Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen, any more than running a marathon “just happens.” You don’t wake up one day and go run a marathon. It takes months of training and preparation. Growth results from hard work. The harder you train and prepare the better you will do in the race.
As I have been training for the upcoming Cleveland Marathon in May, I have had to form new habits and be disciplined in working out. I know that if I don’t train now, I will pay the price later. As I run and do cross training my body is strengthened and able to endure longer distances. I also am able to recover much quicker from hard workouts. I can run farther and faster now because of the work I have put in over the last 6 months.
In the Bible Paul compares maturing or growing a person to growing a plant (Col 2:6,7). When you take seed, soil, sunshine, and water and put them together, you don’t get a plant overnight. You need time. Paul knew that our roots would not grow deep overnight. Our lives are much that way. Either we are growing slowly by taking steps forward or we are declining by taking steps backward. Just like a plant can’t grow without the right conditions, we need to right conditions to grow and thrive. Whether we want to grow spiritually, emotionally, relationally or physically, it takes certain things for that to happen. Here are some reminders of what must happen for growth to occur:
- Labor – Someone has to work. For growth to happen hard work need to take place. That means having the right mindset of doing difficult things that may cause some pain initially, but that will lead to growth down the road. That happens when I workout, my muscles get sore, but they also get stronger. When I practice honesty, it can cause some initial pain, but it leads to stronger healthier relationships. When I take time to read or write, it takes effort, but it also pays dividends.
- Stretching – We have to stretch for more. When I get out of my comfort zone and push myself, I see much better results. I can hit walls, in all areas of my life, but if I can stretch just a little more I grow to higher levels. Once we stretch to a new place we now have expanded our capacity to grow. Stretching relationally may be working through conflict instead of yelling or using the silent treatment.
- Learning – In order to grow we must learn. Again, this takes a mindset of understanding that we do not know it all and can benefit from other people. Having a teachable attitude allows us to grow much faster. It’s like adding fertilizer to the soil. People that grow are constantly reading and studying. Not only books, but people and situations.
- Focus – We cannot drift or get distracted, or our growth will diminish. The more we can focus, the better the results will be. Distractions keep us from the important things that can bring about the best results. I must remove distractions that keep me from training, and then while I am training, I need to focus on my form and technique.
- Accountability – Growth accelerates when someone watches. Trying to grow on our own is very difficult. Having a workout partner can keep me motivated. Allowing someone to ask hard questions on a regular basis keeps me on track. We should not try to go it alone, find some trustworthy, reliable people to help on the journey.
- Application – Growth really happens when we practice what we know. If all I do is study about how to run a marathon, I will never run a marathon. I have to actually go out and do what I have learned. Growing spiritually, emotionally, and relationally is the same way. If I want to improve my marriage I have to actually practice speaking my wife’s love language on a regular basis. If I want to get closer to God I have to actually talk to him and read the Bible in order to connect with Him and understand Him. If I want healthy relationships I have to practice forgiveness.
- Gratitude – This is all about having the right attitude. Giving joyful thanks for the past blessings and growth. A grateful heart is a humble heart and that is fertile soil for growth to happen.
So what area do you want to grow in? If it’s your marriage, then think about what your next step needs to be in order to grow in that area of your life. Think in next steps, what step do I need to take in order to be a better husband? What step do I need to take in order to be a better father? What step do I need to take in order to be a better leader? It might be reading a book, it might be eliminating some distractions, it might be finding an accountability partner or two, it might be actually putting into practice some things you already know, it might be having a more grateful attitude. As we take these small steps it leads to growth and change. Again, this does not happen overnight, but over a lifetime.
Over the last two months I have had the privilege of leading one of our church campuses through a transition from a portable church at a Middle school to a new permanent site in a nearby city. This has been a fun, exciting time and a real growth time for me personally. Since taking this new role at NewPointe Community Church I have been learning some things and putting some things into practice that I have learned over the years about leadership. This is what I have been learning and by no means do I think I know it all. I love to learn from other leader’s and have followed many over my career. These lessons are stretching me and shaping me into the leader God is calling me to be.
- Relationships are more important than Systems – Effective, well thought out systems are vital to an organizations health, but people are more important. Every person that attends the campus I lead is important. Each person matters to God and so they must matter to me. When going through explosive growth it’s easy to miss the relational part of ministry. That is when you must work hard to meet with people and listen to them. I have learned so much by simple meeting with people and listening to them. I know that I have not done as good of job as I could have in this area, so I plan on working harder to connect with more people over the next month.
- Communicate with your team often – Even when there is nothing new to report, it’s important to communicate with your team on a regular basis. As a leader, I wake up every day thinking about what needs to happen to get where we are headed. The volunteers I am leading have many other things to think about, like their own jobs and families. The more I can communicate about what is going on, the better my relationship with the people I lead. Open honest communication builds trust, it also motivates and encourages and allows people to ask clarifying questions.
- Trust that God is working in ways you do not see – In ministry, things don’t always line up like you would like them to be. As a leader, I am responsible for my own actions and to make plans and develop strategy. It is also my responsibility to be flexible and to include God in everything. The deeper my trust in God the stronger my faith grows. If we figure everything out on our own, we don’t need God to show up. When you take on a big vision, only God can make it happen, we need to trust and obey.
