“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
“we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15)
My last semester in seminary, I took a class on “Creation.” For a whole semester we studied not just the biblical account of the beginning of everything, but also how as Christians we are to understand everything that God has created. The professor was Brent Laytham, who has spoken at Lansdowne UMC a number of times. On the last day of class, he gave each student a plant– a little piece of creation. I was given a parsley plant. We have many other plants in our house, but Katie has always been the one to take care of seeing that they get their water. When I brought the plant home, I forgot about it for a few days and didn’t give it any water. When I finally remembered it, it was wilted and some of the leaves had begun to turn brown. I made my confession to Katie, who promptly watered it and moved it to the window above our kitchen sink where it would get good light. Within hours, it seemed, the plant had perked up and was looking quite healthy. Within days, it was clear that it was actually growing! I had learned a lesson that most children know well, I suppose: either a plant grows by getting the light and water it needs, or it dies. There is nothing in between. Any plant that is not growing is dying.
I find that our spiritual lives are like that parsley plant. They need the light of the Word of God continually shining upon them. They need the living water of the Holy Spirit continually refreshing them. With these ingredients, the Christian will grow spiritually. Without them, the Christian will die spiritually. There is nothing in between. It’s just how we work as God’s creation. Spiritual growth is not an optional add-on to the Christian life. There isn’t life apart from growth.
Growing spiritually really means becoming more and more like Jesus. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:29, we are conformed to the image of God’s Son. As Christians, we have a family resemblance to Jesus, but it’s a resemblance that increases as we spend time in God’s presence.
It’s already November, and before we know it, Advent will be here, then it’ll be Christmas, and then we’ll be celebrating a new year. Now is the time to begin thinking about how you would like to grow in 2018. Many people find it helpful to make New Year’s resolutions. I want to challenge you to do something a little different: to identify your goals for spiritual growth in 2018. In other words, how exactly are you planning to grow spiritually in the ways that you know you need to? If you’re not sure how you need to be growing, a simple way to begin exploring what your goals might be is to ask God! Just pray these three prayers, waiting after each to listen for God’s voice:
- How am I doing?
- What possibilities do you have for me to grow in 2018?
- What is holding me back from growing up to look more like Christ?
If you combine these prayers with daily scripture reading between now and the end of the year, I am confident that God is going to show you some ways that you can grow in 2018– and even starting now! I encourage you to write your goals down, and as you do so, to consider using the following guidelines:
- Be specific. Saying that you want to “read more of the Bible,” “pray more,” or “serve others more” in 2018, although admirable, is not particularly helpful. How much time do you want to spend doing those things? How much of those things do you want to do? Be specific.]
- Be realistic. There is no limit to how much God can grow you in one year, but in order for your goals to keep you focused, they need to seem realistic so that you don’t throw them out the window by week two of January. Maybe you want to read the whole bible in a year. That’s a very good goal, and it’s very achievable for most people. But maybe you’re not reading the bible at all now. Perhaps a more realistic goal would be to read for 10 minutes daily.
- Have a plan. How are you planning to read more bible? How are you planning to pray more? How are you going to strive to be less angry (or whatever the case may be)? How will you pace yourself in working toward your goal? Setting objectives for each goal can be helpful to make intermediate progress.
- Get accountable. Tell a Christian friend that you trust what your goals are for 2018. Ask them to check in with you monthly or every few weeks to see how you’re doing.
The primary theme of God’s growth in me this past year is understanding and living this reality: there is more of God. There is more grace, love, knowledge, and power that I can grow into and share with others. If we think we’ve “arrived” in any way, we stop growing. Stagnant life does not exist. We’re only wilting and dying, or else, growing. Let’s grow!