Last week, I wrote quite a lengthy post about why it’s so important to tend our spiritual lives as we would a carefully cultivated garden. God desires growth from us, and we need to put effort into that if we want to stay in a close relationship with Him. It’s important to know how highly God values growth, for Jesus warns if we don’t use the gifts He has given us there’s a very real chance they’ll be taken away. Knowing God wants and expects us to grow isn’t much use, though, unless we also talk about how to make growth happen.
Abide in Jesus
When Paul talks about people in ministry “planting” and “watering” spiritual gardens, he also makes very clear that it is God who “gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-9). Growth and fruitfulness happen because of God’s work in our lives. We’re involved, but we don’t make it happen.
“Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, all quotes from WEB translation)
This is the first principle of spiritual growth. There are things we can and should be doing to grow God’s gifts and bear fruit for His glory. But the best efforts on our part will accomplish nothing if we are not firmly attached to Christ. Without Him, we’re like plants that have no root system. We can’t grow unless we’re abiding in Him. “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness” only comes “through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).
Build On Your Faith
The fact that we can’t do it without Jesus does not mean He does everything for us. We’re meant to be involved in our own growth. At the very least, we must choose to abide in Him and make some effort to bear fruit that glorifies God. Mostly, this involves cultivating Godly character and following His instructions.
“he has granted to us his precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust. Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control perseverance; and in perseverance godliness; and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to not be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8)
God has given us precious faith, granted us things that pertain to life and godliness, and made us partakers of His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:1-4). He has supplied a good foundation for building and growing, and we should respond to this gift by adding on to it. Tending our spiritual gardens involves making a commitment to keep building on the faith that we start with.
Use God’s Spirit
God works with us through His spirit to enable growth and transform us into His children. Without His spirit opening our minds to “the deep things of God,” we wouldn’t even understand we need to grow, much less how (1 Cor. 2:7-13).
“Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?’ But we have Christ’s mind.” (1 Cor. 2:14-16)
Part of cultivating a thriving spiritual life is cultivating a thriving relationship with God through His holy spirit. We listen to Him, let Him work in us, and choose to live in His spirit, which lets us be “subject to God’s law” and please Him as His children (Rom. 8:5-15). The spirit of God is one of the most important gifts He sends to us; the gift of putting Himself inside us to transform our lives from the inside-out. Growth must involve using this gift.
Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
To cultivate our spiritual gardens, we must first stay firmly attached to the root (Jesus Christ), accept that we have a role in the growth process, and let/invite God to enable this growth through His holy spirit. Only with those foundations will the things we do to grow and develop as Christians have a “fertilizing” effect on our spiritual lives.
Prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting, and helping those in need are the sorts of spiritual disciplines that help us grow (1 Thes. 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Josh. 1:8; Mark 2:18-20; Matt. 25:34-40). They’re things we need to do on a regular basis if we want to get close to God and stay close.
“Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Pet. 3:18)
God doesn’t expect us to do everything perfectly. He just expects us to do something to grow toward being more like Him. He wants a close, transformative relationship with us because He loves us and wants us to live forever in His family. All we need to do in order to receive that is put in effort to use and to grow the gifts He has already given us.
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