Spiritual growth is not only a mark of Christian life but a necessity of Christian life. If you are the same person you were last year at this time...then you have some spiritual "growing up" to do. Becoming more like Jesus is our mandate. Loving God and loving others is our marching orders. So why do we lack spiritual growth at times in our lives?
Community life is something that should be a "no-brainer" for Christians. Yet, it is always seems to be a challenge for churches. So here it is: you need others. Your origin story is found and bound in your relationship with God. Genesis 1:28 confirms this when God says, “let us make man in Our image.” God is confirming the truth that "this is US" is better than “this is me." Your tribe makes you stronger. Your friends make you better. Every word they say, every value the cultivate and the culture they create are influencing you. For the better and for the worse. Your community is shaping you whether you believe it or not. They are molding you whether you want them to or not. Show me your tribe and I'll show you you're trajectory. Show me your friends and I'll show you your future. Show me your community life and I'll show you your spiritual life.
Others are necessary for spiritual life to even exist. It’s hard for you to be seen and heard by GOD in your life when you are desperate to be seen and heard by OTHERS in your life. If your community is making it hard for you to be accepted...then a change of community will mean a change of spiritual growth for you. You need people for your spiritual life to exist. Not just anybody..but a community that is centered around the love of Christ. A community centered on the attributes of Jesus means it's a community that is practicing unconditional love, forgiveness, radical acceptance of those who are different, a heart for serving others, etc. Yet, it seems we choose to put more value on our "alone time." I understand we need time to chill and decompress but that should not be our normal. Someone recently said to me, "I only can get close to God when it's completely silent with no one around." I understand we need alone time with God but that was never meant to be our only time and place for an authentic encounter with God. God uses your community to speak from. For example, if you're not hearing from God like you used to be, check first to see how isolated you are because it's in community where God often speaks. God will use the prayers of people around you to release miracles in you. God will inspire the worship around you and to reveal who God is to you. God will use the Bible spoken from others to you to declare God is for you.
Maybe that's why God puts such a massive emphasis on covenant. And maybe we need to revisit that word again. The Bible uses the word "covenant" when speaking of the value of others in your life. Generally a covenant with someone means that you feel you need them because without them you feel lost because with this covenant we find ourselves connected to each other so that we can accomplish more. Without you I can't. Without you I won't. So we choose to enter into relationships that are not meant to be broken...this is a covenant. That's why in the Bible, covenants were sealed with an animal sacrifice to show the severity of our bond of "we don't give up on each other unless one of us dies." That's commitment. It's a commitment to say I need you. It's a commitment to say I need others in my life because I can be more and do more with you. It's not about needing the right people to help you accomplish something it's more about having the right people help you become something...becoming a stronger person in our faith, in your families and in our workplace.
We live in a society that defines us by our work and values us because of our accomplishments. That compels us to fall into the trap of doing more work and doing better work versus becoming a better person so my work can become better. Your job isn't walking down a "career path" but discovering who God made you to be and be the best version of you to others for 40+ hours a week. This is what your community should do...help you find yourself. The quality of your work will increase when the quality of your relationships increase. The right people surrounding you helps your perspective get better, your contentment stronger and your influence greater. Not only that, but your measure of success purer. Your definition of success changes from what I want to accomplish in life to who can I raise up in my life. True success in life is not measured by the number of promotions before me but the number of successors coming after me. Trust me, the older I get, the more it seems the most important thing I will accomplish will be who I raise up in life and not what I do in life.
3 Questions to ask yourself about your spiritual growth:
1. Can you be yourself in your community?
No one can worship God like you or for you. Being yourself is what God is looking for and what the world is waiting for. If you can't be you, then you are robbing your community of the value you can bring and robbing God of an opportunity to show off his creative work. Remember, we are God's artwork, created in Christ, to do good works that God set up beforehand so we can walk in and "me do me and you do you." (Ephesians 2:10) Your community should be excavating and unearthing what God put in you before you were ever born (Jeremiah 1:5-7). Be in a community that pursues God and challenges you so pursue God. Discover who God is and you discover who you are but bury God and you bury yourself.
2. How mature is your community?
Spiritual maturity is giving to God and others and not getting from God and others. Valuing others before they value you creates an environment for everyone to be included. Being the first to forgive than "waiting" for an apology is what your friends need from you. Cultivate being a vulnerable person because vulnerability says "I accept you before you accept me." Be teachable and stop resisting sound correction because they are calling things out of you because they care. God says it best here,
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:9-11
3. Do you feel better when you are in your community?
The key to this is does your community encourage each other? To encourage someone means to "in-courage" or "put courage in" others. I've realized first-hand that you can't authentically encourage someone when your proud because it means you're too focused on being better than that person than trying to better that person. Condemnation is one of the worst things for a community. Shame keeps you and everyone in your community from moving forward. Jesus showed this to a community of pharisees when they were going to punish a woman who was in adultery. He didn't condemn her or shame her but spoke wisdom. Your community isn't free from those in it making bad decisions. Your relationships around you can give wisdom or give opinions. How to tell the difference between someone giving you an opinion vs wise counsel: opinions can fuel judgement but wisdom always fuels guidance.
Jesus understood being devoted to a community of people was enough to change the world so...how intentional are you with the community God has given you?
Any I'm missing?