I had a conversation with someone last week who came to my office to talk about what God is doing in their life. We ended up talking about ways this person wants to grow spiritually, which led to the question, “What does it even look like to grow?” Have you ever asked that? How do we measure growth as followers of Jesus?
It’s easy to look at our spiritual practices and measure growth by our consistency in reading our Bibles or praying or whatever other markers we consider to be the litmus test of spirituality. Spiritual practices are incredibly important. They’re an essential part of our growth. But they’re not the best markers of growth.
Or we can look at our behavior. How am I doing in overcoming sin and temptation? In keeping Jesus’ commands? Again, behavior matters. We were created in God’s image, to be like him. And the Spirit is at work in us to conform us to the image of Christ. Jesus tells us that our love for him gets expressed through keeping his commands (see John 14:15). Obedience is important. It’s a part of our growth. But again, our behavior is not the best marker of spiritual growth.
So what does growth look like? How do we measure it?
There’s much that could be said here, but I think in simplest terms, growth looks like this: Christ becomes bigger to us. We find ourselves thinking more about him than we do ourselves. We cling to his promises rather than focusing on our abilities or inabilities. We’re less anxious about getting our lives together, and we rest more fully in Christ’s work on the cross and all the grace that is ours in him. We trust and rely and depend on him more than we do ourselves. We run to him more quickly, rather than hiding until we clean up our mess. We’re more humble and realistic about ourselves and our weaknesses, and more bold and confident and thankful for his strength and sufficiency.
Growth looks like being less impressed and less preoccupied with ourselves, and more impressed and more preoccupied with Jesus. And as Christ becomes bigger—as he increases and we decrease (John 3:30)—we begin to experience real joy and peace.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who was a minister in the Church of Scotland in the 19th century, said it like this:
“Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms.”
That’s a great recipe for growth. Over the past several months, I’ve reminded myself of those words often. They redirect my attention to Jesus. They remind me that God loves and delights in me because I am his child, because I am “in Christ,” not because of how I’m performing. They break me out of my usual habit—10 looks at myself and maybe a passing glance at Christ—and begin to right the ratio, redirecting my gaze away from self to Jesus.
He’s the vine; we’re branches (John 15:1). Life is in Jesus. And as we abide in him and stay connected to him, his life flows into us, causing us to grow and bear fruit.
So spiritual practices have an important place in our growth. They’re means of creating space for bringing the reality of Jesus into our lives. They’re places of connecting with him and encountering his transforming presence. His truth. His love. His joy. Of being drawn out of ourselves and into trusting and abiding in him.
That’s what we’re after as followers of Jesus. And to help with this, we’ll have some new things coming in the Fall. In the next few weeks we’ll be introducing the Christian Fellowship Discipleship Track, which will include several practices to help us grow. But the practices themselves aren’t the aim. They’re not the markers of our growth. Jesus is always our aim. Growth looks like Christ becoming bigger to us. Let’s pursue him together.