Spiritual Growth

spiritual growthWhen I was a child my parents measured my growth by marking my height every couple of months on our kitchen door frame. They’d draw a line and put my initials on it along with the date. Over time it was fun to see how I was growing. And it was the expectation of my parents, and my own expectation, that I would grow. That process may have stopped sooner than I would have liked, but it is what it is.

I’ve been thinking lately about spiritual growth, about our growth as individuals and our corporate growth as the body of Christ. Beyond hoping that our congregations will grow numerically, I wonder if we expect to grow spiritually as individuals and corporately. And what does that growth look like? As I reflect on my experiences in Sunday School, Confirmation and certainly my experience in seminary I can’t help but wonder if our primary expectation of spiritual growth is that we’re learning more information. I confess that for a long time I confused learning more information with experiencing real transformation. But they aren’t the same.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Learning is critical. St. Paul talks about the importance of being transformed by the renewal of our minds. But I’m pretty sure that being smarter isn’t the destination of spiritual growth; becoming more like Jesus is. While our spiritual growth isn’t as easily tracked as lines on a kitchen door frame, there are mile markers along the journey. Those markers are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). And Paul reminds us in that same chapter of Galatians that these characteristics of Christlikeness don’t happen because of our effort or because we’ve followed a bunch of rules. They are the work the Spirit.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for us to do. Spiritual growth requires practice. I recently read a powerful definition of spiritual practices, sometimes called “disciplines”:

A spiritual discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort. [1]

I can’t make myself more loving, at least not for long. Only God can do that.

I can’t make myself more joyful. And the more I fail the crankier I get. Only God can do that.

I can’t make myself more peaceful. The more I try the more anxious I become. Only God can do that.

I can’t make myself my patient, no matter how hard I try. Only God can do that.

Over the next few weeks I want to explore spiritual formation and the spiritual practices that open us to receiving the transforming power of God. And I’d really love for us to learn from one another, so start the conversation by leaving a comment.

Here’s the question for this week: when it comes to spiritual growth, what does your heart most long for? Not what do you think you should long for, but what do you really, really yearn for?

Here’s to the journey. Let’s leave the destination God’s hands.

[1] The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, p. xxxiv, Harper, San Francisco.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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  • Vicki Asmus

    I want a closer relationship with Jesus.

  • Ken Walter

    More of Father God’s Spirit, less of this world, His love in my heart, faith providing peace, trust and wholeness walking His lighted path.
    “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and Grace”
    “Have thine own way Lord, Thou are the Potter, I am the clay, mold me and make me, after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”

  • Allie Maung

    “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,” and “Have thine own way” are 2 of the most beautiful hymns – Thanks, Ken, for the reminders. These words go through my head when I am feeling either that God is the only one to whom I can turn in desperate times, or when everything seems so beautiful & peaceful, I feel especially blessed by the grace of God. What my heart yearns for most in spiritual growth is to be able to share the “seasons” of this relationship with God with others who might be in similar places on this journey.