Here is a simple yet profound formula for spiritual growth: Vision + Spiritual Disciplines + Holy Spirit = Spiritual Growth.
Over the years I have wrestled with how to help people grow spiritually. In doing so I frequently met with students and asked them this question, “How are you doing spiritually?” More often than not the answer I got was how many quiet times they had or the number of verses they had memorized this past week, or how they were doing in abstaining from watching TV or avoiding bad internet sites. Then I began to wonder, are these really accurate gauges of how someone is doing spiritually? My conclusion was no. I don’t believe doing some things or not doing others is an accurate gauge of how someone is doing spiritually. I think the answer lies much deeper than that. Outward behaviors are just manifestations of inner goals we come to believe will get us what we want. That is why just looking at behaviors is misleading. Someone could be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I think a better gauge is found in Galatians 5:22-23.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.1
Evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life is a better gauge. So a better question to ask students would be, “Are you fruity?” Or, “Have you seen more evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life lately than say a few months ago?” “Are you more loving towards your roommates lately or less hostile while driving?” These all tend to be traits that emanate from the heart vs. being performance orientated activities
This reminds me of an illustration. During a meeting one day the boss called his employee up in front of his co-workers. He handed him a glass of water and told him to hold it without spilling it. He then proceeded to shake the employee’s arm and water spilled everywhere. The boss then asked the gathered employees why the water spilled out of the cup. They responded that it spilled out because the boss shook the employee’s arm. The wise boss then handed the employee another empty glass and gave him the same instructions. He then proceeded to shake the employee’s arm again but nothing happened. The boss then helped them to understand that the shaking wasn’t the key determining factor in whether water spilled out of the cup, but rather, if there was water in the cup to begin with. Jesus made a similar observation.
45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.2
Basically whatever is in your heart is what is going to come out. This is especially true when you get shaken by life’s challenges and circumstances. So when life shakes you what kind of fruit do you see? Do you see love, joy, peace, etc…