Keep Making Spiritual Progress!
The day of our baptism is a day we should always cherish and remember. After all, it is the day on which we go on public record as having made a dedication to serve God.
FOR many individuals it takes monumental effort to reach this point—quitting long-standing bad habits, ridding oneself of unwholesome associates, changing deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and behavior.
Even so, while baptism is a happy and significant event in a Christian’s life, it is still only a beginning. The apostle Paul told baptized Christians in Judea: “Now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1) Yes, all Christians need to “attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) Only by progressing to the point of maturity can we truly be “stabilized in the faith.”—Colossians 2:7.
Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of newly dedicated worshipers have come into the Christian congregation. Perhaps you are one of them. Like your first-century brothers, you do not want to remain in spiritual infancy. You want to grow, to advance! But how? And what are some ways in which you can make such progress?
Progressing by Means of Personal Study
Paul told Christians in Philippi: “This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.” (Philippians 1:9) Growing in “accurate knowledge” is crucial to your spiritual progress. ‘Taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ’ is an ongoing process, not something that ceases after baptism.—John 17:3.
One Christian sister, whom we will call Alexandra, came to realize this ten years after she was baptized at the age of 16. She was brought up in the truth and had always been regular in attending Christian meetings and sharing in the preaching work. She writes: “In the past few months, I realized that something was terribly wrong. I decided to take a hard, honest look at myself, what I feel for the truth, and why I am still in the truth.” What did she find? She continues: “I found that the reasons for my being in the truth were disturbing to me. I remembered that as I was growing up, meetings and field service were emphasized. It was as though habits of personal study and prayer would somehow fall into place. But as I analyzed my situation, I realized that this did not happen.”
The apostle Paul exhorts: “To what extent we have made progress, let us go on walking orderly in this same routine.” (Philippians 3:16) A routine can set the course of forward movement. Before your baptism, you no doubt had a weekly routine of Bible study with a well-qualified teacher. As you grew in appreciation, you included in this routine preparation for each week’s lesson, looking up cited texts in the Bible, and so on. Now that you are baptized, have you continued to ‘walk in that same routine’?
If not, you may need to reexamine your priorities, ‘making sure of the more important things.’ (Philippians 1:10) In our busy lives, it takes self-control to set aside time for personal Bible reading and study. But the benefits make it worth such effort. Consider again the experience of Alexandra. “I must say that I have been existing in the truth for the past 20 or so years by just going to meetings and engaging in the field ministry,” she admits. However, she continues, “I have come to the conclusion that although these things are important, they alone cannot sustain me when things start getting difficult. All of this has come to the fore because my personal study habits are practically nonexistent, and my prayers are erratic and superficial. I realize now that I have to readjust my thinking and begin a meaningful study program so that I can really get to know Jehovah and come to love him and appreciate what his Son has given us.”
If you need help in establishing a healthy routine of personal study, the elders and other mature Christians in your congregation will be happy to assist you. Additionally, articles appearing in the May 1, 1995; August 15, 1993; and May 15, 1986, issues of The Watchtower have a number of helpful suggestions.
The Need to Draw Close to God
Another area in which you should strive to progress is in your relationship with God. In some cases there may even be an acute need in this regard. Consider Anthony, who was baptized at a young age. “I was the first child in our family to be baptized,” he relates. “After my baptism, I received a warm hug from my mother. I had never seen her happier. There was so much joy, and I felt so strong.” There was, however, another side to the picture. “For quite some time, there had not been any young people baptized in our congregation,” Anthony continues. “So I felt very proud of myself. I also took pride in my comments and talks at the meetings. Gaining people’s praise and approval became more important to me than bringing praise to Jehovah. I really did not have a close relationship with him.”
Like Anthony, some may have made a dedication more out of a desire to please others than out of a desire to please Jehovah. Even so, God expects such ones to live up to their promise to serve him. (Compare Ecclesiastes 5:4.) Without a personal attachment to God, though, it is often difficult for them to do so. Anthony recalls: “The intense joy that I had at my baptism was short-lived. It was not a full year after my baptism that I fell into serious wrongdoing and had to be reproved by the elders in the congregation. Repeated misconduct led to my being disfellowshipped from the congregation. Six years after my dedication to Jehovah, I was arrested and jailed for murder.”
Developing an Intimate Relationship With Jehovah
Whatever your own situation, all Christians can respond to the Bible’s invitation: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.” (James 4:8) No doubt you cultivated a measure of closeness to God when you first studied the Bible. You learned that God is not the abstract deity worshiped in Christendom, but a person with a name, Jehovah. You also learned that he has appealing qualities, that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.”—Exodus 34:6.
