“But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Spiritual growth isn’t an option. It’s a command. The Christian life knows nothing of cruise control or auto-pilot. While God is at work in us, we are also supposed to be at work in sanctification (the fancy theological term for spiritual growth). Check out Phil. 2:12-13: “So then, my beloved…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Curious as it may seem, it works both ways. God works, and so do we. Of course, you don’t have to worry about God putting effort into your growth; He’s always active, skillfully using every situation, success, and setback to chip away any part of you that doesn’t look like Jesus. But what effort are you putting in?
That probably seems daunting. Maybe you don’t even know where to start. After all, you realize that there isn’t a single area of your life that is totally conformed to the character of Christ! This acknowledgement can lead to paralysis, causing you to be so overstimulated by the need to grow that you don’t grow at all. I’m sure you could attack your spiritual growth in many ways, but let me offer you one method that has been influential in my life.
- Pick a Word.
Here’s how it works. After prayerful consideration, pick a word. This word should be a summary of the area in which you’d like to see growth. Again, I realize that might seem like a tall order, but in my experience the Holy Spirit presses on one particular area and gives me a word that I can’t wiggle away from (and believe me, I’ve tried!). It might be a positive area like love, grace, prayer, or respect; or it might be the negative act or attitude you’d like to put off like laziness, sarcasm, idolatry, or overeating. But don’t box yourself in—be creative. I know someone who once chose slave as her word—as in living as a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. Whatever you choose, be ready for God to work in surprising ways in that area in the coming year!
2. Set Some Goals.
Next, think through some specific goals for how you want to grow in your word. After all, if you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it. Be as specific and measurable as possible with your goals. Here are some ideas:
- Read a specific book (or two or three or forty) on the topic of focus.
- Spend a specific amount of time in a specific book/passage of the Bible that you think directly addresses the topic.
- Memorize a specific passage of Scripture.
- Pick a theme verse to make your daily prayer—This is one of my favorites. It’s very simple to accomplish, but it’s also very powerful. For instance, maybe you chose servant as your word. A theme verse might be Phil 2:4 (“Do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”). Turn this into a prayer—“Father, help me today not to look out just for my interests, but make me more interested in others’ lives.” God is faithful to answer prayers according to His will, and you know for certain that it’s His will that you grow in the area of your word. Faithful, persistent prayer will reap growth!
- Do a word study on your word—look up the different places in Scripture that mention the word and study through them.
- Listen to a specific number of sermons on the topic—We live in an amazing age as we can listen to thousands (millions?) of fabulous biblical sermons for free.
You probably thought of a few more ideas as you read that list. Two more thoughts about goals: 1) Make sure that you know whether you achieved it (remember, specific and measurable!) and 2) set goals that will push you but that are also achievable. If you’re daunted by memorizing any Scripture, setting the goal of memorizing the book of Revelation probably isn’t for you this year. But, if you work at it, you can probably memorize a chapter in 12 months!
3. Use the Buddy System.
Finally, share your word with someone else. Just as John Bunyan’s Christian was accompanied by his companions Faithful and Hopeful, we need each other on our journey toward the Celestial City. This provides accountability and support. I’m always grateful to know that other people are praying for me in my own spiritual slog. I need others to ask me how it’s going. Have I gone off the rails in Vanity Fair? Am I drowning in the Slough of Despair or trapped in Doubting Castle? At different times I’ve been stuck in all those places, just as you have, and it’s often been a faithful friend to come alongside and get me back on the path. So, although it requires transparency and vulnerability (gulp!), go ahead and share your word with a friend or spouse.
So there you go, one method for attacking your own spiritual growth. Are you up for it? If so, you’ll probably be surprised at how God takes the word you choose and uses it to accomplish the growth you need. So…what word are you going to pick?