Principles of Personal and Spiritual Development (Part 2)

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Last week we addressed physical and emotional vitality as two essential components for our personal and spiritual development. We noted that, as holistic beings, all aspects of our human existence work together and need attention so we can enjoy healthy personal and spiritual development. Thus, our social, intellectual, and spiritual vitality also require examination.

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Social Vitality

Loneliness seems to be growing in our tech-driven culture, and Christians are not exempt. Vocational ministry is one of the world’s loneliest professions. I am not sure if that is inevitable, cultural, or by choice. In any case, loneliness and social isolation do have an impact on personal and spiritual development. God did not design His church to be a solo endeavor, but rather a body in action. The writer of Hebrews commanded that God’s people regularly interact at a spiritual level to encourage personal growth and service (Hebrews 10:24–25). We all need peer relationships, especially those that operate on a spiritual basis.

God did not design His church to be a solo endeavor, but rather a body in action.

I am convinced that one great limitation in personal and spiritual development is the absence of relational intimacy or deep spiritual friendship. No one is close enough to us to influence us for our good. We keep our distance, perhaps to protect ourselves, but in so doing impoverish ourselves. Mentoring or discipleship is God’s way of developing people (2 Timothy 2:2), and we are the casualties if we do not have such input. I need the intimacy and intensity of a close relationship with a fellow Christian to keep me on track. Do you have someone like that in your life?

Intellectual Vitality

Some consider Christianity a mindless faith where you must jettison your brains before getting on board. Nothing could be further from the truth. Comprehension of spiritual truth is a demanding mental, albeit spiritual, activity (2 Peter 3:16). The mind is a critical faculty for personal and spiritual development.

So important is this area to spiritual growth that Bill Hull devoted an entire book to the topic: Right Thinking: Insights for Spiritual Growth. He states,

Transformation comes through the commitment of the mind. Without the proper knowledge and thinking, we have no basis for personal change or growth. The mind is the pivotal starting place for change. Thus, Paul repeatedly emphasized to believers the importance of mature thinking. “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20). (p. 8)

The rest of the New Testament strongly affirms this point through many passages concerning the mind.1 In particular, Romans 12:2 teaches the necessity of a renewed mind for personal transformation; 2 Corinthians 10:4–5 commands every thought to be constrained to Christ; and Philippians 4:8 declares the approved content of our thinking. Hull comments further, “There is nothing as easy as thinking, nothing as difficult as thinking well” (p. 65). 

Christians need to develop a biblical mindset, a pattern of thinking according to Romans 8:5–7, and can do so because they have been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Yet, we must consciously draw on this resource since it does not activate automatically (Philippians 2:5). What can we do to stimulate Christian thinking?

Reading good books, listening to good messages, and watching good video presentations provide the right kind of input in addition to pure Bible reading and study. It is easy to become intellectually stale. We need to read books that will challenge our spirituality, encourage our faithfulness, stir our service, and deepen our devotion. Often we need the penetrating pen of another Christian to push us on to greater spiritual heights.

We also need to keep learning, increasing our knowledge of biblical and theological matters, as well as the practical aspects of life and ministry. It is important to set aside time to think. This is harder for some than others, especially the action-oriented individual, to whom doing is everything. Solitude and meditation are two disciplines that will bear fruit in this area. Plan to receive good input for your intellectual vitality.

Spiritual Vitality

This final component connects to each of the previous four areas, but it deserves a closer look. Often our spiritual vitality is lost because of disobedience. We need to keep short accounts with God through honest confession with the assurance that He cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Sometimes, it is lost due to discouragement. We need to remember the promise of fruitfulness and future reward (Galatians 6:9; 2 Corinthians 4:16–17). On other occasions, it is lost because of distraction. We lose sight of the Savior and our mission on Earth. We need to set aside hindrances and renew our vision of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Positively, we must practice the presence of Christ, consciously recalling the privilege of fellowship with God on a daily basis (Hebrews 13:5). It is easy to forget God in the midst of a busy day, especially when we are doing well without spending time with Him. Much of the time, we are able to get away with living and serving without God, but nothing of eternal significance is accomplished (John 15:5). We need the filling of the Holy Spirit to maintain spiritual vitality (Ephesians 5:18).

We must promote our personal experience of God by guarding our devotional time with Him.

We must promote our personal experience of God by guarding our devotional time with Him. Sadly, we often shorten or eliminate our personal time with God to accommodate the list of tasks demanding attention for that day. This is bad economics, for our work is spiritual in nature and requires spiritual vitality to be effective. Prayer, meditation, Bible reading and study, personal worship, and waiting on God are all essential and worthwhile investments in our work. Do not let them be stolen by other activities, even seemingly good ones.

I hope you can see that all components are interdependent, and weakness or strength in one affects the others. Our personal and spiritual development requires progress in each one. God has provided the necessary spiritual resources through His Son for every one of His children. God has also supplied fellow Christians to assist us in our journey to glory. The question remains as to what we are doing with what God has provided. I think Paul summarized the Christian life well when he wrote,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12–13, emphasis added).

I trust that you will have this experience of God in your life and ministry. God will work in and through you as you work on these essential components for your personal and spiritual development.

1 Matthew 22:37; Romans 8:6–7; 12:16; 14:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3; Ephesians 3:18-19; 4:17, 23; Philippians 2:5; 3:15, 19; 4:6–7, 8; Colossians 1:21; 2:18; 3:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 1:7; 3:8; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 8:10; 1 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 3:1

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Les Crawford

Les is the Field Director for The Friends of Israel Australia, a ministry representative and office manager in Adelaide, Australia.

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