Like all progressive people do, I think it a good thing to set goals for this year so that I have something to work towards , lest the days just roll by and December comes with little to show for the 365 days.
Those oriented towards strategic planning tell us that goals have to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) for them to be helpful.
My dilemma however is one; I have spiritual progress in mind as my goal, but how do I measure that? What are the parameters that can help me determine whether I am making progress in my relationship with God or not?
In this dilemma, there are thoughts that we can meditate on to help us out:
1. What it is not.
“23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Col 2.)
“23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. ” (Matt 23)
““Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.””(Mat 15:10b,11)
For many years , I did all I knew to do that to my understanding constituted God’s requirement for spiritual progress: I tithed faithfully (10% of my gross salary); I attended church meetings anytime they were called; I tried to be as nice as I could to all I interacted with; etc. It never seemed to be enough. There was a constant sense of feeling like I needed to do more.
In this current consideration of what constitutes parameters that measure spiritual progress, I have concluded that the things we do or not do are not the ones that make us but rather they are a fruit of who we are within. That is helpful in giving us a hint on where our focus ought to be, within, and not without. When the within is in order, the fruit will consequently be good.
We do not focus on the fruit, but rather the plant that produces the fruit.
2. The starting point.
“..You must be born again.”(John 3:7)
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)
Jesus speaking to Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, on the way of progress in the kingdom of God, told him that before anything else, he must be born again. This is a good self check for all of us before we put a lot of energy and effort to making progress in a journey we may not even have started.
Speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus again told the woman that God is seeking for those that worship Him in Spirit and Truth.
This in our current meditation points to the fact that our relationship with God is spiritual. We have to be first alive to Him (by way of spiritual birth) before we can talk about making progress. This is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as the way God the Father has provided for the restoration of that relationship that was broken between God and man at the fall in the garden of Eden.
The question then each of us has to honestly answer to is, “Am I born again, made a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth , and the life?” Another equally important question is, “Do I live by that Life or not? Gal 2:20
The answer to these questions is very important in determining the way of progress.
No amount of tilling land, manuring it, and watering it will produce fruit until there is a seed planted on the ground, or for a branch whose connection to the tree is already severed until it is reconnected.
3. Spiritual Parameter (s)
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”(Luke 10:42)
Having established that we need to be first and foremost alive to God to be able to consider our relationship with Him, we go on to consider what the parameters that constitute spiritual progress are.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:)
The list of these good things that a progressive person would desire and possibly work towards may look at first like qualities one can acquire on their own efforts.
On a keener consideration however, one realizes that they are fruits , in a sense the results of a growing Life within that expresses itself outwardly through these various forms.
4.The measure of progress, Christ.
2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.(1Cor 2:)
Natural analogies are limited in illustrating spiritual realities, but I will attempt with an illustration using a mango tree. It is mango season right now in Kenya and I am looking at a mango tree as I write this.
What comes to mind are three things that can indicate the growth of the mango tree; stature, health, and fruitfulness. All these are as a result of increase in the mango life in the tree. This increase comes from the nourishment in the soil, watering, and photosynthesis through the leaves.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (1Cor 3:6)
When I consider myself as one of those branches on the tree, having been joined to the Vine, Christ, I realize how my role has been reduced into one thing, abiding in Him. Unfortunately for me, unlike the branch, I can of my own will disconnect from the branch.
My conclusions are that for the mango tree to bear more fruit, the branch has to remain on the tree, and the mango life has to increase. Similarly for the christian, it is the life of Christ that has to increase in us for us to make spiritual progress in our relationship with Him, and for this to happen, I have to remain in Him.
The conclusion for me therefore becomes that the single parameter (so to say) that measure spiritual progress in us is increase of stature of Christ.
…so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4)
The gifts each of us in the family of God has been given are to be applied towards this end, building the stature of Christ in one another
Let us therefore beloved encourage one another in reckoning ourselves dead to the old man that pulls us back to the dos and don’t s , and reckon ourselves alive in Christ by the new man, the inner man of the heart.
The Spirit give us understanding and willingness to abide in Him, Christ in who alone is the Father well pleased, and hence the only measure of true spiritual progress.
Together in Him,