Here's a trick question. How do we change to become the people God wants us to be?
My suspicion: Most of us think that we need more knowledge. That's half right. We do need more knowledge. We need to learn more about who God is and what he has revealed about himself. We need to understand what he says about the world in which we live so that we can live wisely within it.
Knowledge is essential, but it isn't enough. I'm convinced that we aren't growing because we rely too much on knowledge. We think that another study or sermon will change us into the people God wants us to be.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British preacher from the last century, said, “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough.” We need knowledge, but we also need more.
We Need Practices (or Habits)
We don't just need beliefs. We need practices — or, as I prefer to call them, habits.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have recognized that certain practices help us grow to become more like Jesus. We believe in starting with three core practices:
- Reading and listening to Scripture — When we continually read or listen to the Bible, it begins to shape the way that we think. We don't just believe what it says, but it begins to rewire us.
- Prayer — Prayer is living out the reality of our dependance upon God for everything. When we realize that we need God's help every minute of the day, and that he is willing to help us, we will increasingly live our lives in constant conversation with God.
- Participation in the life of a church — It's not enough to attend church. God made us to grow in community. We grow best when we pursue God with others, not just occasionally but as a regular, intentional part of our lives. This includes participating in the worship services of a church, but it also means pursuing relationships in which we can share our lives with others.
These practices aren't complicated or hard to understand, but they do take intention. If you build them into your life and practice them regularly, you'll be positioning yourself to grow.
What's Your Next Step?
in How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to ALL of Your Life, we unpack how to build habits and how to build these three practices into your life.
We also cover these habits in G4L Coaching, which pairs practical, bite-size lessons and support from a coach to help you embed these habits into your life.
Ask yourself: How can you regularly practice these three habits for the rest of your life? Start small, but begin to think about how they could look in your life. Look at what's worked in your past, and try to figure out what will work for you. Don't aim for perfection, but aim for progress in all three habits.
We need practices, not just beliefs. Engaging in the three core habits will help all of us take the next step in becoming the people God wants us to be.
I’ll never forget the day that Char, my wife, came home and told me that she’d taken on a new accounting client: a company that does online nutrition coaching.
Online nutrition coaching? Really? I couldn’t think of many things that sounded shadier than that. I wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. The company was as legitimate as could be, led by some of the smartest and most educated people in the field of nutrition. Char ended up becoming an employee for a few years, and we not only took their coaching program, but took their coaching certification programs too.
Surprisingly, I learned some lessons from them that have spilled into the rest of my life and even my work as a pastor. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
- Go deep. The content creators in the nutrition company have Ph.D.’s in their field. They research. They write substantial textbooks and articles. They have paid the price for going deep in their field. We need access to solid, well researched material in every area — including in our walk with God.
- Go simple. It’s not enough to go deep. We need to take deep material and translate it into simple, actionable information that helps people. The nutrition company translated research into steps that anyone could take. We need to do the same when it comes to following Jesus with all of our lives.
- Build habits. We live a good chunk of our lives by habit. We don’t just need more knowledge. We don’t even need a list of more things to do. We need simple habits that become part of our regular lives. This is true with our physical health; it’s true in every other area of life. When we change our habits, we change our lives.
- Start small. We often know where we need to go. We just can’t see a way to get there from here. We need to know that it’s okay to start small and make incremental progress in the direction we’d like to go. Small changes add up to big results over time. Never be frustrated with a small beginning.
- Design for life. Sure, we could all quit our jobs and spend all day in the gym. That’s not going to happen, though. We need to learn how to be healthy in the middle of our already busy and complicated lives. It’s the same with following Jesus. We could quit our jobs and go to seminary, but we also need to figure out how to follow Jesus in the middle of ordinary life.
- Give grace. We’re not perfect. We stumble. We don’t always do what we need to do. That’s okay. When you fail, pick yourself up and take the next step. That’s true in nutrition. It’s even more true for those of us who understand God’s grace for those who need it.
- Serve and love. It’s hard to describe, but the nutrition coaching company had a great culture. They loved to serve people, and they were generous in how they interacted with staff and customers. Focus on serving others and treating them better than they deserve to be treated, which is the way that Jesus has treated us.
We learned some important lessons. Go deep, but go simple. Build habits that fit into our regular, complicated lives. Smart small, and keep going when you stumble. Keep serving and loving.
We’re still applying the lessons we learned from a very unlikely source.
Do you ever wake up and not feel like doing what you know you should do? Of course! Welcome to the club!
