Tips for Personal Spiritual Growth
“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:17-19 NKJV
If you’ve been seeking God it is likely that you have read passages like the one above. Passages that describe an intimate relationship with God and an experiential knowledge of His love. I have often long for this and sometimes I feel closer to it, while at other times I feel light-years away.
Our relationship with God, like any other relationship, can feel like a roller-coaster ride, with extreme highs and lows. Churches tend to be good at programming, and programs can be awesome. But what happens when you can’t attend one, or none are available for months at a time, or when you go off to college or you chase your career to a place without vibrant church events? How do you continue to grow spiritually on your own?
I am not saying that these steps I will describe below should replace corporate worship, but rather they can help you between events, and these are practices you can take with you wherever you go. Events can still provide a spiritual boost, but you won’t be dependent solely on them for your personal spiritual growth.
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 3:17-18 NKJV
Peter warns us about falling from our steadfastness in 2 Peter 3:17 (different translations). You can know about God but fall away from a relationship with Him. The best way to avoid falling from your secure position or stability is to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
A little bit about myself so you can better understand where I am coming from. I grew up in a Christian home, my father is a church pastor and my mother often stayed at home to care for my sister and I. I grew up with my parents having family worship, reading from devotionals, studying the Sabbath school lesson, reading from Bible story books and the Bible itself. As I grew older, I was strongly encouraged to read and study for myself. I have been reading and studying the Bible my whole life. Throughout my life I have tried different approaches and my devotional life has gone through several changes and adjustments as I attended public high school, when I studied theology for my undergraduate degree, then as a full time associate pastor and husband, then as a student at the seminary for my master’s degree in divinity, then as a youth pastor and new parent, then as the pastor of a two church district and father of two very young children and now as the pastor of a church with a school and the parent of school-age children. As I have moved through different stages in life my devotional life had to change and adapt. This post is about my current approach. I believe this is an improved approach since it has been shaped by years of experience and adjustments. However, I can see how changes may need to be made to adjust it to your life stage as a student, professional, parent, retired, or wherever you may be in life. One thing I do want to stress is that you make time to invest in your spiritual growth because it is vital! Your spiritual growth, or lack thereof, will shape every aspect of your life.
Jesus told his disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up:
Luke 18:1 Contemporary English Version
I have some posts on prayer you might find helpful, Always Pray, Ask, Some of my Favorite Bible Verses on Prayer, Spiritual Warfare. I am passionate about prayer and emphasize it strongly at my local church. I believe spiritual growth begins with prayer. We should pray before reading the Bible and prayer also helps set the mood for the day, for your personal devotional, prayer is crucial for spiritual growth.
Tips for prayer:
Don’t make prayer about bringing your wishlist to God, but rather approach Him as you would a friend, and tell Him all about your day, about your night, how you slept, your dreams and fears, your plans for the day, for your life, for your career, family, etc. Talk to God, don’t limit your prayer to requests. Also, don’t feel like you have to use archaic or flowery language when you come to God in prayer.
You learn to pray by doing it. Push yourself to pray longer prayers. Have a prayer list, pray for specific people with specific problems, name them in your prayer. Go through your prayer list, talk to God about the people and issues/challenges in your list. You would be amazed at how good it can feel after having a long talk with God. Do not limit yourself to praying prayers you have heard others pray.
If you think some structure might help you, here is one I often use.
Begin your prayer by praising God for who He is. List His qualities, talk about His power and goodness and love and patience and willingness to forgive and save. This helps you become aware of who it is you are talking to. A praise session at the beginning of your prayer will also boost your faith.
Transition to thanking God for what He has done. He has given you another day of life, think of what else He has done for you or your family and loved ones in the past. Remembering what God has done will also build your faith. Thanking God will also change your attitude towards Him and life. Being thankful can really help you feel better, we all have things to be thankful for, it is just a matter of making the effort to count our blessings.
Confess your sins. Humble yourself before God. He already knows, so just turn to Him and tell Him the areas where you are struggling, confess, ask for forgiveness and deliverance. Bare your soul to God. He is your only hope of victory over those struggles. Prayer should be part of every recovery program, of every battle against addiction, of every therapy session, make God an integral part in every area of your life. God uses professionals and medical advances and medicine but that does not mean that we leave Him out of the picture. I would strongly recommend you to include Him in all you do. Confessing your sins is also beneficial because being reminded of your failures, rebellion, and shortcomings also puts things into perspective as you approach God and as you deal with others. Confession keeps you humble.
Now you are ready to bring your requests to God. After spending time praising God, thanking Him and confessing your sins, you are in the right frame of mind to bring your requests before Him. Be specific, tell Him your plans and desires, your struggles and weaknesses and fears. Ask Him to be your Strength and the Source of all your victories. This is also a great opportunity for you to claim Bible promises. I have a list of Bible verses that help me with this (Some of my Favorite Bible Verses for Prayer). I would like to encourage you to create one as well. I still add move verses to my list as I come across them as I read the Bible.
I would recommend you end your prayers by asking God to answer according to His will. It is important to understand we don’t always know what is best or what to ask for. Sometimes we ask for things that are too small and He wants to give us so much more. Other times we are asking for things that are not beneficial and it would be better for God to answer with a “no.” And sometimes we are asking for the right thing, only at the wrong time, and God will answer, in His time. So asking for His will to be done is the best way to end a prayer. I would also add a “Thank You!” This is by faith, I thank God for listening and for answering my prayer according to His will, His plans for my life, and His power and grace, recognizing He is able and might just answer in a way I never expected.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 NKJV
I could say a lot on this one as well but I will keep it brief for now.
