Unleash Your Spiritual Growth with Kristi McLelland

Sometimes single parents feel stuck - circumstantially, relationally, and even spiritually. Statistics reveal that the majority of single parents do not attend church. Many feel judged or like they don’t belong or fit in.

Kristi McLelland, author, professor, biblical scholar, and speaker shares how single parents who may feel distant from their faith community can lean into spiritual growth again by remembering how Jesus’ dealt with those who felt like outcasts. In Jesus’ time, table fellowship was one of the highest forms of social affiliation in the middle east, and it is still that way today. Eating together was binding and adhesive. By eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus showed acceptance to the very people who were being rejected by others.

“In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is headed to a meal, at a meal, or leaving a meal,” shares Kristi, “Jesus loves food.” There’s a reason heaven is portrayed as a banquet. Eating is a big deal in the Bible. Jesus often and regularly embraced people by having meals with them. He started reaching for those on the margins and centralizing them. He not only met them on the margins, but he also pulled them to the center of his ministry. He focused on them. They didn't get the leftovers. They got him in some of his most primary Messianic fulfillments eating together at tables.”

Kristi shares the story at the end of Luke 18 where Jesus is headed into Jericho and he is met by a blind man, Bartimaeus. His name means son of filth, and he is on the side of the road as Jesus walks by. He cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Those around rebuked him and told him to leave Jesus alone, but Jesus stops, looks at him, and says, “What do you want me to do for you?”.

“If you want to know who Jesus is,” says Kristi, “He is the one who will stop for you. He will stop for you when you are blind and busted up, in your filth, whatever that means or feels like for you when everyone is telling him to keep moving.” Jesus, doesn’t keep going. He doesn’t pass by. He responds to Bartimaeus and heals him. Then he continues on further, where he meets a tax collector named Zaccheus. Zaccheus was “another kind of an outcast” because he collaborated with Rome and is hated by others in his community. Jesus stops and tells Zaccheus to come out of the tree he had climbed because Jesus is going to his house, and there they share table fellowship.

These stories show us who Jesus is and what He is like. We see Jesus’ orientation to the outcast. “[Jesus] sees, he stops for the outcast, he centralizes the outcast, he eats with the outcast.” “Jesus saw them in their filth, in their collaboration with Rome and gave me my sight back, came into my house and ate at my table; this is who He is,” says Kristi.

When we feel like an outcast in certain parts of our lives where we feel shame in our mistakes and the things we have sold out for, we can remember that Jesus regularly embraced outcasts.

Jesus meets us exactly where we are but refuses to leave us there. Barthameus and Zaccheus were changed by Jesus’ interaction in their lives. He met them in the margins. “If you want to get close to Jesus, feeling like an outcast is a pretty great place to start, Kristi continues, “The Bible is full of stories of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, welcoming, embracing, and accepting people as they are and refusing to leave them there.”

Kristi tells people all the time that the Living God is “better than we even know”. UnderstandingJesus in his Jewish world and the intentionality of his life and ministry is good news for the poor, the brokenhearted, those on the margins, the outcasts, and those anchored in shame.
Jesus meets us to transform us. He doesn’t embrace to leave us the way we were.

Spiritual growth in the West is often viewed as a series of spiritual rhythms and practices we are meant to follow. Kristi has daily spiritual rhythms of faith, too - prayer, reading the Bible, being generous, and being part of her local church. But spiritual growth doesn't happen because of what we do. Spiritual growth happens the more we relinquish to God and let Him into our lives.

John 15 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Jesus equates spiritual growth to the Gardener. God vigilantly, actively, and daily tends to His vineyard, vines, and branches. At the heart of spiritual growth is believing that the living God intends good for us. Kristi shares that when God comes close, it’s not to “smite us, kill us, or hurt us. He is coming to put his hands on you to tend you, to lift you up”. The Gardener tends to you to let the sun bring light so you can grow and flourish. We don't practice spiritual disciplines to make ourselves bear fruit. We do those things because when we engage with God, we let Him put His hands on us, and He tends us like a gardener tends his vines, so they bear much fruit.
 

Kristi shares that she gets in trouble when she denies the Gardener access to her, when she starts telling him, “I’ve got it. I’m good.” But when she relinquishes or surrenders to Him and prays, “Put your hands on me, God. Do your work in my life”, that’s when she grows. “We are busy trying to be beautiful grapes. We try to love our families and our neighbors well. But, the Bible says God is the Gardener. Are we letting Him put His hands on us?” Are we letting Him tend to us?

“When we feel stuck, the answer is not more activity because that’s in the spirit of an orphan. That’s the striving and straining…How can I kickstart my spiritual growth?”, shares Kristi. It is actualy when she gets to the point in life where she relinquishes and says, “Living God, I agree with you. Move on my life in a way I cannot do for me” that she bears the most fruit.

After you pray that, start listening and paying attention. After that prayer, Kristi says she starts to feel quickened to things like calling a friend to have lunch, and it turns into a crazy encouraging conversation. As we relinquish and surrender to God, we start feeling what He is moving us toward in our spirit. Those nudges are the invitation and rivers He is inviting you into, and that is where we will find ourselves growing as we surrender to Him and His direction and care.

The last two years of not being able to go to Israel were incredibly difficult for Kristi because Israel is home for her. While she was in the U.S., she was doing lots of pouring out spiritually and far less of being poured into. But, the more she relinquished her desire to go to Israel, the more God started showing her what He had planned for her here in the states.

“We are not orphans. We are not fatherless.” God didn't leave us here to figure things out on our own. Whatever got you stuck doesn’t really matter, she shares, “Give it to the Living God and put yourself in His hands.” He will start breathing on our spirits and positioning us under Him to grow and produce fruit. “When you’re tired, the last thing you need is one more thing to do”, Kristi continues. Let yourself just be with God and trust growth to come from your surrender to Him.

Single parents sometimes feel like we are in the wilderness and cant return home. How can we see the purpose in the wilderness? Kristi shares that in the West, we ask “How do we get out of this?” but in the East, the wilderness is where you go to get your word from the Lord. God does some of his best work in the wilderness. God went into the wilderness with His people. When we are in a wilderness season, we look up and think God where are you, but He is saying, “Look, I’m right next to you, I’m here beside you.” It is in the wilderness that Moses saw the burning bush. After being baptized, Jesus immediately went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. When He emerged, He began his ministry. Some things are only activated by time spent in the wilderness because God is with us in the wilderness. It is there that He can give us a tiny word, one sense or a moment that fuels us.

When you are in the wilderness, ask God for His word to you. When we despise the wilderness, we are missing the wedding, says Kristi, because in Hosea 2, it says,
 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
  I will lead her into the wilderness
  and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards
  and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth,as in the day she came up out of Egypt.“In that day,” declares the Lord,
  “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will betroth you to me forever;
  I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
  in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
  and you will acknowledge the Lord.”

God meets us in the wilderness and asks us to marry Him! He says that then we will “acknowledge” Him. The word used for acknowledge or to know God is the same word used for when Adam “knew” Eve. In the wilderness, God is inviting us to a wedding, to be married to Him, and to know Him intimately.

Don’t despise your wilderness season. Instead, look for God to be near in it. Ask Him for the word He has for you. Relinquish your plans and let Him tend to you. In the wilderness, you can bear much fruit and grow spiritually more than you even thought possible.

Kristi's courses - https://newlensbiblicalstudies.teachable.com/courses
Kristi's podcast - https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/pearls-with-kristi-mclelland/id1606458317
Kristi's site - https://www.newlensbiblicalstudies.com





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