We claim we want to know God more, we say that we want to grow in our faith, but words are cheap. We don’t always back our good intentions with action. It’s all too easy to become complacent in our spiritual journeys, pointing to God’s unconditional love for us instead of doing the work to grow in our faith.
“We are not saved by effort, but neither are we saved from it.” Jen Pollock Michel writes in her book Surprised by Paradox*.
A lifelong pursuit
When I was little, I remember my Sunday school teacher telling us that it was impossible to know the whole Bible—that you could spend your whole life studying it, memorizing it, and still, no one could know it all. My 8 year-old self was skeptical, even when my parents backed this claim. I flipped through the many pages of my “Precious Moments” Bible and thought: if someone tried hard enough, I bet they could memorize it.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that memorizing something and understanding something are two different things. It wasn’t until later that I realized how finite we are and how big God is. It wasn’t until later that I understood that following Jesus was a lifelong pursuit and relationship.
Knowing God and growing in our faith aren’t passive activities. It doesn’t just happen to us as time goes by. Instead, we must be intentional about spending time with Him: learning from Him, listening for Him, looking for His movement in our lives. We are surrounded by ways we can connect with Him—through His Word, nature, music, other people, the Holy Spirit.
How to grow deeper in our faith
Practicing habits that draw us nearer to God is one sure way we can grow in our faith. I’m not talking about ticking boxes off of a “be a good Christian” checklist. I’m not talking about following a formula that guarantees a “hashtag blessed” life. I’m talking about engaging in intentional spiritual practices that will deepen our knowledge of God and strengthen our relationship with Him.
Throughout the history of Christianity, these habits have been referred to as “spiritual practices” or “spiritual disciplines.” In her book The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun puts it this way:
“God is free to come to us in spiritual disciplines as he wills, not as we demand. But unless we open ourselves to him through spiritual practices, we will miss his coming altogether […] Disciplines are intentional ways we open space in our lives for the worship of God. They are not harsh, but grace-filled ways of responding to the presence of Christ with our bodies.”
In my faith tradition growing up, I had three tools for growing closer to God: reading my Bible, praying, and going to church or Bible study. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that there are many other tools at my disposal—spiritual practices I’d never considered before in their possibility to help me draw nearer to God.
Spiritual practices are a gift
It’s as if I was given a beautiful dollhouse for Christmas, a large square room with a roof. Functional. Lovely, even. But then, hiding behind the tree there were several other gifts: a garage that attached to the side of the dollhouse, a second story that fit on top, a plastic backyard patio, a pool, a home gym, a walk-in closet attachment, a van for doll friends.
When I open these additional gifts, my playtime becomes a richer experience, engaging more of my imagination, creating more possibilities for play. Diving deeper into spiritual practices creates a similar experience. These practices can be a gift that help you know God more intimately and grow a deeper faith.
While there is no exhaustive list, Richard J. Foster identifies 12 main ones in his book Celebration of Discipline. He puts them in three categories:
Inward: meditation, prayer, fasting, study
Outward: simplicity, solitude, submission, service
Corporate: confession, worship, guidance, celebration
He notes: “All we are learning to do is undertake practices of the heart and mind and soul that place us before God. Some practices may be formal and intently liturgical. Others may be spontaneous and free flowing. The actual practices of the Disciplines are as varied and as creative as human personality itself.”
In Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, she identifies 17 different kinds of prayer—testifying to the many and creative ways we can express ourselves to God. She also gives an overview of many other types of spiritual practices we might try as we seek to grow closer to God, such as: care of the earth, mentoring, slowing, rest, hospitality, and gratitude, just to name a few.
Now that I’ve had a glimpse of these gifts hiding behind the Christmas tree, I’m wondering what else is hiding back there, which gifts to open and put to use right away. I’m suddenly struck with the idea that any healthy habit could be a spiritual practice if it draws you closer to God.
But there’s no time
If you find yourself thinking: “I don’t have time to add a spiritual practice to my busy mom plate” I’d love to recommend a book written to address that very problem. Mom Seeks God: Practicing Grace in the Chaos by Julia Roller is an essential guide for busy moms who want to incorporate spiritual practices into everyday life. She takes on a different spiritual practice in each of the ten chapters, and weaves together relatable stories and practical tips that any mom can try right away. I love that she treats motherhood itself as a spiritual discipline, as a way that God is shaping us into who we’re meant to be.
Growing closer to God is the most important part of our faith journey, and it is a lifelong endeavor. Taking ourselves seriously as theologians, cultivating the right posture, and equipping ourselves with helpful spiritual practices are essential steps in our pursuit of a deeper relationship with God.
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*Each of the books I shared in this post are affiliate links, which means if you decide to purchase I will make a few cents at no extra cost to you!