Your growth, from infancy to where you are today, was part of a natural process. This process required a variety of resources, from nutrition to nurture. But when it comes to your spiritual growth and development, the process is as supernatural as it is intentional. Your spiritual growth will not happen by accident!
I am not sure where this idea first surfaced, but far too many in the church today simply assume that they will naturally grow up in their faith, just like growing from a child to an adult. Nothing could be further from the truth! There is a marked and noticeable difference between incidental and intentional growth and maturity.
Growth gaps are only closed intentionally. We begin to grow into the person God is calling us to be by practicing small disciplines daily. This is the promise from the writer of Hebrews:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The first thing to notice—so as not to be caught off guard—is how unpleasant discipline can be because of the pain associated with it. It takes discipline to get up early and spend concentrated time alone with God before you start your day. And that discipline can be painful. For most of us it is much more comfortable to sleep in than to get up early, but if we push past the pain we are promised a harvest of righteousness and peace.
If you think I am lapsing back into the language I used as a physical trainer when I employ phrases like “push past the pain,” it is because Scripture likens our Christian growth to an athletic contest. The apostle Paul wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Just like the author of Hebrews, Paul emphasized the themes of self-discipline and eternal reward. Nor is this an isolated passage in Paul’s epistles; he wrote to the Christians at Philippi:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Again, you see Paul urging Christians to exert consistent, concentrated effort to press on toward Christian growth. But we do not work toward this growth simply because God commands it; our loving heavenly Father offers us a rich prize at the end of our race.
So . . . how is it with you? Are there any growth gaps in your life right now? What changes do you need to make to begin closing the gap? What will it cost you if you don’t? Here is a wonderful by-product of living a disciplined Christian life: one discipline impacts another discipline. You start getting up early to spend time alone with God and suddenly, almost without realizing it, you find yourself praying more consistently throughout the day. Then you notice that you have become more consistent with your attendance at church and then your service begins to expand. Every act of discipline returns multiplied rewards!
What we need to keep in view is that God has called us into the process of growing up into Christ. To be sure, all our growth is all of grace—which is why I named this blog “Grace for the Race”—but we must discipline ourselves to do our part along the way.
One final word of advice: Celebrate your small disciplines along the way! I like to call it celebrating your victories. God will give you many of them along the way. Take time to celebrate your spiritual successes and thank God for getting you past one hurdle . . . which is also preparing you to overcome the next one!
Remember this truth: the pain of discipline weighs ounces; the pain of regret weighs tons!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!