Personal Spiritual Growth Inventory

It’s common as we enter a new year to spend time in reflection. We may set goals or resolutions for the year. We may take stock of our work or our finances. We may reflect on the highlights and struggles of the last year or on our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.

As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, reflection can be an important tool. Structured reflection gives us the space to celebrate how we’ve grown and consider what lies ahead as we continue to grow in Christlikeness.

Why not take time to reflect on your spiritual life as you enter the new year?

A spiritual growth inventory is a great way to set aside time to reflect. This can be done on your own, with a  mentor or pastor, or in a small group setting. You can also ask a trusted friend or spouse for their input on areas in which you most need to grow. 

Remember that as with any exercise like this, the point is not to earn our way into God’s favor or work our way into holiness. It also isn’t about heaping guilt on ourselves for all the ways we fall short of some spiritual ideal.

We are completely dependent on grace and the inner working of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and hearts, and this transformation is a lifelong journey. This reality doesn’t mean we are passive with no part to play in our spiritual growth.

We should be striving to pay attention to the ways sin still holds strong in our lives and seeking ways to put it to death. We should be seeking to develop the habits of godliness and Christ-likeness, nurturing a character that is pleasing to him. A spiritual inventory can help us discern what areas of our life need the most attention. 

The questions that follow are by no means exhaustive. You can work through all of them, or select only a few to consider. Feel free to adapt or add to them in any way that best suits your circumstances. 

Spiritual Inventory Questions

  • How would you describe your walk with God over the last year?

  • How have you grown since first coming to faith? How do you feel you would most like and most need to grow?

  • What is one joy and one struggle in your life and ministry right now?

  • How has your church and faith community helped in your spiritual development? How is it helping you presently?

  • Which fruits of the Spirit are most evident in your day-to-day life (see Gal. 5:22)? Which fruits are least evident in your day-to-day life? Is there something hindering these fruits?

  • What trials have been present in your life over the last year? How did you respond to them? Did they bring you closer to the Lord or further away from him? Do/did you respond with trust or bitterness? What did these trials bring to the fore in your heart? What does this show you about your relationship with the Lord? What does this show you about any idols that may be present in your heart?

  • What are the besetting sins in your life that you are aware of? How are you trying to overcome them? Are you making excuses for any sin in your life? What would it look like for you to take its reality seriously?

  • What role do spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, and others) play in your life? How have they aided your growth in spiritual maturity? What is something you’ve discovered recently in your devotional life? Are there any spiritual disciplines you would like to incorporate? Why?

  • What role does the Bible play in your life? Does it influence your decision making, your priorities, the way you see the world, etc? How has the Lord been speaking to you through His Word?

  • What is your prayer life like?

  • What does the way your spend your time reveal about your priorities? Are there things you spend too much or too little time doing? What adjustments do you need to make?

  • What opportunities do you have to engage in God’s work in the world? Are there opportunities in your life for ministry and service? Consider opportunities in your family life, workplace, neighborhood, community, etc. Are there opportunities to help those in need or to share your faith? Are there opportunities to build relationships with non-Christians or to encourage the faith journey of those who do know the Lord? How are you living into these opportunities?

Next Steps

As this inventory brings sin to light and shows areas in which you can grow, prayerfully turn these things over to the Lord. Repent of the ways you are missing the mark. Ask for His strength and wisdom as you seek to become more like Him. Then prayerfully consider action steps you can take to practically cut out the sin pattern(s) and foster a godly pattern of behavior. Seek out someone you trust who could be an accountability partner with you in this journey.


What Kind of Disciples Are We Making?

My elbows were propped on the dark wood of their table as I listened. They were friends we didn’t see often, and there was much to catch up on. I settled back in my chair, and the rungs nestled into my back. My full belly and the thick warmth of the summer evening were soothing after a busy week.

They were sharing about the challenge of finding a new church. The perplexity was familiar. The questions from those who didn’t understand why they were leaving. The sudden lack of community, lack of friends, the starting from scratch. The uncertainty of how to decide—the criteria of how to make a good decision.

I asked, “Why did you decide to leave your old church?”

This question serves up such a variety of responses.

They looked at each other, their chins tilting as if to say, “Do you want to take this one?” Finally one of them spoke up. “We saw the type of Christian that church was making, and it wasn’t the sort of disciple we wanted to become.”

* * *

When we become Christians, we respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come follow Me.” Follow me into your work and your play. Follow me into your relationships, your dreams, your financial decisions. Let me transform the way you see the world and other people, the way you see yourself.

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Obviously, there is a personal component to our discipleship. We spend time reading the Bible, in prayer, and engaged in other spiritual disciplines. We seek the guidance and molding of the Holy Spirit, to weed out our sin and to allow Christlikeness and obedience to flourish.

