I think it’s fair to say that most of us want to grow. A quick glance at popular podcasts, best-selling books, and websites will reveal a common theme: becoming better versions of ourselves. It makes sense though, right? It’s a bit absurd to imagine someone saying, “My goal in life is to get worse at life.” As Darryl Dash says in his book How to Grow, “we long for growth, but we often feel stuck and apathetic” (41).
As a Christian, I personally tend to invest my energy into overcoming this apathy through doing more “Christian” things. I don’t think that effort is bad. But in my experience, feeling like a failure can come easily when we’re trying hard to grow.
In How To Grow, Darryl met me in this effort, and helped me discover the next steps I could take for my growth. To give you a taste of what that might look like in your own life, I want to share a few insights I gained from the book.
First, let’s zoom out from the “growth” topic in itself, and talk about some very important good news. We Christians like to talk about the gospel, or good news about Jesus. But, ironically, we often forget this good news, or only apply it to certain parts of our lives. We tend to separate our “spiritual” activities and our other everyday activities, and only apply the gospel to the spiritual stuff. This strategy is effective; it’s effective at sabotaging our growth, that is.
Dash says that the gospel’s application to your life forms the foundation for true growth. The “good news that God has chosen to rescue His people and the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus” (37) changes more than just our “spiritual” habits. It changes everything we think, say, and do. To be clear, that means the gospel applies to everything.
Much of what we think, say, and do on a daily basis runs on autopilot. For this reason, we need more than new information, big goals, and willpower to change. We need to build habits that will bring the changes we seek.
But which habits? This depends on your goals for growth. According to How to Grow, If your goal is to grow in your Christian spirituality—if you want to love God and others more—you should focus on three core habits.
- Reading or listening to the Bible
- Worship and fellowship in a church community
These habits form the ordinary, essential core, for growth in Christian spirituality. Dash discusses six others that can support these (serving others, for example), but you’ll never grow beyond needing these core habits. (You can read more about those six support habits in the book.)
Before you go rushing to build these core habits, remember: building habits is not the ultimate point of growth! The purpose of our growth is to seek joy by pursuing God, the source of all good things! Habits are the means to that end.
Okay, we’re finally at the point of practicality: here are seven principles for building the habits mentioned in How to Grow. If you’re like me and were tempted to skip ahead to this section, I can’t say I blame you. But I can recommend you read some of the paragraphs above in addition to remembering these principles.
Start small. Focus on one habit at a time, and start building it with an action so small that you can’t fail. You can always build from there.
Shape the environment. Change your surroundings to support the one habit you’re building. If you’re trying to eat healthier, have only healthy food in the house. If you want to use less screens, have “screen free” rooms in the house that you can spend time in. You get the idea.
Use triggers and rewards. Prompt the desired actions with a set time, place, or reminder. Once the action is completed, look for rewards, like a benefit you get from the habit itself or a simple celebration.
Focus on making progress. Focus on the gains you’ve made, not the inevitable gap between you and perfection. Small changes can stack to create massive change!
Keep going, even when you fail. When you fail, pause to remember the gospel and then take the next step in building the habit.
Know yourself. Recall what’s worked for you before, and apply the same patterns to the new habit. Do you thrive on variety? Structure? Accountability? Build what works into your habits.
Pay attention to resistance. When you apply the above principles but still get stuck, take a second look at the principles. If you’re still stuck, don’t just give up! Explore why you started this habit, and why you might be resisting change. You may find some ugly fears and desires in yourself. Bring those to God. Ask for help from others. As you dig to the roots of of your habit, be prepared to do some weeding.
So, what now? Here are some ideas for next steps. I encourage you to choose one and do it. Even better, do it with a friend! We weren’t meant to grow alone.
One step is to consider what you believe about Jesus and what that means for your life. If Jesus truly rose from the dead to save us from our sins, what role does he play in our personal and spiritual growth? You don’t need to have the answer to that question right away, but continued reflection on this point will bear fruit in your life.
Another step is to have a conversation about Jesus with a Christian friend. Discuss some gospel truths, and ponder them for a while.
If you’ve read the book, consider what stage of growth you’re in. Dash mentions six stages in How to Grow: Pre-Questioning, Questioning, Believing, Growing, Mentoring, Maturing. Look back on the growth you have seen already, and praise God for it!
God has certainly used this book to help me grow. If you’ve read this far, why not pause and choose one truth you’ll remember, and one step to take next?
Let’s keep growing together!
Darryl Dash will be running a workshop on How to Grow at P2C Plus 2018. Check out the conference at toronto2018.p2cplus.com for more info!