Begin with a prayer asking God to speak to you and keep the distractions away as you study.
Make sure you are reading from a version you understand. King James Version is beautiful and poetic, but if you have no idea what you are reading I am afraid you will miss out on blessings that come from having a better understanding of what you are reading. The Bible is already a challenging book to read, don’t add to the challenge by reading it in a language that is not familiar to you. Go to a place where they sell Bibles and read the same passage in different translations and see which one you like, do some research online, there are so many English translations, find one you like. If you want you can message me and we can talk about this further (there should be social media links on the top right of the screen on my blog) or you can leave a comment on the bottom of this post.
This is a new addition for me. I keep it really simple. I simply write down the passage I read, followed by a brief overview of what the passage was about and a brief description of what I took away from it. Summarizing what I read in my own words helps me internalize what I just read, and having to write at least one takeaway from the passage forces me to reflect on what I read. I find that this simple habit of journaling has helped me listen more carefully to God as I read His words. I read and think, what is God telling me in this passage?
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
If you believe you can experience spiritual growth all by yourself you are gravely mistaken. One cannot grow spiritually in a vacuum because spiritual growth is deeply relational. It is all about loving God with all your heart and soul and might and your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV
I strongly believe that the way you treat those around you, the quality of your relationships, is the ultimate test of your spiritual health. Those around you should be first ones to notice your spiritual growth, not from your theological exposition over meals but rather by your behavior, by the amount and quality of the love you have in your life. A healthy spirituality, an honest and sincere walk with God will shine from your soul and impact those around you. You will begin to experience the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV
This is where the rubber meets the road. Schedule this in your day. Your personal devotion cannot be just something you do when you have time. If you do not make this a priority and intentionally carve out time it will not happen as often as it needs to. You need this daily. Your personal devotions are not a hobby, your relationship with God is not something you do on the weekends as you have free time, it is the most important thing in your life. That’s the thing with God, He is either #1 in your life or He is nothing.
And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
Exodus 20:1-3 NKJV
When God wrote the 10 Commandments with His own finger on tablets of stone He began with a command for us to not have any other gods before Him. Guess what, whatever crowds God out of your life has replaced Him as God.
Allow me to elaborate.
If ever since you joined social media you have not had time to do your personal devotionals like you used to, it has become a god in your life. If ever since you started college you have not had time to spend in prayer or Bible study, your education has become your god. Your new job, relationship, pet, favorite TV show, streaming service, sport, you name it. Here is the truth, you have time to do what you believe is important, whatever doesn’t get done didn’t get done because it was not important enough.
Let that sink in.
If you “don’t have time” to invest in your relationship with God it is only because you do not think it is important enough. I am not saying you have time to do everything you want to or even need to, what I am saying is that when you decided to leave out your devotional time you made a mistake. Yes, if you are too busy you will have to remove some things from your day, you will have to make changes, but you cannot afford to not make time for God.
If you are willing to say that your personal relationship with God is the most important thing in your life, then make sure it happens every day.
Maybe you feel like it doesn’t make that much of a difference, maybe you have done it one day and skipped a few and everything seemed the same. I would like to compare it to eating. Choosing to eat a healthy meal instead of eating junk may not feel like it made a difference, choosing to drink water instead of soda today may seem insignificant, but what happens when I stop drinking soda or eating junk for a week, a month, a year? Same with exercising. Skipping the gym one day may not seem to make a difference, but if you skip a week or a month, a year, it begins to make a difference. The same way, going to the gym once a week or a few times a month or eating healthy three times a month will not have the same impact of doing it every day. Working out or eating healthy inconsistently is just frustrating, it always feels like a chore, it never becomes enjoyable and you never get to experience the benefits you would experience if you were more intentional and consistent. Consistency is the key, and consistency will never become a reality if you are not intentional about it.
It is very possible to go through your devotional routine on autopilot, and by that I mean, without really listening to God, without really opening your heart to Him. You need to make this real, be real with God and expect Him to come through and speak to you. Don’t do your personal devotion as if it were a good luck ritual. Don’t make it a mindless activity, rather look at it as the key to happy and successful life. Your day, your week, your year, your life will rise and fall on the quality of the time you spend with God. Without God your greatest achievements will become sand in your mouth. With God even your biggest defeats will be full or hope and incredible growth to the point of you being able to thank God and be at peace even when everything seems to be going wrong. When you are close to God you become unstoppable, nothing in this universe will be able to keep you from achieving what God has planned for you. Look at the life of Paul as an example.
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:24-28 NKJV
You could look at the list above and see a life full of suffering and you would be correct. But I also see a man that Satan could not stop. The government could not stop Paul, religious groups could not stop Paul, neither could the weather, or poisonous snakes. Paul simply could not be stopped until he had fulfilled the mission for which God called Him.
I never said it would be easy, I just said you would be unstoppable. When you find yourself in God’s will you can depend on Him to take care of all the struggles and challenges you ever face. Imagine going through life with the assurance that in the end everything will workout.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 NKJV
So when you have your personal devotions come to God expecting to hear form Him, expect His help, ask Him to guide you and to reveal Himself and His will to you. Don’t just go through the motions but make it meaningful, open your heart, tell Him everything and open yourself to His will and his guiding influence.
The picture above has a recommendation. This is my personal daily routine. You don’t have to follow it, or you could use it as a template and modify it to fit where you are in life. I just find that in the morning my mind is sharp and fresh, okay fine, sometimes drowsy with sleep but that’s why I added the water part. Also mornings are quieter, no phone calls, no kids asking for things, no noise. Also having my devotional in the morning allows be to begin my day with God, and that make it that much easier to face all the challenges that lie ahead.