The marks on the door-facing leading into the back yard tell of the growth of the children over the years.
The clothing in back of the closet the kids can no longer wear speak of the growth of your young'uns.
The escalating cost of schoolbooks as the kids move into high school and then into college bear eloquent testimony to the maturation of the offspring.
They're growing up.
But how can you tell when spiritual growth is taking place? Where are the markers? How are we to know if one's development as a disciple of Jesus Christ has plateau'ed or is even regressing?
To my knowledge, there is no answer book for this question. There are only indicators.
Here is my list of ten signs--indicators, markers--that we are growing in Christ, that we are getting it right.
10. A Changing Appetite.
My taste for spiritual things is changing. I find myself loving to study the Word of the Lord and looking forward to it. Far from it being a chore, it's literally fun.
Job said, I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
At the same time this is happening, my thirst for a trashy novel, an entertainment magazine, a sexy movie or a television celebrity expose' is drying up. My appetite for spiritual junk food is diminishing. And that's a good thing!
Radiation for cancer in the early months of 2005 changed my life forever. Since the cancer was under my tongue, the radiation was directed toward key spots in my head and neck. Although the oncological team did everything they could to program the computer to save saliva glands and taste buds, some were zapped and are gone forever. My doctor said, "Food will never taste as good to you again as it used to." He was right. But that is a small price to pay to go on living and loving and ministering. Some foods--especially dry stuff like chips and fries and breads--have almost no taste. On the other hand, my taste for ice cream and sweets came back with a passion! There's probably a spiritual lesson in here somewhere.
9. A Disgust for the Shameful.
The more we become like Christ--and that is God's plan for every believer--the more we will find ourselves turning away in disgust at activities that used to fascinate us.
Paul spoke of certain activities as "shameful even to speak of" (Ephesians 5:12).
On another occasion, Paul spoke of the enemies of the cross of Christ: "Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame." They "set their minds on earthly things," he said (Philippians 3:19).
No dirty jokes for me, thank you. No porn movies or books or magazines. Not even the (ahem) mildly racy stuff.
We just don't need it anymore. We have better things to do and read.
8. A Love for Believers.
There is something almost uncanny about this: the closer we are to Christ, the more we will love His people. Likewise, the further we stray from Him, the less use we have for them and the more critical we become of them.
It is an ironclad principle, one that never fails: love Christ, love His people. Love the world, despise His people.
Remember that the next time you hear some backslidden church member running down church members. By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you love one another (John 13:35).
So, you find yourself treasuring those believers at church who are genuinely giving their best to the Lord, even though it's small potatoes to the world. Congratulations. You are becoming like Jesus.
7. An Unusual Peace and Quietness.
The latest upheavals in the economy and in the political realm do not unnerve you the way they used to. You are far steadier than previously. You still care about the country, you work at being a good citizen, and you pray for your leaders. But you know that fixing your hope on them is a sure recipe for disappointment.
If you then be risen with Christ, set your affection on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).
Some of your Christian friends will be upset with you because you are not upset. They may even accuse you of not caring, of being unpatriotic. Surely, if you were in the know as they are you would be as panicky as they.
You will take that in stride because of Number 6.
6. Your Strange Patience.
Your love for people and your patience with them is becoming stronger and steadier. Sometimes it surprises you. You remember when crazy drivers, unloving people, and ungodly conditions in the world upset you.
As a result, you find yourself able to minister to people who do things displeasing to God. Just as surgeons and nurses in the operating room look past the tragedy of blood and brokenness to treat the patient, you find yourself more and more able to do something similar: you look past the shame and love the person. This enables you to serve in a homeless shelter, in the jail, in certain neighborhoods, in mission centers, all in love.
5. Your Joy and Laughter.
This is a surprising development. You might have expected that becoming like Jesus would mean growing sterner, graver, more serious. And while part of you has deepened in that way, your spirit has sprouted wings. You are now able to soar higher--to laugh at trouble, to find joy in the simplest of pleasures, to rejoice in Christ when nothing is going your way.
Sometimes you find yourself laughing when nothing provokes it.
Joy is like that.
You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine increased (Psalm 4:7).
4. A New Generosity.
You haven't given away all your money, nothing like that. But how you look at money is changing. It has become "a means to an end," and not the goal of anything. Money is a tool to be used to bless people for Christ's sake.
