As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I discovered a quiet lighthouse and small shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point on the shores of Lake Superior. We had the whole place almost entirely to ourselves. It was so fascinating that 10 years later, we returned with our four children in tow. Although we had grown and changed as a family in those 10 years, we did not expect to find the same of this destination. We were in for a surprise!
Visitors could now tour the lightkeeper’s house, visit the Shipwreck Video Theater, stay overnight at the “Crews’ Quarters” bed and breakfast, and bring home memories from the museum gift shop. More surprising was the number of tourists that surrounded us. This little gem was attracting tourists from far and wide.
By comparison, we’ve lived in the same geographic area for 31 years. I recall the days when “Grape Road” was lined with cornfields and farmsteads. Now it’s a continuous three-mile strip of commercialism. Since I’ve watched the changes happening slowly, I seldom notice or even think about it.
Our perceptions of growth depend on our vantage point. Sometimes change is surprising and extraordinary. At other times, it’s hidden and imperceptible.
Take, for example, the growth of a child. When we run into friends we haven’t seen in years or sometimes only months, we are struck by how much their kids have grown. By comparison, our own kids seemed to grow slowly. We marked their heights with pencil on the doorframes so we could prove they had grown. Those pencil marks, as well as their increasing shoe sizes, were the outward signs that confirmed they were growing.
Can these perceptions of growth be applied to our spiritual lives, as well? Is our spiritual maturation hidden from others, or is it unmistakable?
Spiritual growth can’t be measured with a ruler or by new places on a map. So how does one measure these changes?
I suggest we begin by measuring time spent in spiritual practices, such as praying, spending time in God’s word, meditating, fasting, confessing, and simplifying. We can build these activities into our daily, weekly, or yearly calendars. If we find ourselves becoming closer to God, stronger in our faith, and more resilient in the face of temptation, then spiritual growth is happening. But these practices and perceptions are only evident to ourselves, or perhaps those very close to us. Like a pearl growing from a grain of sand inside a clam’s shell, beautiful things are happening inside, though change is not visible on the outside.
So how are we to be witnesses then? After Jesus’ resurrection, he instructed his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Jesus was calling his disciples to continue his work in the world, to be his witnesses. He calls us to do the same. So how will others measure our spiritual growth? What outward signs will they see?
There are several indicators that alert those around us of the transformation that is happening in our hearts and minds:
Through loving others unconditionally as Christ loves us, we refrain from making quick judgments, from stereotyping, and from drawing conclusions. Rather than seeing others as competition with whom we are vying for the good things, we can share the rewards and blessings of this life. When we celebrate the successes and happiness of others, we reflect the true joy that comes from being filled with the Spirit.
Through forgiving others as we have been forgiven, we exhibit a level of spiritual maturity and transformation that brings about peace, reconciliation, and healing. Being aware of our own sins reminds us that we all fall short of perfection and allows us to put to rest our grudges and grievances, to be more patient with others who, like ourselves, are a work in progress.
Through serving others, we give generously of our time and talents for the building up of the kingdom. Helping the poor, sick, and marginalized is what Jesus taught us to do by his example. We can show up to serve at the homeless center, bring meals to those who are grieving or laid up, or join a short-term mission trip. These are just a few examples of how our faith can be measured in very tangible ways through kindness and service.
Through praying for others, not only when they are sick or grieving, but also through their everyday struggles, we show our love and concern. Letting others know we are praying, and being faithful in lifting those prayers to heaven, can be a true source of encouragement during difficult times.
Through speaking up for the gospel and sharing the good news of salvation through Christ, our friends, neighbors, and coworkers will take notice. This might mean stepping out of our comfort zones by posting an encouraging Bible verse on Instagram, sharing a cry for justice on Facebook, or talking face-to-face with others about matters of faith. When we speak the truth with gentleness and self-control, God will use our words to further his kingdom.
If we are willing to share these outward signs of faith—love, forgiveness, service, prayer, and sharing the gospel—others will see Christ through us, and God will be glorified.
The Apostle Paul described many of these traits as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23 NRSV). If we are growing in our faith and filled with the Spirit, those around us will notice the fruit (the outward signs of growth) in our everyday actions: fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
My city is still sprawling. There is no end to the expansion of our towns and suburbs. Similarly, there is no limit to the number of people the lighthouse at Whitefish Point might draw in over the years.
I pray we can experience spiritual growth like these areas on the map—with unlimited reach, spreading the love of the gospel in very visible ways. And like the beacon shining from that lighthouse, may the love of Christ be seen through us, guiding others along the way.
Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
How are you growing closer to God? Can you see subtle changes in yourself; practices that are feeding your soul and deepening your relationship with Christ? Can others see you are growing in faith? Are the signs unmistakable?