Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Growing in Transition:  Learning our Identity and Purpose

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Last time we grew as we discovered the strange connection between suffering and joy; this link shows a very deep trust in God.  This foundational trust is the very same part of faith that carried the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned for the Gospel. It is also the same strange joy that continues to carry and fill the lives of missionaries like Rolland and Heidi Baker. This vulnerable depth of faith also emits a beautiful fragrance of Jesus. I sensed this “godly perfume” in the lives of the persecuted Christians that I met in Shantinagar, Pakistan and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  When we are also willing to count the cost of our faith, and push through in very difficult circumstances, we also become much more refined in our character.  We begin to look, sound and even smell like the resurrected Jesus!  It’s his presence in us!

There is another kind of season that can be difficult for people – that of transition.   Desert or wilderness life experiences are one form of transition, but these are often gradual change.  (Link to desert article)  But sometimes circumstances happen quickly – you can be accelerated into the next season of your life before you have a chance to catch up, so you learn to re-orient yourself.  Other times, you may be stuck in a season of hiddenness that seems to go on and on, only because you can’t see the end of what you are going through.  Yet in the midst of this change, there are these constants: the faithfulness and love of God, and that you are deeply loved.  We are not orphans. We are not rejected. This is a time to seek God even more.  He is calling us to our identity as beloved children of God.  We don’t have to work for our inheritance. It is already ours.

I used to be a performance-driven people pleaser.  I got to be very good at gauging people’s moods and anticipating their needs.  But deep down inside there was a deep insecurity.  I needed love and had a huge love deficit.  I gave love, but somehow I expected to earn showers of love towards me.  Even my own love had conditions on it – I wanted those I cared about to feel the same about me.  Yet the love of God is unconditional.  We don’t have to earn it.   I remember a pivotal time in my life happened quietly in a small mobile church in Thornhill, Ontario.  Our pastor handed out small business cards and told us, “here is the highest calling you will ever have.”   What did it say on the card?  It simply said, “Child of God.”  I remember holding this card in my hands.  My mind said, “What is this?  It’s too simple. That’s not enough.  Who am I really?  I’m this, and this, and this…”  But I didn’t have that foundation of love in my heart that showed how secure I was as a daughter, as God’s child. My heart ached and I cried and cried.  I don’t remember receiving ministry, but I must have.  I needed to grow in my identity as a child of God.

Deepest Needs: Significance and Security

Larry Crabb is a Christian counsellor and pastor.  He was one of the writers we  read in my Tyndale Seminary counselling courses in the late 1990’s.  I remember he talked about the two deepest human needs: that of significance and of security.  At that time in my life, I had a security deficit. I  tried to fill it with accomplishments I was achieving on the significance side of life.   After I married my husband Tony, he became a significant part of  healing  my security deficit;  although it was really God who completely filled that huge sinkhole.  God healed me directly by  continually filling me with his love and through the love of my husband and friends.

After my insecurity issues were dealt with, I went through a difficult season when I discovered I also had a significance deficit.  When I was in school, I filled that need with my academic pursuits, even though these were not enough.  Also when I married, I was sidelined away from a ministry career for a time, so the deficit became even more obvious.  I felt like I was stuck in the desert with no way out of it.  God began to refine that area of my life.  In time, I came to lean less on fulfilling tasks as a way to receive  significance.  Again, my deepest significance is ALSO fulfilled in actively being a child of God.  Degrees, mission trips, radio shows and lay ministry experience are all wonderful things, but these roles don’t replace who you are in Christ.  You are, as a son, or as a daughter –  secure in his love for you. You are not a slave that works for a master.  You are a child who inherits. As an inheritor, you also have a role to represent the Father. That is your purpose.  Jesus, through the Holy Spirit,  fills you to do whatever you are to do for him.  When you learn to surrender and fully trust his leading in your life, your significance is confirmed over and over as he works through you.  Your highest significance is as God’s child; and each child has a unique ministry. Proverbs teaches us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

While you spend time acknowledging God, he gives you your assignment and all necessary grace to accomplish it.  He provides the path that is unique for each of us. He prepares us in advance for whatever work we are called to do. He utilizes all of our skills, talents and gifts to work together in a perfect blend. He makes us “uniquely us,” and he gives us the power and love to jump deeply into more of who we were meant to be. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Sometimes these works look different in each season, depending on the assignment that God will give us.  When we do these works, they bring deep satisfaction: whether they are monetized as part of our careers, whether they are part of our natural helping roles, or whether  they are a supernatural ministry gift (see 1 Corinthians 12).

What is God asking you to be?  Unless you know who you really are, you’ll never reach your full potential.  You are called to fullness and success, but it is the Father who imparts your identity and purpose.   Just as it took you time to grow up physically from babyhood to adulthood, so it often takes time to grow up spiritually.  And in this process and season of “there but not yet,”  it really is all about trust.  As you trust God, he will give you tasks to do, and many wonderful surprises along the way.  Open your eyes and look for them.  He will not disappoint.  Take time with him and let him love you. Allow him access into the secret areas of your heart and give him all your plans.  He will reshape all of your life in a way that is infinitely beautiful.

