Michael Chan—Leicester, UK
We have established that God’s plan and revelation are central to building our faith, but the human part of the equation is that we must pursue to learn before God bestows us understanding. Just as a plant needs suitable soil and conditions to thrive, we must cultivate the ideal spiritual environment where our faith can grow. Here are some requirements:
A. Be Willing to Live a Holy Life
After Daniel had recorded and sealed a prophecy of the end time, he asked the angels to explain further the things that would come to pass (Dan 12:9–10). However, they responded that it was not yet time for God to reveal the meaning of the words. To whom would they be revealed? To those who are pure and wise. If we pursue a holy life, pleasing and acceptable to God, God will give us knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3:1–7). Today, we must be willing and determined to live a holy life—one in which we avoid all wrong and defilement, in word, attitude, and action.
B. Take Action to Practice the Truth
Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mk 4:24–25)
The “measure” here refers not to the standard by which we measure others but the measure of our mentality and heart towards God’s word. Depending on how we receive, accept and use the word of God, He will bless us to the same degree. If we desire to learn and practice God’s word, God will give us understanding (Jn 7:16–17). But if we only receive God’s word for knowledge and not life application, then we will be unable to grasp it. Hence, Jesus likens those who hear and do His word to the man who builds his house on the rock (Mt 7:24). Those who practice God’s word will gain blessings and enlightenment to appreciate God’s truth further.
We see this happening to the disciples in the Book of Acts: their understanding of God’s word significantly increased because they were constantly practicing God’s word, so God brought things to their remembrance. For example, John recounts Jesus’ prophecy of the temple being destroyed and raised in three days—after Jesus’ resurrection, they realized He had been speaking about the temple of His body (Jn 2:21–22).
C. Wait Patiently for the Master
We often become frustrated when we read the Bible and cannot understand it immediately. We may become impatient. The desire to comprehend God’s word is important, but the need for instant gratification could lead us to give up altogether. This is why the Bible tells us to wait for God (Ps 130:5). If we study His word patiently and persistently, with a heart of trust in God, then He will reveal everything in His time.
D. Believe in Christ and His Church
To be firmly rooted in the correct place, we must firmly believe and hold on to the correct doctrines (Jn 17:6–8), including believing in the true church as the steward of those doctrines (1 Cor 4:1; Col 1:25). Are we able to practice, preach and defend the teachings of the church without question? Since God is the One who bestows understanding, if we let doubts creep in, then our understanding of God’s word and the truth will gradually decrease. If this continues, we may succumb to self-deception—we will falsely believe that we have a good level of understanding and will stray from the true gospel. Hence, we have to believe wholeheartedly in the true church and the complete truth of salvation.
E. Meditate and Reflect on God’s Word
Whether studying the Bible or listening to sermons, we must reflect and meditate on the word we have received (Ps 1:1–2). Only by doing this will we have a deeper and broader understanding of the Scriptures, beyond the superficial. We will begin to understand how certain passages relate to other parts and teachings of the Bible. Meditation on God’s word is why the saints of old had such deep relationships with God. They could persevere no matter their challenges because they could access a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s word and will. We must do the same today.
F. Discuss to Learn
Malachi talks about how God listens to those who discuss God’s word among themselves (Mal 3:16–18). Matthew also describes how the disciples asked Jesus to explain a parable to them (Mt 13:11). We should do the same—discuss the word of God to learn from one another. Having the humility to ask questions when we do not understand, and to listen, is important.
G. Proclaim and Cultivate
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh 1:8)
Proclaiming God’s word is not limited to preaching to non-believers. We must preach to and share God’s word with our fellow brethren during classes, fellowships, and social situations. As we proclaim God’s word, we must practice and believe what God has taught us. We will naturally reflect deeply on God’s word and gain a deeper understanding through this process. This is why the ministers of God have great insight into the Scriptures—the more they preach, the more they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to recall and comprehend God’s word, building on what they already know.
Although the roots of a plant or tree are hidden, you can usually estimate how deep and wide they stretch by how tall and large the plant has grown above ground. A small plant, such as a bonsai tree, will remain small unless it is transferred into a larger pot where its roots can spread. For some trees, the roots are at least a one-to-one ratio to the height, keeping them nourished and standing securely no matter how strongly the wind blows.
And the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah
Shall again take root downward,
And bear fruit upward. (Isa 37:31)
How do we know when our faith has taken root and is growing? Isaiah tells us the proof is when we bear fruit. How can we go about cultivating a fruit-bearing faith? Today, if we want to grow strong and manifest spiritual fruit, we must root ourselves deeply in God’s will, not our own. When our roots are established, we will see the fruit in how our attitude and our prayers are transformed. So, what kind of prayers will a rooted faith produce?
A. Fruitful Prayers
1. Physical versus Spiritual
…From men of the world who have their portion in this life,
And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure.
They are satisfied with children,
And leave the rest of their possession for their babes.
As for me, I will see your face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness. (Ps 17:14–15)
These verses talk about two types of believers. The first are those who are satisfied with things of the world. They are content with physical blessings—health, wealth, comfort, and security—and have no desire to pursue any further. The second type seek not for physical blessings but for spiritual ones. They desire a close relationship with God, to be more like Him, and to one day be with Him in eternity.
Do we only pray for material things in our prayers, or have we started praying for spiritual matters? If we are rooted and growing spiritually, we will focus less on our physical lives and more on our spiritual lives. We are blessed to have a loving heavenly Father Whom we can approach for grace, healing in times of sickness, and guidance in our education or career. But to mature in faith, we must seek the things above (Col 3:2; Mt 6:33) and realize that prayer is a time of spiritual cultivation and deep communion with God. Each morning, we can pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit and for God to help us fulfill His will in all we do. We are no longer thinking of what God can do for us, but what we can do for the Lord—how to be more pleasing to Him.
2. Self versus Others
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:4)
We are told that we should mind our own business, but the above verse instructs us otherwise. If we pray only for our personal matters, then we are not progressing spiritually. When we start praying for the personal matters of others, it is an indication that we are growing and becoming more selfless. This goes beyond praying for our close friends and family because we love them and are personally affected by what happens to them. But when we pray for someone outside our family and close social circle, especially those we do not know, we are truly altruistic in sacrificing our time and effort for their benefit. Such prayers show spiritual maturity.
3. “Hear me” versus “Teach me”
I am Your servant;
Give me understanding,
That I may know Your testimonies. (Ps 119:125)
We want the Lord to hear our prayers, but do we ask to seek a response? Instead of only seeking God’s blessings, we should also seek His teaching. The above psalmist asked God for understanding so that he could know His testimonies, which are God’s commandments. We should all pursue to reach this level of spiritual growth, where we seek to be taught and enlightened by God.
4. “Lord, love me” versus “Help me to love You more”
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died. (2 Cor 5:14)
When we are first planted with the seed of faith, we are very sensitive to God’s love. Every drop of grace causes us to sprout taller, and our prayers reflect the desire to be loved by God. But as we mature and learn to appreciate His sacrificial love, we are inspired to return that love. We want to love Him more and love others as He has loved us (Jn 15:12). Christ’s love compels us to devote ourselves to serving others (1 Jn 3:16; 4:17). So in our prayers, we need to reflect and ask God to help us understand His love so that we can truly take root and grow.