- Trust the leaders around you – I must choose to trust and not to be suspicious of the leaders above me. The more I choose to trust the more my heart remains in the right place. When I start to fill in the blanks with my own ideas, I begin to head into a downward spiral. When I believe the best about the people leading me, I can then lead with integrity and passion. Trust builds a culture of emotional health and stability.
- Do more than rally the troops – You must do more than talk the talk, you need to walk the walk and make things happen. That means doing what you say and equipping your volunteers to do what they are asked to do. It means taking the time to develop people rather than just direct people. When you build meaningful relationships with people they will follow you through the most difficult of times. When you pay attention to the details and delegate to people that can get things done your influence goes up. Don’t just try to pump people up, pour into them and love them. The only way to do that is by allowing God to pour into you and to keep growing as a leader.
- You have to be real – People are looking for real leaders that admit their mistakes and take responsibility. Be quick to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness and extend the same to others. Don’t put on the religious mask, where you try to make people think that everything is just perfect. That is only possible if you are sure of your identity and comfortable with who you are. I have learned that I need to be me and not someone I think people want. The more I am the person God created me to be to more influence God give me.
- Be as clear as possible – Clarity is one of the most difficult things to do as a leader. It is easy to dance around the issues and not give direct answers. Sometimes there are things that I just cannot share with people, so I need to be honest about that and let them know that I will share details when I can. To be clear as a leader means taking time to think about what you are going to say. It means you can’t just shoot from the hip, but take time to aim before delivering the message. Being clear is a way of honoring people and letting them know you care.
When things are changing all around me and the pace seems to be higher than what I can stand, it helps to step back and trust God and obey what he tells me. When things are busy and hectic I need to make sure that I am praying and communicating with God. I also need to be reading the Bible to build my intimacy with God and get wisdom and direction. One thing that has helped me in this area and many others is having two guys I meet with weekly to ask me how I am doing in some of these areas. Having accountability in my life has brought growth and freedom into my life.
Nearly everyone that gets married, goes in wanting to be happy and stay married for the rest of their lives. So what happens along the way to cause people to end up hating each other or frustrated to the point of divorce? Why does verbal, physical and emotional abuse happen so often in marriages that started out with so much hope?
Most people that end up getting married, don’t put much work in on the front end. They may date for a while and many people are now pretending to be married, thinking that is a good way to prepare for marriage. Unfortunately the results have been dismal. Couples that live together have a much greater chance of divorce than those that do not. Couples that do not go through some pre-marital mentoring or counseling have a much higher chance of not making it. So for people that are thinking about getting married, go get some help in preparing for this lifelong commitment. Why wouldn’t you get some training for the biggest relationship commitment you will ever make.
For those that are already married and maybe did not put a lot of work in at the beginning, it’s not too late. Marriages can be improved dramatically with some work and a different perspective. Here are some tips or thoughts on how to build a happy marriage:
- Change your expectations to desires – Marriage is not so much about you, but about serving and loving your spouse well. If you are looking at your husband or wife to meet all your needs and make you happy, you are heading toward failure and disappoint. No human being can meet all our needs and make us happy. Only God can do that. Many times we put too high of expectations on our spouse and then are upset when they don’t live up to that. Instead of expecting certain behavior, change your mindset to desiring certain behavior. When you see it happen it is more meaningful. That shift in thinking can change your marriage.
- Learn to love well – To love well, a person must understand what speaks love to their spouse. If you do not understand what is meaningful and special to your spouse, you can be doing the wrong things and actually be hurting your marriage. Gary Chapman wrote a book called the “Five Love Languages”. He describes 5 ways of communicating love to another person. Those languages are; Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Quality Time. Everyone has one or two of those that are more meaningful than others. Find out what your spouses language is and what yours is and then sit down and talk about it with your spouse.
- Focus on growing yourself, not changing your spouse – The more you try to change your spouse the worse it usually gets. The only thing you have control over is yourself. When you focus on problems or the shortcomings of your spouse, you are no longer working on your own issues or growing closer to God. Seek out a mentor or someone that can help you work on your own issues.
- Deepen your relationship with God – To have a happy marriage, it will take more than what you have on your own. When you develop your relationship with God, He gives you strength, courage and wisdom you can’t get on your own. When you grow spiritually, you grow relationally with others as well.
- Bring God into your Marriage – Spiritual intimacy in a marriage relationship is one of the biggest keys to happiness and contentment in marriage. Making God central in your marriage builds a solid foundation. Praying together, going to church together, going to small group together, reading the Bible & devotions together and having spiritual conversations together will build that intimacy. If your spouse is not where you are at spiritually, don’t force this on them. Instead pray silently for them regularly and demonstrate your faith by loving them well and serving them as best you can.
- Build Emotional Intimacy – This is all about being best friends. Connecting with each other through meaningful conversations, doing fun things together and just hanging out. This usually happens through the dating process, but often slows down after the marriage. Start dating again and work at becoming friends again.
