Growth? What Growth?
The word “grow” is used for all kinds of things. We talk about growing our gardens, growing our savings, growing our leadership, the growth of our children, the growth of our business or ministry, and even our own spiritual growth.
The Importance of Growth
Spiritual growth also is a pervasive theme in the Bible. Adam was created to grow in his love for God and for Eve. Israel was commanded to grow into a holy, worshipping multitude (Gen 48:16). The prophets rebuked and praised Israel for their failure and success in growth (Isa 17; Jer 12). Jesus compared our growth to seeds that bear thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold (Mk 4:8). Peter commands us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).
Spiritual growth is clearly a biblical theme. But how do we grow? Spiritual growth can be difficult to detect, frustrating to foster, and even painful to experience. When we place our growth in the context of messy relationships and demanding work, it gets even harder.
The Difficulty of Growth
A demanding deadline or an unsympathetic friend - often these situations are seen as obstacles to spiritual growth. As it turns out, God created us to grow in and through tension in our relationships with others. We are meant to grow through adversity, which often occurs in community.
In Ephesians, Paul reveals the communal nature of spiritual growth when he writes: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16). Spiritual growth happens when we are speaking the truth in love to one another. But even when we are doing this, it can be very difficult to detect growth in our own lives.
Why Aren’t You Seeing Growth?
How do we know if we are truly growing into the full stature of Christ? Here are five reasons we may not be seeing the spiritual growth we want.
Feelings can be misleading. Just because we don’t feel holy doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t making us holy. Feelings aren’t an adequate barometer of spiritual growth, but the gospel always leads us into growth.
We have trouble seeing incremental growth. If you checked the growth of an orange on a tree each day until it was ripe, you would not perceive its change; however, if you checked it only at its inception and conclusion, the growth would be obvious. You can grow without seeing it. More often than not, the Spirit grows us in increments, not leaps and bounds.
Spiritual growth is relative but real. Depending on the person and season, spiritual growth may be fast or slow. Some of us have sinned so much that the deeply ingrained patterns of believing lies instead of truth slow down the progress of faith. On top of this, we may have emotional, physical, or psychological conditions that make it more difficult to grow.
The church family doesn’t encourage one another enough. As the church, it is important that we point out and celebrate growth in one another’s lives. But we are so individualistic, proud, and insecure that we rarely celebrate growth in another person’s life. Making a habit of pointing out growth in others may help us see God’s hand in our own lives.
God is using trial and temptation to grow us. Just because growth is hard, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. Trial and temptation are often signs of God’s work in our circumstances to draw us away from the fleeting promises of sin into the sweeter promises of His grace.
How do we grow? Very often it is incrementally and relatively, in community and through difficulty. If you don’t see spiritual growth, don’t despair. Consider these five factors; pray through them, asking God to encourage or correct your self-perception. And remember that difficulties in work and relationships aren’t obstacles but opportunities to receive God’s appointed grace for our spiritual change.
Post by Jonathan Dodson.