Over the last few posts in this series, we’ve explored the concept that spiritual growth must be intentional. It flows out of the greatest priority Jesus gave us – loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:34). We accomplish this by finding our delight in Him above all else and seeking His kingdom and His righteousness as our first priority (Matthew 6:33). Because all of those italicized activities are purposeful, it is clear that we must be intentional if we are going to grow in our love for God.
Sanctification Takes Work
To many, this is an uncomfortable truth. Some people would argue that sanctification is God’s job, not mine. “Shouldn’t we just “let go and let God?”, they might ask. To others the word “intentional” sounds like hard work, which in turn sounds to them like “works righteousness”.
Yet works are not a bad thing. Ephesians 2:8-10, while making it clear that we gain no merit with God by our works, nevertheless states that “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Legalism is certainly an ever-present danger, but so is drifting aimlessly in our spiritual life, neglecting to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
I myself felt somewhat reticent to pursue intentional spiritual growth several years ago while still maturing in my walk with God. Like many millennials, I was seeking an “authentic” spiritual experience with God, and I was afraid that any structure (like a personal mission statement or spiritual growth plan) would stifle the spontaneous “heart” of my relationship with God. It wasn’t until I realized that there must be a balance between discipline and delight that I started making much more progress spiritually. John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments” must be balanced with Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” I believe this balance is best summed up by the word “devotion”.
If we mapped out how these concepts fit together we might come up with a diagram like this:
As you can see, discipline and delight are really two sides of the same coin. This is helpful, but there’s more to the story. These elements of loving God are not static. Rather, there should be a continual interaction between the two sides of loving God. As I worship God and delight in Him, I am motivated to discipline myself and run with a purpose (2 Cor. 9:26-27). In return, devotion develops a deeper commitment to God that fuels delight in Him.
The Upward Way
So you can think of spiritual growth as a cycle, set in motion and fueled by the Holy Spirit, where a heart response to God’s word (authentic worship) is put into action by intentional, planned steps toward spiritual growth. This process should continually be repeating itself, resulting in what I call “the spiritual growth spiral”.
Starting the Process
You may be thinking, “This is what I want, but how do I start the process?” You need a catalyst – a point at which something causes you to “wake up” spiritually and stop drifting. The catalyst for spiritual growth is scriptural self-evaluation. It won’t happen if you approach your spiritual life passively or mindlessly. You must allow the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, to pierce your heart and trigger the heart response that starts the process. We’ll explore the concept of scriptural self-evaluation further in a follow-up post.