Spiritual growth can seem elusive. But you don’t have to stay stuck where you are. Maybe it’s time to rethink your approach.
Walk into any Christian book store, or browse any online retailer, and you’ll see them: rows upon rows of “Spiritual Growth” titles. Those glossy catalogs that still come in the mail make the same old promises. “Breakthroughs, a new perspective, and a revitalized faith.”
The publishers and sellers know how important growth – especially the desire to grow – is to us. So they keep churning out books, study guides, and group materials. And we keep buying them, reading them, and then putting them on the shelf with the rest.
But have we truly grown? Do we see the change in our lives we long for?
Growth is an essential and indisputable part of the Christian life. The apostle Paul wrote in his magnificent letter to the churches in Ephesus that they – and we – “are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15 ESV). We are alive in Christ. Living things grow.
Growth is good. It’s okay to want it. So, why does spiritual growth sometimes seem so hard to achieve? Why is it so easy to get stuck, to feel like we aren’t progressing. And what can we do about it?
I’d like to offer three bits of advice, based on my recent discoveries. They’ve helped me. And I think they can help you, too.
1. Stop settling for the same old thing
You’ve heard that old definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? It may be a cliche, but it’s true for your spiritual life.
Let me provide an analogy from another form of personal improvement.
My weight started creeping up a year or two ago. This was despite maintaining my low-carb diet and running two or three times a week. So I did some research, and learned that moderate cardio may not be the best exercise for men over 40.
So I shook things up. I learned about high-intensity interval training. I invested in a sound ebook backed by scientific research, picked up some used free weights, and tried some new routines. It wasn’t easy. But now I have more lean body mass than I used to and my clothes fit better than ever.
Sometimes “It’s always worked for me” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The “same old thing” can feel like forward motion because it’s familiar. But staying in your old routines can mask the fact you’re really going nowhere.
The same small groups. The same Bible study writers from the same publishing company. The same personal spiritual habits. Those things can feel like forward motion because they’re familiar. But staying in your old routines can mask the fact you’re really going nowhere.
So, what if one problem is you’re going in the completely wrong direction?
2. Go backward to go forward
What? No, that’s not a typo. And it’s not a contradiction, although it sounds like one.
We in broader western Christianity have been making a big mistake for a long time, thinking that the “next big thing” to come along is always the best. We’re really good at following trends and giving into whatever the Evangelical Industrial Complex says is good for us.
Remember The Purpose Driven Church? How about “WWJD”? The Prayer of Jabez? The Purpose Driven Life? Experience-oriented movements like this come and go. Publishing sales are largely behind their intermittent ubiquity. Campaigns like this make big promises. But how often do they truly deliver?
Ask yourself a blunt question: How much spiritual growth have you experienced as a result of all the next big things you’ve followed? If they really have helped you, great! I’m glad to hear it. But I suspect they’ve probably left you feeling disillusioned, stagnant, and maybe even a little disappointed.
Every time another popular Bible study or growth movement comes along, the people behind it are just trying to repackage and reformulate what they know has sold before. So we keep rushing forward, trying to stay ahead of the curve, hoping this next same old thing is going to produce different results.
I wouldn’t say it’s insanity, exactly. But it isn’t productive. Or healthy.
So, instead of going forward, how about we go backward for a change?
The Christian Church is nearly 2,000 years old. A lot of brilliant minds have wrestled with the same things we struggle with today. Many of them took up quills and pens to record their thoughts and wisdom, much of which still survives. And it’s sitting there, waiting to be rediscovered.
The problem is knowing where to begin.
3. Follow a trustworthy guide
“Trust me. I’m an expert.”
Expertise sounds like a strong selling point. In reality, it’s a pretty cheap commodity. Anyone can claim to be “the authority on X.” But the onus is on them to prove it.
Anyone with a real estate license and an ad on the side of a bus can seem like an expert on buying a home. Social media brim with self-proclaimed gurus who promise mass profits in digital marketing. But with a free image tool and about 15 minutes, anyone can create a slick-looking Twitter account and buy thousands of followers.
I’m not an expert in classic theology. But I love the subject. I love reading the wisdom of authors and preachers from centuries ago. I get excited when I discover they had the same fears, hopes, and desires I do. I’m humbled when I find out they “discovered” the same thing in Scripture I did, but before electricity.
Yes, it can be hard. No, this stuff ins’t always easy to read or comprehend. But the effort is so worth it.
I want to share with you what I’m learning as I engage with the wisdom and hearts of long-dead saints. I want you experience the same joys and surprises as you peel back the covers of old books and learn how fresh and new their writings can be. I want to be your guide as we travel these old roads together.
I want you to stop settling for the same old things, go backward so you can finally move forward, and come along with me.
Are you ready? Then let’s go.