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Stumbling blocks…those things that can hinder our spiritual development. Things beside the usual “not praying enough” and not devoting enough time to our bible studies.
In addition to outward activities that we can look at in order to measure our spiritual development, we can also look inward, towards our humanness and our tendency to respond in the flesh instead of the spirit.
Specifically we can identify spiritual stumbling blocks related to our thoughts about others, and our reaction to them. Where we fall short, God’s grace is more and gives us the specific remedy of the Holy Spirit. (more about that later!)
Here Stephanie Miller will share 4 Spiritual Development stumbling blocks and how to overcome them!
1. Spiritual Development Stumbling Blocks – Pride
Pride is a tricky thing. We often think of pride as thinking higher of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3) but pride can rear its ugly head not only in the form of jealousy, but it can even be the root cause of annoyance.
Think about a person close to you. What are some of their quirks or attributes that tend to get on your nerves? I’m talking more than just leaving their shoes by the door for you to trip on, or never picking up their dirty clothes off the floor.
How about someone who never shows any concern for real-world problems? Or maybe they take everything to the opposite extreme? Maybe someone that can take forever to make a decision?
The other day my husband, two children, two dogs and I were out for a walk. This isn’t out of the ordinary for us as we usually go on walks together whenever my husband is home (he walks the dogs, while I push the stroller). Sometimes we talk during the walk, and other times we just book it as fast as we can (especially if one of the kids is fussy or upset)
One thing I will tell you about my husband is that when he’s determined to do something he will do it. He is competitive, ambitious and a highly rigid thinker, and it really gets on my nerves sometimes.
Or does it?
Avoiding Stumbling Blocks by Examining My Motives
Is my response to his disciplined and structured way of living and doing things really because I have no desire to be like that, or could it the exact opposite? Is it that I actually desire to be more disciplined and determined, and just don’t know how?
After one lap of our walk, the baby was asleep, so my husband took our toddler back inside the house and I set out for a second lap around the neighborhood to keep our sleeping baby sleeping.
It isn’t that you wish he could be more like you! You wish you could be more like him!
But I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to miss out on things because I stay so disciplined that I can’t enjoy the moment.
Or maybe he triggers your insecurities and fears about your health and body issues, because you desire to be disciplined but you’re worried about taking it to the extreme. So instead of realizing the importance of hard work and discipline, you minimize it.
Silence from me at first and then, “Oh yeah that makes sense.”
There are characteristics that on the surface irritate us or annoy us, but on the inside we are actually desiring have some of those same traits. The good news is that discipline isn’t “you either have it or you don’t”, but instead can be cultivated through practice, and is especially potent through the lens of humility. The same goes for the ability to see other’s faults in light of your own, or should I say your faults in light of others.
There is a particular verse in Matthew that I want to draw your attention to, Matthew 7:3-5:
“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, the beam is in your own eye? Hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” TLV
We can be so quick to pass judgement on others or offer up our own reasoning as to why they are the way they are, that we miss that the very thing we are pointing out in them might also be present in us. When we let go of our pride we can see that God’s love for us and desire for us to be like Him supersedes all things. Yes, even when you’re annoyed and lash out at someone. God’s grace and love covers it all.
1 Peter 4:8
“Above all, keep your love for one another constant, for “love covers a multitude of sins.” TLV
2. Spiritual Development Stumbling Blocks – Ignorance
While how we react to other people’s behaviors can be an indicator of what we need to work on ourselves, the second tendency we have that is preventing us from growing in our relationships is to dismiss or ignore the issue, or even the person.
If I don’t say anything or ignore it then it will go away.
We do this for more things than we think we do. Conflict with others, hard conversations, and other areas where we purposefully chose to ignore what is really going on.
Immediately, the topic of the pandemic and COVID-19 comes to mind. Many people are both educating themselves and staying proactive, while others refuse to see the issue at hand and won’t change their behavior to accommodate social distancing. The underlying thought behind this may not be “I don’t care” but rather:
“what you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
If we chose to ignore what it is going on it doesn’t show apathy, it shows fear. To ignore what is all around you can be a defense mechanism. This might work well for us in the short-term, but what happens when we refuse to acknowledge the plank in our eye is that it continues to damage how we see the world and other people.
If you have an obstructed view for whatever reason and you are trying to maintain normalcy, you might pretend that you can see clearly and nothing needs changed or corrected. It’s when we we refuse in our mind to address what we need to deal with that we run into problems.
This line of thinking my sweet friends, is dangerous.
Again we have been given the gift of awareness by the Holy Spirit to not only know what is going on in the physical world, but also understand what is going on in the spiritual world. We have a very real enemy that wants to stir up dissension and discord among us.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” NASB
We can’t solve all the problems of the world, nor should we try. But refusing to acknowledge these things in your life now can have eternal consequences later. Be aware of areas that you may be ignoring or not tending to as closely as you should.
A garden can not grow if it is overrun by weeds. We can not bear the fruit of the spirit if we refuse to take action against the elements that are causing our fruit to spoil.
A garden can not grow if it is overrun by weeds. We can not bear the fruit of the spirit if we refuse to take action against the elements that are causing our fruit to spoil.
*If you’re interested in hearing more about this idea of tending our garden and pulling out the “weeds” I wrote this post on the very subject.
The Holy Spirit acts of our behalf to do so many wonderful things for us that we can’t do ourselves including:
- interceding for us (Romans 8:26-27)
- guiding us into truth (John 16:13)
We have him as our guide, but what happens when we refuse to be pulled by him?
3. Spiritual Development Stumbling Blocks – Disobedience
This is the time that you may be starting to get a little squirmy while reading this post because, as much as we don’t like to address pride and ignorance, we REALLY don’t like to address disobedience.
