Everyone’s spiritual journey, everyone’s spiritual growth is different because we have had different life experiences. We are from different backgrounds. We see life differently because of these various lenses.
March 12, 2023
“Measure Your Life in Love”
How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?
Luke 8: 4-15
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Luke 8: 4-15
When a large crowd was gathering, as people were coming to him from town after town, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed some fell on a path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and as it grew up it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “If you have ears to hear, then hear!” Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive and hearing they may not understand.’
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with endurance.
How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth? Luke 8:4-15
This week, we are asking the question, “How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?” I fully admit that this is a trick question. It is one of those questions which is a both/and type of question while at the same time being a question we can never fully answer largely in part due to circumstances we cannot control, the largest one being that God is Mystery. As Job discovered when he questioned God and God’s plan, Job was told, basically who are humans to be able to fully know God? “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven – what can you do? Deeper than Sheol – what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” Of course, I’m giving us the Cliff Notes version. But as people of faith, we understand that the beautiful part and yes the frustrating part of spiritual growth is that we will never fully comprehend the mystery of God. Then on top of that, on the off chance that we do actually reach spiritual enlightenment, we are constrained by language. Our imperfect, limited human language cannot capture the full essence of the Divine because as Paul said to the Corinthians, “For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
So that’s one thing complicating our finding an answer to this question of how we measure spiritual growth. The other thing is that spiritual growth does not usually happen in a straight line. Spiritual Growth is not some stair step which we can use to ascend to “the” place where we comprehend it all. As people of faith, we are always learning. We are always growing. We are always discerning God’s Word for us.
Unfortunately, we hear people all the time using the language “I’m trying to achieve spiritual growth”. When we use that type of language, we fall into the narrative of this world, meaning that this world sees everything as a problem to be fixed, or that everything we do or should be doing are accomplishments to be achieved.
The great thing about spirituality is that it invites us as people of faith to just be..to be at peace with where we are and who we are, to be in community with one another, to be the person God created and calls us to be. Spirituality invites us to step back, to breath, to open our eyes, to open our hearts to a different way to be, a way which is not based on competition or promotions.
When it comes to spiritual growth, we can’t measure it in terms of numbers.Sure we can look back on our faith journeys and see where we have changed, how we have grown. But like I shared last week at the end of worship, more often than not, our spiritual journeys take a circular pattern. We encounter the “same” situations at different points in our lives but as we grow in our faith, in our spiritual development, we react or don’t react differently to these situations, or at least that is the hope.
Everyone’s spiritual journey, everyone’s spiritual growth is unique. Each of us have had different life experiences. We are from different backgrounds. We see life differently because of these various lenses. When we start comparing our spiritual growth to another person’s spiritual growth, we miss the point.
As people of faith, we are not called to measure our spiritual growth in numbers. We are called to measure our spiritual growth in love which brings us to the Parable of the Sower.
Jesus explains this parable to his disciples. He tells them that the seed is the Word of God. When the seed falls on ground/soil which is not ready or able to receive it, there is no growth. But for the seed which falls on good soil, soil which has been tended, soil which has been nourished, soil which is ready and able to receive the seed, there is growth, a hundredfold! That’s why we do what we do as people of faith. With spiritual growth, we are becoming the people God created and calls us to be. With spiritual growth, we realize that when we look around this world with all its hurt and hate, this is not what God intended when God created the world and called it good. With spiritual growth, we continue to hold to the promise that one day God’s Kingdom will come here on Earth just as it is in heaven.
If we want to grow spiritually, we need to do the work. And here’s the kicker…if we take nothing else from this sermon, I want all of us to hear this, myself included, ..no one can do the work of tending the soil, the work of nourishing it, but ourselves. Doesn’t matter if we go to church each Sunday, doesn’t matter how great the praise band is, doesn’t matter how beautiful the stained glass windows are, It doesn’t matter if our church has a laser light show to help us find Jesus, if we don’t do the work of becoming the people God created and calls us to be, then we are not truly living out our calling as disciples of Christ. We are not practicing what we preach. We are not being faithful to the light and love of God which resides in each of us.
So we do the work..That’s why it is called spiritual practices. These practices, like prayer, like reading our Bible, like fasting, like meditation, like breathing exercises, like journaling (these are just to name a few), these spiritual practices are what helps us as people of faith cultivate a mindset which invites the presence of God in our lives because spiritual growth is really about awareness, awareness of our relationship with others, an awareness with our relationship with God. It is about opening our hearts and minds to the Kingdom of God in our midst, being ready to receive it, to perceive it, ready to grow in love for ourselves and for all of God’s people. Spiritual Growth is about measuring our lives with love because we now understand that…
If we speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if we have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if we have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, we are nothing. If we give away all our possessions and if we hand over our bodies so that we may boast but do not have love, we gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love. -1 Corinthians 13: 1-4, 13
Spiritual Growth is about measuring our lives in love because we now understand that faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, March 12, 2023 – How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth? Luke 8:4-15.