By Dermot Cottuli
Growth is one of those topics that we’re all interested in. Growth and life are intimately connected from the moment we’re born till the moment we step off the planet. We’ve all experienced growth and for the most part, we’d all like to experience more growth.
It’s drilled into us from a young age that if we want to get ahead in life we need to grow. We’re sent to school from the age of 4 to start growing in our knowledge and understanding of the world and we’re encouraged to develop and grow any natural talents or gifts we might have. We’re told that the people who apply themselves to growing, academically, physically, musically, etc are the ones who eventually succeed in their chosen profession and for the most part, that’s what we see happen time and time again.
Success in your profession brings with it rewards–financial security, status amongst your peers, personal satisfaction and fulfilment just to name a few. Yes, we can become obsessed with these to the detriment of other areas of our lives of equal importance but it doesn’t take away the fact that growth is something that we all reach for.
And why wouldn’t we? The dictionary definition of growth paints a very rosy picture.
Growth – An increase, as in size, number, value, or strength; extension or expansion – sounds good to me!
Our desire for growth is what drives many of our activities in life. Farmers don’t plant seed in the ground and not expect a crop to grow. They plant seed in the hope that there’ll be a harvest which will be many times the size of the seed originally planted. You don’t give up time which you’ll never get back, to sit in a classroom studying just to cram more and more knowledge into your head. Your hope is that along with growth in your understanding and knowledge of a subject will come the opportunity to work in a particular field when you’ve finished your schooling.
Growth in itself is neither good nor bad, it simply describes a process. And here is where we come to a fork in the road. Because sometimes growth can become a negative in our lives rather than a positive. It all depends on our intention, on our motive, on why we want the growth.
Darlene Zcheck, when being grilled on all the money she had made from her Christian music career, laughed and said she loved making money, as it enabled her to do more good in her world. That’s a healthy motive and one that I’m sure God is pleased with. There are others though who’ve pursued more money out of personal greed and in the process destroyed themselves and those closest to them.
“Most of us don’t really want to grow, we just want the benefits of being grown.” Matthew Fredericks
The challenge of personal growth for many of us is often its’ cost. If I were to ask you “Do you want to grow?” you’d immediately think of the end result of growth in a particular area and your answer would most likely be “Yes!” I mean who doesn’t want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, who doesn’t want to be more loving, have greater faith, maturity, endurance, patience, compassion, resources, strength, wisdom and joy? We all want it, but we’re not as keen to pay the price to get it when push comes to shove. How do I know that? Personal and practical experience over the years have shown me that most people balk at pain and discomfort and are great at coming up with excuses and justifications for their lack of progress. You only have to look at the number of people that set out to get fit only to give up after a few weeks, to realise that this is a problem facing all of us. Knowledge isn’t the issue; will and the ability to follow through, is. I’m convinced that most people in churches don’t need more knowledge as much as they need to act on what they already know and stick to it.
Have you ever wondered what the mechanism that drives, or causes personal growth, is?
Growth at its’ most basic breakdown, is our natural automatic, adaptive response to stress. Be that physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. We find ourselves in a situation where we’re struggling to cope and our body’s inbuilt growth mechanism kicks in by causing us to grow stronger in that area so that we can counteract the stress that caused it. A person that makes a point of trying to avoid stress is doing themselves a disservice because they’re removing the trigger from their lives that causes growth to occur. Long term chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our lives true, but stress in itself is a natural occurrence in life and part of our human condition and a key factor in every area of growth.
Throughout the Bible God is seen using times of conflict and stress over and over again to bring about change in individuals and entire nations. Our response to stress is key because it can either propel us forward or send us backward.
Whether it’s physical, spiritual or character related, growth is simply an automatic adaptation to environmental and internal stress. We find ourselves in a situation where we’re under pressure and to survive we adapt by becoming stronger.
James hit it on the head when he said
James 1:2-4 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to GROW. So let it GROW, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
How do I grow my faith? By finding myself in situations that require my faith to grow. Where my faith isn’t strong enough to cope with the challenges I’m facing and I’m forced to adapt by becoming stronger.
