Spiritual Growth Takes More Than “Just Add Water”

20130628-144715.jpgSummer is here and that means lots of free time for my dear son. So, the other day, he decided to try out some of his “grow animals.” Grow animals are these little encapsulated sponges that you put in water and they “magically” grow to be ten times their original size. Seeing these animals grow right before my very eyes got me thinking about our spiritual lives and how growth as a Christian doesn’t happen so easily.

What about Baptism?

As a good Lutheran, I am probably missing an opportunity to talk about the Sacrament of Baptism. We Lutherans are big on our Baptismal theology and teaching–through the waters of Baptism God adopts us as sons and daughters. Perhaps “just add water” could be a fun angle for a baptismal post.

But…

Living out our faith day in and day out, growing in Christ throughout our lives over time, is not something that just happens right before our very eyes. We can’t just add water and experience phenomenal growth in minutes. The truth is that even my son’s “grow animals” took more like days than minutes to reach their 10x growth potential.

What is involved with spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth, the ways we learn to rely more upon God and be more like Jesus in how we love our neighbors, involves:

  • God’s love and action for us first and foremost. Our growth in faith is an outgrowth of our trust in what God has first done for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Showing up. How do we “show up” in our spiritual lives? By going to worship–hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacraments. We also show up through spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. Showing up at worship and spiritual disciplines gives us opportunities to connect with God which helps us grow in our faith and trust in God.
  • Spending time with fellow Christians and learning together how to best live our lives as the Body of Christ. By being with others who are also trying to live this out and grow in faith, we can share ideas and offer support when needed.
  • Practice over time. Growing in our spiritual lives doesn’t just happen in days or weeks, it takes months and years and decades. It is something that happens over the course of our entire lives.
  • Patience & learning from messes. Sometimes, maybe more often than any of us really want to admit, we mess up. We fail in some way to live up to the name of Christ. Sometimes Christians give Christianity a bad name. It is sad, but true. Instead of wallowing in our messes, we can learn from them and let those lessons become part of our growth.
  • Saying we’re sorry. When we do make messes, it is important to acknowledge them, and to say we’re sorry–to God and to those we’ve harmed. It is difficult for anyone to move forward when messes are left messy.

God is doing it!

Yes, growing in our faith is more complicated than “just add water.” But I do not intend for this list to be a legalistic checklist of whether we’re doing our faith-living right. This is merely descriptive of the types of experiences that contribute to our spiritual growth. Our spiritual growth does not happen on our own. It is not something we have to do for ourselves to make God love us, it is something that God works in and through us. May we each experience God’s love more deeply in our lives as we seek to grow in our love for God and our neighbors.

What do you think? Is there anything you would add to the list of what is involved in spiritual growth? What has helped you grow in your faith?

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If you enjoyed this post about spiritual growth, you may also appreciate the follow up post titled Let’s Talk About Spiritual Shrinking As Well As Spiritual Growth (click the title to read the post).

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by SHAROL. HERR on June 28, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I absolutely love this! Excellent! Mama

  2. Posted by Linda on June 28, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Wow! Thank you for your sharing some thought provoking ideas. It is so discouraging at times when we lose our focus on Christ. I think, will I ever get this right. You have given so much encouragement in your words that this is a journey WITH Christ. In today’s instant world we want our faith and walk to be perfected instantly. Thank you so much for this affirmation and loving reminder!

    • Linda, thanks so much for commenting. Life in Christ is exactly what I want, but I too get frustrated with myself when I don’t get instant growth. I’m so glad this could encourage you in your faith-life!

  3. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written.

    I don’t know about your own experience, but from what I have seen in the Lutheran church, we have a tendency to offer a lot of education, but not very much formation. Lutheran churches offer classes on liturgy, specific books of the Bible, how to give CPR, visiting Luther’s Germany, and infinite other topics. However, when it comes to faith formation, I feel there is a serious lack. Many congregations just offer a weekly Bible study (often mid-morning, mid-week, so anyone with a 9-5 job has no hope of attending), and that’s it. Some don’t even do that. It’s an area in which I feel there is a lot of room for growth in Lutheran congregations. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Laura, you have just described what is my greatest struggle to be a good Lutheran. The truth is that a good deal of my own spiritual formation came from associating with Christians of other traditions.

