Growth is easy to recognize in a newborn, but harder to discern in a grown-up. In his first seven weeks of life, our newborn son slept three or more consecutive hours only twice. To be clear, that's two times, day or night! To say that we were tired would be an understatement! Day and night, he woke up every two-two and half hours to eat. Jared was hungry and growing fast! Each week his body lengthened and he added some baby rolls to his elbows and ankles. His growth is fueled changes in him that were difficult not to notice.
But, suppose I use the spiritual bullet of growth on myself, how can I recognize that I've grown or that another person has grown? How do I know it’s real growth and not just an illusion of growth? What’s a sign of growth that can be trusted and is consistent with the life of Christ?
It is true that the physical provides a window into the spiritual (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 3, et al). In other words, the physical world is meant to help us uncover spiritual realities. With four kids between the ages of six and 4 months, Kristen and I have a front row seat to observe physical growth.
Sitting at the dinner table the other night, I noticed the plates of our daughters. Each one had the same food on it, but the amounts were different. Our four-year old needs to eat more than our two-year old, and our six-year old needs more than both of them. My wife is 5’4” and needs to eat more than the kids. And I, at 6’2,” need to eat the most.
In some ways pointing that out is painfully obvious, but it illuminates a spiritual truth I hadn’t thought of before: those who are more mature need more nourishment. A sure mark of growth in a mature disciple is increased NEED for spiritual nourishment.
Looking at Jesus as our example, He clearly had a high need for spiritual nourishment. He was known for “withdrawing often to lonely places to pray". As spiritually mature as Jesus is, it’s no surprise that He was known for this need to be with God. So close was Jesus’ association with spiritual nourishment that he said that doing God’s will was His food.
For many, this is counter-intuitive. We tend to associate growth with strength and independence. Indeed, as children grow they become more independent, but as any parent of teenage boys know, their bodies do require more nourishment. This increased need connects more easily with us as we think about plants. Without enough sun, rain, and nutrients they wither and eventually die. One of the first signs of a deficiency is the inability to reproduce. It’s no wonder that Scripture compares us to plants in John 15, 1 Corinthians 3, Mark 4, John 4, et al.
One primary indicator of my own growth and development as a disciple is my need for spiritual nourishment. As I grow spiritually, so too will my need for spiritual nourishment from God. Specifically, I can look to my need to be with Jesus, the bread of life, my need to be in Scripture, and my need to do God’s will.
What about you? Perhaps you’re a pastor who regularly helps nourish others, but have neglected your own nourishment. Maybe you're young in your faith and have never really noticed a need to be nourished by Jesus. Wherever you are, assess the trajectory of your spiritual growth over the past six months, one year, or five years. Are you stagnant? Do you lack fruit that grows and develops into its own reproducing tree? Or are you encouraged by what you see?