Guess what? Those situations are rarely comfortable. They’re painful, they’re stressful and they can cause all sorts of mixed emotions when facing them.
Growth doesn’t occur in situations where it’s not needed.
We need to lean in and embrace whatever it is that God is leading us through. It’s called trust, and the number one lesson that we learn in our Christian walk over and over again is that God can be trusted. It’s easy to read that God works everything for our good in Romans 8 but a totally different thing to live as though we believe it’s true.
I find within me there’s a propensity to run from conflict and seek peace in my life and that can be a good thing at times. However, there are times when God wants me to endure something because He’s using it to change me. I’ve had to learn to embrace it so that it can bring about the growth and change in my life that God intends.
In all circumstances the bible tells us to be thankful. “Consider trials an opportunity for great joy”, James said. How do we maximise our growth in any given situation? By trusting that God is at work doing what only He can do, the transformation of a human life, and by embracing the challenges we’re facing.
Today I’d like to let you in on some very practical keys and insights that you can work into your lives to ensure that growth is an ongoing reality for you and in the process, avoid the pitfalls that commonly sidetrack our continued growth and development in the Kingdom.
Before we start though I want to clearly state that the role model for all growth in the Christian life is epitomised by Jesus. Our goal, as Paul stated so eloquently in Ephesians 4, is to be growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
Growth can either be a positive or a negative experience. We can grow lazy or we can grow a great work ethic. We can grow greedy or we can grow more generous. We can grow bitter or we can grow sweet. We can grow toward God or we can grow away from Him. God gives us all free will and we’re responsible for exercising it–no-one else is. You will not grow unless you decide to.
As I posted on facebook a while back, Our life doesn’t get better by chance, it gets better by change. Your growth is firmly in your own hands.
So how can we see growth kick up a gear in our lives and bring about the type of personal change that we’re all wanting? How can we see the character of Jesus shine through more and more so that others realise that He’s alive? Here’s how . . .
Often what we see around us and observe in the physical world has a correlation to what we see and experience in the spiritual world as well. Paul was quite fond of using examples from the natural world to describe spiritual truths. He compared the church with a body and Christians with farmers and soldiers. In the area of growth there are similarities between the physical world and the spiritual world as well.
Most personal trainers will tell you that there are 3 things needed to get fit and they are exercise, nutrition and rest. The exercise is the stress that we put on our bodies to kickstart the adaptive response. Our diet provides the necessary fuel and nutrition that our body needs to build our muscles and supporting structures stronger after they’ve been torn down by our activity and rest is needed to allow our bodies to take the nutrients we’ve fed it to rebuild and grow.
Does that have anything to teach us about personal and spiritual growth? Yes it does.
Remember our definition of the mechanism of growth –
Whether it’s physical, spiritual or character related, growth is simply an adaptation to environmental and internal stress. We find ourselves in a situation where we’re under pressure and to survive we have to adapt by becoming stronger.
So let’s take the 3 components of a growth producing physical routine and apply them to our own personal and spiritual growth.
Exercise / Activity
In a fitness program the physical activity that we engage in is our stressor. It provides the stress that’ll kick start the growth process. We need the pressure produced by the activity to gain the attention of our body. Our body has to feel it. Remember the old adage, “No Pain, No Gain.” During the activity your body starts to break down but rather than being a negative this is actually the signal to your body that tells it to rebuild itself bigger, stronger and faster when it has a chance to recuperate because the load that it’s under, it can’t cope with.
What is it that causes stress in your inner world? Being asked to do something you’ve never done before. Dealing with difficult people who misunderstand you. Having to hold your ground when everything around you is falling apart. Putting up with a job that you no longer enjoy because you’ve responsibilities to meet each week that require a regular pay packet. Facing a deadline to get an assignment in. Being stuck in traffic when you’d rather be lying in bed. Believing for a loved one to come to Jesus but seeing very little openness or progress. Remaining faithful to God when things have become mundane and stale in your relationship. What do you do when things are difficult?
