Get yourself in a place of expectancy, and when He leads you to do the slightest thing… respond!
God knows if you’re a beginner. He’s not going to start out by telling you to sell your house and move to Africa tomorrow. He’ll start by telling you to do simple things like take a walk around the neighborhood and pray for your neighbors, or call a certain person and encourage them. Even if you miss it a little in doing something like that, it’s not going to hurt anything. And by putting your faith into action, you’ll open the door for God to take you higher!
If you will dare to believe that God will lead you, if you will dare to respond to those leadings, you will embark on the most exciting life you can imagine. There is nothing more fun, nothing more thrilling than a day-by-day adventure with the Holy Ghost. You might start out taking tiny baby steps, but if you’ll keep going, God will keep changing you from one degree of glory to another until one day, you’ll be walking in the very footsteps of Jesus!