For years I had it all wrong when it comes to growing as a Christian. It wasn’t that I was trying to get it wrong. I just carried a lot of bad assumptions into my relationship with Jesus and the end result was stagnation. I was stalled in the same patterns of sin and frustrated that I wasn’t experiencing more of the love and joy I read about in the Bible. I wanted to grow but couldn’t seem to make it happen.
What was holding me back was a lack of understanding about how we grow as Christians. I believed spiritual growth happened like growth in every other area of life: learn the basics, practice, and see results. That’s how it worked when I was a competitive swimmer – learn to swim, swim thousands of laps, get faster. Swim more laps, improve your technique and keep getting faster. There’s nothing wrong with that when it comes to swimming, but it doesn’t work when it comes to heart change. In that model, growth is about getting better and the end result is measured in increased ability, independence or self-sufficiency. Effort equals results.
I thought Christian growth was about trying. Read the Bible, pray, go to church, give money, serve, read the right books, talk to the right people, etc… By the way, none of those are bad things, unless we start to treat them like swim practice. And that’s exactly what we do when we reduce growing in Christ to a “learn the basics, practice, and see results” model, which we do all the time. Want to grow? Read the Bible. Not growing fast enough? Read more of the Bible. Still not growing? Read the Bible plus a devotional. Still nothing? Read the Bible plus a devotional twice a day. And on and on and on.
Here’s what we miss: spiritual disciplines aren’t designed to make us better, more able, more independent or more self-sufficient. They’re designed to remind us of our weakness, inability, dependance and need for grace. They aren’t designed to make us better. They’re designed to remind us of our need for Jesus.
Paul knew that well. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”(Gal.2:20) Growth in the Christian life comes from dying, not from trying.
Following Jesus is a call to take up our cross daily. It’s a call to die every single day. To die to our self reliance, our self centeredness, our self interest. It’s a call to get over ourselves and live for Him.
You want to grow in Christ? Don’t make a list of things you need to try. Ask God to show you the places where He’s asking you to die. And then ask Him for the grace to die a little more today. There’s a tremendous amount of love and joy to be found in following Jesus. It’s found as we die, not as we try.