You Can Make Spiritual Progress
TRUE worth can be difficult to recognize. Such is the case with diamonds. Although a polished diamond sparkles, a rough diamond merely glows dimly. Nevertheless, in the depths of the rough diamond lies the unmistakable promise of a beautiful gem.
Christians resemble rough diamonds in many ways. Though we are still a long way from perfection, we do have an underlying worth that Jehovah values. Like diamonds, all of us have our own distinct qualities. And each one of us can make further spiritual progress if that is our heartfelt desire. Our personalities can be polished, so that they shine more brightly to Jehovah’s glory.—1 Corinthians 10:31.
After being cut and polished, a diamond is placed in a setting that enhances its reflective qualities. Similarly, Jehovah can use us in different settings, or assignments, if we “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Ephesians 4:20-24.
Such spiritual progress may not come naturally, just as a diamond in its natural state rarely sparkles like a gem. We might need to rid ourselves of some lingering weakness, adjust our attitude toward assuming responsibility, or even exert ourselves to get out of a spiritual rut. But we can make progress if we really want to, since Jehovah God can give us “the power beyond what is normal.”—2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 4:13.
Jehovah Strengthens His Servants
Cutting diamonds takes confidence that results from exact knowledge, since once a part of the rough diamond is cut away, it usually is lost. Expensive material—sometimes as much as 50 percent of the uncut stone—has to be cut away to produce the desired shape. We too need confidence resulting from accurate knowledge in order to shape our personality and to progress spiritually. Especially must we have confidence that Jehovah will empower us.
We may feel inadequate, however, or think that we are not able to do more. In the past, faithful servants of God sometimes felt that way. (Exodus 3:11, 12; 1 Kings 19:1-4) When assigned by God to be a “prophet to the nations,” Jeremiah exclaimed: “Here I actually do not know how to speak, for I am but a boy.” (Jeremiah 1:5, 6) Despite his reticence, though, Jeremiah became a courageous prophet who delivered forthright messages to a hostile people. How was this possible? He learned to rely on Jehovah. Jeremiah later wrote: “Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah, and whose confidence Jehovah has become.”—Jeremiah 17:7; 20:11.
Today, Jehovah likewise strengthens those who put their trust in him. Edward,* a father of four who was slow to make spiritual progress, found this to be true. He explains: “I had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for nine years, but I seemed to be standing still spiritually. The problem was that I had little motivation and no confidence. After moving to Spain, I found myself in a small congregation that had just one elder and one ministerial servant. In view of the need, the elder asked me to handle many assignments. I trembled as I gave my first talks and meeting parts. Yet, I learned to lean on Jehovah. The elder always commended me and offered tactful suggestions for improvement.
“At the same time, I increased my field service activity and took a better spiritual lead in my family. As a result, the truth had greater meaning for all the family, and I felt so much more satisfied. I am now a ministerial servant, and I am working hard to develop the qualities of a Christian overseer.”
“Strip Off the Old Personality”
As Edward realized, spiritual progress requires trust in Jehovah. Developing the Christlike “new personality” is also essential. How can this be done? A first step is to “strip off” those traits that are part of the old personality. (Colossians 3:9, 10) Just as imperfections, such as foreign minerals, have to be removed from a rough diamond to make it a sparkling gem, so attitudes “belonging to the world” need to be discarded in order that our new personality may shine through.—Galatians 4:3.
One such attitude is a reluctance to accept responsibility for fear that too much will be required of us. True, responsibility means work, but it is a satisfying work. (Compare Acts 20:35.) Paul admitted that godly devotion requires that we ‘work hard and exert ourselves.’ We do so gladly, he said, “because we have rested our hope on a living God,” one who never forgets the work we do in behalf of our fellow Christians and others.—1 Timothy 4:9, 10; Hebrews 6:10.
Some diamonds suffer from “tension” created at their formation and need to be handled carefully. With help from an instrument called a polariscope, however, the polisher can locate the tension and can work on the stone successfully. Perhaps we suffer from an internal tension, or personality flaw, because of our background or a traumatic experience. What can we do? First, we need to admit the problem to ourselves and determine to overcome it to the extent possible. We should certainly unburden ourselves before Jehovah in prayer, possibly also seeking spiritual help from a Christian elder.—Psalm 55:22; James 5:14, 15.
Such inner tension affected Nicholas. “My father was an alcoholic, and he caused my sister and me much suffering,” he explains. “When I left school, I joined the army, but my rebellious streak soon got me into trouble. Army authorities jailed me for dealing in drugs, and on another occasion I deserted. Finally, I left the army, but I still had trouble. Although my life was a mess because of drug abuse and heavy drinking, I had an interest in the Bible and longed to have a purpose in life. Eventually, I came into contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, changed my life-style, and embraced the truth.
“It took years, however, before I came to terms with a defect in my personality. I had a deep dislike for authority and bristled when any counsel came my way. Though I wanted to be used fully by Jehovah, this weakness held me back. Finally, with the help of two understanding elders, I admitted my problem and began to apply their loving Scriptural counsel. Although a little resentment occasionally flares up, I have now controlled my rebellious nature. I am very grateful for Jehovah’s patient way of dealing with me and for the loving help of the elders. Because of my spiritual progress, I have recently been appointed as a ministerial servant.”