      I think our biggest downfall as Lutherans is that we simply don’t talk much about spiritual growth because we don’t want to get that confused with “works.” We often get so stuck insisting we don’t have to earn our salvation that we don’t even talk about what it looks like to live and move and have our being in Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

      Part of a solution is just for folks like you and me to speak up about ways that God is at work in our lives and inviting others to reflect and share about it as well. Also, I love Rich Melheim’s work about faith formation in the family and how he calls on parents to lead their kids in discussions about how God has been at work in their lives. Equipping families to do this can affect a “culture shift” in our congregations.

      What do you think?

      • YES. You are so right about Lutherans not wanting spiritual growth to be “works!” I have had this exact conversation before, about how the means of grace are word and sacrament, God does all, and we can do nothing on our own. I get all that, but my mind boggles when it gets to the point (and it has) where people say, “I don’t need to pray/serve others/give to church or charity/fast/work for God’s kingdom/whatever,” because they’ve received communion and heard a sermon. I’m like, you don’t need to pray?? O_o It’s very hard, because I know God does come to us via the means of grace, and God is working just as much in their lives as in mine, but it really appears as though they may be missing out somehow, because speaking for myself, the more formation I engage in, the more profound my encounters with word and sacrament can be.

        Rich Melheim? [does quick Google search] Not being familiar with his work and not having a family beyond a husband and a dog, I don’t really feel qualified to comment on his work with family faith formation or the cultural shift you mention. However, speaking as an educator, I’m all for anything that involves parents in their children’s spiritual formation. (My own parents’ involvement never really got any farther than asking “What did you learn today in Sunday School?” on the car ride home from church.) Children are spiritual beings (just like adults, but how easily we forget), and the whole child needs spiritual nourishment and care. I could run on about this a while more, but I’ll rein myself in and go read about Rich Melheim.

      • Rich’s ideas are valuable for anyone who works with youth and children in the church. This stuff has the potential to revolutionize youth ministry.

        Here’s a bit more from my blog archives about faith formation in families and Rich Melheim’s work:

        https://jenniferclarktinker.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/the-power-of-family-to-shape-faith/

        Rich also has a new book out called “Holding Your Family Together: 5 Simple Steps to Help Bring Your Family Closer to God and Each Other.”

      • Also, my mind also boggles at that reticence you described.

  4. Jen, thanks for being my “church” at the moment! : )
    What I love about this is – did you know you were doing this? – applying many of the same tenets of the Anonymous programs here.
    “One Day at a Time”
    “Let Go and Let God”
    “Easy Does It”
    …are all sayings we use in the anonymous program to aid our recovery, whether we are struggling with addictions, or whether we are living with someone who is (and, thereby, have addictions of our own we need recovery from!)

    I see that these sayings could/should be applied to the Christian walk as well.

    Thank you for articulating what “effort” as a Christian can look like. “Patience from messes” and “Saying sorry” are particularly meaningful to me.

    • Great observation about the similarities to Anonymous tenets. It wasn’t intentional. I just wrote from my own experience. At any rate, I’m glad it resonates and blesses you!

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I need to be better about encouraging this formation part. It’s so important! You really hit on some key points here.

  6. It’s true we can do nothing without Christ. He said so Himself. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’re to do nothing at all. “We can do nothing without Him” implies that with Him, we can do something. Spiritual growth is an act of cooperation, which God initiates and we join in. I think learning to apply the Scriptures to our lives in specific, concrete ways is another big key to spiritual growth. Bible study, in itself, isn’t really “showing up,” as you put it. But trying, with the Spirit’s empowerment, to put the Scriptures into practice will lead us down that road of cooperation.

    • Excellent points Rachelle! I think your ideas about Bible study and mine are more similar than different. I believe whole-heartedly in conspiring with God to apply scripture to our lives.

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