If you’re a believer, you have a spiritual life. Just like any other kind of life, it can grow or wither, thrive or struggle, or ebb and flow. As followers of Christ, we should be wanting to move closer to him and dive deeper in our faith, but it can be challenging to know just how to go about doing that. How do we actually take our spiritual life to the next level?
Dr. Mary Lowe, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Professor for Liberty University’s School of Divinity, shares five essential insights that help all of us as believers strengthen our faith:
1. If you want to grow spiritually, you have to plug into community. “The importance of social connections cannot be underestimated or ignored if we want to grow and develop spiritually,” Dr. Lowe says. “It’s what shapes us socially, emotionally, psychologically, morally, and spiritually.” If you aren’t currently attending a church consistently, that’s a great place to start. If you are, perhaps the next step for you is to join a small group or a volunteer team. Attending events at your church throughout the week is another good way to stay connected with other believers.
2. Growing spiritually transforms every part of who you are. Deepening your spiritual life will inevitably affect other parts of your life, too. “Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that the goal of the transformation process empowered by the Spirit is to achieve “the fullness of Christ” (4:13) by “growing up into all aspects” (4:15) of Christ’s complete and perfect humanity,” Dr. Lowe says. “An awesome goal that we can accomplish only when we cooperate with the way God has designed us to grow as Christians.”
3. The people around you affect you, so choose wisely. “We tend to think that what we do individually has little or no impact on the larger ecology or Body of Christ,” Dr. Lowe says. “But the reality is that we are more connected in more ways to more people than we may realize so what we do individually does have an impact on others, either directly or indirectly. I think that’s at the heart of what Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians 12 when he notes that ‘If one part [of the Body] suffers, every part [of the Body] suffers with it; if one part [of the Body] is honored, every part [of the Body] rejoices with it.’ How we treat one another impacts how we grow with one another.” If your friends or family are pulling you away from your faith or making it hard for you to avoid temptations, it might be wise to step back from those relationships in a healthy and honest way. You don’t need to cut ties entirely, but choosing to surround yourself more and more with other believers who will encourage you and hold you accountable to your faith will be essential to your walk with the Lord.
4. The Internet can also be a powerful tool in your spiritual growth. If you think about it, we use social media in our world now in a similar way that Paul and other disciples used letters in the Bible. It’s a way of connecting with others who are physically far away while sharing news, encouragement, and our lives despite the distance. “Online experiences show us that we can give and receive care for one another, value those relationships, and share with one another those dimensions that go into creating connections and community,” Dr. Lowe shares. “Paul models this for us through the way in which he fostered the spiritual growth of his churches through the medium of letters written to encourage and strengthen believers (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 18; Ephesians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 10:11).” While in-person relationships are still essential to our spiritual lives, the Internet can provide unique ways for us to learn and stay connected to a broader Christian community.
5. Influence can span three degrees. Dr. Lowe shares the insights of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler who studied and wrote a book on the effects of social networks in our lives: “Social influence does not end with the people to whom a person is directly tied. We influence our friends, who in their turn influence their friends, meaning that our actions can influence people we have never met. Everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees).” This can be both a wonderful and challenging, and Dr. Lowe says the key to growing and developing spiritually is to “know how to maximize the positive influence of social networks and take steps to diminish the negative influences.”
Faith is not something that can grow in a vacuum. It thrives when rooted in community, with accountability, encouragement, and wisdom shared among other believers both near and far. It blossoms when attended to, like any other living thing. The more we prioritize our spiritual life, nurture it, focus on it, and give it the proper ingredients of prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship, the more we will see our faith deepen and produce fruit.
Dr. Lowe shares one story of how community powerfully impacted her own spiritual life: “My husband Steve and I were part of a Sunday school class at our church for nearly 10 years before we moved away. During that time, we experienced what it meant to grow in community. That small group became more than a collection of individuals. We became a community as we worshiped together, prayed together, shared our fears, and asked tough questions of our own lives.”
This community studied Scripture together, shared meals together, spent time together, and lived their lives together in a variety of capacities.
“Comparing the first day we walked into that class and the last time we came together, we knew more, we had closer relationships, and we did more for those around us,” says Dr. Lowe. “We had greater trust for one another, we encouraged each other more, and we became more aware of God’s leading in our lives. We weren’t the same people as we were in the beginning. Sharing those moments allowed the wet cement of our Christian fellowship to set and build up the body one brick at a time.”
When we focus on these five essential insights Dr. Lowe shared, we can grow closer to both Christ and other Christians. We can grow both the strength and the depth of our faith, with the ultimate goal being “that we may present everyone complete in Christ,” as Paul says in Colossians 1:28.
Written by Rachel Dawson, editor for BibleStudyTools.com. Sponsored by Liberty University, training champions for Christ since 1971; and Liberty University Online, the largest Christian university in the world with over 200 online programs.
Publication date: May 2, 2016