There is a variety of material in circulation on what it means to develop spiritual growth in your life. I can personally find everything from extremely useful to useless dribble depending on where I go. Some of this is due to nomenclature and how we define “spiritual growth,” but more of it has to do to the fact that spirituality or spiritual growth more specifically speaking, is not something that can be taught by anyone other than those who have learned it themselves under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Life in the Spirit is a practice. Like practicing medicine or law, you practice things of the Spirit and this kind of faith is the kind that leads to lasting spiritual growth. You have to choose to live life in the Spirit if you want to worship the Father in Spirit and truth. And only the Spirit of God can teach you true spiritual growth. The idea of developing a deeper spiritual life is summed up in one word: Discipline. We must learn key disciplines in our lives and learn to walk them out every day and the Holy Spirit does the rest. We are in charge of positioning ourselves. He is in charge of the timing.
Disciplines for Spiritual Growth
Disciplines are not principles and values, though they can sometimes intermingle. Usually they are the way we live life rather than what we live by. I realize the consistency of principles is comforting. We know what’s right from wrong, up from down, and so on. It’s not unlike the law, we know what we should do and we do it. However, growth in the Spirit is dynamic; It’s ever-changing and my principles can only help me grow as far as my ability to carry them out. In fact, my ability to keep up with my principles is the only unknown when it comes to walking them out in my life.
Principles or Presence?
Contrast principles with spirituality. Who wants to be spiritual? Who knows what spiritual growth is? Have you heard the subject taught in church lately, or ever? Have you heard anyone described what intimacy with the Father means in the context of spiritual growth? If so, it has probably come from outside orthodox teaching circles. What nurtures and grows our ability to hear the Lord, knowing his voice and doing his will, is acquired through intimate time spent with him. I do not know what makes my wife tick because I spent 5 minutes talking to her when I first met her at church. Yet many of us never spend much time with the Father after we are saved and still profess, usually through our set of principles and teachings that come from the pulpit, that we know him. The hard truth is most of us don’t know God as well as we think we do and a big step forward in our walk with God is seeing ourselves the way he does. For example, I know my wife because I spend the majority of my waking hours with her. I talk to her, listen to her, spend time with her, walk with her, and dream with her. My Time spent with the Father manifests a deeper level of intimacy in the same way and helps me develop a greater sensitivity to his heart that leads me to becoming more like him. In short, the more time I spend in His presence, the more I will come to know Him.
The word of God confirms this for us. In 1 Cor. 2 Paul is writing about “secret wisdom” that only comes from God and how it is hidden from rulers of this age. But in the SPIRIT, it is revealed to us if we want it, as he describes in verse 10, “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (italics mine). Do you want to know the secret things, the deep things of God? This requires life in the spirit. I hope you’ll find this to be a helpful guide for developing a deeper spiritual growth walk with God. The goal of spiritual growth is not to substitute one set of principles for another, and it is not about duty and obligation to others or the church unless God specifically tells you to do something. If this is reduced to a checklist it will only produce another form of a static lifestyle, a set of rules that we all become too comfortable with.
The goal of spiritual growth is to take us out of the static lifestyle and transform us into a dynamic lifestyle with God. It means I no longer approach God with my agenda, I serve his. I no longer live a life, that although it’s comfortably safe, it’s ultimately boring. I choose instead to go from a life with a lot of guardrails and few “risks,” to a life with with lot of risks and few guardrails. My life is transformed from a rudimentary existence in one moment to a miraculous existence of living life to the fullest in the spirit, in the next. So let’s plow into 10 keys of spiritual growth and learning to live life in the spirit:
10 Keys to Spiritual Growth
1. Spiritual growth: Intimacy: As we get closer to God, we become more like him and less like ourselves. As you might have guessed, you’re no longer in control of your life, he is. We must devote more time to being with him so we learn how to be like him. We also must learn how to give God the controls of our lives. This means mindsets that you have formed and expectations that you have must be surrendered to Him. The scripture in Matthew reads, “Your will be done,” not “My will be done.” Examples of mindsets are that people can’t change or that you’ll never be more than you are. Even mindsets such as “Worship is not enjoyable unless they sing songs I like,” must be surrendered. Make every moment count for you to connect with God. Test the Spirit in everything and entrust it to him. Ask him what he wants you to do and learn to trust your inner peace. God makes us restless when we are at a loss of peace. That’s a good time to stand still. And for most of all, stop striving! You can’t earn this walk with God. You can’t impress God. You can’t busy yourself closer to him. You can only rest in him (Heb. 4). So trust the Lord and let him do the rest in you.
