Many approaches to spiritual growth assume that the same methods will produce the same growth in different people — but they don’t. Because you have been created by God as a unique person, his plan to grow you will not look the same as his plan to grow anyone else. What would grow an orchid would drown a cactus. What would feed a mouse would starve an elephant. All of those entities need light, food, air, and water — but in different amounts and conditions. The key is not treating every creature alike; it is finding the unique conditions that help each creature grow.
Imagine a doctor’s office where every patient is told, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” If I have a headache, that is great advice, but if my appendix has just burst, I will be dead before morning. Imagine a store that sells only one kind of shirt — one color, style, fabric, and size — and makes the same deal on pants. There are no “one-size-fits-all” stores, because God made people in different sizes. Imagine a parent who thinks, No matter how many kids I have, I will treat them each exactly the same way. Each kid will be a blank slate for me to write on, pliable clay for me to mold. They will all be motivated by the same rewards, impacted by punishment the same way, and attracted by the same activities.
What obliterates these ideas?
Reality, such as actually having children and becoming quickly aware that every human being is different. If we really want to help someone grow, we will have to help them in a way that fits their wiring.
Our great model for this is God himself, for he always knows just what each person needs.
He had Abraham take a walk, Elijah take a nap, Joshua take a lap, and Adam take the rap.
He gave Moses a forty-year time out, he gave David a harp and a dance, and he gave Paul a pen and a scroll.
He wrestled with Jacob, argued with Job, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar.
He gave Aaron an altar, Miriam a song, Gideon a fleece, Peter a name, and Elisha a mantle.
Jesus was stern with the rich young ruler, tender with the woman caught in adultery, patient with the disciples, blistering with the scribes, gentle with the children, and gracious with the thief on the cross.
God never grows two people the same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.
Now it is your turn.
God has existed from eternity — but he has never had a relationship with you before. He wants to do a new thing with you. The problem many people face when it comes to spiritual growth is that they listen to someone they think of as the expert — maybe the pastor of their church — talk about what he does, and think that is what they are supposed to do. When it doesn’t work for them — because they are a different person! — they feel guilty and inadequate; they often give up.
God has a plan for the me he wants me to be. It will not look exactly like his plan for anyone else, which means it will take freedom and exploration for me to learn how God wants to grow me. Spiritual growth is hand-crafted, not mass-produced. God does not do “one-size-fits-all.”
Take the practice of writing in a journal, for example. When I mentioned journaling one time while speaking at a conference on spiritual life, I heard groans. I asked, “How many people do not like to journal?” What amazed me was not just how many hands were raised (the vast majority), but the speed and vehemence with which they were thrust into the air. It was as if people were admitting a secret shame they had been hiding for years. I have repeated this question on numerous occasions,always with the same results — once even at a workshop on journaling!
If you don’t like to keep a journal, here is a thought you might like: Jesus never journaled . Neither did Abraham or Moses or Ruth. Throughout most of the history of the human race, people loved God without ever picking up a paper and pencil. In fact, in those days most didn’t have supplies to journal. Yet people still grew spiritually, examined their souls, fought sin, and learned obedience. “Journal” was not a verb back then; it wasn’t even a noun. C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century, said that he kept a journal until he was converted. Then when he became a Christian, he realized that it was making him preoccupied with himself. So he stopped journaling.
Does this mean that keeping a journal is a bad idea? Not at all! As a matter of full disclosure, I often find it very helpful myself, especially in times of stress or pain. Writing my thoughts in those times helps prevent my self-examination and prayers from slipping into spirals of negativity. You may find that a journal helps you become more aware of God’s presence in your life or aids you in praying. If it does, do it.
But you are free. Disciples are handcrafted, not mass-produced. No wonder we get frustrated when we think that everyone is supposed to look like the pastor or the author or whoever is teaching us at the moment about spiritual growth. We learn differently, struggle with different sins, and relate to God in different ways.
When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he did not pray, “May they all have identical devotional practices.” He prayed, “Father, may they be one with you.” The main measure of your devotion to God is not your devotional life. It is simply your life.
Trying to grow spiritually without your devotion to God is not your devotional life. It is simply your life. taking who you are into account is like trying to raise children on an assembly line. If you train an 80-pound gymnast and a 300-pound linebacker exactly the same, you will end up with two useless 190-pound people.
Ortberg, John. 2009. The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.