There are two types of disobedience:
- Willful disobedience
- Accidental disobedience.
Knowing what is right, and knowing you shouldn’t do that thing, say that word, or entertain that thought…but you do it anyway
This is where the term “falling into sin originates from”. But you don’t fall into sin, you chose sin. Accidental disobedience only exists in those areas of our lives that we are not educated in knowing what the “right thing is”.
Not willing to go where the spirit leads you or going where the spirit tells you not to has also consequences.
There are two stories in the bible that demonstrate both types of disobedience.
Disobedience in the Bible
Balaam was riding his donkey when the angel of the Lord appeared three different times to try to keep Balaam from going the same direction. Balaam doesn’t realize what is going on, and beats his donkey. Then the donkey talks to him (God talking through the donkey) telling him that had the donkey not turned away (despite what Balaam was persisting in), that he would have killed him.
“The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” NASB
In this story Balaam was trying to go where God did not want him to go and God used his donkey to point out his disobedience. He noticed that the donkey kept running into issues, but was trying to get to where he wanted to go on the path that he wanted to take. (Oh I so identify with this, how many times I really want things my way and sometimes just refuse to be still and let the Spirit lead me!)
What happens when God tells us a very specific command and we don’t listen to Him is demonstrated in the book of Numbers where God commands Moses to speak to the rock to get the water to come out for the Israelites in the dessert. Look what Moses does instead.
“Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.” NASB
And then, because he struck the rock instead of talking to it like God told him, we read in Numbers 20:12:
“But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” NASB
Moses had followed part of God’s instruction, but not all and as a result was not going to be the one to bring them into the promised land.
I want to be very clear here, because we have an innate tendency to try to explain everything in our lives. Pain and suffering exist in this world because we live in a broken world. This means that not every storm we go through is a result of our disobedience, but rather the more we have our eyes opened to seeing God in every area of our life, the more that the conviction of a decision that doesn’t sit right with us will help redirect our steps. (another example of this can be found in Luke 12:47-48)
An example of obeying the Spirit comes from the book of Acts when Paul decides not to go a certain way during his travels to preach the gospel in following the direction of the Holy Spirit.
“…and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;” NASB
We don’t know why he wasn’t supposed to go there, all we know is that he obeyed and instead he went on to Macedonia to preach the word follow a vision the Lord had given him. He listened and obeyed the nudge to not go there, and God gave him a new vision to follow.
The nudges we feel are not by chance, instead they serve a very real purpose in our everyday life. This is especially true in the area of difficult relationships. (Which leads me to the next stumbling block)
4. Spiritual Development Stumbling Blocks – Unforgiveness
Unforgiveness, if left untreated can develop into worse things, including bitterness and resentment. We know that the Bible tells us to love our neighbor and offer forgiveness to others, but it can be really hard to forgive someone who has wronged you (especially if it happens over and over again)
This idea of forgiving others is tough, and again Jesus points out two important things to remember with forgiving others in the book of Matthew.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant, where the servant’s debt is forgiven by the master, but the servant doesn’t extend that same grace that was given to him to a fellow servant that owes him. As a result once his mater find out that he was still demanding a debt to be paid, he was thrown in jail and tortured.
Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. NASB
In Jesus explanation of this parable, he concludes:
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”Matthew 18:35 NASB
Unconditional forgiveness is much harder to extend to others than conditional forgiveness. When we are wronged by others, we want, sometimes even expect, an apology (especially once we apologize first!)
However Jesus calls us to forgive others even if they have not forgiven us. To extend that olive branch is important to prevent forgiveness from turning into bitterness and even hinder our prayers.
Jesus calls us to forgive others even if they have not forgiven us. To extend that olive branch is important to prevent forgiveness from turning into bitterness and even hinder our prayers.
“Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your transgressions.” TLV
Another way to look at forgiveness is, “Do you believe that person owes you something?”
Does that parent own you an apology for not being around while you were growing up?
Does that friend owe you an apology for that misunderstanding?
Does your church owe you an apology for how they treated you?
The thing about forgiveness in our relationships with people is that it is imperfect. But if we are able to give unconditional forgiveness (saying that person no longer owes you anything) it gives us the freedom we need to move forward and helps us further avoid these stumbling blocks.
I have a complicated relationship with my father, so forgiveness for me is something I have to continue to practice, over and over again. But because God ultimately forgave me through Jesus I can, (unlike the servant in the parable) extend that same grace to my father.
If you’re interested in hearing more about how I balance forgiveness with setting healthy boundaries I wrote a post on that here.
To forgive someone is to not only free that other person, but to free yourself.
4 Stumbling Blocks and How to Overcome Them – A Summary
So there they are, the 4 stumbling blocks that are hindering our spiritual development that you may not have realized were affecting you. Just to recap:
And the 4 ways to overcome them:
I pray that you use this list to ask God what area(s) you may be struggling with so He can show you His way and exercise His power through you! These four attributes are only possible through faith in Jesus Christ!
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Stephanie Miller is an author, speaker and personal and spiritual growth coach who is currently living in the beautiful state of Colorado. She is the wife of a busy dentist and mom to a strong-willed two year-old girl and sweet baby boy. She enjoys going on hiking adventures with her family and enjoys the outdoors.
Her coaching ministry, Butterfly Beginnings specializes in helping those who are “spiritually stuck” by catalyzing change through connection with the Holy Spirit. She seeks to encourage women and challenge them to grow closer to God and in community with each other. She is a co-author of the devotional “I am Enough in Christ” and her book, “The Butterfly Blueprint: How to Renew Your Mind and Grow Your Faith” will be released this fall. Connect with her at www.butterflybeginnings.net and facebook/IG @stephaniemillercoach
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NASB – “Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation“
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*.
Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.
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