Effective leadership requires personal development. For any Christian leader, personal development requires spiritual growth.
How do you grow spiritually? Do you read scripture daily? Pray daily? Meditate? I’ve seen and heard plenty of people get on their soap box about having a “daily quiet time.” Worse, I’ve heard most of those same people talk about how missing their quiet time has some magical effect that ruins the rest of their day or week.
I’ve tried a number of bible reading plans, stuck to them faithfully for a month or so, then dropped them because they got boring. Then the quiet time pharisees come squawking.
I have heard enough people speak of similar experiences to know that I am not alone. Clearly, there is something wrong with the party line in evangelical Christendom about what habits lead to spiritual growth.
No one discipline works by itself
Bible Time Alone
I don’t buy the party line that it is impossible to for a Christian to grow without daily time in God’s word. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that common people like you and I had personal access to the word. Are we supposed to believe that for the first 1500 years of Church history, no Christians experienced any kind of spiritual growth? Hogwash!
Don’t misunderstand me, we are blessed today beyond measure that most of us have a bible within reach that we can read in our own language. If we are not making use of that blessing on a regular basis, preferably a daily basis, we are utterly poor stewards of that resource.
Prayer Time Alone
Another party line that I just don’t buy is that to “really” grow spiritually, you need to spend a portion of every day in some kind of emotionally charged prayer. No matter how talkative you are, you eventually run out of words, and to pray longer is faking it. No matter how emotional you are, you eventually run out of emotional energy, and to pray beyond that is faking it.
We absolutely must pray regularly, or else why would Paul admonish us to “pray without ceasing”? But to ascribe some magical power for spiritual growth to long prayers, emotional prayers, or certain prayer formulas is Pagan, not Christian.
Strength Training For Spiritual Growth
There are other spiritual disciplines one could examine. But giving some magical power to either prayer or bible reading are the most common. To answer the possibility of any other “magic pill” spiritual discipline, allow me to use a fitness metaphor.
Imagine a weight lifter that only trained on bench press. He’d have a huge chest and gigantic arms, but puny legs. Is he strong? What if he only trained on squats? Clearly not. Just as you cannot train only one muscle group to get bigger and stronger physically, so you cannot train only one discipline to grow spiritually.
Just as strength training requires variety, so spiritual growth requires some variety. At the risk of sounding really silly, there are a variety of ways to add variety. But I’ll focus on two ends of a spectrum, what’s right for you will be somewhere in between. Also take note that what works for you today may not work in a few months. So be prepared to adjust.
Be forewarned that either end of the spectrum can become a rut or “magic pill” of its own. So, again, be prepared to adjust.
The Power Lifting Approach to Spiritual Growth
Power Lifters train with intense focus on three exercises: Squat, Bench Press, and Dead Lift. The goal is to lift as much as possible. Power Lifters tend to have three to six workouts a week, and each workout contributes directly or indirectly to performance on one of those three lifts.
In our metaphor, we’ll consider prayer, scripture reading, and meditation as our three core exercises.
Beginner’s Power Lifting for Spiritual Growth
I have found that new Christians are often uncomfortable with prayer. Sometimes it’s “performance anxiety” from being asked to pray out loud. Other times it’s discomfort with being asked to talk to someone not physically present. This discomfort or anxiety is normal. It will take you a while to get past it. Here are a couple of tools to get you there.
Dennis Fuqua’s book, Living Prayer.
A simple prayer template (ACTS):
Adoration: Start by telling God what you “adore” about him. If the word “adoration” feels too strong to you, just tell him what you like about him.
Confession: What wrong actions or attitudes might be interfering with your relationship with God right now? This is the time to talk about them.
Thanksgiving: What are you thankful for? Whatever you have, God has provided it, so express your thanks.
Supplication: Are there things that you want or need? Go ahead and ask. Asking God for things is not a magic wand that will guarantee you get what you want, but there is no harm in asking.
Wednesday: Scripture Reading
If “meditation” sets off your radar as a practice of eastern mysticism, it should. Most of what we in the West know as “meditation” comes from Buddhism. But the truth is that meditation is a biblical idea, and it was a biblical idea before it was a Buddhist idea.
Christianity is not a faith meant to be experienced alone. Make sure that you regularly attend a church. Arrive early, stay late. Talk to people. Participate in their lives, and allow them to participate in yours. You might find a good spotter this way (someone to help you learn to pray, read scripture, meditate, and live it all out).
