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Faith Imagined: Formula for Spiritual Growth

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

April 13, 2010

Formula for Spiritual Growth

October 8, 1998

"I know God wants me to be a writer, but it is not going to happen over night. I am trying to be in God's will, but it is getting me nowhere. I've stopped socially drinking. I go to church, pray, read the Bible; but I think it is time for me to stop taking and to start giving. I want to give myself to God as a vessel for spreading Christ. I just do not know where to start...."

I wrote this in my on-and-off again journal when I was twenty-one. I had such a desire to follow God, but I didn't know what I was doing. I had no previous Spirit-led example to fall back on. I desperately grabbed onto Christian disciplines, hoping they would force me to have a better relationship with God. After about a year of getting "nowhere," I fell back into a common life of social normality. The spiritual disciplines I had been taught did nothing to help me. What was I doing wrong?

Spiritual disciplines are part of the spiritual formula that equal a growing relationship with God. Jesus Himself fasted, read Scripture, prayed, sought solitude, worshiped, served, fellowshipped, submitted, abstained and sacrificed.* He did many of these spiritual disciplines in the private sphere of His life; so that when He entered the public sphere, He was able to do amazing and beautiful acts of love.

On my blog, I explore many spiritual disciplines. I desire to draw closer to God, and I know that emulating Jesus' private life will help me to emulate His public life. However, spiritual disciplines are merely Christian motions that have no lasting effect unless we understand the formula of why we do them. Spiritual disciplines are only half of the equation. The other half is made up of three components: the product, the purpose and the push.

The product of spiritual disciplines is two-fold. First of all, spiritual disciplines humble us. We must be broken if we want to give the Holy Spirit access to mold us. Spiritual disciplines remind us that we are nothing without God, and they give us a healthy perspective of who we are in Christ. There is nothing like an empty belly, a dwindling bank account or a silent prayer closet to remind us that we are not the kings and queens of the universe. We are dependent on the Creator for everything, and we should have great joy that we have a spirit to soak up God's glory.

Second of all, spiritual disciplines make us available to gain the knowledge of God: "and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2.3-6 NIV). God has knowledge He wants to give us, but we need to be seeking it. Spiritual disciplines are like tools that help us dig for godly insights. The more we wield our tools, the more we find treasures.

The purpose of spiritual disciplines is love. Just like a mathematical formula, if a student doesn't understand the purpose of why she is finding "x," she won't fully understand the equation. Love is the root of spiritual disciplines. We do them because we love God, and we desire to have an intimate relationship with Him.

Finally, the push of spiritual disciplines is our obedience. Obedience is the only thing in this life that we can take credit for. God gives us everything: our bodies, brains, passions, talents and plans. However, God does give us free-will. We can choose to obey Him or not. I have learned that I can give people credit for their obedience, but the rest of the glory goes to God. Without obedience we have no momentum to move us into Christlikness. We can love God all we want; but if we do not have obedience, our spiritual growth will lag behind.

When I was twenty-one, I think part of the formula that I was missing was humility. I did not have a good example of how beautiful and beneficial the product of humility is in our lives. I saw people doing spiritual disciplines, but I didn't see many people humbling themselves. Humility gets such a bad rap. Humility is actually the precursor to a bounty of blessings: wealth, honor, wisdom, life (Proverbs 22.4, 15.33, 11.2). I've realized that when I'm being humbled, I'm not being humbled to others. I'm being humbled to God. God just happens to use others to humble me. If I can get over my pride and my fear of others, humility wouldn't be so painful. I desire to make the process of humility look good.

For you the formula might be missing something else. Maybe you saw plenty of spiritual humility but not enough push (obedience). Or maybe you saw lots of obedience, but the purpose of love was never evident. Whatever the case may be, Christians need the entire formula to experience accelerated spiritual growth.

(product + purpose + push) * spiritual disciplines = spiritual growth

I was horrible in math -- especially algebra -- so if you have a better formula, by all means use it!

* Spiritual disciplines and explanations can be found in The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.

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Blogger Karen said...

Amen, Alisa...good, meaty stuff here...

9:29 PM  
Blogger Family, Money and Stuff said...

