It’s hard to notice progress when you’re moving so slow, at least that’s how I feel when I attempt big projects like cleaning out my garage or cleaning up my life. It can be easy to feel like things will never change and I’ll always be in the same mess I have been in all my life, but when I take the time to think about where I was a year ago and where God has me now, I can see the distance we have covered and it is amazing. It’s like getting an aerial view of my life and finally seeing progress.
If you feel like you are stagnant, or moving backwards instead of forwards, take the time to consider where you were this time last year. Has God brought you through some things? Has He taught you more about Himself, given you more fruit of the Spirit? God is in the business of change, I know that because He tells us as much: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; and, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) God doesn’t leave you where you are, but brings you closer and closer to the image of His Son. Romans 8:29 promises it: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Change is an essential part of the Christian faith. It might not always feel like good change, but when you get an aerial view and you see God’s hand in your life, then you can know that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Consider the purpose God has called you and know that no matter what calling is on your life this purpose will always stand: that you enjoy Him and glorify Him forever. As you acknowledge the changes God has made in your spirit, as you recognize where He has brought you and you give Him the credit you can’t help but enjoy him and give Him the glory even in the midst of the messes of life.
If you want to take stock of God’s moving in your life then consider these 8 ways to spot spiritual growth:
1. You are seeking God more – The more time you spend with someone the more you know them. When you first meet sparks can fly, excitement is high, but over time things change, the initial new wears off, and understanding grows. We won’t always be in the spiritual high we first felt upon conversion, but we will grow into something deeper as our knowledge of who God is grows. As we experience His hand in our life and we dig deeper into His Word, we begin to want more of Him, to think about Him more and to want to be more like the Son. Are you more hungry for God than you were this time last year? Then growth is happening.
2. You see more sin in your life – How could the evidence of more sin be a sign of spiritual growth? Sin is failure, how can failure prove growth? The answer is that it isn’t the sin that proves your growth, everyone has sin, it’s the universal condition of all mankind (see Romans 3:10), it’s only those who are growing in grace and truth who can readily recognize the sin in their lives. As you grow more in your faith, you begin to see more sin in your life which you had previously ignored.
Sin thrives in darkness, but when God turns on the divine light we can see there is more sin than we ever conceived of, and therefore more of a need for a Savior than ever before. If you see more sin than you used to that is growth, thank God for giving you the grace of clear vision and the desire to be done with the sin that you see.
3. You aren’t trying to fix things for God – As co-laborers with God (see 1 Corinthians 3:9) we are designed to work alongside our God, but a lot of the time we can panic when things don’t go the way we thought they were going to go and as a result we can feel the need to rush around and fix things. But as we grow in faith the panic lessens, as we begin to accept the sovereign hand of God as more than capable of changing anything He wants changed. That doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to fight the good fight, it only means that we don’t react hastily and in a panic when things don’t look right to us, but instead we rest in the knowledge that God is not only powerful enough, present enough, and loving enough, but that He is also wise enough to fix what needs fixing and to let go what needs to go.
4. You are feeling more at ease when you aren’t the one in control – In control is a comfortable position to be, and a position that the flesh jealously defends. But as you grow spiritually you begin to find peace even in submission to those who have control over you, bosses, parents, leaders. That means that last year you may have had a lot to complain about when it come to those who are in control where you wish you were in control, but this year you have let some of that go and been able to rest in the knowledge that God has it all under control and that, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) Knowing that no one is in a position that God did not institute sets you free from the fears that used to control you.
5. You don’t take things as personally – Spiritual growth results in less of us and more of Christ, and that is a good thing on so many levels, but especially in the area of hurt feelings. When your mission is the mission of God over the mission of me, then you don’t take things as personally as you did. This spiritual growth is the result of what Jesus calls “dying to self.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24–25) And again He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) When you give up your life for His, you don’t take things as personally as you used to, this is your sign of spiritual growth.
6. You are living in community – God’s design for His people is to live in a community with other believes. In fact, in order to grow spiritually we have to be living in a community. Your community life is a good sign of your spiritual progress, and a tremendous help in spiritual need, as we read in Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
7. You are less worried about your own preferences and more concerned about unity of the body – As we live in community it is our love that reveals Christ to the world, and so it is our unity that proves our love. When you were a young believer you were more selfish than you are today, and perhaps you thought more of your own preferences rather than the unity of the body, but as God has opened your eyes to see, He has revealed the incredible value of unity. In fact, we are commanded to “Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding,” (Romans 14:19) not what makes for our own pleasure. As you grow spiritual, your self-life becomes less important and the body of Christ all important.
8. You aren’t afraid to trust – Trust is the last thing to fall in the kingdom of the flesh. Trust is a hard thing to hand out, it’s a dangerous thing to offer, but it is an essential part of loving. In fact, 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love always trusts. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” As you survey your life, do you see that you are more able to trust this year than you were last year? Trust isn’t really about the people we put our trust in but the God we put our trust in. If God has put godly people in your life who aren’t afraid to admonish you, to point out your sin, to call you on your choices, then trusting them is one of the safest things you can do as they help you to identify the disagreement with God in your life and helps you to get back on the track of agreeing with God even when it means disagreement with the flesh.
It can be easy to feel like you aren’t making any progress in faith, and to desire more from your quiet time and Bible study, but when you take stock of what God is doing in your life on a daily basis, and even on a yearly one, you can see that He is active growing you, changing you and teaching you to be more like His Son. If you don’t see much growth, do not fret, all it takes is the desire to know Him more, this is the beginning of the journey, as you feel yourself wanting more remind yourself that it is God Himself who gives you that desire, and know that this is evidence of His hand working towards spiritual growth in your life.
“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”