We often think that we need to feel like doing something before we do it. The problem: we don’t always feel like doing what we know we should. Sometimes the key is to act. Our desires have a way of following our actions.
Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop. I’m wearing workout shorts, fitness shirt, and running shoes. After I complete some work, I will head out for a short run. I don’t feel like running, but I know I need to run in order to meet my goal. This weekend I’m running a triathlon spring. If I’m going to be ready, I need to run today even if I don’t feel like it.
Here’s the thing, though: After I start running, I will enjoy it. By the time I’m done I’ll not only have benefited from the run, but I will actually look forward to the next run.
We don’t desire our way to becoming the people we’d like to be, at least initially. First we act, and then our desires follow.
- Don’t feel like praying? Start praying. Build the habit, and you will begin to shape your heart to want to pray.
- Don’t want to read Scripture? We’ve all been there. Read some anyway. Over time you will find yourself becoming the kind of person who likes to read Scripture.
- Don’t feel like going to church? I get it! Getting involved in a church community is costly and time-consuming. Get involved anyway, and soon you won’t be able to imagine life without it.
I recently read of a couple that moved to a new city. They loved everything about their new church except for the preaching. The preaching was over their heads and too long. They complained to the teaching elder.
The teaching elder told them to give it six months, and then talk to him again. He figured that during the six months the couple would grow to be able to process and enjoy the sermons.
That’s exactly what happened.
Over the six-month time period, our appetite for the Word of God began to grow by leaps and bounds. At the end of those six months, not only were we processing his sermons, we were hungering for them— delighting in them.
Their desires followed their behaviors. They didn’t just acquire new habits. They acquired new desires and new capacities.
Later they moved back to their previous home, to a church they’d previously enjoyed.
After listening to the sermon only a few minutes, they both recognized that they now had a different “spiritual palate.” They longed for more— something deeper. They wanted to hear the Word of God. What Steve had experienced under faithful exposition was a reformation. Their view of spirituality had shifted from an almost selfish concern for their own private well-being to an adoration for the living God, his character, his will, and his works. (Encountering God Through Expository Preaching)
Want to change and grow? Don’t start with your desires. Start with behaviors, and hang in with the temporary discomfort. Soon you’ll find that your desires change, and that you won’t want to go back.
I wrote How to Grow for one simple reason: I want to help you understand how to grow so that you can enjoy God and make an eternal difference in the lives of others.
I think my favorite part of the book is the last chapter, because it’s there that I unpack the real reason I wrote this book. I don’t want you to grow just for your own sake. I want you to grow so that you can make a difference in the lives of others. Your life matters!
In that chapter I write:
Your life matters. Your imperfect, routine, struggle-filled life is a gift. As you do ordinary things over a long period of time and grow in your obedience to God, your life will change the lives of others. If you’re worried that you’re too imperfect and broken, then under- stand that God will likely use your imperfections and brokenness more than your strengths. God isn’t lacking in the perfection department; He doesn’t need our perfection to help Him out. Instead, He uses our imperfect pursuit of His perfection as an example for others. As others watch you follow Him in your broken life, they’ll learn how to follow Him in their broken lives too.
This book is my best attempt at taking a big subject and translating it into something that anyone can use to grow and make a difference in the lives of others.
So please check out the book. Read it yourself, and if you like it, then please consider sharing it with others.
My goal is your growth, and as side-effects, greater joy and deeper impact. May God use this book for his glory!
More about How to Grow | Resources for Leaders
I was asked a question on a podcast interview, and I blew the answer.
The question: Why is community so important for growth?
I wasn’t expecting the question. I responded by saying some true things: that the Bible is addressed to groups, not individuals; that we need others to grow; that we can’t possibly practice the many one-another commands of Scripture if we don’t live in community.
I missed the most basic answer of all. We need community because we’re made in the image of God. God lives in community, and he’s created us in his image to live in community as well.
In The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes:
…if God is triune, then loving relationships in community are the “great fountain… at the center of reality”…
Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about … We believe the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity. You were made for mutually self-giving, other-directed love.
It’s because we are made in the image of God that it’s important for us to live in community. In How to Grow, we offer three core habits that are foundational to all spiritual growth. One of them is to pursue worship and fellowship within a church community. We never outgrow this habit. It’s essential to our growth. It’s messy, sometimes disappointing, and hard, but it’s also joy-filled and absolutely necessary for us to grow. God made us to need each other.
We need community for its benefits, but that’s not the primary reason. We need community because we are made in the image of God. God made us to need community because he made us to be like him.