Growing Up Is Hard To Do
To measure the church’s spirituality today many focus attention on the number of new people who attend. Some equate (or at least assume and equation between) numerical growth with spiritual growth. I am not one to minimize either one at the expense of the other. For the sake of this article, however, I wish to focus on spiritual growth realizing full well that one does not negate the other. The presence of both is the ideal in God’s will.
Bible writers use the image of growth applying it at many levels. The nation of Israel is likened by the Almighty to a “shoot I have planted” and to a vine: “I had planted you like a choice vine” (see Isaiah 60:21; Jeremiah 2:21). While God expected growth in holiness and righteousness, often, however, Israel was spiritually stagnant and even regressed showing spiritual decay rather than growth. When the nation repented (returned to God) it was like the “blossoming lilies,” or the deep rooted majestic cedars of Lebanon, or the ‘flourishing corn” (See Hosea 14:5-7).
The individual believer is also supposed to grow. The blessed man, for example, yields fruit always (i.e. is always growing), ever growing deeper in trust of God, in delighting in his word, and in living rightly (See Psalm 1L3; Psalm 92:12-15; Jeremiah 7:17ff). God remains sovereign and faithful to the one who has set his heart on growth. With his power he revives him. The haughty will be blown away (See Isaiah 40:23-24), but the humble will be rooted.
Jesus uses the image of growth in talking about his most important mission: making the kingdom of God available to all who enter through faith in him and live as citizens in it. This kingdom is ever growing (Matthew 6:28, 31-34). Words like seeds, leaven, wheat, figs, shrubs (see Matthew 13:24-30) are used to embed the idea of growth of the kingdom and in the kingdom of God.
Paul talks about the growth of the message of the gospel asking the church to pray for this growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). He also urges “new borns” in Christ to grow spiritually (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). Peter urges a “growing up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). It takes spiritual maturity to go from spiritual milk to spiritual solid food!
Specifically, Paul urges leaders of the church to equip the members to grow or to attain “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Growth is always to be measured by the stature of Jesus Christ, or conformity to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29).
What then do we make of this expectation in Scripture to grow? If God expects growth and exhorts leaders to equip for growth then spiritual growth must be possible. We must ask the hard question: As leaders of God’s flock, as leaders in our homes, how are we equipping our people to grow up to the stature of Christ? How intentional are we going about it? How do we model it where we work? Have we abdicated intentional equipping unto Christlikeness to our preaching on Sundays when we know that growth demands much more than that?
This prompts me to ask you further (my readers) what I ask myself periodically: What is your intentional plan for spiritual growth in 2007? Have you one? Do you need help with it? Ask someone you are close to if they would share his or hers with you. Are you helping each person in the church to devise a simple plan for growth? If no one is able to help, you may call me (800-984-9092).
May I encourage you to give serious reflection time to these questions! The vision of God in the Bible is that we be conformed to the image of Christ. With intention you can put a simple strategy in place to help you attain the vision. Fortunately, one strategy is unavoidable: It’s called life with all its trials and opportunities. Learning from life, however obvious we may think, is not automatic. It takes some discernment the Holy Spirit is only eager to give.
The other strategy (I will say more about this next month) is the practice of the spiritual disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth. The contribution of the disciplines of the Christian life like solitude, silence, fasting, meditation, service, and the like is crucial to the quest for spiritual growth.
A vision becomes reality with intention. Without an intentional plan for spiritual growth the vision of Christlikeness to which all Christians are called will remain elusive.
Walkers with the Master walk the disciplined way and thereby, by the grace of God, grow into the likeness of their Master.
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