One of the great paradoxical realities of life is that we’re continually growing while we’re continually dying – physically and spiritually. Our bones and muscles might stop growing during our teen years, but our cartilage never stops – which is why I’ll someday need a box truck to haul around my ears. Spiritually, we die to our sins every day, while longing for spurts of growth that bring us closer to God.
Our spiritual growth spurts typically happen in three distinct phases: Times of inspiration, times of desperation, and times of gratitude. (Side note: Attempts at alliteration resulted in frustration, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.) Those phases often start out sequentially, but then they tend to come and go and return again in no particular order.
I originally saw this as the time of conversion, that period right after we surrender our lives to Jesus and we’re on fire to learn anything and everything about what it means to follow Him. We read. We listen. We are proactive in our pursuit of the head knowledge that strengthens our heart knowledge. Then someone in our Bible study noted that this period often repeats when we attend events where a speaker inspires us to greater obedience. These mountaintop experiences can happen during a Sunday morning service, a conference, while reading a book or a blog – anything that re-ignites a passion for spiritual growth.
Times of Desperation
Christianity isn’t a faith that offers the promise of happiness in this life; instead, it offers peace and joy in the midst of trouble and a trouble-free existence only in eternity. Jesus promised that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and our experiences confirm it. But it’s in times of trouble that we often experience the deepest dependence on the Father, and thus our greatest spurts of spiritual growth.
Times of Gratitude
We might never live on Easy Street, but there are times when life rolls along in ways we can only describe as blessed. For instance, God has blessed me with an amazing wife, consistent work, wonderful friends, and a great family. We have “issues,” but they are pretty small compared to those others face or even those we’ve faced in the past. This state draws me closer to God because hardly a minute goes by when I’m not overwhelmed with gratitude for all that He’s given me – so much more than I deserve. When my response is to run into His arms, my heart and mind are open to spiritual growth.
So why is it important that we recognize these phases of growth? Because we need to appreciate them when we’re experiencing them and we need to find our way back to them when we’re not. All three draw us to surrender to and dependence on God, two essential ingredients for spiritual growth.
If we attend a conference or worship service and hear an inspiring talk but greet it with indifference, we’re missing a growth opportunity. If we encounter troubled waters and fail to reach for Jesus in the storm, we’re missing a growth opportunity. And if we’re bathed in the blessings of our Father and fail to hug Him tightly in gratitude, we’re missing a growth opportunity.
What happens when we miss these growth opportunities? You guessed it. The only thing that’s growing is our ears. The rest of us is dying.