But discipleship is also inherently communal. Our Christian life is as a part of a Body, in which all the parts work together and encourage or discourage our health. This is obviously true in our friendships. I think we’ve all seen how the people close to us shape our thinking, words, and attitudes. We see this in our family life. Hopefully we get to experience this in a discipling relationship, in which a mentor invites us to follow them following Jesus and shapes our growth with their hard-bought wisdom.

The church community as a whole fosters our discipleship. We are taught about the highest good and the ideal picture of the Christian life. We learn about how we should engage the culture and the vast world outside of the church walls. We are taught about right belief and right practice—and perhaps taught which of those beliefs and practices are more important than the others. We are given a model for faithful living.

Ideally, this discipleship is occurring explicitly (more on that another time), but discipleship is happening in the church, whether we intentionally engage in it or not. These lessons are communicated implicitly in what we celebrate and teach, what we model and how we teach people to think. The question is not whether it’s happening, but rather what sort of disciples we are making.

Are we making disciples whose lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5)? Do we see people who are compassionate and kind, humble, slow to anger, quick with self-sacrificing love? Are we teaching them to idolize marriage and children, to think their work is only meaningful if it’s explicitly “spiritual”? What are we teaching about pain or how to support others when it strikes? Are we cultivating a love for God’s Word, a desire to obey it, and equipping people with tools to study and apply it themselves? Are we making disciples who are grace-obsessed and grace-dependent, or ones who still think they have something to prove in order to earn God’s favor?

The litmus test could be long. Ultimately, though, we must ask: are we making disciples that look like and abide by our particular brand of Christianity? Or are we making disciples that love Jesus, submit to His Lordship, and look like Him?

You Are Worth More Than Cilantro

I stop by the window, and I bend down to stare into the long green pot. It has become part of my morning routine, when my sleepy eyes are still only half-open. And my afternoon routine, when I wait for the microwave bell to announce my lunch is ready. And…well, I suppose the “routine” is that I stare into the pot every time I pass it, every time I notice it sitting in front of the tall window beside our bathroom.

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At first, I was staring through cling wrap beaded with moisture. I clapped my hands the day I saw a thin green tendril erupting from the soil. I pulled the plastic film away, giving the single sprout room to grow, and hoped it was only the first.

Each day, I look for more. There are over a dozen now. A few sluggish ones pushed up to the sunlight only this morning.

I stare down at them, watching the soil like the tiny clay birds that perch on the pot’s edge. I look at the growing leaves, and the way they lean toward the morning light. I press a finger into the soil’s edge, wondering if they need watering. I look at the ones close together—do they need separated? I run my fingers gently over tiny leaves miraculously supported by thin stems, because I’ve heard this will help them to grow straight and strong. So much attention to watching things grow.

Oh you of little faith—does the Heavenly Gardener not tend to you with even more care? Does He not provide what you need to flourish and grow? Does He not rejoice as He sees you? Are you not even more so under His loving eye?

Are you not worth far more than a sprig of cilantro?

Igloos, Wonder, and What God Thinks of Play

I don’t remember the storm, but I remember its aftermath. Our neighbor came, as he faithfully would, sitting high on his John Deere tractor. He pushed the snow into heaps on either side of the driveway.

My mom would be in the kitchen, standing by our oven as it filled the house with the buttery smell of freshly baking cookies. We would take him a plate of them lateralways chocolate chipas a thank you.

I don’t remember if there was more snow than usual or if we were just feeling particularly adventurous. But I remember carving the snow from the back of the snow heap in our turnaround. When we were finished, I sat in a makeshift igloo. The top was open partially, to assuage my mother’s fear of a collapsing snow cave.

I would crawl into my hideout, carving shelves into the walls, making “meals” with the pans and dishes from my toy kitchen set. I had an entourage of pretend playmates in those days, and the script of our adventures only shifted based on the time period of the historical novels I was devouring at the time.

My trusty companion Zach was there. He would romp around in the snow, jumping and twisting, lunging to catch any fistful of snow I threw at him. I would call him, and he would come to lay down beside me as I played. Clumps of snow would mat into the long golden hair along the backs of his legs.

One night, my Dad told me to suit up to go outside. I pulled on my long ski pants and bundled up with scarf, gloves, and hat against the cold. We walked out to my snow fort and climbed into its hold. He arranged some strips of wood on the cold ground and lit them with a lighter he pulled from his pocket. The wood crackled as it burned, and I watched as the orange flame danced on the frozen walls.

