“You can’t make a disciple if you haven’t clarified what one looks like.”  A teacher I know and respect said these words to me just a few weeks ago, and they have been stirring in my soul ever since!

Pretend this arrow is our spiritual development.  In our faith journey, we often can shoot our “spiritual growth” arrow quite aimlessly.  Then we just go draw a target around wherever it happened to land, and we call that spiritual growth!

My teacher’s advice was to prayerfully set your target for spiritual growth first – and to make it specific! (More on that bit later…)  Then, guided by God’s Spirit, you can start shooting your spiritual growth arrows with much greater purpose and accuracy!

Let’s take a brief look at three Biblical examples: Abram, Namaan, and the Rich Young Ruler…

First, Abram – what was Abram’s next step?  Read Genesis 11:27-32 & 12:1-4, and consider these points:

  • 11:31 – Abram’s father, Terah, set out from the land of Ur with his family, headed for Canaan… why do you suppose Terah did that?
  • Could it be that God had called Terah to leave his native country, his relatives, his father’s family, and go to the land that God would show him…?
  • Terah didn’t go all the way to Canaan.  He settled instead in Haran, about halfway between Ur and Canaan.
  • 12:1 – The Lord tells Abram to leave his native country, his relatives, his father’s family, and go to the land that God would show him.
  • 12:4 – So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and one verse later (12:5), he arrives in Canaan!

So what was Abram’s next step?  It was to leave his homeland and to travel to an unfamiliar, faraway place that the Lord would show him.

Next, Naaman – what was Namaan’s next step?  Read 2 Kings 5:1-3,9-14, and consider the following points:

  • v1 – the king of Aram and Naaman (the commander of Aram’s army) were not Israelites – they neither feared nor followed the Lord…
  • v2-3 – but they obviously saw something in this slave girl they had kidnapped from Israel that made them take her God seriously…
  • v9 – Namaan sets out, finds the prophet of God, receives an unexpected greeting, and is given a very strange set of instructions for healing…
  • v14 – after angrily rejecting the prophet’s instructions, Namaan’s men convince him to give it a try, and he is healed!

So what was Namaan’s next step?  He had to put his faith in the One True God, travel away from his home, and go do something very strange in order to have his body miraculously healed.

Finally, the Rich Young Ruler – what was his next step?  Read Mark 10:17-22, and consider the following:

  • v17 – this man loved God, and believed in Jesus…
  • v20 – this man was a devout follower of God – although young, he was already quite advanced in his spiritual journey…
  • v21 – Jesus looked at him and responded to him with genuine love for the man.  Jesus’ challenge to the man came out of a heart of deep affection for him…
  • v22 – the man couldn’t take the next step, because there was something in his life that he still loved more than Jesus…

So what was the Rich Young Ruler’s next step?  Jesus challenged the man to lay down the one thing in his life that was holding him back from really following Jesus with an undivided heart… and he wasn’t willing to do it.

Maybe he was like Terah, Abram’s father, in Genesis 11.  Maybe Terah was journeying to Canaan at the Lord’s command, but he decided to stop halfway there, and settle in Haran instead.  The Rich Young Ruler “settled” for a comfortable life of obeying most of God’s commandments – instead of giving himself fully to the abundant life of enjoying Jesus’ deep, heartfelt love for him…

What’s your next step?  When we entrust our lives to Jesus and submit ourselves to His will, we set out on an exciting, lifelong journey of walking and growing with God!  But we rarely stop to identify a strategic path for our own growth.

Our goals for spiritual growth must be SMART:

  • Specific – exactly what step of growth is God’s Spirit leading you to take?
  • Measurable – precisely how will you determine whether or not you are moving closer to this goal?
  • Attainable – can you realistically expect to actually accomplish this goal?
  • Relevant – is this the best next thing for you to be doing in your journey of growing with Jesus?
  • Timely – set a deadline – by when are you challenging yourself to reach this goal?

After fully submitting my life to Jesus when I was 17 years old, I immediately knew what my next steps for spiritual growth were:

  • I needed to break off an unhealthy physical relationship with my girlfriend.
  • I needed to stop listening to secular music until I could get my thought-life more pure.
  • I needed to to start aggressively memorizing Scripture on a weekly basis to begin replacing the unGodly thinking that had taken root in my mind.

For me, the next steps were clear, and I KNEW I was going nowhere with the Lord if I didn’t follow Him in taking these important next steps!  Now… I wasn’t perfect in my response to all these different challenges.  I got it wrong – a lot – I fell short often – but God’s Spirit always patiently helped me continue on in the journey.

What’s your next step?  Is it SMART?  Are you willing to take it?  Step out in faith with God.  Just like with the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus’ challenge to you with this next step comes out of His heart that overflows with deeply compassionate love for you!