A demanding deadline or an unsympathetic friend—often these situations are seen as obstacles to spiritual growth. As it turns out, God created us to grow in and through tension in our relationships with others. We are meant to grow through adversity, which often occurs in community.
In Ephesians, Paul reveals the communal nature of spiritual growth when he writes: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV). Spiritual growth happens when we are speaking the truth in love to one another. But even when we are doing this, it can be very difficult to detect growth in our own lives.
How do we know if we are truly growing "to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13)? Here are five reasons we may not be seeing the spiritual growth we want.
1) Feelings can be misleading. Just because we don't feel holy doesn't mean the Spirit isn't making us holy. Feelings aren't an adequate barometer of spiritual growth.
2) We have trouble seeing incremental growth. If you checked the growth of an orange on a tree each day until it was ripe, you would not perceive its change; however, if you checked it only at its inception and conclusion, the growth would be obvious. You can grow without seeing it. More often than not, the Spirit grows us in increments, not leaps and bounds.
3) Spiritual growth is relative to each person. Spiritual growth may be fast or slow. We may have deeply ingrained sin patterns that slow down progress. On top of this, we may have emotional, physical, or psychological conditions that make it more difficult to grow or recognize ways in which we are growing.
4) The church family doesn't encourage one another enough. As the church, it is important that we point out and celebrate growth in one another's lives. Making a habit of pointing out growth in others may help us see God's hand in our own lives.
5) God is using trials to grow us. Just because growth is hard doesn't mean it isn't happening. Trials are often signs of God's work in our circumstances to draw us away from the fleeting promises of sin into the sweeter promises of his grace.
If you don't see spiritual growth, don't despair. Consider these five factors; pray through them, asking God to encourage or correct your self-perception. And remember that difficulties aren't obstacles but opportunities to receive God's appointed grace for our spiritual change.
Jonathan Dodson is pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. Adapted with permission from "Growth? What Growth?" at TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.
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