(Editor's Note: This blog was authored by Canada Burns, a graphic designer at AFA.)
Growth is slow. If you sat by the same tree every day, the tree would seem the same each day. But if you took a photo of the tree and compared how the tree looked long ago with how it looks today, the change would be obvious. The only real way to observe growth is through comparing how things were to how things are.
Yet growth also has to be nurtured. If your tree was refused water and sunlight, or insects infested and digested it, there would be no growth. It might look the same on the outside for a very long time, but inside it would be rotting away. True growth involves change, but so does decomposition. One is good, the other devastating.
As a young Christian adult, I hear teachers and preachers talk about spiritual growth. As stated above, growth is observed not just through change, but the right kind of change. So what kind of changes should we look for in our spiritual growth? Below is a list of five signs of spiritual growth, but before we get to them, I need to confess I’m not some great, wise person who has lived 50+ years to tell you that these are the things to look for. This list is generated from what I have observed in Scripture, but again, these are not the only signs. The more you study the Bible, the more you will find. So, as LeVar Burton used to put it “You don’t have to take my word for it.”
1. Your thinking has changed.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) -And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
How do you think differently from five years ago? If you had a conversation with your younger self, would each of you have different opinions? More specifically: when faced with a trial, would the younger you have turned to God as quickly as you do now? The Bible says to “renew” our minds. That doesn’t always mean that we need to change our minds; it simply means that our thinking can get stale. Tortilla chips left out of the bag get stale and chewy, yet if you pop them in the oven and toast them a bit, they become crispy again. Is your thinking being tested through studying God’s Word?
2. People are more important to you.
John 13:34 (NKJV) - A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
When I was younger, I used to wonder how people could give anything to someone they didn’t know. Giving a homeless man a meal or helping somebody out by sacrificing personal time made no sense to me. When you are young, your world is very small and you have fewer problems. When you are older, you realize there are tons of other people out there who have problems too. While compassion and selflessness are two very Christ-like attributes, even atheists can have selfless compassion. The difference is why? When you see people, do you give because it’s what is expected or the “right thing” to do, or do you give because you have received an amazing gift yourself and cannot help but show love?
3. The Bible surprises you.
Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Bible is a living document. It is a supernatural book. It always says exactly what God needs to tell you. That may sound like complete nonsense to some people, but if you have had the experience of Scripture piercing your heart, then you know what I am talking about. Have you ever heard someone say a verse jumped off the page when they were reading the Bible? God uses the Holy Spirit to draw Scripture to the forefront of your mind like a magnet. It can be surprising how a seemingly simple book can be alive and pierce your heart in the uncanniest of ways. When was the last time the Bible surprised you? When was the last time Truth came up out of the verse in front of you and smacked you in the face?
4. Darkness is darker
John 3:19 (NKJV) - And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
My mother has a saying, “What goes into your eyes and ears goes into your heart.” Sometimes I think we ignore this reality. The things that we see in television and movies and the words we hear in music don’t seem like a big deal. But just like that rotting tree, we may stay the same on the outside, but on the inside our hearts are stained. When a wall is clean, it is easy to see even the smallest speck of dirt, and if you're OCD like I am, you will immediately wipe it off. On a dirty wall, it’s hard to tell what dirt is new or different. This is not to say you need to be legalistic, striving to clean yourself up to a spotless shine and thereby attempting to save yourself through works. That’s what God’s grace is for. What I’m saying is that the less you are exposed to darkness and the closer you are to the light of Christ by growing in Him, the easier it will be to see darkness for what it really is: Darkness. Do you find sin as something to be avoided or is it hard for you to discern between light and dark?
5. Prayer comes naturally
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV) - …pray without ceasing
How in the world do you pray without ceasing? The idea of doing something all the time seems impossible. You couldn’t talk without ceasing because you would lose your voice. You couldn’t run without ceasing because you would become tired and collapse.
But there are things we do without ceasing, and they are things that we don’t even think about. Breathing, blinking, thinking, seeing, smelling - we do all these things all the time and we don’t consciously think about them. Prayer without ceasing is prayer we don’t have to think about. It’s prayer that comes naturally. How do things come naturally? We make a habit of them. They might be conscious at first, but after a while we don’t even have to think about it. Our first response is prayer, and when we pray it comes naturally.
When you are in a close relationship with someone, it is easy to just talk. You understand one another. A relationship with God is like that. He wants to talk to you and for you to talk to Him. When you have grown close to Him, it isn’t hard or unusual at all to pray like you breathe. It’s a part of who you are. If you can go without prayer, then maybe you should take a look at your relationship with God. When was the last time you talked with the One who made you? When was the last time you breathed?