Are you the same person today as you were one year ago? Are you the same person today as you were six months ago? The answer to both questions is no. You have either grown or regressed.
Dr. Donald Ward, current Council of Elders member and long-time minister in the Church of God.
In this article we will explore strategies for growth, examine reasons for lack of growth and exhort all of us to resist and reject the things that hold us back from reaching our God-ordained potential.
The dimensions of growth we need to examine include: spiritual, mental, psychological, physical and social growth.
Physically—how is your health? Psychologically—how is your state of mind and emotional control? Both of these dimensions are related to your spiritual state. Mental illness is one of the deadliest plagues in our society.
What about mental and educational growth? Are you reading, studying and learning, or have you stagnated? Is your mind becoming duller and less active with each passing day? Only one-third of the American people say that they read. Those who do read read only an average of seven minutes a day.
Is there excitement and enthusiasm for learning in your life? If you have children, do you communicate that love for learning to them?
Have you grown socially? Are you having more social interaction with others? Does your life represent and reflect hope for the future? Are you a source of encouragement or discouragement?
Are you closer to God and your neighbor today than you were yesterday? Is your focus on God and the resurrected Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father who ever lives to make intercession for you, or is your focus on yourself and your problems? Are you seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?
Most importantly, have you grown spiritually?
Make a Plan
Do you really want to grow? Do you really? If so, do you have a plan for growth in each of the above areas? You can rest assured that if you do not have a plan for growth in each of these areas there will be no growth.
Physically, you must have a plan for improving your quality of life. Psychologically, you need a plan for achieving greater peace and greater insight on how to cope with life’s peaks and valleys. You need to grow toward emotional maturity and willingness to face the realities of life. Mentally and educationally, you must have a plan to grow in knowledge and wisdom.
You need to be aware of the political, social and economic factors that are shaping your life and the world. Socially, you need to develop a plan for quality social interaction; a plan to develop deeper friendships, leading to a greater positive impact on them and others. To grow spiritually, you must have a plan for reading, studying, serving, meditating, praying and growing in grace and faith—beginning at home and extending to others.
One way to approach this is to assess where you are now. Write a description of where you are now physically, psychologically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Then write a description of where you want to be, set goals and develop plans and strategies for achieving your goals.
I can assure you that things will remain the way they are now in your personal life and in the Church without directional leadership. You must learn to lead yourself and know how and when to support and follow others. You must not leave the direction of your life to time and chance.
Oftentimes we sell ourselves short when it comes to what we can accomplish in life and what we can do to make a difference in the lives of others. Some sell themselves short when it comes to the service they can render to the Church of God. We must not come to be comfortable with just treading water and becoming spectators in the arena of life. We must step out on faith and face the world with confidence and courage.
We cannot leave the future of our lives and the future of our children to circumstance and chance.
You can fall into a vicious cycle of feelings of helplessness. For example: “Why don’t I exercise? Because I am too tired.Why am I so tired? Because I don’t exercise.” “Why do I have spiritual problems? Because I don’t take care of my spiritual duties. Why don’t I take care of my spiritual duties? Because I have all of these problems.”
“Why do I have so few friends? Because of a lack of social interaction.” “Why is there a lack of social interaction? Because I have so few friends.” Remember Proverbs 18:24: “A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”
There are people in the Church who are not blessed with a support network. Sadly, we often do not know how lonely and helpless some people feel. This is one of the reasons why we need as much communication and social interaction as possible.
Why don’t I read more? Because my education is limited. Why is my education limited? Because I don’t read.
You Can Make a Differe nce
Never fall into the trap of thinking that the way you live your life is not influencing other people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every step we take on the road of life leaves a footprint in the minds of those we come into contact with.
One of the most valid laws of learning is that we learn method more rapidly than we learn content, children especially. In other words, they learn to do things the way you do things. They learn to respond to trial and trouble the same way you respond. They learn to treat family members the way you treat family members. They learn to relate to God as you relate to God. They learn to treat their neighbor as you treat your neighbor.
Your children are learning to manage their health, psychological state, mental, educational state, social life and spiritual life in the same way you do! The old sayings are so very true: “Example is the most powerful communicator,” and, “I can’t hear what you say because of what you do.” Don’t let your footsteps on the road of life become an offense and stumbling block (Matthew 18:1-14).