2. Spiritual growth: Refinement: Restriction is not only necessary in our lives so we can learn to trust God, but so that God can learn to trust us. The times when I’m restricted the most are the same times when my character is under the most pressure. I must learn to trust and worship God in the place I am. When I try to bust out of the restrictive place I am in, I force God to bring the test back again until I learn to be satisfied and can worship the Father in the place that I am. When he sees that we can both give him the glory in the midst of restriction as well as wait on him, he knows he can trust us again with that in the future when the stakes are much higher. Embracing brokenness and learning true humility is what teaches us how to do this. It tests our pride and strips down any ambitions leaving us fully dependent on God and purifies our stream. But BEWARE! It’s easy to slip into a cynical mindset here. When we’re not validated, we feel ignored or rejected because we think we’re ready and all too often we are looking to the pastor for promotion rather than to God. When things don’t come as fast as we would like, this situation easily leads to cynicism if we are walking in the flesh rather than Spirit. We must avoid a cynical mindset at all cost. Remember, God is never cynical and that’s one obvious way to know when we’re in the flesh vs. in the Spirit. If you’re fully dependent on God, you’re trusting his plan to promote you when he thinks you’re ready. Your ability to wait something out proves to God you can stand with faith for what is promised. But I don’t want to be misunderstood here. There’s a release that comes in the waiting. It surpasses your usual level of patience because you will come to a place that you know if God is in it or not. And if he’s not, it’s not worth having and you will learn to be satisfied with that. Rather than getting promoted by men before God was done working with you, we learn in the midst of the wait that nothing is better than alignment with him even if it means more waiting. This is a time of refinement and one which purifies the man or woman of God and helps build dependence on him. If we don’t learn to be fully dependent on him during the wait, God may not know if you will wait on him in a meeting. So learn to wait, hear and then obey the call of the Lord at the appointed time. Be faithful in the little things and more will be added to you.
3. Spiritual growth: Realigning our hearts with God: One truth I’ve learned in my life is the importance praying with God and not against him. What does that mean? Well, at times we want to blame the enemy for every bad thing that happens to us or we pray in our flesh by praying our desired outcome without respect to what God may be doing. If we pray with the solution we want, not the one that God tells us, we’re operating in witchcraft. Your prayer should center around a “your will be done” philosophy no matter what we are praying for. Prayers for someone you love who has done something wrong like “Oh Lord, I pray for mercy” are fine if that’s what you think God wants but how well will that work if God wants someone to deal with consequences? Anything less and we may not be cooperating with God. Ask God what he is doing in each situation. If you don’t get anything, pray his will. Is he’s trying reach someone who needs to hit bottom to come back to him rather than to be delivered from their trials in a show of mercy? If so, don’t pray for mercy or deliverance, pray that they might gain understanding and submit to God. When we don’t pray this way we can’t possibly cooperate with the Holy Spirit if he’s entreating the Lord for one thing and we are praying for another. This is why we need to target prayer by praying for those things that are consistent with what God is doing. The way we do this is by submitting to God what his will is for your situation. In bad situations, it’s so easy to want to be rescued. So learn what God has for you in the moment. He’s taking this time to show you something and has something for you that he cannot give you at any other time than this moment.
