Tonight’s sermon was from Hebrews 3:7-19 TNIV and offer us four key reminders to making spiritual progress.

Listen to God
The first step in making spiritual progress is to hear God’s voice. Every work that has a lasting impact has its origins in God. We will only achieve lasting, eternal significance if we first of all listen to God. So often, we are full of good ideas and want to be doing things – often good things – but for us to do works that will have eternal significance, those works must have their origins in God rather than in our own good ideas. ‘You reveal and we respond.’ (‘King of Wonders’, Matt Redman et al). The only principle that works in the kingdom of God is this one of God initiating and us hearing His voice and responding to it. That’s why prayer and worship have to be fundamental to everything a church does; social action flows from this listening to God’s heart and responding to Him. Acts 13:1-3 TNIV shows us what can happen when people hear God: the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas flowed from the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the church. God can speak in a loud voice or in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12 TNIV), but the key thing about hearing the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:4 TNIV) is listening! Listening to God is not always easy; discerning His voice from the many which clamour for our attention is not easy. But hearing God speak to us will always revolutionise who we are and what we do.

Hearing God’s voice is only the first step to spiritual progress. The next step is to believe what He says and then to act on it: ‘When you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.’ (Heb 3:7-8 TNIV) When God speaks, we have a choice. We can believe what He says or we can look at things with our natural eyes and doubt His motives and His ability. This recurring phrase about not hardening our hearts refers back to the wilderness wanderings of Israel, when, despite God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt and miraculous provision of manna, water and resources in the desert, reacted predominantly with doubt and unbelief. Hardening your heart does not happen ‘accidentally.’ We always have a choice set before us: to believe (and act on) what God has said or to listen to our own doubts, the doubts of other people, or the voice of the enemy. The question is not so much ‘to be, or not to be’ (in the words of William Shakespeare), but ‘to believe or not to believe’! It is our response to that question which will determine our spiritual progress. James reminds us, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22 TNIV).

The next step for us to take if we are to avoid a hardening of our hearts is to learn the daily value of encouragement. ‘But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ (Heb 3:13 TNIV) Encouragement is the method we can use to ensure we keep on believing God, rather than falling into the trap of hard hearts. On our own, we are likely to falter. We are likely to shrink back and give up. Charlie Cleverly says ‘encouragement is the oxygen that keeps us running through the challenges life presents.’

Numbers 13 and 14 show us the two reactions we can have to the same situation. Most of the spies did not believe God could deliver the land to His people and their discouragement was pervasive. Only Joshua and Caleb believed God was mighty enough to do what He had promised. Discouragement is contagious, but faith and encouragement can also spread like wildfire! When we believe, we can encourage others to believe. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.’ (Heb 10:39 TNIV) We are told to ‘encourage one another’ (Heb 10:25 TNIV) and to ‘consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.’ (Heb 10:24 TNIV) Encouragement literally means ‘to give courage to‘. There will be many times on the journey of life when we need encouragement. That is why God has put us in a body, in a family; why we are not meant to go it alone all the time.

Hold Firm
The final step to making progress is to hold firm to the end. We hear God, believe Him, holding on to His promises even if we cannot see how they can actually be worked out. We encourage others to hold on. But the last step that is required is often the hardest for us to do. We have to hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. We have to persevere. We have to keep on believing. We have to keep on praying. We have to keep on working. We must not give up. Hebrews 10:36 TNIV says ‘You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.’ (see also James 1:12 TNIV). Don’t allow the difficulties and trials we are currently experiencing to overshadow the hope we have of what God can and will achieve if we do persevere. Paul urges us to keep our eyes on the end goal (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-18 TNIV and Gal 6:9 TNIV.)