Can you Measure Spiritual Growth and Formation?

In our spiritual life, we want to know if we are making progress, but much of growth and formation is intangible, so we have to look deeper than a mere measurement.

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but when we dug a little deeper, I could see the wisdom.

I was talking with a counselor, and I asked him how do we know if we are growing spiritually or not? There isn’t any objective measuring tool where we can say we have moved 5 points ahead or back. That would really open us up to feelings of pride or failure.

What he said was along the lines of this.

How well are you relating to those closest to you?

He conjectured that if we were growing spiritually, then this would be seen in how we relate to others.

We could pull this apart because relationships are a two-way street.  Some people are plain dangerous to be open and intimate with. They will take advantage, abuse, and possibly try to squash your faith. We all have a journey to take.

But I could see where he was coming from.

He was looking at how the three members of Trinity loved and served each other. A kind of self-giving self-sacrificial love between each of them where each tries to outdo the other in overflowing love.

‘I’m going to love you more’ ‘No, I’m going to love you more.’

Spiritual growth and formation, I believe, is a movement to that kind of intimacy and love.

If those closest to me, those who see me at my best and my worst, can say that there is a sense of an overflowing faith, hope, and love coming from me, then maybe something of that perichoresis dance has filtered into my movement.

Perichoresis (from Greek: περιχώρησις perikhōrēsis, “rotation”) is a term referring to the relationship of the three persons of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to one another. Perichoresis 

Tic on a dog

Relationships are tricky.

We want to give the very best to the other, but we also want and need from others certain things such as love and respect.

None of us love with perfection.

We can be like, as Dr. Larry Crabb says, two ticks with no dog.

A marriage bound together by commitments to exploit the other for filling one’s own needs (and I fear that most marriages are built on such a basis) can legitimately be described as a “tic on a dog” relationship.
Just as a hungry tic clamps on to a nourishing host in anticipation of a meal, so each partner unites with the other in the expectation of finding what his or her personal nature demands.
The rather frustrating dilemma, of course, is that in such a marriage there are two tics and no dog!
Larry Crabb, The Marriage Builder

You’re not the dog for them to be a tic to.

For much of my life, I have considered that my spiritual life was measured by what I do.

Examples

    • Personal devotional life – reading the Bible, prayer, scripture memorization, meditation
    • Church attendance and serving
    • Giving to the poor and needy

All good activities to do, but it feels more like a religion of doing than a relationship of being.

Any step away from these, and you’re seen as backsliding and that you need to repent and try harder!

So often, it can feel like you’re the dog and others – individuals and organizations are the tic sucking the life out of you. They have a wonderful plan for your life that seems to subtly also include sucking the life out of you.

As far as it depends on you

I have limits as to how much love I can give to others. This old dog has only so much blood and life from which others can draw life from.

Paul, in a little section of the letter to the Romans, he talks about living with difficult people.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

In these few words, he says that it’s not always going to be possible to live at peace with everyone. That you can only do so much and that you have limits in your capability.

You won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs. You may know this logically, but it’s your heart that needs to hear it.

When I sense the demand of a tic, the desire to meet a need that was never mine to meet, then I gently point them to an overflowing well of nourishment.

Follow me and be formed.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-20

Here were some tics, people much like ourselves with hungry, needy hearts. They had a desire for long deep draughts of love and respect.

Jesus comes, shows love and respect for them by speaking in the context of fishing. They drop their nets and follow.

They have found the well from which to draw from.

Formation becomes natural as they model themselves off ‘the Christ’.

Spiritual growth and formation now

I would love to be able to hang out with Jesus, much like those early fishermen, tax collectors, and other waywards.

I know it would probably wreck my life and possibly those around me. Throw everything into even further confusion and then have it settle into something new. Jesus has a habit of doing it that way.

How would I measure spiritual growth and development?

I like the idea of relationality has its merits. That is where God does their finest work.

I would also like to know if there is a growing fruitfulness in your life. At a relational level, that there is some evidence of the fruit of the Spirit

Things like affection for others,
exuberance about life,
serenity.

A willingness to stick with things,
a sense of compassion in the heart,
and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

An involvement in loyal commitments,
not needing to force our way in life,
an ability to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Galatians 5:22-24

Maybe I would also like to know if there is a growing sense of grace towards yourself and others.

All of this is highly subjective and can’t be measured. Only God knows the heart, and let’s leave it at that.

Mental health is ... having a spiritual formation journey that grows and develops. It overflows and touches the lives of others with faith, hope, and love.Click To Tweet

Quotes to consider

  • Being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind, and caring together is better than caring alone. Henri Nouwen
  • The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  • Spiritual growth begins with the easily overlooked disciplines of attentiveness and surrender. David Benner

Questions to answer

  1. How would you measure one’s spiritual formation?
  2. What relational qualities would you want Jesus to mentor you in?
  3. Jesus used the language and context of fishing to Peter and his brothers. They were fishermen. What language and context would Jesus use with you if he walked up to you today?

Further reading

Sharpening: A Spiritual Habit for Better Mental Health

Your Brain Needs to Rest Beside Still Waters

Mental Health Grows Through Little By Little Dance Steps

Barry Pearman

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash 

 

Barry Pearman

Barry is a writer, coach, and course creator that has a passion for Mental Health and Spiritual Formation.

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