Growth is exciting. Just ask gardeners and farmers: They tend their plants with care and watch crops closely, hoping to see them flourish at just the right time. Or consider parents: They constantly monitor the development and maturing process of their children, looking out for signs of trouble and celebrating accomplishments along the way.
Sometimes growth is a sure thing, such as when we invest in an interest-bearing savings account that is guaranteed by a bank; other times we simply have to hope for the best, particularly when it comes to living things. Plants, animals, and humans are designed to grow and mature in an orderly fashion, but a lot depends on the conditions around them. And sometimes those conditions are beyond our control.
For the most part, common sense tells us that we can expect to reap what we sow. If we plant strawberries, we get strawberries—not watermelons. If we plant a rose bush, we don’t expect tulips. What’s odd is how so many of us forget this basic principle when it comes to our spiritual life.
Read Galatians 6:7-9
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Just as gardens eventually take the shape of a landscaper’s vision, our lives reflect where we invest time, energy, and resources. If we’re self-focused and bent on experiencing as much pleasure as possible, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we’re left empty and dissatisfied—or if God’s discipline feels harsh. But if we seek opportunities daily for spiritual growth and for serving God and others, we’ll reap eternal benefits.
The Bible has much to say about the importance of maturing spiritually and often makes comparisons to agriculture and infants. (See 2 Corinthians 9:10; Eph. 4:14-15; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:1-3.) It’s not enough for a seed to sprout or for a baby to be born. If they remained in their original weak and helpless state, they’d quickly die. Growth has to happen, and that means not only increasing in size but also being strengthened on the inside.
We can expect to reap what we sow, yet many of us forget this basic principle when it comes to our spiritual life.
Read 2 Peter 3:18 and Hebrews 6:1. Being born again is a wonderful miracle, but God also wants His children to grow and fulfill the special purposes to which He has called them.
Write your thoughts in a journal.
• When a tree grows in height and girth, anchoring roots deep in the soil, it not only becomes able to withstand storms; it also benefits plants, animals, and humans by providing shade, shelter, food, and oxygen. Read Galatians 5:22-25. When you allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life, you won’t just grow. You’ll become fruitful, blessing others and bringing glory to God.
• We can also learn lessons from trees that fail to produce. Here are some of the reasons a tree might not bear fruit:
1. The tree is too young. Most fruit trees bear in their third year.
2. The tree is sickly due to excessive water (improper drainage), disease, insect damage, or poor fertility.
3. Over-fertilization, causing excessive growth in just certain areas, robs fruit of nutrients.
4. Stress, drought, too much shade, and structural damage can all take a toll.
From this list, what applications can you make with regard to spiritual development? Remember that, like a fruit tree, if you’re in the wrong environment, your spiritual growth will be stunted. That’s why Scripture encourages seeking out Christian fellowship, just as it urges avoiding unrighteous influences. According to Proverbs 13:20, John 13:35, and Hebrews 10:24-25, what are some benefits of spending time with other believers?
• If you remain a spiritual infant for too long, you won’t grow plentiful spiritual fruit. When more effort is made to advance financially, socially, or academically than spiritually, you may grow something, but it won’t be the fruit of the Spirit.
• In order to thrive, living things need light, water, food, and regular care. How does this apply to your spiritual life? Read the following verses and note what they teach about growing spiritually:
• John 8:12; 1 John 1:7
• John 4:14; Ps. 1:1-3
• Rom. 5:3-4; James 1:2-4
• Matt. 4:2-4; John 6:51; 1 Peter 2:2
If your life does not display the fruit of the Spirit, examine why. The Bible says only a good tree can bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18; Luke 6:43).
• Ask God to reveal progress you’ve made relative to the nine qualities of spiritual fruit (see Gal. 5:22-23). Pray for Him to shine light on an area He wants to work on with you.
• Business experts often say that the best way to ensure success is to set measurable goals. Similarly, unless you make specific goals regarding your spiritual growth, it can be all too easy to neglect the disciplines needed to move toward maturity.
However, while you can track sales, take inventory of stock, and collect reviews from customers, assessing your spiritual growth isn’t something you can do objectively. This is where accountability can help.
Asking someone for an honest evaluation of your progress as a maturing Christian takes a great deal of courage, but the right person can make that act of humility more than worthwhile. Pray for God to lead you to an appropriate mentor—it could be your spouse, your pastor, or a trusted friend. Ask this person to highlight one area of strength and one that needs improvement, and then pray together for God to help you. Agree on a plan to follow up on your talk.
Held With Flowers Near Arles, 1888 (oil on canvas), by Vincent van Gogh