Purposeful growth


Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research to work out where I want to go with this blog and some strategies to get there. The research is ongoing, and what I find will help to refine the scope of what I write about here.

Until now my blogging has mostly been about me. Sure, I’ve sought to encourage others in what I write, but overall I have written on topics that inspire me at the time and largely as way to work through the topic for myself without any systematic plan to publish material that could provide a guide to others or markers in the walk of faith.

Keeping a blog as an online journal is fine if that is all I ever want it to be. But then I have to wonder, why put a journal online when I could simply keep it private and gain more value from journaling when I don’t have to worry about what others might think of it? So for a long time I’ve used my blog as an in-between place, not a fully private journal, yet without any serious structure or purpose.

A weakness of blogging without a purpose is that publishing tends to only occur when inspiration strikes, leading to erratic and irregular posting frequency. This is a bit inconsiderate towards those who read the posts as they can never know when new posts are likely to come their way.

The alternative to writing when inspiration strikes is to set a schedule for publishing. This works best if I can map out a plan of what topics to write about over the next 6 weeks or longer so that I can use writing time for writing rather than spending it trying to come up with a topic and running out of time to actually write. To plan posts in advance requires some sort of strategy; what is my purpose in choosing particular topics? What style should they be written in? What is the goal of each post – to entertain, to educate, to inspire?

Planning to this level of detail needs something like a ‘vision statement’ to unify all the parts into a whole that gives the blog a purpose and direction. This is what I’m working on, and in the process it seems that God is also working on me.

I’m not trying to position myself as some sort of expert. The blog will always grow out of my faith in Christ, knowing Him more and learning what it means to live as an adopted child of God. My ‘vision’ is basically for us to learn to know God more and explore what it means to live as His people in ordinary daily life. All I’m really planning is how to approach learning and growing – being intentional about growth.

Image: Shutterstock

Prepare now for your next spiritual drought

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces.

Have you ever tried to read the Bible only to realise that after ten minutes you have not taken in a word? Or spent time with your eyes closed attempting to pray but really chasing anxious thoughts as if herding cats?

It is normal to go through seasons of spiritual dryness. Times when prayer and Bible reading become exercises in raw discipline or diminish to nothing. None of us want to remain in such a barren place, but how long we have to endure is God’s call, not ours.

I think it is good to always attempt to nurture your relationship with God, even when it feels as if you are just ‘going through the motions’. I also think it is valuable to accept the barren season for what it is and not heap guilt upon yourself when the going gets tough.

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces. I now try to fill up with the disciplines of Bible reading, memorization, and prayer during my times of plenty. This gives me a reserve to draw upon when it is difficult to read the Bible and God seems distant.

In seasons of growth, make the most of it. Farmers use the growth seasons of spring and summer to make hay to feed their stock through the dark winter months. Be wise and use easy times (or even just ‘normal’ periods) to grow spiritually. Hard times will come again and once they arrive it is too late to start building spiritual condition.

When the fight is difficult, it is enough to stand (Ephesians 6:13).

If you are able to read the Bible today, do so. If you can pray even a little, take the opportunity to come into God’s presence. Go to church, or homegroup, even if it is tiresome or inconvenient. The day will come when you will wish you had done all this much more.

Scripture references:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

Spring-cleaning my soul

We are having a bit of an early spring-clean in our house — reconfiguring our storage spaces, sorting through our stuff and getting rid of whatever is not worth keeping. We are tired of tripping over clutter. There is also a certain pleasure in simply tidying up all those things which we use a lot and are necessary and valuable parts of our lives. And occasionally we realize we are running low on some essential because all the containers in the cupboard are nearly empty (tea seems to suffer this crisis most commonly in our house!).

My soul is in a similar need of a declutter, but the junk in there is a lot harder to clean up. It’s easy to go through life tossing stuff into the wardrobe of my heart and quickly slamming the door shut before too much tumbles back out. Accumulating piles of experiences, ideas and assumptions which I have good intentions of sorting through but never get around to doing. Then there is the stuff I don’t like, am afraid to open up, or hate to be reminded of, that is buried in there somewhere too. All this accumulates into a teetering stack which occasionally topples over, prompting me to kick and shove it into a corner, hurriedly restacking the pile so it doesn’t keep tripping me up each day.

Perhaps the wardrobe in my heart isn’t as big as some folks have, or maybe I put way too much in there. Whatever the reason, I’m finding that the door doesn’t close properly anymore and the hinges are broken so stuff kind of spills out. Unfortunately, I don’t have much control over what falls out, but I can control a lot of what goes in. I can actively choose what to read, view or listen to, even who I hang out with. I also get a lot of choice regarding not viewing, reading or listening to ugly, toxic stuff. Discernment and wisdom from others is also helpful in identifying some seemingly benign things which can fester and mutate into toxic, ugly stuff in my heart.

What about experiences over which I have no control or choice? This is where sorting through and processing the piles and stacks of stuff is really important. Every single experience, idea or assumption needs to be picked up, seen for what it is, and filed appropriately — much of the filing should be straight to the trash heap, not a ‘too hard’ pile in my heart!

Jesus talked a lot about the stuff in our hearts:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (Matthew 12:34-35 ESV)

Whatever is stored up in my heart will be expressed out of my mouth, by my actions and in the overall course of my life. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus explains what sort of things come out of our hearts and pollute us (and others). There are actually several issues causing this pollution — we are all by nature sinful (see Romans 7:18) and need to be made new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Without such renewal through Jesus Christ, the outpouring of our hearts will always be corrupt.

Yet, even as a born-again Christian I don’t instantly become pure, I need to be progressively transformed by the renewing of my mind, which occurs as I refuse to unthinkingly embrace the ideas of the world around me and have a realistic perception of myself (see Romans 12:2-3). What has the power to transform my mind and give me a truthful understanding of myself?

It may sound simplistic, but the measuring stick I use is the Bible. Jesus prayed for His Father to purify us through His word, that’s enough recommendation for me (John 17:17). As I read the Bible, the Holy Spirit uses the disparity between what I’m reading and who I currently am to show me where growth or change is needed. In the Bible I also learn the truth about God and about human nature, which helps me to face and understand the lies in my own soul that can fester and corrupt all my interactions with others.