Grow | Devotion #5: Spiritual Growth
Holly Wells | Assistant to Lead Pastor Jim Combs
Running a marathon was on my bucket list years ago, and it was completed by the time I was twenty years old. I got “the bug” and went on to run my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and now I think I have done somewhere around ten marathons over the years (I stopped counting). I remember those I have run well and certainly remember those I could have done better. All have been completed. I did most having trained well, maintaining discipline and diet, mostly injury-free, leaving all that I had out on those courses, and while having a good time! Then, there have been those that I was a little too lax in being diligent to put in the work, the time, the effort, the right fuel, and to no surprise, it was a fight to get through those 26.2 miles (and yes, the .2 matters!).
Race days have included a variety of weather, though mostly the dry heat of Southern California, but my favorite was running in a torrential downpour through the flooded streets of Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier. I did not set a personal record that day, but man it was fun! I have finished strong with miles that flew by and crossed the finish line “on time” according to how I trained. But there was one race in particular when I realized that how I felt at a mere six miles should have come much later, like at mile markers 20-22. This would be my worse marathon to-date. I fought for every step and battled with my aching, blistered feet, sore knees, and burning hip joints just to keep moving forward. I fought to hold myself up because my back went out in those earlier miles and I tried not to be overtaken by my increasing irritation. I was completely fatigued, but quitting was never an option (and never will be). Although I finished that day, nothing about it was done well including the days leading up to it. I got out what I put in.
The same applies to our spiritual growth. The depth, the strength, and the maturity reflected in our relationships with God start with us. Someone once told me they were in a backslidden state, and I quickly countered with, “Well, you can front-slide, too!” It is true! We decide if we are moving forward with the Lord, or not. We determine if we are going to or not going to know Him more deeply. We are in control of our dedication to follow, seek, listen, obey, and love Him more. Just as we choose to invest in a new friendship or a relationship and decide how much attention we give our time to learn about that person, the same applies to our pursuit of the Lord. But know this: we are either moving forward or backward with God; we choose. Sure, we can go to church on Sundays, attend a weekly Growth Community, serve in a ministry, event, or gathering, hold a fancy title, and throw out some “Christianese lingo,” but it is the position of our heart that God sees which matters the most (1 Samuel 16:7).
What are we pursuing in our quiet time or when no one is looking? (See Matthew 6:21). How are we applying His Word when someone is rude or hurts us, gossips, or passes judgment about us, when someone interrupts and inconveniences our day, or when we are met with a mean-spirited or unforgiving heart (or are we harboring the hardened heart and unforgiveness?)? (See Matthew 7:4-5; 18:21-35; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Peter 3:8-12). What about giving someone what they do not deserve? (See Jude 1:22-23). Do we have a growing burden for the lost, the broken, and the forgotten, the “less thans?” (See Matthew 25:34-40; James 1:27). Do our words and conduct build others up or tear people down? (See Luke 6:45; Proverbs 13:12; Colossians 3:8-10; Hebrews 10:24-25). Do we seek, experience, and respond to God’s conviction in our lives? (See Romans 3:10; Hebrews 12:5-6; 1 John 1:9). Do we ask Him how to pray, do we pray according to our agendas, or is it some repeated script to simply check off a box? (See Matthew 6:5-13; Philippians 4:6-8; James 5:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Do our lives increasingly reflect His working and refining? (See Matthew 7:15-20; Jeremiah 17:7-8; James 3:17-18). Can we see proof that though we are not sinless, we are sinning less? (See Ephesians 4:17-32). You know what it is for you.
The bottom line is we are either going to choose to grow in the world, or we will choose to grow in the Lord. No matter how young or old we are in the Lord, none of us have “arrived.” None of us have learned and applied the entire Word of God flawlessly. We all need to seek Him more than we did the day before. We all need to be more intentional rather than on cruise-control. Will we choose to pursue Him more than we pursue the latest fashion, reality T.V. show, the newest video game, relationship, food, hobby, social media, or the time it takes to get ready in the morning? We have no valid excuses. There are tons of resources if you do not know where to start (if you have a Bible, start in the book of John). Holiness does not happen through osmosis; you have to apply yourself. I dare you to invite God into “all” that you do including your quiet time, Bible study, conversations, relationships, driving, fishing, shopping, and running. It is exciting to see what will happen. You have to work; you have to train. What you put into your relationship with God will be reflected by what comes out of it.
“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, NLT