3 Laws for Spiritual Growth

I had a great conversation with Kevin today, one of the students helping us plant new ministry at BC Central.  We were talking about how a person grows spiritually and this came up ...

In 1 Timothy 4:8 Paul compares spiritual growth with physical training.  And this always leaves me wondering, what if our spiritual growth echoed principles we use for physical training?

If I went to the gym and rolled up under the bench press and tried to lift 300 lbs, I'd be pretty frustrated.  I can't lift that much weight.  Trying again, trying harder ... it would make a difference.  I need a different approach.

But we don't follow the same principles when we think about spiritual growth.  We think we're supposed to do an hour-long quiet time every day and pray every day and give generously and not get angry at our friends or neighbors or dog.  We think we're supposed to live like Christ today ... but we don't.  None of us do.  Perhaps we can't, yet.

These 3 Laws will help you re-think your pursuit of spiritual growth ...

1) The Law of Small

If I struggle to lift 300 lbs, I'd change gears, start smaller.  I'd lift 150 lbs.  And then 155 lbs.  And on and on until I hit my goal.  That's the physical.  But what about the spiritual?

When we think of our spiritual lives, we often think of either / or.  We think in terms of sin and faithfulness.  Despite my poor track record, I still think that the only barrier between me and a perfect Christian life is one more try, with a little more effort.

But the Law of Small challenges this perception.  The Law of Small says ...

Start small.

Simple? I think so.

Want to spend an hour in Scripture every day?  Start with 5 minutes.
Want to pray for the whole world?  Pick a country.
Want to be a loving person?  Love your neighbor.

2) The Law of Indirect Effort

Want to bench 300?  Can't?  Try doing curls and flies.  That's the physical.

Spiritual growth benefits from this same principle.  Some call it "discipline."  When we think about discipline, we usually think about effort, rigidity.  "I need more discipline!"  But I've found another definition to be more helpful, and this is where we get to the Law of Indirect Effort ...

Discipline helps you do by indirect effort what you can't do by direct effort

This insight into spiritual discipline comes from Dallas Willard and John Ortberg.  They challenge our "try harder" mentality when it comes to the pursuit of a life that reflects Christ.  Instead, they encourage us to "train wisely."

Here's what this looks like ... Say you want to break the habit of looking at pornography (this is a frequent conversation on campus).  One approach would be to grit your teeth and just resist temptation.  Following the Law of Indirect Effort, however, you could install accountability software on your computer, restrict the locations you use your computer, memorize Scripture to help you resist temptation.

3) The Law of Undulation

A lot goes into how much weight you can lift.  Some days you can lift more than others.  Diet.  Rest.  Air temperature.  Yada yada yada.  That's the physical.

The same is true for our spiritual lives.  We have good days and bad days.  Even if the overall trajectory of our spiritual lives points toward growth, we'll have ups and downs.  That's normal.  Plan for it.  This is what CS Lewis called "The Law of Undulation" ...

Our spiritual growth does not progress smoothly or steadily.

When we're surprised by the ups and downs in our spiritual lives, we are tempted to scrap our intentional efforts to follow the Law of Small and the Law of Indirect Effort.  We're tempted to go big, thinking that it's either go big or go home.  But these bursts of panicked effort rarely help us.

In fact, these bursts of panicked effort reveal a crack in the foundation of our thinking about our own spiritual growth.  We put forward effort, but God grows us in his timing.  We are deeply loved and accepted by God, but remain sinners, carrying within us an indwelling resistance to the godly life.  Despite our ups and downs, God promises that we will grow if we remain in him.

What "laws" shape the way you think about spiritual growth?


  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Great Blog with a lot of great insight. Please check out this article on a similar topic ===> What Are The Stages Of Spiritual Growth? http://bit.ly/qSe398

  2. Hey Steve! GREAT POST. I click from the marketing series, and am bookmarking to send to the Home Group Leaders at my church. I miss you and Amy. Seeing photos of Will is nice but also makes me sad I've only gotten hold him when he was a baby. Hope all is well.