When our kids were in school, half-way through the grading period they would come home with a “progress” report. I think those “progress” reports were a source of angst for many parents in the school district! If we didn’t take them too seriously and put undue pressure on performance, they were just a good tool to help us see how things were going and how we might help our kids on their journey.
I wonder what it would be like to get a “progress” report from God? Wow, I have to admit just saying that makes me more than a little nervous! Actually, not all that long ago it would have made me nervous or fearful, not that I was total mess, but I had a messed up view of God. Now I think I would receive such a report much differently, knowing my Heavenly Father is encouraging me to walk more deeply with him.
In light of a progress report, how do we measure our progress on our spiritual journey? Dallas Willard’s definition on spiritual formation gives us a great guideline to assess our growth. Dallas expressed two objectives to spiritual growth:
- The first primary objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no “catch,” no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out.
- The second primary objective is to remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, of “enslavement” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6), to their old habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action.
We can evaluate our progress with two simple questions. What is the quality of my relationship with God? What are the automatic responses I am wrestling with? As we grow, we experience God’s love for us and we experience joy and delight in His presence and goodness. We begin to see fruit as our automatic responses are changing and healing and we are responding more in a way Christ is leading.
I was reminded of this definition of spiritual formation and assessing growth while reading about Peters encounter with Jesus in Luke 5. Peter and his companions had been fishing all night long and had not caught a single fish. He was probably tired and frustrated as he washed out his empty nets. But Peter had an encounter with Jesus. Jesus steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to push the boat out in the water. Here is a first indicator of spiritual growth. Peter allows Jesus into his life and his boat. Peter had to be tired from a long and fruitless night of fishing. He probably just wanted to wash his nets and go home. It could have been tempting to say “sorry, man, but I’m done. I’ve had it for one night. Check out the sons of Zebedee and see if you can use their boat!” I could see myself maybe saying something like that! But Peter lets Jesus use his boat and is now hearing the words of Jesus. One can only imagine the teaching that Peter witnessed that day.
Now a big sign of progress. When Jesus is done teaching, he tells Peter to take the boat back out into the deep water and cast out the nets again. Again, Peter could have rejected Jesus and taken the boat back to shore, but he didn’t. Instead, acknowledging Jesus as Master, he initially voices his frustration and maybe disappointment. He had already been out there, why would he want to do it again? But Peter, though everything within him sees no good reason to do it, he goes back out on the lake and lets down his nets because Jesus asked to. In the end, Peters see God do an amazing work.
Steps for Growth
In this story, we see Peter dealing with automatic responses and experiencing Jesus love. Here are some steps I see in this story that are helpful for experiencing growth:
- Let Jesus in: Peter let Jesus into his boat and life that day. This is a wonderful step to consider. As we go about each day, Jesus is inviting us to walk in the Kingdom of God. We can have a spirit of openness as we go through each day, looking for Jesus invitation to be with Him
- Listen to the Truth: Peter exposed himself to God’s truth as He listened to Jesus teaching that day. A great way to battle automatic responses is to expose them to the light of the truth of God’s word.
- Let Down Your Net: experiencing spiritual growth requires us to take steps of faith and follow what Jesus asks us to do. Letting down our nets signifies letting go of control and trusting that what Jesus is asking us to do is right.
Sometimes we are asked to do what seems to be the impossible. Imagine the struggle Peter experienced after being out all night, tired and discouraged and Jesus tells him to go back out. We see him struggle initially; his response is “you’ve got to be kidding”! And yet, having let Jesus in and listening to Him and experiencing His presence, he takes the step of faith to let down the nets in obedience. It is fair to say Peter grew some spiritually that day!
Growth begets growth. When Peter obeys, he experiences the power and glory of God and is in a position to know Jesus more intimately and be open to greater opportunities to grow and participate in the kingdom. How do we grow? One step at a time.
Spiritual formation is a process! Sometimes we can get discouraged when we hit some rough spots in the road and wonder if we are really growing at all. I hit one of those rough spots recently. God began to show me I was giving into an old automatic response that I am not good enough. I can set a standard on myself of what good enough looks like. Isn’t that interesting? I normally do not sense performance pressure from others or even God. It comes from within; I can be my own worst critic and the enemy can come into those moments and speak lies that feel like the truth. Letting down the net for me was to let go of my need to control my life and answer the automatic response with attempts at being perfect. I began letting go of ruminating on the lies and shame and letting Jesus in to hear the truth. I also shared with those I trust and love my struggle which also brings healing and growth.
As I look at my spiritual progress report, I am encouraged! I am still a work in progress, but God has done a work in me over the years and I am grateful for the freedom I have experienced over the power of those automatic responses. Letting down my net can be hard, but I know my Father loves me and I can trust what He calls me to do is for my good and for His glory.
How about you? How is your relationship with God? Are there any automatic responses that may be impacting your spiritual journey? Is there a net you need to let down in order to see God do a work in your life? May we learn from Peter with a response of “But at your word, I will let down the nets.”