How to Develop a Spiritual Growth Plan
I should mention that the following ideas are not entirely my own. Several mentors have shaped my thinking. I was inspired by Jonathan Edwards resolutions years ago. They continue to influence my thinking about spiritual development and change. My friend Del Fehsenfeld first steered me into a new world of literature and thought about spiritual formation almost six years ago. I think he was the first person I ever heard mention a "spiritual growth plan." No one living has helped me see the connections between the gospel and change more than Timothy Keller. I listen to his sermons almost weekly and am always enriched. And John Owen remains an indispensable guide to life in the Spirit. The fingerprints of these men are all over most of what I say.
When planning change, we are wise think through multiple aspects of our lives.
Are your marriage and family relationships all they can be? Are you reflecting the love of Christ to those closest to you? Are you modeling godliness? Are you discipling your children? If you are single, are you living faithfully, purely? As Paul exhorted Timothy, do you relate to men as brothers, to women as sisters? I recently read an old friend's description of her husband on her Facebook profile: "the most self-less man I know." Later I was looking in the mirror asking myself, "Am I the most self-less man Holly knows? Why not?" We need to probe deep. Ask your spouse how he or she would like to see you grow. Ask your children if there is anything they would change in you. The answers may hurt - but it will make your need for change concrete. And that's the first step to planning.
Christians today often pit knowledge against love, but Scripture keeps them together. Just read Paul's prayer in Philippians 1: "abounding in love with all knowledge and discernment." Is your love for God and others a knowing love? Are you well-grounded in truth? Are there holes in your knowledge of God's Word? Defects in your world-view? Flaws in your theology? What will you do? One of my goals this year is to read through the Bible using Don Carson's slightly revised version of M'Cheyne's reading plan. I've been on it for eight days now and am already benefiting.
The measure of our likeness to Christ is seen concretely in our service to others. Jesus climbed for the bottom, not the top (Philippians 2). He didn't hanker for position, but abandoned privilege in order to serve God and man. How are you serving the church and the world? Are you a church consumer: attending, sitting, hearing, receiving, but not doing, serving, giving? What about your community? Is your "ministry" limited to those inside the church? Maybe you should volunteer to serve the homeless in a soup kitchen, or visit the elderly in a nursing home, or spend vacation time building a house with Habitat for Humanity.
Character, of course, is not isolated from our relationships to others. But it is possible to be outwardly kind while our inward impulses lie elsewhere. Think of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) or Paul's description of love (1 Corinthians 13). Does this describe you? Are you generous, content, grateful, self-disciplined, kind, and self-effacing? If someone were to play a video of your thought life, would you be ashamed, embarrassed? What needs to change in your self-talk?
The danger in everything I've written so far is to cause us to become overly introspective and self-reliant. Goals are good, but they are not gospel. Just as God's law is holy, just, and good - but also damning, so also are some of our best intentions. More than anything else, I need to be grounded in the realities of the gospel - the good news of what God has done to rescue sinners and restore the world through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But the gospel doesn't absolve us from intentionality in transformation. Gospel is not anti-law. No, the truth of the gospel empowers obedience by transforming us deeply, giving us a new set of motivations, and reorienting us to God and grace. The formula is not more gospel, less goals; but more gospel, transformed goals, new power.