LEVEL UP


There comes a point in your life of faith when you begin to wonder... Is this all there is?

My brother-in-law gave my sons a Playstation for Christmas. It's really cool because it comes with the motion controllers. We've been playing the typical sports game with each other quite a bit lately. It's cool, but pretty basic. It has disc golf, table tennis, volleyball, archery, and a few others.

Like with most games, when it is your first time playing it offers you a chance to learn the basic skills of the game. It will give you a walkthrough of the controls and motions needed to perform the basic tasks. But after a few minutes of learning, it's time to move on to the actual game.


Most video games begin at a very simple, easy to follow level with basic tasks to complete before moving onto the next level or challenge. The difficulty increases as you play through the game, as it should. If all you could do was the basic gameplay tutorials, that would be a really crappy game. You would demand your money back! Is that all there is? Where's the challenge?

There comes a point in your life of faith when you begin to wonder... Is this all there is?

I've been in the church and in ministry long enough to realize that a large percentage of our members are stuck in the gameplay tutorial. They're content to keep repeating the walkthrough, never actually challenging themselves or leveling up. I'm not discounting the fundamentals. We begin there for a reason. Even professionals have to practice shooting and dribbling drills. But once you've been a follower of Jesus for a while, there comes a point when you either need to level up or quit playing.

I'm not alone in feeling this way. Look at what it says in the book of Hebrews:
So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds[a] and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
(Hebrews 6:1-3 | NLT)
IT'S TIME TO LEVEL UP


We've got the basics covered. In last week's post I talked about the fundamental virtues of the Christian life: Faith, Hope, and Love. Those are the biggies that Paul begins with in his letter to the Colossians. But he doesn't stop there. He challenges them - nay, he PRAYS for them to take things to the next level.
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
(Colossians 1:9-14 | NLT)
Wow, there's a lot to unpack there. The training wheels are coming off.

9 KEYS TO TAKING YOUR FAITH TO THE NEXT LEVEL

So what are we going to need along the way if we're going to go full-in with our life of faith?

1) KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL
I think we've all wondered what God's will for our life is. We want specifics - Should I go to this college or that college? Should I major in X or Z? What job should I take? Who should I marry? But I don't think that's the kind of thing Paul wants for the Colossian Christians. I believe God's will for our lives can be summed up this way: Love God with your entire being, and love your neighbor as yourself. It might help to measure your big life decisions against that standard.

2) SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING
Put this on the list of most underrated gifts. Especially in the age of Google, in a world where we have virtually all the collected knowledge in the known universe at our fingertips, wisdom and understanding are critical. I think it's a little more than common sense, but it's related. Knowledge and information are great, but wisdom and understanding tell us what to do with that knowledge and how to interpret or apply that information. I think DISCERNMENT is a forgotten virtue that needs to come back in vogue.

3) LIVING TO HONOR GOD
How we live matters. What we do matters. The things we choose NOT to do matter. So many Christians (myself often included) live no differently than the world most days. If the only difference between you and a nonbeliever is what happens on Sunday morning, then guess what... Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 13 that if he has all knowledge and insight but doesn't have love, then it's of no benefit. Knowing God's will and developing spiritual wisdom and insight should then lead to a life that honors God. If it doesn't, then you're probably still in the gameplay tutorial.

4) GROWING IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
It took me a while to figure out that there is a difference between knowing about God and actually knowing God. I might be the biggest Andrew Luck fan on the planet. I might know his shoe size, his preferred shampoo, his pets names, and his high school GPA. But if I've never actually met Andrew Luck, then I can never say I know him. Facts and trivia do not equal a relationship. So how do we grow to know God? By spending time with God in prayer. By spending time with God's people. By meditating on God's word. By opening our eyes to see God at work in the world around us. By living a life that honors God.

5) STRENGTH, ENDURANCE, AND PATIENCE
I like to think of faith as a muscle. It must be stressed. It must be challenged. It must be utilized. If we exercise our faith, it will grow stronger and we will find more endurance to make it through any challenges or suffering. But if we don't utilize our faith, like a muscle it will begin to atrophy. I'm currently working through a strength training program that focuses on the main barbell lifts - deadlifts, squats, bench press, etc. It sucks! But patient endurance, getting under the bar time and time again even when I don't feel like it, is the key to building muscle strength. If the only time we exercise our faith is for an hour on Sundays, then that's never going to produce the results we want! Our strength comes from God's own power. Let's use that!

6) JOY AND GRATITUDE
It's hard to be a snob when you're joyful and grateful. Entitlement is a cancer that will eat away at your relationships, your attitude, and your faith. The most joyful people I know are the ones who don't take their life blessings for granted. "Happiness" is based on the same root as the word "happenstance." When things are going well, we feel happy. It's very circumstantial. But if we are grateful, even in the midst of tragedy or suffering, then we can experience joy no matter what. Paul urges us to be "always thanking the Father." And remember...Paul is writing this letter from prison! And yet he was full of joy. May our churches and our families, our schools and our workplaces be filled with joy and gratitude.

7) COMMUNITY
We in the post-enlightenment, Western church have individualized our faith to the extent that it often bears little resemblance to the faith of those in Scripture. There is no such thing as an individual Christian. When you follow Christ, you join a family. One of the early church fathers said, "A solo Christian is no Christian." The journey of discipleship is one we take together. And the end goal is not for my individual soul to get to my personalized version of heaven. The end goal is to share the inheritance of God's kingdom with all his people! Let's stop using all this individualized language. Christ did not die to save you, the individual. Christ died to save us, the collective. We don't have to go it alone.

8) RESCUE
Let's go back to the video game analogy again. I was a big fan of cheat codes when I was younger. There would be levels I simply could not beat no matter how hard I tried. So I'd enter a code, and suddenly I would be dominating where once I had been getting crushed. Paul reminds us that God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness. We are in a battle we cannot win on our own. We need the power of God to rescue us. And he says that God has transferred us into the Kingdom of his Son. It's like entering the cheat code for "God mode." Or as David put it:
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
What can mere mortals do to me?
(Psalm 118:6)
9) FREEDOM AND FORGIVENESS
I think freedom and forgiveness go hand in hand. Once we have been rescued we are now freed from the cycle of sin and death. All those curses of sin (see Genesis 3) are being eradicated. But don't get this wrong - we are not forgiven because of anything good that we've done. We are able to experience all of the above (knowledge, wisdom, strength, a God-honoring life) because of our freedom and forgiveness. This is how we level up. When we still view religion as a way to earn God's favor based on our own good deeds, that means we still haven't learned the basics of how to play the game. We need to go back and do the walkthrough one more time.

Paul's prayer for the Colossians continues to challenge us today. I don't think any of us should be content to simply fill a pew on Sundays as the full extent of our faith. But maybe we just don't know what to do next. Explore these levels and these different challenges. Add some of these things to your inventory. Develop your skills and see how living out your faith can actually make a real world impact.

There comes a point in your life of faith when you begin to wonder... Is this all there is?

It's time to level up.

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