As we mature in our relationship with the Lord, most of us begin questioning how to grow spiritually closer to God. It’s a common question even among biblical scholars.
Sometimes, in our search for the complex, we lose sight of the basic truths that our faith is founded on. In this article, Cathy McIntosh gives us a fresh perspective about the importance of spiritual growth and a few simple mindset switches that we need to do to stop hindering our growth especially during the dry seasons of our faith.
Most of us are somewhat settled with the fact that our world has shifted. It’s a different place than the world where we grew up—or even where we raised our kids. What I’m still struggling to embrace, however, is the way my world has shifted. Maybe you feel it in your life, too. There is an emptiness inside and, after decades of walking in faith, I find myself wondering how to grow spiritually.
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who is dazed and distracted. My relationship with God, which previously felt close and personal, feels distant. Beloved spiritual practices that were once comfortable and routine now seem infrequent and hard to grasp.
It’s easy to blame my current spiritual doldrums on world events and cultural struggles. After all, every person on the planet has been jolted from their customary rhythms and dumped into the void of unfamiliar circumstances. But in my spirit I know that’s not it. Taking a long, hard look at my own life reveals the true cause of the emptiness I feel.
I have the same access to all the things I once held dear—like prayer and time in the Word and worship. But I’ve allowed my practiced cadence to fall offbeat. I’ve given over my disciplines to such things as worry and work and weariness. I’ve let my circumstances invade my tactics—and my inner peace has suffered.
THE DRAW TO GROW SPIRITUALLY
I feel a discerning pull in my spirit, drawing me to grow back into who I once was. It comes with a sad knowing that I can never return. The linear timeline we’re given here on earth limits us from going back. We can only move forward. Time isn’t the only limiting factor. Even in the difficult, dry seasons, God transforms us, making it impossible to return to who we used to be. It would be like asking a butterfly to go back to being a caterpillar.
While I long for old familiarity and comfort, I’m reminded that God has something better ahead. As I grow into my future, God—through His Spirit—encourages me to stop looking back and fix my gaze forward to a new journey of spiritual growth that awaits.
I’ll admit, it took some searching to grab hold of this encouragement. My natural inclination is self-condemnation and ridicule for allowing so much of what I adore to slip through my fingers. But in His quiet, subtle ways, Jesus Christ reminds me of His unfailing love. He reminds me it’s a love I never earned, not through Bible Study or church attendance, or prayer meetings. He gave it freely and unconditionally, and it’s mine to keep. Scripture says there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love. This means He doesn’t (and cannot) love me less because my spiritual life lacks discipline. I’m grateful.
SPIRITUAL GROWTH MEANS RESTING IN THE GRACE OF GOD
Somehow those tender truths were buried deep enough in my spirit they didn’t shake loose during the pandemic. While guilt confronts me daily, the Holy Spirit helps me push away the scorn, cling to my faith, and hold fast to the Truth of God’s unshakeable love. In His kindness, He reveals His mercy and grace, letting me know He’s still close and available, just as He has always been.
Still, I miss the fellowship I once shared with my Savior. I can’t return to what once was, but I hunger for more than I have right now. As I acknowledge my longing, I feel the smile of Jesus in my spirit. It’s as if He extends His hand to me, willing me to grab hold and join Him for the adventure ahead. It’s an invitation I don’t want to refuse.
TO GROW SPIRITUALLY MEANS TO TRANSFORM
Once upon a time, I believed that transformation came with incredible willpower and determination. The older (and hopefully wiser) I become, the more I discover that transformation comes through curiosity. Willpower lets me down every single time. But when I follow God’s lead and allow Him to inspire my curiosity, that’s when I see the most remarkable changes.
In my current season of growth, I perceive Him stirring my curiosity. What if I try new ways of drawing closer to God? What will it look like to adopt new spiritual practices? How will it feel to stop beating myself up for a change, stop comparing my Christian walk to others, and rest where God has me right now?
THREE UNEXPECTED WAYS TO GROW CLOSER TO GOD
No matter where you are in your spiritual journey or the depth of your relationship with Jesus, it’s likely that you wonder how to grow spiritually closer to God, too. As much as we wish for one, there is no set formula—no online links, no path shared in an article written by a theological expert—that will guarantee we grow spiritually. It’s individual growth that we seek and we must find ways to connect with God individually. Yet I believe we can inspire one another to find spiritual contentment. So, I’ll share three simple mindsets that are helping me grow spiritually again.
1. EMBRACE YOUR ‘NOW’
One practice I’m learning to master is accepting where I am right now. This is the life God has given, and a beautiful life it is! Instead of trying to propel forward into what I imagine will be stronger spiritual health, I’m learning to embrace my ‘now’.
I met with my coach recently and lamented over the spiritual emptiness I feel. Her strong encouragement was to accept my current situation without pressuring myself to rapidly grow through it. Heeding her advice has helped me slow down and enjoy the moments. In doing so, I see God in the ordinary—my grandson’s laughter, the sound of rain striking the tree leaves outside my open window, sunsets, and gathering around the kitchen table with family. As I acknowledge the simple things as gifts, my heart sings in worship to Him. To me, it’s a different form of worship that I expect from myself, but to Jesus, I believe it’s equally lovely.