We may have made hot chocolate on our campfire. We may have roasted marshmallows. I don’t remember. I only remember the wonder of the fire on a winter night, the strange contrast of the chill at my back as I leaned against the wall and the warmth at my face as I stared into the flames. I remember my wonder as the snow glimmered against the heat, the wonder that it did not all melt away.

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The next morning, I was back outside with Zach-the-wonder-dog and my imaginary friends, and I discovered my fort reinforced. The thin layer of snow that had softened and melted from the heat of the fire had frozen to solid ice as we’d slept.

* * *

I don’t think I’ve made a snow fort since then. Certainly not a faux-igloo.

As I got older, the snow lost some of its magic. It was pretty to look at—as long as I could stay inside, as long as it meant a morning to sleep in.

It’s easy as we grow older to lose the wonder of childhood. Instead of a magical winter playground, the snow becomes a nuisance and source of complaint. It is a thing that must be shoveled. It is a thing to slow down traffic and make our commutes all the more treacherous. It is a thing that interferes with our sacred schedules.

We are lured from play by the sirens we’ve called maturity and practicality and seriousness. We learn to reign in our romping imaginations to be responsible in “the real world.” We forget the art of quick laughter and simple pleasures, of sprinting into life’s adventures with bold relish.

Some of us lose our wonder completely. Some of us have to fight to keep it.

* * *

I once heard a speaker share about a visit with his systematic theology professor. He was there to discuss his final grade. The professor began to ask a surprising line of questions. What is your theology of life? What is your theology of play? What does God think about them? Make it your life’s work to answer these questions…

What if we are not to relinquish our play, our wonder, our imagination? What if they are a part of our discipleship, part of our life that Jesus touches, enters, sanctifies?

What if we are called not to abandon play but to see how it may be a means of following Jesus? What if we are to cultivate wonder and not be lulled into the lie that we can fully comprehend and systematize God’s nature? What if our imaginations—not merely logic or propositions—can help us to glimpse how God is working in us and in the world?

What is your theology of play? What is your theology of wonder, of imagination, of creativity, of beauty? What would your life look like if you lived it in answer to these questions?

* * *

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
- C.S. Lewis

My True Self?

“I love that I can be my true self at home” was the remark. Upon further prodding an example: “You know, I don’t have to be so concerned about being polite and patient all the time. I can just be myself.” I’ve been stewing over this one for several weeks now.

My family knows intimate parts of who I am—things no one else knows or has walked through with me. They’ve seen me at my best and my worst. They’ve seen me in progress. And none of it has scared them away. In this sense, I can be myself, I can show them myself, because there’s a sense of safety there. They want what’s best for me, and they aren’t put off by the bumps, bruises, and tears that come with that journey. There is a beautiful freedom that comes with this sort of love.

In spite of it, there are times when I am less patient or polite with my family than I would be with a complete stranger. The people I love the most, who have given me the most, who are permanent fixtures in my life are the most likely to be the brunt of my temper, my sharp tongue, my sarcasm, my frustration. This is a reality I will admit. But it is not one I’m proud of. If I love these people so deeply, shouldn’t this phenomenon grieve me?

These were my initial thoughts about her comment, the initial tilting of the head, raising of the eyebrows. But then it went a bit deeper. 

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“My true self” she said. “My true self” is that which is impatient and rude. “My true self” is that which is sinful. Or is it?

When we accept Christ, we become a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). We are, in one sense, fully made new, dead to sin, alive in a new realm of Christ-like living. In another sense, we are at the beginning of a life-long journey of becoming like Christ, of finding His presence leave an ever deeper mark on who we are. We are new. We are seeing ourselves be made new. All at the same time.

In this sense, our “true” self is what we’re becoming. Our true self forgives freely because we know how much we’ve been forgiven. It is long-suffering and kind because we know how deeply God’s grace flows. It loves freely, unconditionally, without expecting repayment because we know we can never repay the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our true self is the one that looks like Jesus.

Jesus showed us humanity in its truest form. Communion with God. Unencumbered by sin. Intent on the Father’s pleasure and will. Full of compassion. The perfect fullness of truth and grace, justice and mercy, love and holiness.

Although it is all we know now, our slavishness to sin is abnormal. It gives birth to a false self, one distorted by the deceit of pride and selfishness. It gives us a faulty picture of reality.

Our sinful selves are not our true selves, not the way we are meant to be, and (thank God) not where He is content to let us remain. So we can say, when we see our impatience, our rudeness, our ingratitude, our less-than-love, this is not who I am, and this is not who I am becoming. We can focus our eyes on who God our Father has declared us to be and who He is redeeming us to be, and we can take another tiny step forward toward who we really are. Another step toward holiness. Another step toward mirroring who Christ is. This is our true self.