We take cars for annual MOTs. Some of us get regular physical health-checks. When was the last time you took a spiritual health-check?
On Ash Wednesday, we gave the opportunity to take part in one. For those who weren't able to make it, here's some of what we covered:
Spiritual health is closely tied to spiritual growth. Sadly, for many Christians, a spiritual growth chart looks something like this:
In other words, after we become a Christian, we grow spiritually quite rapidly - but then we plateau for the rest of our lives until we die. At that point, Jesus completes our spiritual transformation (we are renewed in body, soul and spirit) and we get to live in his presence. That spiritual growth chart is similar to a physical growth chart for humans - growth through childhood and adolescence, but then no more growth for the rest of our lives.
But the Bible pictures spiritual growth as being more like this:
In other words, we should be on an overall trend of spiritual growth throughout our lives. Yes, there are ups and downs along the way. But by the time we die, we should be considerably more spiritually mature / healthy than in the immediate years after we become a Christian.
The apostle Paul was a great evangelist - but he wasn't just interested in people becoming Christians. He was passionate about Christians becoming more spiritually mature: "We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [mature] in Christ" (Colossians 1.28).
Similarly, when talking about why Jesus gave certain gifts to the church, Paul explained that it was "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity ... and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." And the effect of this maturity? "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching ..." (Ephesians 4.11.16).
Spiritual maturity means becoming more and more like Jesus. Here’s Paul writing to the Corinthians: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3.18). John Ortberg describes the effect of spiritual transformation like this: "When transformation happens, I don’t just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. They make sense. I don’t just go around trying to do the right things; I become the right sort of person."
So ... being a spiritually healthy Christian means growing to spiritual maturity - becoming more and more like Jesus. And that's a lifelong process - not one that stops after spiritual adolescence!
We developed some questions (actually, we borrowed bits from various different sources) to help each of us diagnose the state of our own spiritual health. Click here to take this 'spiritual health-check' yourself.
Go on - give it a go! You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. As you fill it in, be honest - this is just between you and God. If you score low in a section, it doesn't mean you're a bad Christian - it's just flagging up areas where you can grow.
A physical health-check is only beneficial if we begin to put into practice the GP's recommendations. It's the same with this spiritual health-check. If you just leave it there, it's been a waste of time. To get the most out of this health-check, once you've done it, choose one (or maybe two) areas which have been highlighted as needing some attention, and begin to work on it, prayerfully.
And don't work at it alone! Spiritual growth comes as we allow God's Spirit to work in us, and it happens in the context of Christian fellowship. Learn from the wisdom of others who are stronger in that area than you are.
And if you want some more ideas on how to work on these areas, specifically on 'spiritual disciplines', here's the 'growing spiritually' handout we used to help people follow-up.
Have fun - and let us know how you get on!
"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy ... being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1.4-6).
James Lawrence writes ...
The summer season is upon us. For some that will mean a holiday. Or will it? Will it actually mean carrying with us all the burdens of our leadership to wherever we go for a break? Will it mean checking the phone for emails/texts/WhatsApp messages? Will it mean a struggle to switch off?
I recently read a post on Why Driven People Suck at Vacations, and it got me thinking. I am someone that loves holidays and has also struggled to find a way that makes them work for me and my family. I know some of you will not understand my struggle. You find holidays easy. But for those who struggle like me…
I used to believe holidays were for rest. Isn’t that what everyone says? ‘Have a good rest.’ I now realise that for me, whilst rest is part of a holiday, it is not the whole story. Holidays are for relational renewal, re-creation and rest.
This post was originally part of the CPAS Lead On July 2017 email
So you love Jesus and you're keen to serve him - but how? How does what you hear on a Sunday or in your cell group link to your workplace? How can reading the Bible each day help you chat with your friends and colleagues and answer their objections to faith? How can your cell group or mission group make more of an impact for the Kingdom of God?
'Formation School' is a great course, run here in Southampton, which helps answer all of those questions. It's a course which will take you deeper into the Bible, grow your love for God and help you work out how you can serve God - at home, at work, in the community, in church. Why settle for staying as you are now - when you could be making more of an impact for God.
It runs from September to July on term-time Tuesday evenings - plus a couple of Saturdays each term. There is a charge for the course - but I'd see that as a fantastic investment in the Kingdom which will reap rich rewards. St James' by the Park may be able to contribute towards the costs if that would help.
I really cannot recommend it highly enough - it's the sort of course I'd love to have done when I was younger.
There's lots more information about it on the Formation School website. Better still, go along to one of the Tuesday evening sessions in June to get a feel for what it's like. You can contact Ruth, the administrator to get details of venue and time.
Every stage of life brings new challenges and opportunities. Historically, the church has been better at supporting young families and those entering the later stages of life than it has been at supporting those beginning to approach or enter retirement. Some people have asked, “What does the church do for us at our stage?”
I hope the "Second Half Living" seminar that we’re putting on will begin to answer that question. I’m delighted that Martin Cooper is coming to share with us. I’ve known Martin for several years; in fact, he mentors me informally. He and his wife Marion have worked hard over recent years developing materials to help Christians aged 50-early 70s to think about life and Christian service at this stage of life – called “Second half living”. He firmly believes that “the second half of your life can be the greater of the two halves” – and I’ve seen him put that into practise.
Martin will lead a one-off seminar on Wednesday 17th May, 7.45pm – 9.45pm at St James’ by the Park. I’m sure it will be a thought-provoking and enormously helpful seminar. There’s a possibility of doing the full “Second half living” course at some later point if enough people are interested – but by coming to this one-off seminar, you wouldn’t be making any commitments about that.
To help us prepare enough materials, please register. The event is free.
Someone commented to me the other day that they’d “definitely entered the Autumn season” of their life. As we know, Autumn can be the most glorious of seasons. I hope you’ll be able to come to this seminar, and pray that it will help many people make the Autumn of their lives even more glorious.