How to Grow Spiritually

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If we merely endure this life while we wait to get to the next one, then we squander the opportunity to know God intimately. But if we will persevere in our faith, then we will grow spiritually.

Most mornings I read Oswald Chambers‘ daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. If you’re not familiar with him, Oswald is like a Christian superhero, right under C.S. Lewis, but well above Larry Boy.

Somehow I started reading Chambers straight out of the gate when I became a Christian almost 15 years ago. I like him because he’s not a fluffy devotional writer. (You know the kind of stuff I’m talking about. Don’t make me name names.) He typically gets to the deeper heart of the believer with no sugar-coating in a few short paragraphs. He challenges. He calls you out. And he never ends his daily lesson with a, “Now go have a great day eating ice cream and playing with puppies!” kind of feel.

That being said, he doesn’t convey a holier-than-thou attitude either. A guy can’t have the kinds of insight into the depravity of man Oswald has without having experienced the depths of his own depravity first…and often.

All that to say, Chambers knocked it out of the park for me one day.

It should be pretty apparent that I am a “words” person. I like everything about words – learning new words, plays on words (but not puns – God is not a fan of puns, sir), applying one word a lot of different ways, comparing words, researching words, and taking the time to choose the perfect words to convey what I mean.

So I suppose that’s why Chambers’ opening line today blew my mind. He wrote, “Perseverance means more than endurance — more than simply holding on until the end.”

Immediately, my mind set about comparing perseverance and endurance to evaluate the validity of this statement. In English the word perseverance has a more purposeful sense of action, while the word endurance has a more passive connotation.

To persevere we put forth effort and work a plan in the hopes that we will achieve a goal. Persevering requires time and energy and often sacrifice. To persevere may be to physically do something, but it could also be the action of mentally and emotionally focusing on something (or the discipline of NOT focusing on something, as the case may be). We are active participants in this process.

To endure we hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We don’t do anything. We let the trials and problems happen to us and hope that, in time, we will come out on the other side when the rain is gone. We are passive observers in this process.

As Chambers pointed out, perseverance is more than endurance, insinuating that endurance is part of perseverance. You have to have endurance to persevere. But the reverse is not necessarily true (although I think it can be at times). You can endure something – tolerate it, wait it out – without persevering - taking any action steps to overcome it – and be successful (for example, waiting out a tornado). But in some cases, if all we do is endure, refusing to take persevering action, we’ll never overcome our hardship (for example, if we are starving, and there is food on a plate in front of us, but we refuse to put the food on our fork and into our mouths, we will remain hungry.)

I’d venture a guess, if my definitions are correct (and that’s a big if), that there are times we ought to persevere and times we ought to endure.

But, to ride the coattails of Mr. Chambers, I think there is at least one aspect of our lives in which we ought never choose to endure but insist we persevere – our own spiritual growth and development.

Lest we get off on a rabbit trail about whether or not we have the power to spiritually grow ourselves, let me share the initial thought I had this morning that sparked this whole post: just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth.

What I’m saying is if we are passive about our relationships with God, passive in the “growth opportunities” (otherwise known as trials) that come our way, passive in responding to the Spirit, passive in prayer, passive in being obedient (i.e., being disobedient), we aren’t going to grow spiritually. If we merely endure this life while we (im)patiently wait to get to the next life, we waste our lives and squander the opportunity to know Him intimately.

But if we persevere in our faith, actively reaching out to God through prayer and worship, actively studying the scriptures, actively responding to the Spirit’s promptings, actively focusing our emotions and thoughts on all that is lovely and true when so much around us is broken and false, we will grow closer to the One who made us to know Him and to make Him known. We will grow spiritually.

If we find ourselves spending most of our time enduring life as a Christian, all we’re doing is burying our heads in the sand. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s okay. Just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. We must persevere in our personal relationships with Christ, doing whatever it takes to love Him a little bit more each day.

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