To live up to your dedication to serve God, however, you must draw even closer to him! How? The psalmist prayed: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths.” (Psalm 25:4) Personal study of the Bible and of the Society’s publications can help you become better acquainted with Jehovah. Regularly engaging in heartfelt prayer is also important. “Before him pour out your heart,” urges the psalmist. (Psalm 62:8) As you experience your prayers being answered, you will sense God’s personal interest in you. This will help you to feel closer to him.
Trials and problems present yet another opportunity to draw close to God. You may face challenges and tests of faith, such as sickness, pressures at school and in the workplace, or economic hardship. It may even be that the normal theocratic routine of sharing in the ministry, attending the meetings, or studying the Bible with your children is difficult for you. Do not face such problems alone! Implore God for help, asking for his guidance and direction. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) Beg him for his holy spirit! (Luke 11:13) As you experience God’s loving assistance, you will be drawn even closer to him. As the psalmist David put it, “taste and see that Jehovah is good . . . Happy is the able-bodied man that takes refuge in him.”—Psalm 34:8.
What about Anthony? “I began to think of the time when I had so many spiritual goals centered around doing Jehovah’s will,” he recalls. “This was painful. But through all the pain and disappointment, I remembered Jehovah’s love. It took a while before I was able to pray to Jehovah, but this I did, and I poured out my heart to him, asking for his forgiveness. I also began reading the Bible and was surprised how much I had forgotten and how little I had really known about Jehovah.” Though Anthony has yet to complete the prison term for his crime, he receives help from local Witnesses and is on his way to spiritual recovery. Gratefully, Anthony says: “Thanks to Jehovah and his organization, I have been able to strip off the old personality, and I strive to put on the new each day. My relationship with Jehovah is of utmost importance to me now.”
Spiritual Progress in Your Ministry
Jesus Christ commanded his followers to be preachers of the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) As a relatively new publisher of the good news, your experience in the ministry may be limited. How, then, can you make progress so as to ‘accomplish your ministry fully’?—2 Timothy 4:5.
One way is to develop a positive attitude. Learn to view the preaching work as a “treasure,” a privilege. (2 Corinthians 4:7) It is an opportunity to demonstrate our love, loyalty, and integrity to Jehovah. It also allows us to demonstrate concern for our neighbor. Unselfishly giving of ourselves in this regard can be a source of genuine happiness.—Acts 20:35.
Jesus himself had a positive view of the preaching work. Sharing Bible truths with others was like “food” to him. (John 4:34) His motivation for helping others may therefore best be summed up in his words, “I want to.” (Matthew 8:3) Jesus had compassion for people, especially those who had been “skinned and thrown about” by Satan’s world. (Matthew 9:35, 36) Do you likewise “want to” help those who are in darkness spiritually and who need enlightenment from God’s Word? Then you will feel impelled to respond to Jesus’ command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Indeed, you will be moved to have as full a share in this work as your health and circumstances permit.
Another key to progress is having a regular share in the ministry—every week if possible. Doing so can help diminish the apprehension and fear that might hinder one who preaches only occasionally. Regularly participating in the field service will benefit you in other ways too. It will enhance your appreciation for the truth, nourish your love for Jehovah and neighbor, and help you to keep focused on the Kingdom hope.
What, though, if your current situation greatly limits your participation in the preaching work? If adjustments are simply not possible, then take comfort in knowing that God is well-pleased by whatever you are able to do, as long as you are whole-souled in your service. (Matthew 13:23) Perhaps you can progress in other ways, such as by sharpening your preaching skills. In the congregation, the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting provide much fine training in this regard. Naturally, the more competent we are in the ministry, the more we will enjoy it and see results.
It is clear, then, that spiritual progress must not stop the day one gets baptized. The apostle Paul wrote regarding his hope of attaining immortal life in the heavens: “Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold on it; but there is one thing about it: Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus. Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude; and if you are mentally inclined otherwise in any respect, God will reveal the above attitude to you.”—Philippians 3:13-15.
Yes, all Christians, whether their hope is immortality in the heavens or everlasting life in Paradise on earth, must ‘stretch forward’—straining, as it were, to attain the goal of life! Your baptism was a fine start, but it is only a beginning. Continue striving to make spiritual progress. Through meetings and personal study, “become full-grown in powers of understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) Be “able to grasp mentally . . . the breadth and length and height and depth” of the truth. (Ephesians 3:18) The progress you make will help you not only to maintain joy and happiness now but also to obtain a secure place in God’s new world, where under the rule of his heavenly Kingdom, you will be able to progress eternally!
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It takes discipline to find time for personal study
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Having a positive attitude can help us to find joy in the ministry