There’s this certain concept that gets tossed loosely and flippantly around in our Christian circles, and that is this: growing as a Christian. It’s one of those things that has lost the rich authenticity in its statement. Christians in this day and age, and especially in our fellow teenagers, are not encouraged to truly grow in the Lord. We’re told we need to, but it’s just head knowledge – we haven’t embraced this in our hearts. Growth is vital to our faith as Christians, as we’ll see in a little bit. So we’ll look at some various aspects of this whole “growth” bit in this post.To start off, what is “growing as a Christian”? That phrase has become another common cliché now, one of which we usually encourage others to do while slacking in it ourselves. To grow as a Christian, to grow in the Lord, is to essentially learn more about Him, to develop a relationship with Him, and grow closer to Him. As born-again Believers, we have given our lives to Christ, and have committed ourselves to walk in accordance with His commands.
So if we’re talking about strengthening our faith in Christ, what does this really mean? Well, consider this. Should we not desire to learn more about this God we’ve given our own lives to? Should we not be figuring out what commands to follow, what words we should live by? And yet, this is not the case in today’s Christians, but specifically today’s teenagers.
A lot of us teens have grown up in Christian homes, and have been raised with an understanding of God and the Bible. Those of us who have probably said that magical prayer of salvation when we were 6, have gone to church with our family every Sunday, and do our five-minute devotions during the week.
However, this is about as far as we’ve taken our spiritual walk. We stagger the minimum amount of steps to say that we’re “growing in the Lord”. The truth of the matter is, are we really growing? Most of us, if we’re truthfully (and painfully) honest with ourselves, have to admit that we’re not. Why is this the case? We’re doing all these good things, so why are we not really growing?
This boils down to a matter of the heart. We ultimately have the choice to grow; we choose to spiritually feed our hearts, or to let them shrivel and die, figuratively speaking. James 1:22 tells us to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (NIV) We have a choice in how we live our lives, and in the same way, we have the choice to grow in the Lord, to grow as Christians. It’s not easy, as we’ll discover, but incredibly vital.
How do we practically grow? What does this look like? Growth of this kind can happen in several forms that we’ll explore.
But before I begin, I have to make a quick declaration about our faith as Christians. Before you set out to purposefully grow deeper as a Christian, you have to be able to make your faith your own. This means not borrowing your faith from your parents, if you will. By this, I mean not doing what is so common of us Christian teens today, and just reiterating what our parents have told us is right. You have to establish your faith as your own. You have to know what you believe, and why you believe it. As you figure out these things, you will find that you have grown.
Let’s look at some ways that help us to grow.
1.) The Bible. This might seem an obvious one, but I’m not talking about simply opening your Bible, pointing your finger at a verse, and reading it so you can say that you were in the Word today. I’m not talking about hurriedly reading through a chapter every morning, because you have so much stuff to do that day. I’m talking about reading and doing; meditating and thinking; memorizing and personalizing; reading the context, and considering the meaning and depth of each verse. As we mentioned in James, we are to not merely listen, but to do what it says. That means getting what you hear in your head to enter your heart.
I heard this said once, and it’s stuck with me ever since: the longest distance in the world is from the head to the heart. It’s so true - what’s in your heart determines how you live your life. It determines your every thought, your every action. If we get the words in the Bible to transition from mere head knowledge into living in our hearts, it will change our faith entirely. I know this from personal experience, and know others who can testify to it as well. For example, I can scream until my voice is hoarse that Christians are to love, but until I actually start doing it, it makes little to no difference to me. Everything changes when you get something in your heart; your perspective, your actions, the way you live. It’s important for us to get God’s word into our hearts – then we begin to live it out. To get something even as simple as the fact that God loves us to live in our hearts, draws us so much closer to Him. Truly reading His word helps us to grow.
2.) Prayer. Another one of those obvious things, I know. But truly praying to God, talking to Him like you would anyone else, and pouring out your heart to Him is one of the most important keys to growing in Him. Think of a friend that you’ve known for several years and are really close to. The depths of that friendship didn’t just happen overnight, right? It took time, vulnerability, dedication, genuine and selfless love, and communication. The same goes with your relationship with the Lord. Communication is the key point of every relationship. Without it, the relationship dies. So it is with God. If you want to grow closer to Him, you actually have to talk with Him. That may sound like a “duh” thing, but let it sink in. Think about how often you really communicate with Him during the day. And then evaluate how you’re growing in the Lord.
3.) Church. This one is two-fold. The first aspect of church is the preaching. The idea is to proclaim truths from the pulpit, so that all who are listening will hear the truths and apply them in their own lives, growing closer to the Lord. While I admit this does not always happen in our churches today, as many of us might have observed, it is still crucial to our faith to be edified by the teaching of God’s word. I can testify myself – I know that I can’t go for a long period of time without preaching, if I want to continue to grow in the Lord. Going to church to hear preaching is almost like a round-about accountability system. You learn about God’s word at home during the week, but to make sure that you’re learning, you go to church to hear it preached there. It’s beneficial to hear someone else’s insights from the Word we’ve never heard before, to hear the lessons they’ve learned, and the truths they have to proclaim from the Bible that we might have overlooked. This brings me to my second point about church and growth: fellowship. (A quick note: reading good, wholesome books can help us grow, too. Like preaching, books carry a message, and when it’s biblically sound, it can enlighten us by presenting Scriptural truths.)
Fellowship with other believers is an excellent way to grow. Some of the most impacting ways that I’ve grown have been through relationships with other believers. Fellow Christians can help us to grow in tremendous ways. I know that even by just discussing varying viewpoints on different aspects of certain Scriptures has helped me to grow in my faith.
4.) Trials and challenges. Yes, you read that right. Believe it or not, in those challenges we face and trials we go through, we can be strengthened. Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we can really experience truths we’ve heard reiterated over and over again. Those can be those head-to-heart moments we talked about earlier. I’ve heard many stories from people who have grown closer to the Lord because of and during hardships and trials they’ve faced. James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (NIV) While this is a familiar verse, there’s a lot of gravity to this that we tend to skim over. These trials that test our faith, they produce perseverance. They help us to grow, smooth our sharp edges.
Sometimes, when we’re in a dark place, we find that the Lord is all we have left. And those are indescribable moments. Those are moments that we find ourselves growing closer and closer to Him, being pulled into a beautiful relationship with Him.
There’s a flip side to this point. There are also joys, and times when we’re intoxicated with the delight of the Lord. These can also help us to grow. There’s a moment I remember being overwhelmed with God’s love for me, when I felt so close to Him; standing out on the beach in the light of a beautiful moon, overcome with the realization of how amazing and powerful He is. It was a building-block in my relationship with the Lord. In moments of joy, we often find ourselves in that beautiful relationship.
Growing is a time-consuming process. Just like with our physical bodies, or watching a plant, it takes time to grow. Not all of us can grow an inch overnight. We can’t go to church one Sunday, have one moment of joy, experience one trial, and think we’ve grown an incredible amount. But in the end, it’s incredibly worthwhile.