- Prioritize Physical Intimacy – This area of marriage often get neglected as life gets busy. Children, work, family functions and children’s activities can keep married people from having enough physical intimacy. Take time to plan for this if needed. God designed sex for marriage for a reason. It was meant to increase closeness and intimacy. It is a way of serving each other and surrendering yourself to the other person. Physical intimacy is much better when the emotional and spiritual intimacy are doing well.
- Always believe the best about your spouse – When you always think the best about your spouse instead of assuming the worse, you are more likely to be happily married. Trust is essential in marriage. Honesty and openness in marriage leads the way to trust. Connecting emotionally, spiritually and physically helps to deepen trust and belief in your spouse. When your first response is to believe the best instead of assume the worse, it leads to a better line of thinking. Less suspicion and more trust. When trust is broken though, boundaries need to be put into place in order to re-establish trust.
- Listen – Most people are really poor listeners. When it comes to marriage it can get even worse. If you will simply work at becoming a better listener, your marriage will begin to improve. Listening takes more than just paying attention. It means to actually try to understand what is being said and being able to repeat it back. It means you follow through on what is discussed. In other words listening needs to be active, letting your spouse know you are truly interested and want to understand and then acting on what you hear. First trying to understand before being understood leads to good listening.
- Think Team – Your on the same team not on opposite sides. Team mates need to communicate well with each other and work together through whatever problems come your way. Problem solving becomes a joint effort instead of one sided. To function as a team you need to know your role and understand how you best contribute to the success of the marriage. The approach should always be we not me.
These ten things are not the only things that help build a solid marriage, but they can get you started. Marriage takes work to be successful. A selfish person does not make a very good husband or wife. Pride and arrogance leads to destruction. So if your marriage is a mess or struggling along, humble yourself and get some help. If your marriage is doing well and you have worked through some struggles, then you need to help others work on their marriages.
Every day God calls us by name and asks us to follow Him. He offers all of Himself to us and is ready to give us everything we need to succeed that day. Yet for most of us, we do not hear His voice. We hear many voices everyday, they are calling for our attention. The noise inside of us keeps us from hearing the one voice that can change everything. Our minds can handle a lot of data, images and messages. It’s like a supercomputer on steroids. However, our minds can also stay so busy thinking about problems, fears, what if’s, ourselves and other people that we have no time for God.
Most people live pretty busy, hectic lives. We try to balance Family and work and then squeeze God in when we can. What if our mindset would change tomorrow morning, to waking up expecting to hear God’s voice. What if we could quiet our minds and instead just focus on being with God to listen to His instruction and His guidance. At first this may feel awkward and we may not hear anything and be easily distracted by all the stuff of the coming day. But over time as we practice being silent and listening, God’s voice will start to come through clearer and more often. His voice will begin to be louder than all the others that are trying to get and keep our attention.
Here are some practical ways we can listen and hear what God is telling us each day:
- Start filling your mind with Scripture. The more truth you fill your mind with the louder God’s voice becomes. Several things we can do include:
- Devotional Reading – daily readings on practical application of Scripture.
- Study – Reading to discover what the words meant when they were written. A good study Bible helps a lot.
- Memorization – This helps us to take to heart God’s word and these verses come back to us at important times. We can all do this if we set our minds to it. It helps to do it with someone. I do this with a group of guys every month. We have memorized 16 Verses over the last 8 months!
- Meditation – This is simply turning a Scripture over and over again in our minds. This can be part of our memorization process. The idea is to take God’s word and think about it and roll it around for a while, really letting it soak into every part of us.
- Hear the Word – Hopefully this happens at Church every Sunday, but we can also look for other ways of hearing the Word, through online messages, CD’s and radio.
- Doing the Word – Living out God’s word is one of the most powerful things we can do. It can also be the hardest. It’s one thing to hear it, memorize and think about it, it’s another to go do it every day.
- Start planning times when you can slow down and switch gears. Finding time for quiet reflection can be hard, but worth it. When you get that time, ask God to speak and promise to listen. This won’t happen unless you schedule it.
- Trust God and Obey Him – When our minds start racing and we start worrying or being fearful, tell God you trust Him and will obey Him. Trusting God starts with complete surrender and giving Him control of everything.
- Get involved with a community of believers – We all need some people close enough to us to speak truth into our lives and to share at a deeper level. God often speaks through other people, but we have to be careful what people we listen to. Start praying now for God to bring the right people into your life.
- Pray a lot – The more we talk with God the closer we get to Him. Having conversations with God helps us to hear from Him. Don’t do all the talking though. Praise Him, Thank Him, Confess to Him, Ask Him and Intercede for others, but then stop and listen for what or who He brings to your mind.
- Finally, when you ask God to speak and you have a thought, ask God if that is from Him or not. As we put more of God’s Word into our minds we get much better at filtering what is from God and what is from ourselves or the world. We may even need to talk with someone else about what you think God is telling you.
Listening well means that your attention and focus is completely on that person. It means that when someone speaks to you, you can repeat back what was said. Listening well to God means that we are paying attention and can ask questions to clarify what we think He is saying. It means that we are pursuing truth to the best of our ability and obeying what we hear by doing it.