Hi Alisa. I trip on the humility bit too. I actually laughed as I read, "if I can just get over my pride,then humility isn't so painful". Ah yes, the irony of it all.

I believe I'm near the start of a journey that ... wherever this leads ... will require humility and love for others. The two things I seem to struggle with the most. (go figure).

Interesting how God requires of us to do what we can't - helps us remember that we really do need him for everything :)

Thanks Alisa, for sharing your story and journey. I'm blessed to read you :)

9:47 PM  
Blogger Braley Mama said...

that formula sounds pretty perfect to me.
When I read this..."We are dependent on the Creator for everything, and we should have great joy that we have a spirit to soak up God's glory."
the Lord spoke to my heart that i need to be more joyful. Thank you for your post. It is so interesting to me of all the great wisdom in this post, that God spoke to me this. Very cool!

10:23 PM  
Blogger Lynda Young said...

Beautifully worded. I got a lot out of this post. Thank you.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Bernadine said...

Love this post Alisa. It has so much to take away and think about. I love the formula. There are days when I'm strong in one area and weak in another but I'm alway thankful that He's still working on me.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Wanda said...

What a great post, Alisa!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Sherry said...

Awesome post! Definitely need to work on this everyday as we never stop growing!

Have a great day!

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Kristi Stephens said...


Last summer I spent some time studying the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount for the first time in years. I keep coming back to the fact that being "poor in spirit" is foundational... there's a reason why it is first! We have to be humble before the Lord before we can receive from Him and grow in our walk.

1:45 PM  
Blogger 3 Blessings said...

Loved this. There are so many times I have to re-learn and I get so frustrated at myself for not seeing something coming and do better. Yet, the truth is that in those times I was relying on me and not focused on HIM. The growth for me has been when I completely let HIM take over and I lay all of my "junk" at His feet.

3:47 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

good stuff....

4:43 PM  
Blogger Nana Jul said...

Excellent post!
With God, all things are possible!

9:15 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Good, good stuff!

9:26 PM  
Blogger Doris Plaster said...


10:33 PM  
Blogger Randi Troxell said...

this is great.. thank you..

i love coming here and reading what you have share by they way!

have a wonderful wkend!

10:31 AM  
Blogger Tea With Tiffany said...

I'm asking God for strength to "push." Nothing hurts like birthing that baby. And for me, the book I know I'm to be writing feels like labor. :)

11:45 AM  
Blogger Together We Save said...


12:58 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

This is wonderful. You are so right about humility. It is a great gift and so hard to obtain.

1:21 PM  
Blogger INSIDE THE SHRINK said...

I think we all went through that phase of trying to do all the Christian disciplines and then wondering why we were left spiritually empty.

"But seek first the kingdome of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you." (ESV)

I have found that staying in the Word of God, lots of praying, and walking in the Spirit has been the answer for me. The spiritual disciplines just seem to come out as a natural byproduct of seeking and finding Him.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Traci Michele said...

Amen! Thank you for this post.

Love ya!


2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, nice to meet you, your blog is delightful!! Very deep for a young woman of God, refreshing to read glad you found me on face book:)

3:47 PM  
Blogger May said...

It is an amazing journey to becoming a vessel that God can use.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Deborah Ann said...

So much to chew on! I loved seeing the earlier days of your journey. Look how far God has brought you! He must be smiling Himself silly right now... :)

6:44 PM  
Blogger Melanie Redd said...


What great reminders to follow those disciplines that keep us close to Jesus!

I'm reading a book that's new to me that concerns the discipline of prayer. Maybe you've heard of it...

It's called "The Hour that Changes the World" by Dick Eastman." The author shows you how to create the discipline of a one-hour prayer time each day.

I've been trying this for 2 weeks now, and God has opened up my prayer life in such an amazing way.
Just thought you might want to check it out!

Thank you for being a blessing...

8:18 PM  
Blogger mundo_idiot said...


Mutual Posting , nice here , thank for share ,

8:30 AM  
Blogger prashant said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:19 AM  
Blogger lisa said...

great post. I'm new to the your blog but can relate as I've been a writer my whole life. I'm just now really focusing in on what God wants me to do with it!

12:15 PM  

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