The Danger in Pursuing Spiritual Growth
[Editor’s Note: Are all spiritual growth activities useful in growing closer to Jesus? In this blog post, Chris Heinz shares why some activities may be keeping us from actually growing in Christ.]
I was recommended a jolly, little book called Rejoicing in Christ, written by Michael Reeves. I have to tell you: There are passages that cause my heart to pound faster, like there’s a little drummer boy inside me, and I have to stop and take a breath.
Reeves has hit upon a nerve—a deep place where deep calls out to deep. In this blog post, I want to share a passage of his and make some critical observations about the danger we need to be aware of when we pursue spiritual growth.
I have read this passage seven or eight times already, and I haven’t grown tired of it yet. Little Drummer Boy is still drumming.
In talking about the life of Christ, Reeves writes:
Here was a man with towering charisma, running over with life. Health and healing, loaves and fishes, all abounded in his presence. So compelling did people find him that crowds thronged round him. Men, women, children, sick and mad, rich and poor; they found him so magnetic some wanted just to touch his clothes.
Kinder than summer, he befriended the rejects and gave hope to the hopeless. The dirty and despised found they mattered to him. His closest friends found that, as the Son of Man came eating and drinking, being with him was like being with a bridegroom at a wedding . . .
Yes, he was a man who felt a world of pain, yet who abounded with joy.
Generous and genial, firm and resolute, he was always surprising. Loving but not soppy, his insight unsettled people and his kindness won them. Indeed, he was a man of extraordinary—and extraordinarily appealing—contrasts. You simply couldn’t make him up, for you’d make him only one or the other. He was red-blooded and human, but not rough. Pure, but never dull. Serious with sunbeams of wit.
Sharper than cut glass, he out-argued all comers, but never for the sake of the win. He knew no failings in himself, but was transparently humble. He made the grandest of claims for himself, yet without a whiff of pomposity. He ransacked the temple, spoke of hellfire, called Herod a fox, the Pharisees pimped-up corpses, and yet never do you doubt his love as you read his life.
With a huge heart, he hated evil and felt for the needy. He loved God and he loved people. You look at him and you have to say, ‘Here is a man truly alive, unwithered in any way, far more vital and vigorous, far more full and complete, far more human than any other.’ (p. 53-55)
A few things stand out to me about how Reeves describes Jesus. First, his style is beautiful, powerful, and full of imagery. My response is, “I want to write like that!” Second, he seems to know Jesus so very well. My response is, “I want to know Jesus like that!”
Can we know Jesus like that?
I think so. Jesus is not so exclusive that only a few can know him, and he’s not so elusive that he can’t be known. But how can we know Jesus like Reeves does? Is it a matter of six simple steps or eight ways or three things to do? Well, yes and no.
“Yes” because the Christian life is very practical—there are steps to take, a walk to walk. But “No” because growth isn’t a quick fix; it’s a process.
We don’t need another list of things to do. We already have too many things to do, and I have to say, we may be no closer to Christ because of them. In fact, our to-do lists may be keeping us from knowing Christ more deeply.
The reason I think Reeves is so vibrantly fresh in his explanation of Jesus is because his relationship with Jesus is so vibrantly fresh. He’s simply opening up the chambers of his heart for all of us to see. And what do we find? A cozy home for Christ.
A cozy home for Christ that makes me say, “I want that!” and perhaps your heart will say, “I want that!” too.
Instead of more doing for Christ we need more relating to Christ.
Many of us suffer not from a lack of spiritual activities, but rather from a lack of relating to Christ. We set up Bible reading plans to read about God, but we don’t relate to Christ as we read—the one in whom the fullness of God is fully revealed. We set up opportunities to serve others, but we don’t relate to Christ during the time of our service—the one in whose name we serve. We sing worship songs about God, but we don’t relate to Christ in our hearts as we sing—the one before whom every knee shall bow.
It is possible to do all our spiritual things, but miss Christ. When this happens, we’re worse off than before we did them. This is how dead religion is made. This is how we become “pimped-up corpses,” like the Pharisees.
Here’s a list of activities for spiritual growth. But what if instead of doing them for Christ, we focused on relating to Christ when doing them?
Prayer: What if prayer becomes a time of relationship building in which you see Jesus in the room with you and listen to him?
Worship: What if during worship, you don’t just sing words, but picture in your mind Jesus sitting on his throne in Heaven listening to you and pleased to receive the worship you are voicing?
Community: What if in community, you resolve to speak about Christ to each other and look for Christ being formed in one another?
Ministry: What if the purpose of ministry is to do the works of Jesus in a way that confirms the Word spoken about him?
Spiritual Disciplines: What if pursuing spiritual disciplines like fasting, celebration, and solitude helps you experience Jesus more?
Trust/Surrender: What if trust and surrender aren’t as scary because looking into the eyes of Jesus cancels your fear?
Bible Reading: What if reading your Bible becomes a means of knowing Jesus more because you look for Jesus all over the place in every passage?
In our pursuit of spiritual growth, let’s not miss Christ. He is ready to be found. He wants to be known. The key is relating to Christ in all things.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Heinz
Chris Heinz is the Vice President of Human Resources for EnergyCAP, Inc. He leads a non-profit organization that helps kids in the Philippines go to school, and his book, Made To Pray, helps readers find their best prayer types. You can follow Chris at his blog, Twitter or LinkedIn.