Sunday, January 26, 2020

How Do We Measure Spiritual Growth?

We live in a world governed by metrics: we measure our kids as they grow; we measure how well we’re progressing towards our goals; we measure our bank accounts as they grow and shrink, hoping they grow. So when we set spiritual goals, how do we measure our progress? 
Churches will often count the people who attend, the number of people serving, or those who make a commitment to Christ. I’m not sure what I think about that. On one hand, it feels good to be part of something that is reaching out to the lost, and knowing the numbers makes it easy to tithe and invite other unbelievers in the hope that they will meet Jesus and come to know Him as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, I’m reminded of when King David took a census (2 Samuel 24). 
When David took a census of Judah and Israel, he wanted to assess the nation’s strength. Perhaps he was assessing his power out of pride. Or maybe he was fearful and comparing his strength against the surrounding countries. Or then again, he may have reached a point where he was assessing the nation’s ability to be self-sufficient. In any case, it’s clear that he was not thinking about relying upon God. He was not considering that God whittled Gideon’s army down from over 32,000 to just 300 so it would be clear that God brought the victory (Judges 7). David was not considering how God used him to bring down a giant (1 Samuel 17) or how his friend Jonathan and one other defeated 20 soldiers and created such fear that that the entire enemy army was routed (1 Samuel 14). I’m convinced that part of the early bond between David and Jonathan was their trust in God that was demonstrated in bold action. 
But experience and knowledge can create a fear in us, and when we focus on the obstacles instead of the One Who calls each of us into action, it becomes difficult to walk in faith. We ask if God will continue to be there for us (yes, He will!), and we wonder if we can take that step we think He is calling us to do. We may look to our bank account to see if it’s large enough for a day of trouble... or then again God could be telling you to save money just as He used Joseph to store up the abundance before the seven years of famine. It’s not WHAT we measure that matters, it is WHY. Do we trust God will be there for us or do we need to create a Plan B. 
Well, we never need a Plan B with God, and He encourages us to take risks while exercising wisdom. I look at the physical warfare in Israel’s history and believe it is analogous to the spiritual warfare in our lives. I believe that Israel’s territory that was never fully conquered is like the spiritual ground that we don’t fight hard enough to claim, and we only capture a portion of the entire land promised to us. 
I once asked a pastor about a conference he had attended. He was conflicted with what he experienced and wasn’t sure what he thought about it, so I asked him about the fruit from the conference. He immediately answered as someone used to measuring things in terms of baptisms and public commitments to Christ, citing this as the good fruit of the conference. However, the fruit I was asking about is difficult to measure and is usually only seen over a period of time: the Fruit of the Spirit. 
But the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that. ~ Galatians 5:22-23
If you want to measure spiritual growth in yourself, your family or your community, take a look at the Fruit of the Spirit. Looking at yourself first ask yourself:
  1. How frequently do I demonstrate love for others? 
  2. Am I joyful? 
  3. Is my inner-life filled with peace? 
  4. Do I have the patience to work through a situation; do I have patience for others?  
  5. Am I kind in my interactions with others?
  6. Can God’s goodness be seen in how I live my life?
  7. Is my faithfulness to God’s ways consistent?
  8. Do I treat others gently? 
  9. Do I exercise self-control in private as well as in public? 
Likewise, we can assess our community by asking if the culture reflects the Fruit of the Spirit:
  1. Do we demonstrate love for each other? 
  2. Are we joyful? 
  3. Are our interactions peaceful or combative? 
  4. Do we patiently work through issues together?  
  5. Are we kind toward others?
  6. Is God’s goodness seen in our lives?
  7. Are we consistently faithful both toward each other and in pursuit of what is right?
  8. Do we demonstrate a gentle approach toward others, including when we disagree? 
  9. Are we collectively able to control ourselves in ways that reflect the power of God working through us? 

We may live in a time and place where the answers to the above questions is depressing and uniformly: “no”. However, it starts with each of us individually deciding that we want to grow spiritually, acknowledging that we are incapable of changing ourselves, and tenaciously choosing to join God in the work He wants to do in each of us, laying claim to the inner land He has promised for those follow Him and trust in Him.
Remember: we are changed in His presence to be more like Him. How do we measure real spiritual growth? It is demonstrated by the Fruit in our lives. Be the change you want to see.
copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)