Spiritual Growth in Work and RelationshipsBlog / Produced by The High Calling
The word "grow" has evolved into an unnoticed metaphor in the English language. 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. But what does it mean to truly "grow"?
The call to spiritual growth is ubiquitous in Scripture. Adam was created to grow in his love for God and for Eve. Israel was commanded to grow into a holy, worshiping 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 (Mark 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 it 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. A demanding deadline or an unsympathetic friend can seem like an obstacle to growth instead of an opportunity.
Spiritual Growth Happens Best in Work and Community
As it turns out, God created us to grow in and through difficult connections with others. 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).
We don't grow in isolation from people and work; we grow with and through them. We are designed to grow up in every way (including work) into Christ together (in community). The burden of difficult people and challenging work can help us learn to depend on Jesus not ourselves.
Spiritual growth happens in earthy places. Under the demand of deadlines, our true character comes out. Will we be gracious or impatient? Will we work with a grumbling or enduring spirit? Will we take out frustrations on our fellow employees, or counsel our hearts and avoid sinning against them (Ps. 4; Eph. 4)?
The challenges of work and community press us into grace so that we can produce the fruit of spiritual growth—the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). The full stature of Christ is both personal and communal. We grow personally more like Christ, but we do so through the community, the body of Christ. We need one another to speak the truth in love, to correct us when we aren't embracing God's appointed grace for our spiritual growth.
Five Ways You Can Look for Spiritual Growth
What are some ways we can respond to the difficulty of detecting spiritual growth? How do we know if we are truly growing into the full stature of Christ?
1) 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. Share your failures, your hopes, and your faith in God with one another, but steer one another away from feeling-based Christianity. Instead, point one another to the promises of God like Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul tells us that the way we work out our salvation is by the God who works in us according to his good pleasure!
2) 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. Believe promises like Ephesians 2:4-9, where Paul reminds us that the grace that saves us is the same grace that grows us.
3) Spiritual growth is relative but real.
Depending on the person and season, spiritual growth may be fast or slow. Some of us are starting from very dark places, where we believe more lies than truths. We may have emotional, physical, or psychological conditions that make it more difficult to grow. We may be trapped in patterns of addiction and sin. However, if we desire spiritual growth, God can meet us where we are.
4) Our 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. We can be so individualistic, proud, and insecure that we rarely celebrate growth in another person's life. Make a habit of pointing out the growth you see in others and celebrate God's grace in their lives. Be a good church family. Let your words "give grace to those who hear" and do not ignore those in need (Eph. 4:29).
5) God can use trial and temptation to grow us.
Just because growth is hard doesn't mean that it isn't happening. Trial and temptation is often a sign of God's work in our circumstances to draw us away from the fleeting promises of sin into the sweeter promises of grace. Allow trial and temptation to push you closer to God, not away from him. Difficult things often indicate God's presence, not his absence. He disciplines those whom he loves. Join the saints in taking up armor in the spiritual fight and fight with and for one another. Make prayers for all the saints, not just yourself (Eph. 6).
How do we grow? By faith, incrementally, relatively, in community, and in difficulty. Don't despair. Difficulty in work and relationships can be God's appointed grace for our spiritual growth. He does not leave us alone to grow spiritually. We grow "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
How do we press into Jesus-centered grace and knowledge? By speaking his truth and embodying his love to one another, by reminding one another of the sufficiency of Jesus in the challenges of work and relationships. The call to spiritual growth is a call to grow up into the full stature of Christ together. Next time you encounter difficulty in relationships or at work, pause and remind yourself that this is God's appointed grace for your spiritual growth. Lean on God's promises. Speak the truth in love and grow up in Christ.
Questions for reflection or small group discussions:
- How can you adjust your measurements of spiritual growth?
- Who can you encourage regarding the growth you have seen in their life?
- Are there any reasons you might not be experiencing the kind of spiritual growth you desire?