4. Spiritual growth: Will that be Filet Mignon or Spam? In the last key, I mentioned the importance of aligning ourselves to the purposes of Heaven. There is strength and maturity that comes from acknowledging your situation, knowing your role and what God wants you to get out of it. If we’re running around attempting to be rescued, what can we hope to learn? I know a walk through the wilderness is never easy but I submit to you it’s the best place to be and the place where our anointing is developed as we learn to cooperate with God during a time of restriction. However, the breakthrough anointing never comes before the trial, but always after. Persevering and pressing more deeply into the God throughout the trial reveals new hidden treasure for your spiritual growth. Spiritual growth implies “increase” by it’s very definition. So increasing in the Spirit happens when we surrender to the work of the Spirit. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 2:10, “But God has revealed “it” to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” What is the “it” that Paul says is revealed to us? The answer is found in verse 7 which says, “Now, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” The best things in the Spirit only come if we strive for the best. Luke writes in his gospel, in 17:20, “The kingdom of God does not come by casual observation.” Said another way, mediocrity is never a precursor to greatness. We must want excellence, we must stand for it. We must demand it of ourselves and others. Let me put it this way. If we never tasted filet mignon, would we ever miss it? It is only after we have tasted filet mignon, that we realize that spam is no substitute for it. It is the same with our walk with God. If we never taste the deep things of God, how can we can ever know what we’re missing?
5. Spiritual growth: Exposure and Exploration – One of the first things we should do after we have aligned ourselves to God is to find our purpose in God’s kingdom. Do you know what you’ve been called to? Do you know what he’s saying? Do you know your identity in Christ? If you do, are you taking steps to move yourself closer to that kingdom identity or still living as if you did not know what it was? If we start to explore our identity in God, he meets us in that place and we will soon learn new things that we could never learn unless we stepped out in faith. This exposure to the things in the spirit leads to further exploration in the things of the spirit. It is a virtuous cycle. In addition, we all have burdens. Burdens are a clue into what you should do next. If you are carrying a burden about something, ask God what it is for? Ask what you should do about it. At the very least, you just found a new prayer point for you and God to collaborate on.
6. Spiritual growth: Coming out of the Spiritual Closet – Our spiritual growth coming out party is often really just revelation from God. I will attempt to explain something to help get this activated in you. I am asking you to search your spirit to determine if something is in fact from God. If you’re not familiar with this exercise, I’m sure you will probably be asking, “How do I do that?” Good question. A simple way to activate is by asking you to inquire of your spirit based on a sense of agreement. I am going to posit some things to you and ask you if you feel a sense of agreement that it is right. Does it align with the word of God that we should be led by the Spirit? This is what the whisper of God is like. It’s not that we should base all these things on feelings, to the contrary, but our sense of peace may be born out of our spirit of discernment – and that is from the Spirit. It’s an indicator, not the indicator, that you’re on the right track. Plus, if you’re constantly checking in on God about it, you’re in a solid place with the Father because he is faithful and has to love that you are seeking an upgrade in that area of your life. How can a loving Father not be pleased with his kids in their attempt to activate their spirit. In the next key, let’s put this one to the test and see how it works for you.
7. Spiritual growth: Breaking down the Body, Soul, and Spirit – Here’s a great place where we can test out our hearing of God that we learned about in step 6. Learning to hear God takes practice, practice, practice. But before we start with our practicing, we must know who we’re listening to. Think of it this way. My friend Janice Seney says, the body is the baby in the family. It’s always wanting to be fed. It’s always hungry for something. It’s tired or achy. The body cries and complains a lot. It constantly needs reassurance and nurturing. Meanwhile, the Soul is like the teenager. This is the rebel of the family. The soul wants to be in charge. It wants life on its own terms. It wants control and is not afraid to fight for it. The soul is your mind, your will and your emotions. Anything that feeds one of those things is just “flesh” – same with the body. That brings us to the Spirit, the parent in the family. The Spirit searches all things that are Godly. The Spirit is knowledgeable and has experience in all things. It’s not just trying to get its way, it’s seeking God’s way. The Spirit is closely tied to the “chooser.” The chooser shows up on the tongue. What comes out of the mouth tells us who’s in charge. Sometimes we have to tell the Spirit to be in charge when the body is hungry or tired. If you have to do something, you assign the chooser to the Spirit and tell the body to be quiet. Why? Because the Spirit is in charge. Under the influence of your Spirit, God can and will quiet the body. He will also put the soul in its place. Listening to someone speaking from their soul is easy. You’ll hear a lot of “me” and “I” and “you” and “they” statements. It’s also negative and has reasons an arm’s length long for why it can’t do something else -usually because it’s a victim. Soul power wants authority and position, not to mention visibility. The soul wants a voice and a platform for its glory, not God’s glory. A good example of how the Spirit and soul are different is in something Graham Cooke once said: “The Soul asks, “Lord give me strength, said Graham. “It wants God but it wants him on its own terms. Meanwhile the Spirit asks, “Lord be my strength.” The Spirit wants to be with God. It wants to please God and puts the things of God first in its life. Spiritual growth manifests in a person’s life when the believer begins to recognize the difference between soul and Spirit and aligns their life’s choices to what benefits God rather than self.
