How does a person grow? Specifically, for followers of Jesus, how does a person grow spiritually? Another word for growth is sanctification--that supernatural process by which the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and forms us into Christ's image. Growth is primarily a work that God does in us--I can't, essentially, make myself grow.
And yet you can't escape the New Testament's overwhelming pulse that God commands us to intentionally pursue Him, that growth is, in some ways, our job as Christians. There are quite a few texts that illuminate this, but 1 Timothy 4:7 comes to mind. Paul here tells us to "discipline ourselves to godliness." In other words, yes the Holy Spirit does the work in us, but we also will not grow if our Christian life consists of us sitting on the couch and waiting for growth to happen.
So how do we grow? What are the tools God uses? That question could fill up a year's worth of blog posts. It certainly has motivated the writing of many books, sermons, etc. But maybe a better question is this: what are some ways to ensure that we DON'T grow spiritually? I've got five ways to ensure that you, as a Christian, do NOT grow spiritually:
1) Don't Be Intentional About Your Spiritual Life. I'm amazed at how little Christians prioritize their spiritual growth. If you treat church as something you do if you can feel like it, then don't be surprised if you don't "get fed" at the place you worship. If you don't intentionally pursue knowledge about God through reading of good books and listening to good podcasts, don't be surprised at a lack of spiritual fruit. If you don't prioritize a study of God's Word, prayer, and the spiritual disciplines, you will not see continued growth. You will stay the same. If you don't want to grow in Christ, make sure your spiritual life is something that gets the leftovers of your times and energy and effort. Make sure you never read a book that makes you get out a dictionary. Feed your soul on the light fare and the junk food.
2) Always Hang Out With People Just Like You. One of the ways God uses to stretch us is by putting people in our paths who are radically different from us. We live in a world of radical individualization and, if you are not careful, this can creep into your life, especially as you get older and more secure in your worldview. You'll be tempted to hang out only with people who agree with you and reinforce your own biases. This will ensure that you have the exact same opinion on every single issue as you did five years ago. It will also keep you from being exposed to people from differing cultures, tribes, and perspectives. If you don't want to grow, keep looking for friends, churches, associations, blogs, books that just tell you what you like to hear all the time. Make sure you never have conversations with people who disagree with you, radically. Yeah, do that. This is a real growth killer.
3) Never take any risks. If you want to ensure that you are the same exact person you were five years ago, be so conservative in everything you do that you don't take any risks. But here's the thing, if you construct a life with minimal risk, you're essentially editing out the need for faith. I heard this last week from a talk by Bryan Lorits. He essentially said that faith assumes risk. Imagine if Abraham stayed in Ur, because Ur was more secure. Would he have experienced all the richness of God's love? Would he have grown into the mighty man of faith we see in Hebrews 11? No, he wouldn't have. We probably wouldn't have heard of him, would we? Take some risks in life. Put yourself in some situations, relationships, job assignments--that are completely and totally foreign, that will require maximum effort and knee-knocking faith.
4) Keep patting yourself on the back. There is a reason that the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). You only grow and you only find wisdom for life when you realize that you need to grow and that you need wisdom for life. Lot of young guys do this. They don't read, study, ask questions, because they think they've got it figured out. This was me until I became a father of four and realized I have no clue about life and I need God to pour wisdom into me. I find this dynamic in my role as pastors. The most humble, searching, digging-into-the-Scriptures guys are the ones who have lots of responsibility (family, job, etc). They know they are in need of divine guidance. If you don't want to really grow spiritually, keep thinking you know stuff. Wisdom only comes after you've bowed your knee in humility to the God who knows all things. As long as you think you are the master of your universe and that you don't need any help with anything, you will ensure that you will not grow.
5) Chase trends and dis faithfulness. If you want to have a life of unfruitfulness, keep chasing new trends and paradigms. Keep looking for the easy way out, the shortcut. People who stay the same are people who don't like to work hard at growth, who don't want to put in the blood, sweat, and tears of a life of impact. My generation--we love to talk big about how we are going to change the world--but I wonder if we value faithfulness and steadiness like previous generations. If you want an insignificant life of spurts and starts and stops, keep chasing the next big thing, keep avoiding the hard choices, the sweat, the grind of daily life. Keeping your hand at the wheel, year after year, ensures a life of depth, of weight, of character.
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