Personal spiritual growth is a goal for every serious Christian. Moreover, it is an expectation of God (e.g., Hebrew 5:11—6:3). But it’s not obtained by just any ol’ way. Although there have been numerous spiritual growth suggestions made over the last 20 centuries — some including ascetic paths, others including techniques from foreign religions — the most effective pattern is the one found in the Bible in Acts 2:42ff. We’ve already looked at how they devoted themselves to 1) the apostles’ teachings, 2) fellowship, and 3) worship; and I hope that you’ve possibly 1) obtained a Bible reading schedule to follow, 2) made an effort at making good friends of your Christian brothers and sisters, and 3) made every attempt to be regular and faithful to all of the church’s assemblies. Do these things are you’ll be well on your way.
But the pattern found in Acts isn’t quite complete yet; today we’ll consider the last two found in this section of God’s word, prayer and involvement.
We all recognize how important talking and communicating is to a relationship. When there is little or no talking done, there is little or no relationship. God has been very communicative — someone has counted 774,746 words in the Bible, 3/4 of a million words! All of them deep with meaning for anyone willing to give them more than a superficial reading. But what of our end of the conversation? How often do we hold up our end of the relationship/conversation? That is exactly what prayer is, our end of a conversation with God. Paul urged, (Philippians 4:6) “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Peter encourages us to be (1 Peter 5:7) “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” And the young church in Thessalonica was urged, (1 Thessalonians 5:17) “pray without ceasing.”
Such prayer 1) draws us closer to God (that’s the natural effect of talking in humans), 2) strengthens our faith (as we ask and God answers), and 3) actually helps us to see things differently, spiritually, as we talk them over with the Lord. And yet, sadly, it is often a rather neglected means to spiritual development; too many things get in the way and preempt our good intentions. Don’t neglect this crucial part of the pattern of growth. I like one response I heard of, when someone commented that they were too busy to pray — “No, we’re too busy not to pray.” Have you set aside time to pray today?
The Scripture notes in Acts 2 that the obedient believers in Jesus didn’t merely refrain from doing bad things — they got involved in doing the good things that God had commanded. The majority of the involvement seems to have been focused on taking care of the many new brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who had come from far away to Passover/Pentecost, had been converted, and now were staying around to learn more about Jesus. And these new Christians grew from from their good deeds and involvement! They grew enough to feed the needy for what seems to be weeks or months, causing some to sell their properties to sustain this help to the needy; enough to steadfastly endure persecution, when it came; and enough to share the Gospel everywhere they went, when persecution drove them out of Jerusalem.
Yes, involvement is certainly a strong, if often overlooked, means to spiritual growth; but you may ask, “How does it grow us?” There is a psychological principle that God knew about long before psychology discovered it: whatever I willingly get busy doing, I will deepen my convictions and feelings about. The connection between deeds and faith is so great that James said, James 2:26 “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Involvement, then, is a special path to “the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1,2). The more involved we get in obeying the positive commands (e.g., helping, serving, uplifting, worshipping, reading the Bible, enduring persecution with courage, sharing the good news, inviting others to church, giving, or showing compassion) the deeper our faith and conviction and maturity and love and righteousness and virtue grows (see 2 Peter 1:5-11). And one more great bonus to the doing of good things is that the more we are involved in doing good deeds, the less time we have to do the sinful ones! Christians serious about spiritual growth will get involved. Are you serious?
So, here’s the pattern of biblical spiritual growth found in Acts 2:42ff: devotion to 1) the apostles’ teachings, 2) fellowship, 3) worship, 4) prayer, and 5) involvement. It’s not mystical, gnostic, esoteric, ascetic, or beyond reach; it has been practiced successfully by centuries of faithful Christians; and it will build your faith today.
“Well,” someone might reply, “I’ve done those things, from time to time, but I just don’t feel like I’ve grown.” My response, “The key is the devotion part.” It is outright stated in the Acts 2:42ff passage — they devoted themselves to these things. Peter (2 Peter 1:5) begins his encouragement about spiritual growth by emphasizing the application of diligence to the areas of growth he lists later. The question, therefore, is not whether this pattern for spiritual growth really promotes spiritual growth — it does. The question really is whether you are really practicing the pattern for spiritual growth — “How devoted will you be to your own spiritual growth?”
Follow the pattern diligently and watch what happens.