The concept of growth has been on my mind a lot lately it seems. I can’t say it’s been due to a particular verse or a portion of Scripture that’s set up camp in my brain. Not to sound hokey, but it’s more like God’s impressed upon my heart a focus for reflection: growth. I have said in previous posts that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, and I am definitely not the personality type to “choose a word to focus on for the year” like what’s become trendy on social media (my eyes just rolled so hard y’all probably heard them). So this most certainly is not just a buzz word I’ve forced upon myself. In fact, for me it began well before we rolled from 2020 into its equally crazy twin 2021 (here’s to hoping 2021 starts taking some meds and levels the mess out…can I get an AMEN!).
This idea of growth, of honestly evaluating where I stand as a person of growth–or stagnation–is directly related to this pandemic for me. After we made it into mid-summer, and when things got really monotonous, I found myself determined in my talks with God to learn something, even more so than usual. I started imagining what it would look like to make it through something so enormous as this COVID era, only to have the only growth in my life happen to my thighs (relatively certain that the 19 in COVID-19 is reference to how many pounds are gained during a year’s worth of quarantine). In my soul, I felt God solidly prompting me to focus on what I could learn, about myself and about Him, during this unusual time.
As a Christian, I think it helps us to evaluate the rate of our growth in Jesus to look at our attitude toward the major moments in our liturgical calendar. For example, let’s think about this past Christmas. Was this Christmas more or less significant to you than in years past? Now, although it probably doesn’t seem like it, I do try my best (most days) not to step on toes if it can be avoided, but sometimes, it just seems worth it to be direct. So here goes… If this Christmas wasn’t one where you felt closer to God, where you had more gratitude and reverence for the birth of Jesus, why in the world not? Our country has been in absolute chaos, between the pandemic and the political mayhem, and to recognize that we have a God who is faithful every single day, who saw before time began what we would turn into and still loved us enough to press on with His plan and give up His only child for us, but NOT feel stronger toward Jesus as a significant moment like Christmas? Forgive me for being so blunt here, but I don’t see how that’s possible unless perhaps your eyes weren’t really on Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t the cornerstone of your holiday, what was?
Now, obviously this isn’t a post about Christmas, and since it’s already passed there’s nothing to be done if we feel we didn’t approach it as we should’ve, but we can use it to help us recognize areas in our lives where maybe we aren’t growing as we should. If 2020 didn’t see you growing in your faith, growing in your personal walk with Jesus, growing in the priority you placed on spending quiet alone time with God daily, then I have encouraging news for you: today is a new day! Woot woot! And your God is so full of love and so interested in His relationship with you, He’s given us His Word to help identify what growth should look like. That way, we can determine where we stand–if we’re doing really well, if our progress has been mediocre, or if we’ve moved forward zero steps–and make the necessary adjustments, while praying the appropriate prayers in an effort to eliminate the space between us and Jesus.
I want us to start by looking at Ephesians 4:22-24 because I feel like it expresses a solid, practical way of determining where we stand. It says this: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitudes of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” As you notice here, if you are truly growing in Jesus, a couple of things should be happening. One, you should have two distinct selves, so to speak. You should have self one, which was more of the “I do what I want!” self, the one unconcerned about showing Jesus to others. But then you should have a second self, a self that’s much more in line with Jesus. A self that is distinctly different than the other. NOT A PERFECT SELF. We aren’t pretending here. Just a version of you that’s changed, that makes an effort that your old self didn’t. Someone who is growing in grace and knowledge–not getting it right all the time (or, if you’re like me, not even half the time most days), but trying and changing one molecule of progress at a time (2 Peter 3:18).
For some of us, myself included, a change of this magnitude is scary. If we’re being honest, it’s weird to see someone you used to know as one way turn into something completely different, even if it is better. It makes us feel strange because we aren’t quite sure how to relate to that person. But, friends, growth and change, improvement and sloughing off of our old, less godly ways is biblical. First Timothy 4:15 puts it like this: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Our growth should be visible. In fact, it should be visible enough that it loses us some friends if they’re not secure enough to be okay with the new self we’ve put on. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable and it’s not popular; worthwhile things seldom are, I’m learning.
While researching what the Bible says about spiritual growth, I came across Colossians 2:7, and the NLT translation really resonated. I love the visual representation here, the depth conveyed: “Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” What a picture of depth and strength and abundance, all of which are elements of a life lived in Jesus. I want to ask you a question, friends, and I ask that you think it over today. Don’t just rush right past in an effort to get to your next task (pssst, that’s not how growth works–it’s not fast). Really ask God to help you answer it in an honest way. My question is this: How deep are your Jesus roots? Are they deeper now than they were three months ago? Six months ago? At this time last year? Are your Jesus roots deep enough that they’re changing your structure as a person evidently enough that those around you can tell by how you live your life?
I’d like to close out with one more Scripture, one that sums up nicely what our prayer as Christians should be and what deeper Jesus roots look like when lived out in our daily lives. These verses come from Paul’s words in Philippians 1: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God” (vs. 9-11). This portion of the Word sets a trajectory for us, showing us what proof of growth looks like in the flesh, when instead of just hearing the Word, we grow into doers of it. Spiritual growth looks like this:
*Our love for others (no matter what they look like or who they voted for) is more abounding…it is more plentiful and abundant.
*We have greater knowledge not only of God’s Word but also His character. We can share God with others because we know Him personally.
*We have a greater depth of insight, meaning our ability to discern the voice and the will of God improves, as does the wisdom visible through our actions and words.
*We have increased purity. How is this made evident? Maybe the TV we used to watch or books we used to read without a second thought now have us feeling convicted. Maybe we stop letting our tongues wag quite so much. This one can look like lots of things.
*Our lives display a greater number of the Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5 for a list). And then as we grow a little more, the depth of these Fruits increases as well.
*And lastly, the whole purpose in the first place, more glory and praise gets directed at God because of how we live our lives. More people recognize our change; they see us become less anxious and stressed out, less harried, less fearful, and they decide maybe there is something to this Jesus thing after all.
So once again, friends, how deep are your Jesus roots? Or maybe a more important question, how deep do you desire to see them go? Pray with me, please.
Dear Lord, thank You for this day. Thank You for all that You’re teaching me, for all the ways You’re guiding me to become a better witness for You. I need Your help deepening my roots, Father. I want to grow in You, I want to know You better, to know Your Word better, to be a true doer of the Word and not just someone who hears it and keeps doing what I’ve always done. Give me the courage to change who I am and how I do life, even when people reject my newness. Keep me encouraged, God, so that I can live life in a way that glorifies You and only You. Draw others to Jesus through me, Lord. Help me be a solid, unwavering example for You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.