8. Spiritual growth: Changing the way we think: One of the key ways to see growth and spiritual maturity can be found in the way people talk. Believers with faith are positive and forward thinking. They see God at work in everything and see life from an “all things are possible” perspective (Jn. 14:12). This is what I believe is meant by the renewing of our minds. We start believe in scripture, not as a book but as true faith. We sound radical because we actually believe the bible and think if it happened to the writers of the word, it can happen to us who read it. Another sign is, more or less, mind over matter. I heard it said to me once that “Faith is not a feeling.” It’s true! Feelings have nothing to do with faith. Faith is cold blooded – a cold blooded act of the will. We must learn to choose sometimes to believe in something based on what we know is true, based on what the word says is true, not based on what we’re feeling like. There is no frustration or negativity in heaven. If you function in either realm, you need an upgrade of faith.
9. Spiritual growth: A powerful Prayer life: James 4:2 says that “You have not because you ask not.” If there are a few verses in life that would make me want to change my behavior, that is one of them. In Matthew 7:7-9 we also read “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Therefor, if you don’t ask, and you don’t seek and you don’t knock, what do we expect will happen? That passage goes on, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?” We need to get this principle of prayer firmly into our DNA. We must learn to pray, and more importantly, learn to love it. And most of all, learn to pray in the Spirit. If you don’t know how, ask someone for help. For scripture tells us that he who prays in the spirit, prays the very will of God! Rom. 8:27. Also keep in mind that there are different types of prayer. There are prayers of thanksgiving which if prayed for before something happens, is a faithful, prophetic prayer. For example, if a spouse prays “Thank you for a good a good and abundant life in my marriage” while the marriage is in tatters, this is faithful and prophetic. It’s essentially asking and declaring a future state over those people’s lives. That’s faith! We should also get in the habit of blessing and declaring as well. Bless people with what you know is the heart of God to love them. Declare the promises of God over them as well. Be confident in prayer, with thanksgiving, to declare what God has promised to those who diligently seek him.
10. Spiritual growth: Don’t take yourself too seriously: No one is an expert in the things of God. Again, we are all practicing our faith like a doctor practices medicine. Every situation, person, environment, walk with God, etc., is different and unique and the approach to any and all those things takes a unique approach. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in the Kingdom of God. I also urge you do the best you can and remember that He is faithful. “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” Phil 1:6. So relax. Do the best you can. Don’t put performance pressure on yourself. God does not want us operating from a spirit of performance, he wants us depending on him and his anointing alone. So step out in faith and when you do misstep, give it to God and learn from it. There is nothing you can do that is not bigger than him. Any errant prophetic word is not going to take someone on a path of disaster without a lot of other things happening that are outside your control, including someone rebelling against God. So be free, faithful and true to God. Just trust him. He will do the rest.
One final thought. Your pursuit of God will be answered with a more fiery passion for God and fire exposes passivity in others. Just being hungry for God can attract persecution from those who do not understand or appreciate your passion for the Lord. A passionate pursuit for God must be balanced with patience for what God is doing in others. We cannot expect others to see our point view instantly when it may have taken us years to find ours, and since you don’t want to extinguish the fire inside of you, a delicate balance is required. Learn to honor others in who they feel called to be and be faithful to the person God has called you to be. One is not better than the other, it’s just different. Give them and yourself time to find your identity. If it’s God, he will allow everyone to be who they are called to be.