When I was on my first mission trip in Northern Ireland, I discovered the music of Robin Mark.  His song “All for Jesus” was instrumental in the complete surrender that opened up healing of my insecurity.  Sure, I entered into a desert season for a while, but it was necessary to deepen my trust.  The same happened when I surrendered in the all the areas of significance and ministry.  It brought me to another desert, and again, it was essential to take out thorns in my heart.  Again, it was necessary to deepen my trust in another way.  I am not the same person I was when I first journeyed to Northern Ireland in 1995. For this I am very thankful.  Both of these needs are summed up in Robin’s song “All for Jesus“, as well as the Bethel Music song “Good Shepherd.”

Next time, we will continue our journey and learn how to deepen our identity  in seasons of silence and God saying “no.”  As we walk, we’ll sing Amanda Cook’s lyrics (from Good Shepherd).  “In the process, in the waiting, you’re making melodies over me. And your presence is the promise; for I am a pilgrim on a journey…”

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann Copple

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Growing through worship: in Spirit and in Truth

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by Laurie-Ann Copple

Last time we discovered that we can grow in God through worship. It doesn’t matter which cultural form or style you choose. Worship isn’t just singing hymns or praise songs. It’s an attitude of the heart. Worship includes the work that God is doing in you while you worship Him. It is there that we discover how to worship in spirit and in truth, as Jesus asks us to do in John 4: 23 – 24.

What does it mean to worship in spirit? I had wondered about what that really means until I attended a conference called the Glory School. We learned what heavenly worship is like. We also discovered what God’s heart was toward all humankind – even those who refuse to know and love him. I became fascinated with the truth that as Christians, our spirits are already worshipping in heaven while our bodies are here on earth. We are three-part beings that are made in the image of God. If your spirit is alive in him, you are in a sense, with him. This means we can worship God in the midst of doing ordinary things, like 17th century Brother Lawrence teaches in Practising the Presence of God. We are in two places. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “we are ‘seated’ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).” In a sense we are already part of a heavenly choir, much bigger than any church choir or worship team.

What is this “three-part being?” We are! We have a physical body, a soul (mind, emotions and will), and we have a spirit: the part of us that is touched by God and filled with his Spirit. When we love Jesus, our spirits are connected to God and united with Him. Our soul has a choice to be involved, and we can decide not to worship God at that time, but this grieves Him. We’re not as close as we could be unless we choose to say yes to him. Worshipping in spirit involves the deepest part of you, your spirit. Yet it is very special when your body and soul are also involved in worship. When you worship in your spirit, you can do other things with your body; such as working, cooking, driving (with your eyes open) and spending time with your family. You could of course be doing ministry. If you worship inside while doing ministry, it makes your outreach very special, since God works through you more effectively when you are focused on Him. It can also make it much easier to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit inside your heart, since you’re already in communication with him. It becomes a natural relational flow from you to God and from God to you. This is also the key of ‘abiding’ that Jesus refers to in John 15: 1-8. He is the vine, and we are the branches. Branches grow effortlessly when they are attached to the vine. This abiding in God gives you deep contentment. Like the Apostle Paul, you can become content in all things (Phil 4: 11-13) because you are focused on Jesus and know that he will never leave you.

The concept of worshipping in truth can be hard to understand at first. However, I believe it simply means to worship in truth is to be honest with God about who you are. Don’t hide anything from Him. As you get closer to God, you may see yourself as more sinful, but that is the way it should be. You just begin to see yourself as you really are – a sinner saved by grace and adopted his love. This allows you to be thankful and hungry for more of his presence. So as you realize who you are, you also realize who God is to you.

Let me explain in another way. Some people have a problem with understanding God as Father. Due to this, they have trouble worshipping him because they think of mistakes their own earthly father made. But God is not that earthly father who made those mistakes. God is pure love and is perfect. If you open yourself up and allow God to reveal Himself (so you can see how He really is), he will be able to bless you with His presence in a deep way. When we begin to realize who God is to us (even in part), and we seek the face of God in worship, we change for the better (just by allowing him to soak us with His presence and fill us with love). It’s like a sponge left in a basin of water for a while. If God is love, he fills you with his presence of love (and that is just ONE aspect of God)!

You may be familiar with Matt Redman’s song “The Heart of Worship.” Look at the words with new eyes. As you meditate on these words, ask God to help you to worship Him in spirit and in truth. “When the music fades, all is stripped away; and I simply come. Longing just to bring – something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear; You’re looking into my heart. I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I made it; when it’s all about you – all about you, Jesus. King of endless worth, no one could express how much you deserve. Though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours, every single breath.”