For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to GROW. So let it GROW, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
You persevere, you push through, you hang on, you keep going, you don’t stop, you pick yourself up, brush yourself off and set off again. Paul likens it to running a race . . .
1 Corinthians 9:24 (NLT)
Don’t you realise that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!
Hebrews 2:1 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Philippians 3:14 (NLT)
I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
You accept the challenge, you lean into the task at hand and embrace it, all the while remembering that God is working everything together for your good. Which brings us to the second part of our growth equation – our nutrition.
If you’re going to tear your body down through hard physical training you have to provide it with the right food so it can repair itself and become stronger than it was before in anticipation of future load.
The same is true for our personal and spiritual growth. What are you providing your spirit and mind with to help it repair and build itself stronger? You are what you eat. In the physical you can’t expect to see the growth you’re wanting if you’re not providing your body with the very best nutrients it needs to repair itself and grow stronger and so too with your mind and spirit. Paul in Romans 12 has something very interesting to say about the correlation between spiritual growth and what happens in our minds.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
So what are you feeding your heart and your soul with? If I’m in a situation where I need my faith to grow I need to be feeding myself with faith producing thoughts rather than doubt producing ones. Where am I going to find those? Here at church, in the company of godly friends, between the covers of my Bible.
Romans 8:35–37 (NLT)
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)
“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Every one of those statements provides food for your soul–they increase and strengthen your faith.
If you feed yourself a constant diet of popular media, gossip, criticism, negativity and unbelief, guess what will happen to your growth – it will stall, stagger and eventually stop. You are what you eat, yes, but even more so, you are what you THINK. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Paul tells us to fix our mind on heavenly things, to fix our mind on the things of the Spirit, to think on things that are true, lovely, honourable, admirable, right, excellent or praiseworthy. When we feed our soul the right food we give ourselves the best chance of growing to maturity. When we don’t it becomes easier to give up than to press on. Imagine what your internal life would look like if for the next three months you only thought the thoughts that God would like you to think and listened to what God would like you to listen to.
I’m not saying this is easy, it never is. Not until we’ve disciplined ourselves to make this a life habit. I’m still working on it, we all are but we can’t afford to stop–keep pressing on and you’ll see the growth that God wants for you, happen over time. The last thing you want to do when you’re under pressure is to pull away from God, church and Godly friends. Where else will you get the food your soul requires? We’ve already taken in 15 portions of scripture from the start of my message till now. For some people the only Bible they get during their week is when they turn up to our service on a Sunday. Just as people can turn to junk food for a quick fix when they’re feeling low or rundown for the quick sugar and fat rush that they provide, many of us go looking for our soul’s sustenance in places that we shouldn’t, thinking that it will make us feel better only to discover that we’re worse off, once the rush wears off, than we were before.
The final key area is rest. We need periodic breaks from the stress of our situation to allow our souls to make use of the food we’re feeding it and recover completely and grow. There’s a condition in the athletic world called overtraining. It’s where guys are training hard, but not getting enough rest or nutrition and instead of making progress they start to go backwards. Your body’s adaptive response to stress along with great nutrition needs times of rest to work it’s magic.
Now I’m not talking here about physical rest. Some of you probably need more physical rest that’s true, just make sure you don’t take it from the things that have eternal value for your lives but rather the fillers. The stuff that at the end of the day isn’t going to really matter in the scheme of things.
The rest we’re talking about here is the rest that enters your inner world when you intentionally draw near to God.
Isaiah 40:31 (NKJ)
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Matthew 11:28 (NLT)
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Psalm 23:1-3 (NLT)
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.
This is where everything comes together and true growth occurs.
When we come to God he’s able to take his word and apply it to your situation and the miracle of growth occurs.
- “Are you running away from challenges or embracing them and leaning into them, trusting that God is working everything together for your good?”
- “Are you feeding your soul daily with God’s thoughts and perspective as found in the Bible and in the counsel of Godly friends?”
- “Are you intentionally drawing close to Jesus on a regular basis throughout your week?”