Some say one mark of maturity is to enjoy saving money more than spending it. But we can go that one better: to enjoy putting money to work in the service of God and people is best of all.
When Lawrence Bryant came to know Christ at the age of 43, his priorities were completely rearranged. Instead of amassing wealth, he delighted in blessing others with what God had given him. I still recall his wife Helen remarking to her mother one day, "If you come home and find a moving van backed up to the door, Lawrence has given away the house."
John Dowdle gave a young preacher a large check to assist him in his seminary education. Later he told me, "That same day I made three times that much in a little business transaction." He was quiet for a minute, then said, "That happens so much it almost frightens me."
He was discovering he could not outgive God.
But it's fun to try.
3. Joy in Anonymous Acts.
They said of Jesus that He "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). That's the idea: leaving a trail of blessed people in your wake.
Not all our giving and working should be anonymous, of course. We are bearing a witness for our Lord through our good deeds, and thus we want people to know their Source and to be directed toward Him as a result. However--and this is the point--we get just as big a delight out of blessing someone without him knowing where it came from.
I've had this done for me, and have done it for others. Someone called from a men's clothing store. "Pastor, you are being invited to come down and buy a suit for yourself. No questions asked, anything in the store." What fun that was, particularly in the days when I needed a new suit and money was scarce. But when money was more plentiful, I have passed that blessing along to others. Best of all was doing this for some preacher who was serving a small congregation and being poorly paid. He never knew the source, and that was more pleasurable to me than if he had known.
Most of our prayer for people should be anonymous. If I feel that I need to keep reminding people "I'm praying for you," it might indicate a lack of faith in my prayer and more confidence in the power of telling them that I'm praying for them.
Much of our praying and giving should be in secret. (See Matthew 6:3-4.)
2. More Silence in Your Prayer Time.
Good friends learn to enjoy silence with each other, with neither feeling the need to fill the vacuum with chatter. So with prayer.
They asked Mother Teresa, "You pray hours a day. What do you talk about all that time?" She said, "Mostly, I just listen." That was puzzling to the questioner. "You listen to God? What does He say?" She answered, "Mostly He just listens too."
I love that little story. I hardly know what it means, but there is something about it that feels right.
I confess to being troubled when I hear a brother--usually a preacher--attacking heaven with a barrage of noisy words in his prayer. He comes on like a Gatling gun, hardly pausing for breath, as though Heaven is charging him so much per minute and he wants to get in all he can before he runs out of coins.
What's the rush, I wonder.
When asked a good way to pray, I often suggest three activities: read the Scripture, talk to the Lord a while, and then sit quietly. After a bit, read some more of the Word, talk to the Lord again, and then sit in silence for a while. Repeat for as long as you are able.
1. Unceasing Prayer.
When asked how long you pray each day, you have no idea. You never stop talking to the Father.
I'm amused by polls that reveal the average Christian prays something like 45 seconds a day. "How do they know?" I wonder.
At the end of a day, would you know how many times you had spoken to a faithful friend who had been at your side all day long? Probably not.
Would you know the total of all the minutes of those conversations? Hardly.
As a third-grader walking up that West Virginia mountaintop to school each morning, I would often talk to the Lord about various subjects. However, in my childlike understanding, I would not say "amen" at the conclusion of the prayer. To do so seemed the equivalent of hanging up the phone, and the last thing I wanted to do was to cut the Lord off. I wanted Him involved in all I was doing all day long.
The Lord wants His children to grow spiritually, to become more and more like Christ. Theologians refer to this as sanctification. Paul expressed it like this: But we all...are being transformed into the same image (of Christ) from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of God (II Corinthians 3:18).
I asked a friend whom I know to be far godlier than I for her list of markers, how she knows she is more like Christ this year than last. Interestingly, my list and hers are as different as we are. And both lists are on the mark.
You will have your own list of indicators of spiritual growth in Christ.
Perhaps, though, the best indicator of all that we are growing in Christ is this: Someone brags on your godly character and you think, "Who? Me? You've got to be kidding!"
Christlikeness seems to be a lot like humility: Those who have it most are least aware of it, but only see how much further they have to go.
From what I know of the subject of Christlikeness, the process of sanctification is not finished until we stand before the Savior Himself. As John said, We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:2).
The completion of sanctification goes by the name of glorification--we are changed into His likeness completely--and then something wonderful happens: we find that in Heaven, we are a perfect fit.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
Publication date: August 23, 2011