Advanced Power Lifting for Spiritual Growth
By this time, you are more comfortable with prayer. I hope that you have read Dennis Fuqua’s book, Living Prayer by now. Not that it’s the only good book on prayer. But it is certainly the most practical book that I have read.
If you haven’t read Dennis’s book, personalize the Lord’s Prayer in this way (inserting your specific needs in each area):
Father in Heaven, May your name be made holy on earth as it is in heaven. May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Providing for me. Forgiving me and helping me to forgive. Keeping me from temptation and delivering me from evil.
Father in heaven, please provide for me, forgive me and help me to forgive, and keep me from temptation.
Your name will be honored on earth as it is in heaven. Your kingdom will be built on earth. Your will will be done on earth as in heaven.
Tuesday: Meditative Prayer
Think and pray slowly and carefully through the same prayer that you prayed on Monday. What does scripture say about the things you prayed about? Have you heard sermons on the topic? How would you apply those sermons to your situation?
Wednesday: Scripture Reading
Stick to your same sequential reading plan as before. Just keep plugging along.
Thursday: Pray through Scripture
This practice tends to work best with either Psalms or Proverbs, because those are often the easiest scriptures to emotionally personalize.
If what is going on in a given scripture passage is “good,” pray that it would be true in your own life. If what is going on in a given scripture passage is “bad,” pray that it would not be true in your own life.
Sit and think carefully and slowly about whatever comes to mind. What does scripture say about it? What does your experience say about it? What does your faith community say about it?
Saturday: Scripture Meditation
Think carefully, slowly, and sequentially through scripture. Go back to the start of your reading plan, and work through it at one third to one half the pace. Spend some time journaling your thoughts about how that scripture applies to your life, work, and ministry today.
Hey. You’re an advanced power lifter in spiritual growth at this point, right? That doesn’t mean that you don’t need community. You need it now more than ever. Find a beginner or two and spot them while they’re getting started.
The CrossFit Approach to Spiritual Growth
CrossFit Athletes train with variety in every single workout. The goal is to be ready for anything (athletically speaking). They might train legs and arms, pushing and pulling, all in one workout. It might be months before they repeat the same workout. When CrossFit goes bad, they never repeat the same workout, which makes it hard to know if they really ever got stronger or faster. But most CrossFit trainers or athletes do a reasonable job keeping the variety within reason.
For anyone taking a literal interest in CrossFit, check out the site that started it all.
Beginner’s CrossFit for Spiritual Growth
As a beginning spiritual crossfitter, you might knock out this “workout” out in as little as twenty minutes. Or you might take up to an hour. The variety that you’ll get here is that you’ll hit each spiritual “muscle group” in each workout. Some days one muscle group will work harder than the rest.
To be honest, I got this SAVERS acronym from a guy that I’m pretty sure is a Buddhist. But here is my Christian-Protestant-Reformed-Evangelical adaptation of his original idea.
Spend one to ten minutes in auditory silence (or as close as you can get). This can be either prayer or meditation time (check out the prayer and meditation sections above).
Spend one to ten minutes reciting, out loud, a list of things that you believe about God. Follow that up with things you believe about yourself. Follow that up with things you believe about your purpose in the world.
What are the activities you have planned for today? Visualize yourself doing them with a smile on your face, with an internal attitude that honors God and an external expression that points others to God. This is just like an athlete visualizing themselves scoring.
Spend one to ten minutes doing calisthenics (body weight exercises). Your body is a temple, use it to honor God.
Especially scripture reading. The best scripture reading plan for a spiritual CrossFitter is something like Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System (~45 minutes a day) or the One Year Bible (~15 minutes a day).
Three or more times a week, answer each of these questions in writing, on paper (not typed):
- What is God doing in your life?
- What are you thankful for?
- What have you learned recently?
- Who have you helped recently?
Advanced CrossFit for Spiritual Growth
If I am being brutally honest, I am not here yet. This is spiritual strength training at a level of variety that I haven’t achieved yet. The “workouts” might be a week or a month long at this point. They might hit just one spiritual muscle group, or they might hit several.
Add Your Voice (comment below)
- What has helped you escape spiritual growth ruts in the past?
- In terms of discipline variety for spiritual growth, are you more a Power Lifter, or Cross Fitter?