Apparently we think that if we don’t say it, we haven’t communicated it. God inspired the prophet Malachi to write a whole book about this frame of mind. In the book of Malachi, God brings forcefully to light the condition of the hearts of Judah and Israel. It’s written as a monologue in the form of a dialogue. God speaks His part and the response of Judah and Israel. Judah and Israel professed to be serving God, but in fact they had become God’s critics, even accusing Him of being unfair. They communicated their attitude toward God through their actions.
Let’s note the great rhetorical question in Malachi: “You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, wherein have we wearied him? When you say, every one that does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17, KJV).
The last two chapters are basically devoted to addressing the rhetorical question of where “the God of judgment” is. God is where he has always been—on His throne in the third heaven watching over the sons of men. Because God is longsuffering and merciful He has not executed judgment on the sons of men. “For I [am] the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6, KJV). If we received only judgment, we would all be put to death because the wages of sin is death. But God in His love and mercy has ordained His great plan of salvation and provided us with a redeemer, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
God sent messengers, priests and prophets to Israel, but they hardened their hearts and did not respond to Him and grow. God is pleading with us now to get our spiritual houses in order and grow in grace and knowledge. Respond to Him and encourage one another, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together and so much the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). Your presence at church services may serve to motivate your brother or sister in Christ to grow. Now is the time to fill your lamp with oil and speak often one to another and encourage one another to keep on keeping on. Encouraging words to one another may be written in God’s book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16-17).
So we all need to ask ourselves, “What am I communicating to my spouse, children, brethren and neighbors?” We especially need to be aware of non-verbal communication. From your dress, speech, body language to the way you keep your house are all powerful communicators of growth or regression—of whether or not you love God and your neighbor. Remember the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The problems that abound in this world can be overwhelming and instead of believing we can grow and make a difference, we may have a tendency to withdraw or take on an attitude of “What is the use?” We can grow and we can make a difference if we are willing to step out on faith. Remember the words of the apostle Paul: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:35-39).
The whole of society today is basically in a state of denial and withdrawal. Withdrawal is a form of narcissism where the focus is on self-narcissism has become the “American Way.”
Do you believe you can make a difference in your marriage, in your family, with your children, with your parents, with your neighbor? Do you believe you can make a difference in the Church of God? Do you believe you can make a difference in your job? Do you believe you can make a difference in your neighborhood, community, town, county, state, country? If you don’t make a difference in all of these areas, who will?
If you don’t grow, you will degenerate. So will you leave your future and future of your family to time and chance, or will you have the courage to plan and shape your future? You are making choices that will determine your future—will you choose to grow and help others to grow or will you withdraw and wither away like the grass of the field?
You can choose to make a difference just as Jesus did here on earth. He said greater things than He did, we shall do (John 14:8-14). How many of us believe that?
Avoid Crowd Mentality
Another mind set that prevents growth is the notion that you are safe as long as you are observing the same form as everyone else. There is some kind of false notion of security inherent in crowd mentality and behavior. It’s the notion that there is safety in numbers. “Everybody else is doing it” is one of the great cries of youth to their parents. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:12) Don’t falsely assume that because iniquity abounds and everyone else is doing it—whatever “it” is—that it must be alright.
Some fall into the trap that is described in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and their growth is stunted. Note verse 5 states that some have a “form of righteousness but deny the power thereof…” Then the admonition is given to turn away from such behavior. God wants us not just to have a form of righteousness, He wants us to become righteous. The power thereof is the power to become new creations in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ask yourself, “Is my heart in this or am I just going through the motions? Am I becoming love as God is love?”
The parable of the ten virgins graphically demonstrates that they all had the identical form—they all took their lamps and they all slumbered and slept. Yet the conditions of their hearts and the substance of their hearts and minds were vastly different. This parable should be very sobering to all of us. God is looking on the heart. Seek God and a new heart. He wants us to grow in grace and knowledge and have our lamps filled with oil so we will be ready when the Bridegroom knocks on our door.
It is possible to become as little children, to have a perfectly teachable attitude to grow and become converted. You can change. You can grow. Will you be willing to write a description of where you are? Where you hope to be? And will you write out strategies as to how you plan to get there. SEEK COUNSEL, BREAK THE VICIOUS CYCLE. CAST OFF THE STRONGHOLDS, PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR AND GROW (2 Corinthians 10:1-6; Ephesians 6:10-18).
I hope we all choose to grow. To do otherwise is to die. Will you be the same person next week as you are now? The answer is NO. Will it be life or death? Choose life—choose to grow!