There are a lot of things that could be (and are) said about how to grow spiritually. This is because 1) it is not a simple task to turn back the desires, passions, and “wisdom” of the flesh; and 2) Satan hopes to thwart our spiritual progress in every way possible. To the many things that you may have read or heard, let me add three thoughts found in one Greek word “pros-kar-ter-oun-tes” (προσκαρτερουντης) in Acts 2:42 — translated in the New American Standard Version, “They were continually devoting themselves…”.
This Greek word for “devotion” is one that was ordinarily used in reference to a loyal servant standing near his master, often of a loyal attendant to a king, who would be attentive to, perhaps even anticipating, the needs of the one he served. But the single word “devotion” doesn’t really cover the whole meaning of the word. There’s more.
Part of the original “warp and woof” of this word was the idea of not abandoning one’s post of service. The way it was used in contexts like Acts 2:42 it carried an emphasis on constancy, continuance, and perseverance — continually. And what an important emphasis this is to spiritual growth!
Christian growth doesn’t come from efforts that are only in “fits and starts”. Why? Because if we’re not growing, we tend to be shrinking, going backwards, dying. It’s a lot like physical nutrition and exercise. Your children will not be well nourished if they eat well 2 or 3 days a week and fast the rest of the week; all you’ll get is malnourished children. Neither can any of us expect to get that great, strong, Greek-body look by visiting the gym once or twice a month; all you can expect from such a “regimen” is muscle soreness a couple of times a month. Good nutrition and bodily strength come from continually eating well and exercising really regularly. Why would we expect more from a haphazard effort at spiritual growth? And yet we not only do, but sometimes even defend it! “Well, I know I don’t come to worship much (or read the Bible much or do much or…), but I pray now and again and I feel like God and I are OK.” As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt.
The earliest Christians were day by day in the apostles’ teachings, having fellowship, in prayer, and breaking bread. Is this part of the reason that church numbers mushroomed? That the Gospel was boldly and effectively preached? And that despite violent persecution, people steadfastly remained faithful and courageous? You bet it is! They were continually devoting themselves.
Devotion itself is also a necessity of spiritual growth. The continual part will be ineffective, if the devotion is missing, if the efforts are tepid or bored. Biblical devotion is about more than loyalty, love, and being moonstruck. It is about the focused attention of service and about knowing what the priority is — as opposed to “butterfly watching”.
We live in a world of “butterfly watchers”. The vast majority of the world ignores or gets distracted from the eternally important things, and instead jumps from one trivial pursuit to another (no pun intended) with the intensity and focus (devotion) usually reserved for life and death matters — intensity and focus that really belongs to spiritual matters and result in significant spiritual growth.
Think about it. It’s the devoted students who makes the doctors. It’s the devoted pianists that becomes the virtuosos. It’s the devoted gamers that gets the highest scores — ever! And it’s the devoted disciples, not the casual ones, who grow in knowledge, wisdom, talents, good fruit, understanding, practice, and example — who change.
And it was this focused and intense attention to the apostles teachings, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayer that quickly and solidly established the church with strong and courageous disciples. It was doubtless this same devotion that factored in to the establishment of strong, spiritual leadership early in the history of the early churches. They were continually devoting themselves.
This last key to growth is especially significant. It indicates a real desire on their own part to do these things. They weren’t continually devoted by the apostles to the teachings of the apostles. Nobody had to push them on to maturity; they earnestly desired it on their own, so that they did things to attain their spiritual maturity. This is key, because nobody grows if they have to be pushed into it.
Pushed people stop as soon as the pushers stop. This is true regardless of the area of growth: spiritual maturity, athletic skill, academics, career success, etc. Spiritually pushed people have no serious interest in their eternity, have no interest in others’ salvation, have no real zeal, nor any hunger or thirst for righteousness. Are you relying on someone else pushing you, prodding you, or keeping you interested, in your spiritual pursuit; or are you a self-starter?
First century Christians were self-starters. No one had to beg them to come to Bible classes. Nobody had to urge them to bring a friend. No prodding was needed to get them to study God’s word or pray. Of course they encouraged one another; but they eagerly sought one another’s company, they looked forward to learning more about the teachings and life of Jesus, and they really sought to live the life of the Spirit. They were continually devoting themselves.
Are you looking to grow spiritually? Are you wondering why you haven’t grown more? The answer could be found in the meaning and practice of the single Greek word that means “continually…devoted…themselves” (Acts 2:42).