It’s about knowing who God is, and how you really are – a son or a daughter in Christ. And doesn’t he deserve everything we have?

Next time, we will explore further the notion that worship and ministry aren’t separated.

Growing through suffering and difficult times: Ways to Grow in God

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by Laurie-Ann Copple

Last time we discovered that we grow well when we learn to read the Bible (by reading it for ourselves devotionally as well as learning about the history and cultures of biblical times). The Holy Spirit speaks to us through scripture that seems to jump off the page to us, just as if it’s a personal message, and we may also hear his voice at times when we remember various scripture passages just when we need them. Often personalized scripture verses are like promises to us in hard times, and in times of suffering.

We shouldn’t fear difficult times, although there is a temptation to ask Jesus to just take pain away from our lives. When I lived in north Toronto, I used to be part of a church with a strong healing prayer ministry. I also studied counseling at Tyndale Seminary and I integrated what I learned in school with the practical ministry I did at the church. Many times people approached us with deep emotional wounds and difficulties. Some wanted the pain to go away without dealing with the issues that were causing the pain – they didn’t want to deal with the root cause. In a sense, they wanted a ‘band-aid’ for the pain, and not emotional/spiritual heart surgery done gently by the Holy Spirit through prayer. While ministry team members are not counselors, sometimes the Holy Spirit jump starts a process that goes on in a pastoral or counseling office, if the person is willing to ‘go’ where the Holy Spirit is leading them. The important thing is that God is WITH them in the midst of suffering, and through the journey together, they are healed and grow. I have had many occurrences of this phenomenon in my own life, and this has taught me to not run away in the midst of pain or difficulty, but to continue to walk forward with Jesus’ help.

The same growth can happen through illness – which I have witnessed while volunteering in an oncology ward, and in the growth of a close friend while he has lived with failed hip surgeries. I have begged God many times to heal my friend so that he can get on with his life in serving God. He has struggled over seven years and will likely continue until after healing from yet another surgery. Once as I prayed for him, I sensed that God was using this time to deepen spiritual maturity and wisdom into his life. I know that God uses him to minister to others, based on the scripture 2 Cor. 1: 3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” My friend is does that through an online support group for people dealing with the same disease that he is working through.

Others experience their difficulties in other ways, including  persecution due to their faith in Jesus.  Throughout the world, there are persecuted Christians. More Christians died of martyrdom and persecution in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined (including the infamous Roman practice of throwing believers to starved lions). Persecution in the 21st century is escalating. I have seen some of this in the Somali community within Kenya and in my work with Pakistani Christians. In North America, this trend may be limited to name calling and political correctness in trying to silence the Christian voice of conscience in our society, but it too is getting worse.

Christians have become targets, similar to how Jewish people have been persecuted through the ages. How can people deal with this strife? When I was on a prayer journey mission in Northern Ireland, I once asked my Christian landlady about the marvelous godly quality of some of the Christians I had met in Belfast – they had a deep, sweet character and every aspect of them reminded me of Jesus. I wanted this quality and told her so. She sighed and then smiled. “There is only one way to grow in this part of your faith.” I asked, “more absolute surrender?” She replied, “No, by suffering.” That hit ‘home’, although I did not fully understand what she meant other than that difficulties refine our character as we trust God in difficult circumstances.

I again saw this quality in the Christian people of Shantinagar, a small village in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Until the past few years. Punjab has been the most stable Pakistani province with the exception of an occasional flare up of persecution. In 1997, there was a massive wave of persecution perpetrated by hundreds of angry Muslims. They attacked the churches, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes of Shantinagar based on a rumour that a Qu’ran had been desecrated (it was actually a Bible that was destroyed). These villagers were left with very little – even the children’s school uniforms and books had been destroyed. Ministries came to help and the village was re-built. Life continued on.

When I visited in December 2007, I enjoyed deeply sweet hospitality. I felt loved, honoured and blessed. I was able to share with them a message I developed specifically for them – about God’s call to them as servants. They knew they were sons and daughters in their faith, and they had confidence in who they were in Christ.  But they were also servants– with the same attitude and love that Jesus displayed in Phil. 2: 5-11. This wasn’t any ordinary service to others. It was something incredibly deep and confirmed to these dear Christians that their forgiveness and humility was a witness to Jesus. Everything that they did and will do for Jesus is a great treasure because of their attitudes, countenance and character. I would like to go back to this place – to teach but also to learn from them. They had truly learned how to grow spiritually – so deeply that Jesus shone from every aspect of their lives. One of their secrets was to trust God in all circumstances. We are encouraged by Proverbs to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”(Prov. 3:5-6). May we continue to trust Him who is faithful and will never leave us.

Next time I will share on how we can grow through worship.

Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple

Laurie-Ann is based in Ottawa, Ontario and may be available for mission trips and speaking tours.