As Nicholas discovered, changing deep-seated attitudes is not easy. We may face a similar challenge. Perhaps we are overly sensitive. We may be nursing a grievance, or we may be placing too much emphasis on independence. Thus, our Christian progress may be limited. Diamond polishers experience something similar with stones they call naats. These are really two stones melted into one during the diamond’s formation. As a result, naats have two conflicting growth patterns that make cutting according to the grain very difficult. In our case, we find the “grain” of the willing spirit battling against the “grain” of the imperfect flesh. (Matthew 26:41; Galatians 5:17) Sometimes, we may feel inclined to give up the struggle altogether, rationalizing that imperfections in our personality are not important anyway. ‘After all,’ we may say, ‘my family and friends still love me.’
If we are to serve our brothers and glorify our heavenly Father, however, we need to ‘be made new in the force actuating our mind’ by putting on the new personality. The effort is worthwhile, as Nicholas and countless others can testify. A diamond polisher knows that one blemish can mar the whole diamond. Likewise, by neglecting a weak facet of our personality, we can spoil our spiritual appearance. Worse still, a serious weakness could lead to our spiritual downfall.—Proverbs 8:33.
Like a “Fire” Within Us
The diamond polisher seeks to capture the fire within the diamond. This is done by arranging the facets so that they cause the so-called rainbow effect. Inside the diamond the multicolored light reflects back and forth, producing the fire that makes diamonds sparkle. Similarly, God’s spirit can be like a “fire” within us.—1 Thessalonians 5:19; Acts 18:25; Romans 12:11.
But what if we sense the need to get spiritually motivated? How can this be done? We need to ‘consider our ways.’ (Psalm 119:59, 60) This would involve identifying those things that slow us down spiritually and then determining which theocratic activities we need to pursue more vigorously. We can deepen spiritual appreciation through regular personal study and fervent prayer. (Psalm 119:18, 32; 143:1, 5, 8, 10) Moreover, by associating with those who work hard in the faith, we will further strengthen our resolve to serve Jehovah zealously.—Titus 2:14.
Louise, a young Christian woman, admitted: “I considered regular pioneering for two years before I actually enrolled as a pioneer, or full-time Kingdom proclaimer. There was nothing stopping me, but I was in a comfortable rut, and I just didn’t make the effort to get out of it. Then my father died suddenly. I realized how fragile life is and that I wasn’t making the best use of mine. So I changed my spiritual outlook, increased my service, and became a regular pioneer. Of particular help in this regard were those of my spiritual brothers and sisters who always supported the field service arrangements and who regularly accompanied me in the ministry. I have learned that whether for good or for bad, we share the values and goals of our associates.”
Sharpened as if by Iron
Diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth. Hence, it takes one diamond to cut another. This may remind Bible students of the proverb that says: “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” (Proverbs 27:17) How is a person’s face “sharpened”? One individual may succeed in sharpening the intellectual and spiritual state of another, just as a piece of iron can be used to sharpen a blade made of the same metal. For instance, if we should become depressed over some disappointment, another person’s encouragement can be very uplifting. Our sad countenance can thus change for the better, and we can be enlivened for renewed zealous activity. (Proverbs 13:12) Especially can congregation elders help to sharpen us by providing Scriptural encouragement and counsel for improvement. They follow the principle stated by Solomon: “Give to a wise person and he will become still wiser. Impart knowledge to someone righteous and he will increase in learning.”—Proverbs 9:9.
Of course, spiritual training takes time. For more than ten years, the apostle Paul shared his experience and teaching methods with Timothy. (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 4:6, 16) The lengthy training that Moses gave Joshua over a 40-year period benefited the nation of Israel for a long time. (Joshua 1:1, 2; 24:29, 31) Elisha accompanied the prophet Elijah for perhaps 6 years, receiving a fine grounding for his own ministry that was to last about 60 years. (1 Kings 19:21; 2 Kings 3:11) By patiently providing ongoing training, elders follow the example of Paul, Moses, and Elijah.
Giving commendation is a vital part of training. Sincere expressions of appreciation for assignments well handled or for praiseworthy acts may impel others to want to serve God more fully. Commendation builds confidence that, in turn, provides incentive to work on weaknesses. (Compare 1 Corinthians 11:2.) Encouragement to progress in the truth also comes from being intensely occupied with the Kingdom-preaching work and other congregational activities. (Acts 18:5) When elders assign brothers responsibility in accord with their spiritual progress, this gives these men valuable experience and is likely to strengthen their desire to keep on progressing spiritually.—Philippians 1:8, 9.
Good Reason for Making Spiritual Progress
Diamonds are considered precious. The same is true of those now becoming associated with the worldwide family of Jehovah’s worshipers. In fact, God himself calls them the “desirable,” or “precious,” things of all the nations. (Haggai 2:7, footnote) Last year, 375,923 became baptized Witnesses of Jehovah. To accommodate this growth, there is a need to ‘make the tent more spacious.’ By progressing spiritually—and by reaching out for Christian service privileges—it is possible to have a share in caring for this expansion.—Isaiah 54:2; 60:22.
Unlike many precious diamonds that are kept in bank vaults and are rarely seen, our spiritual worth can shine brightly. And as we regularly polish and manifest our Christian qualities, we glorify Jehovah God. Jesus exhorted his followers: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:16) Surely, that gives us sound reason to make spiritual progress.
Substitute names are used in this article.