Many view spiritual activity, church attendance or the addition of new information as spiritual growth or progress. Yet spiritual progress from a biblical standpoint has more to do with becoming more like Jesus, loving others well, reorienting life and priorities etc etc. Over the years churches have focused more on the events or programs than the outcome that those events or programs were intended to produce. This has created church-going people who have thought that the attendance at those things IS the end goal, but those things are merely tools and environments which can make progress better. In this post we’ll discuss a few things that will assist with spiritual progress. Let me be clear this post is for those who are already believers/ followers of Jesus. I don’t want to create the impression that we earn our position with God, that is ONLY by Jesus’ death and resurrection and our faith to respond/ receive His gift. Yet, I do believe in our concern that we not tell people they can do anything to earn God’s love, we’ve inadvertently communicated that faith involves NO effort on our part and that’s not true.
In 2 Peter 1:5-10 there are comments like these: “…make EVERY EFFORT to supplement (or add to) your faith … For if these qualities are yours and are INCREASING, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful … Therefore, brothers, be all the MORE DILIGENT to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Clearly in Peter’s conversation to believers, he is expressing the need for effort, energy and personal focus on our part. Yet even spiritual growth (sanctification) is essentially a cooperation between the Holy Spirit of God and our involvement and effort. So what has God provided and what can you and I do to see spiritual progress a reality in our lives?
1. Since this is not an effort solely by ourselves – we must be in close touch and relationship with God. Spiritual growth happens when we surrender to the Holy Spirit, confess sin, repent and ASK for His movement and power in our lives. As we discuss other practical steps, the spiritual presence and dependence on Him must undergird all of what we do.
2. God put us with other Christians on purpose. The church is meant to be a biblical community which essentially becomes a green house for growth. This is why, I believe, the evil one has sought to keep us separate, build a culture of individualism and even make church about a show or spectator-type event. If we are going to see progress we must fight against the pull of culture and our flesh to focus on the individual and begin focusing on the community. Prioritize regular attendance and involvement. Build relationships. Join a small group or accountability type of environment where you can talk about spiritual things, be authentic with your flat spots and pray for one another. It’s been my experience that these conversations will not come natural even in a church or small group. We must be the ones to initiate conversations about the things that matter most.
3. The Bible must become a bigger part of our everyday. God uses His Word to transform our hearts and orient our priorities. Reading and being in places (like classes) where the Bible is taught and discussed is a part of this. I also would strongly encourage Scripture memory, particularly large chunks of Scripture. I have begun working on the book of 2 Timothy and so far have most of the first chapter memorized. I am amazed how often I find the phrases and texts from this section playing out in my life over these last few months. Our spiritual lives feed off of the Word of God.
4. Practice! and see yourself as “in process” — the point is if you never put yourself in places where you can grow, you won’t. So one of my personal areas of growth has been learning to love others and share my faith. So I’ve made choices recently that while not comfortable or my normal activity have given me opportunity to practice and work out my faith in the context of others. I know of others who wanted to prioritize spiritual things in their lives and while this was not their current reality, they began an effort to start giving financially to the church and God’s work. This forced them to reprioritize their spending and it began to bring about changes in their heart that they never felt possible. You won’t grow over night and therefore, small steps consistently in the right direction will make a big impact!
These are not the end all-be-all in spiritual progress, but likely a great place for most of us to start. I’m just incredibly encouraged you’re reading this, because it means that together we can begin to see the change that Christianity is in need of today. And as more and more of us become more like Jesus, our impact in our world will be tangibly felt!