The practice of embracing my now each day has ushered a new level of stillness to my soul. It has brought deeper clarity to one of my favorite Bible verses, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Without pressuring myself to pursue spiritual growth, I’m reaching a level of stillness that’s refreshing and exhilarating at the same time.
2. EXAMINE YOUR LIFE FOR SIN
Please hear me well. I’m not suggesting for a moment that God is angry with you over something you’ve done. The past sin in my own life is great and Jesus reminds me daily that He gave His life to pay the penalty on my behalf (see Romans 5:9). I received His forgiveness even while I was sinning, and so have you.
The Bible says that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). I want no part of that, so I intentionally watch for the ways sin sneaks into my routines. If we seek spiritual growth, we must be diligent to watch for sin, then remove it when it becomes evident.
We know how sin can sneak into our lives slowly and without warning. First, we do something we think is harmless and before we know it, it has consumed us to an unhealthy degree. For me, it often involves television. Watching is not a sin, but watching to excess while neglecting other important activities can become sinful. I have to watch myself closely. During quarantine and the ongoing hesitation to leave my house makes television a ready temptation, so I have to remain on guard so it (or any other mindset or activity) doesn’t hinder my faith.
3. STEP INTO NEW RHYTHMS
Embracing my now is a new rhythm of life for me. But there are many others that can help us experience the spiritual growth we desire.
How we engage with the Bible is one example. Typically we read or study the Bible. But I’m learning to enjoy it through other means, such as listening to it through my Bible app, or reading longer (or shorter) sections at a time. I like to write short passages of the Scriptures or speak them aloud. Each new rhythm deepens my experience with God’s Word and fuels my faith.
Another example is prayer. In the past, I’ve enjoyed a close connection with God through long periods of prayer—either alone or with a group of other Christians. In this hurried and somewhat chaotic season, my prayer life looks entirely different. I’ve stepped into new rhythms that include silence or writing prayers in a journal.
There are times we get so accustomed to our routines that we do them by rote. They lose their sacred value in our lives. Perhaps through dry spiritual seasons, the Holy Spirit aims to wake us up . By embracing new practices, I feel my faith is renewed.
THE BIBLE SAYS GOD IS FOR US
As I’ve navigated this arid season, I find comfort in Romans 8:31b which asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It has helped me become more aware of the expectations I put on myself, especially those that are unrealistic. Sometimes they cause me to battle against myself and stand in my own way. If He is for me, I have no excuse for being against myself.
While my desire is to make progress and see continual, steadfast growth, God has other plans. He uses every season—from our mountaintop experiences to our spiritual struggles—to accomplish the transformation He desires. By embracing my now, watching out for sin, and finding different ways of enjoying sacred spiritual practices, I’m enjoying the new stillness and a deeper connection with God.
Yes, my world has shifted. But knowing that God remains the same makes my heart glad.
Are there any specific practices Cathy mentioned that you feel inspired to try? What has personally helped you grow spiritually during dry seasons? Share with us in the comments.
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You spoke right into my heart today. Thank you for your vulnerability and insight.
So happy to hear it was encouraging!
I have felt the same way these past two years. It’s good to know I’m not alone. The most powerful thing that grounds me and helps me grow spiritually (or just simply persevere) is worship. I will fall on my knees and acknowledge His greatness and thank Him for who He is. Very powerful.
It’s sad how long the dry seasons can linger. I find hope in knowing that God uses all things for our good and His glory!
Thank you , Cathy for a peek into your soul. I can be my own worst critic. I will recall to mind all day long today and maybe tomorrow that God is for me.
Love it, Sue. Thanks for sharing how the post resonates with you!
Thank you for writing this for us❣️
I’ve been feeling this way for a couple of years and am ready to find myself and trust in our lord and savior
I’m praying for you, Wendi and trusting that God will embrace you with His love and grace.
Thank you for these insightful thoughts and advice Cathy. One particular bible verse that has been a great comfort to me in the last few years, and it is one which God continually brings to me in reading, devotions, from friends, etc. is Jeremiah 29:11. Just to sit back a bit, let tensions leave me, and say “Thank you God for those perfect plans that you have prepared for me” is truly a Joy.
Amen, Jerry. There is power in embracing all He has done and all He will do.
I know I tend to bring so many expectations not just to worship but to all my spiritual disciplines, and if they don’t live up to the ideal, then I’m disappointed. I find that trying disciplines in new ways does give freshness and helps me to focus on God. I tend to focus on the disciplines themselves as the end. Something else to check off my to-do list or my “how to be a better Christian” list. But when I remember that these are just means to an end, it helps me focus on Jesus Himself. He really does satisfy. If I’m not feeling satisfied, it’s usually because I’m not really turning to Him to satisfy — I’m turning to the checklist. This whole article just fits with what the Lord has been teaching me! My word for 2022 is going to be Expectancy (not expectations). I’m going to try to empty myself of my expectations of how I think spiritual growth should go and just anticipate Jesus doing something I couldn’t have even imagined.
I love what you said about expectancy. I need to do that as well. I need to stop making my spiritual growth a check list because I inevitability fail and then I just berate myself. I need to (as the saying says) let go and let God.
Expectancy is a powerful word for the New Year, Lila. I pray He’ll bring you deeper connection and fullness in Him! Thanks for your comment. It’s truly helpful to know we don’t walk this journey alone.