There Actually Is No Easy Path to Spiritual Growth

August 29, 2016

I work in Christian publishing, and I served in pastoral ministry for some 20 years. So on behalf of myself and the industry I represent, allow me to correct a wrong impression that we—many of us who communicate the gospel for a living—have perpetuated for a long time.

Close-up portrait of a man laughing with a disbelief expression

There actually is no easy path to spiritual growth.

If you’re an average Christian, meaning somebody who goes to church a fair bit, reads the occasional Christian book, and maybe attends a conference now and then, I can see how you might think there is.

Christian leaders often misrepresent how difficult the process of sanctification is. I’ve done it myself with blog posts that seem to promise a no-hassle prayer life or quick-and-easy personal maturity.

I’m sorry about that. I really am.

I don’t think any of us meant to be misleading. We’ve just been scrambling to hold the attention of increasingly distracted Christians who are increasingly unwilling to tolerate friction in any area of their lives.

That’s me too, obviously.

We don’t wait in lines. We buy things with one click. We watch all our shows on Netflix so there’ll be no commercials. We automate our bill payments. We have the attention span of a two-year-old. Cocker spaniel.

Many of us professional communicators have gotten sucked into that drift. We want to make spiritual growth sound appealing so we make it sound easy.
Four steps to a vibrant prayer life.
Read the heart of the Bible in a minute a day.
Restore you marriage with this 30-day challenge.

It’s all hogwash, honestly.

Yes, there are some simple practices that support spiritual growth, but you can’t attain Christlikeness in five minutes a day any more than you can master the violin by practicing for a half-hour a week.

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a godly person: it’s hard and it takes a long time.

Jesus himself gave numerous warnings about how difficult it is to be a disciple, sometimes deliberately thinning the ranks by telling the half-hearted to save time and leave now.

In a reference to his own impending death, he told his closest followers “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Note the word daily. Crucifixion wasn’t a one-time plunge for Jesus either. He lived a surrendered life.

The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).

That blows my mind every time I read it. If Jesus was made complete by suffering, how likely are we to pick it up in at a weekend conference?

I know this will come as a letdown for some. But, honestly, I think it will make sense to a lot more people and come as a relief.

Fad diets don’t work, and you know that even as you’re getting excited about them.

Fad spirituality doesn’t work either, and it’s liberating acknowledge that.

Becoming like Jesus is a project that will take as long as you live, and longer. It will happen only after you give up on any thought of becoming patient overnight, fixing your marriage by reading one book, or being forgiven without doing the hard work of forgiving others.

It requires opening your heart and mind completely to the penetrating, searching, mortifying examination of the Holy Spirit. Then confessing the sin you find. Time and again if needed. And living a life that is ever more surrendered to the will of another person—God.

So, if I’ve misled you in the past, I apologize sincerely. The fact that I was well-intentioned is no excuse.

Going forward, I promise you one thing. I’ll never misrepresent how challenging it is to surrender your entire self to God. Or how glorious it is to finally do so.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about pastoral ministry and issues affecting the local church. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.