1. How would you describe your approach to growing spiritually? What does this look like for you day by day?
In a recent conversation with a college wrestler, he shared with me the difference between how he approached weight training when he first started in junior high versus his approach now under the direction of a good strength coach. Previously, his weight training was about doing as much activity as possible: lots of different lifts, lots of reps, and lots of sets. His past philosophy: more activity would surely result in more progress. Now his weight training focuses less on lots of activity and more on doing the core exercises needed to improve as a wrestler. His current philosophy as imparted to him by his strength coach: progress comes through doing what’s most important – doing these things consistently, and doing them well.
One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we’re suddenly unable to do many of the activities we normally do: sports activities and other activities, including spiritual activities. Perhaps we’re used to doing lots of spiritual activities: going to worship services, attending several Bible study groups, participating in multiple serving opportunities, listening to as many sermon podcasts as we can… Maybe our philosophy has been something like this: “The more I do for God, the more I’ll grow spiritually.”
The coronavirus trial gives us an opportunity to examine this philosophy. Is growing closer to God really about doing as many spiritual activities as possible? Or does spiritual progress come through a different focus?
Read Psalm 23 and John 15:1-11
Psalm 23 is one of the best known and most loved passages of Scripture. It’s interesting that the majority of the activity described in this psalm is being done by the Lord, not the psalmist. The Lord provides, leads, renews, guides, draws close, protects, comforts, prepares, and gives. Meanwhile, the focus for the psalmist – and for us who also follow the Lord – is the incredible experience of being in relationship with the Lord as our shepherd.
In John 15:1-11, the central and repeated command Jesus gives to us as his disciples is this: “remain (abide) in me.” To remain or abide carries the sense of a daily, personal relationship with Christ. It’s a relationship characterized by love, trust, and a desire to obey Jesus because we know following him is the path to flourishing. According to Jesus, the more we cultivate our relationship with him, the greater our fruitfulness will be – and the greater our experience of joy!
2. How does Psalm 23 and John 15 help you better understand the Lord’s desire for your relationship with him? What does it look like for you to remain in Christ?
John Wooden said this: “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” Spiritual activities like participating in worship services, Bible study groups, huddles, and serving opportunities are all really important. The Bible directs us to engage in these things. But God’s Word also warns against mistaking lots of spiritual activity with achieving greater closeness to God. The core exercise needed is remaining in Jesus: developing our relationship with Christ so that it is increasingly marked by genuine love, trust, and joyful obedience. Our spiritual activities then flow out of our relationship with Jesus, who is actively leading us and caring for us as our Good Shepherd.
How can you make the most of the opportunity to learn through this coronavirus trial? One step is to reflect on what characterizes your approach to growing spiritually. If your philosophy has been, “The more I do for God, the more I’ll grow spiritually” – this is a chance to adjust your philosophy to better reflect what God shows us through his Word. Make cultivating your relationship with Jesus your priority. Do this through regular (daily is best!) time with the Lord, getting to know him better through reading God’s Word and talking with him in prayer.
As you focus on this core exercise of developing your relationship with Jesus – doing this consistently and doing this well – you will flourish in his good design for you…even in times of trial.
3. How specifically can you continue to develop your relationship with Jesus – doing this consistently and doing this well? Talk to the Lord about this. Also, thank him for his loving care for you as your Good Shepherd.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.