The Milestones of Growth

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What are the steps of spiritual growth? Let’s take a look at the steps of baby growth. This is a list of development milestones in our daughter (applies equally to our son):

1. Feeds herself
2. Clothes herself
3. Speaks
4. Walks

She started feeding herself at one year old.

Clothing was a bit more complicated: she could take off her clothes at about nine months, but putting on her clothes at about two years. She was a little Houdini, getting out of everything including her last essential item, the loaded nappy. It’s not a pretty sight when a baby decides to throw her loaded nappy out the cot! As soon as she could button and zip with her little finger, she was not only clothing herself, but picking out matching colors and giving me fashion advice, “Do you want to wear this one, Papa? Do you want to wear the blue one? Do you want to wear the short sleeves?”

She started signing to us at about ten months
(‘milk’ is the opening and closing one hand, ‘more’ is all ten fingertips touching each other, ‘gentle’ is one hand stroking the other hand gently, ‘please’ is rubbing below her neck in circular motion). Not long after she started signing she could say, “Mama, Papa, and Banana.” Yes, in that order! Next came two words joined together like, “More water.” Next came proper sentences when she started using pronouns “he, she, him, her,” in place of the proper nouns we ordinarily used with her. “Can I have clothes for her?” instead of “Can I have clothes for Doll Baby?” She was fully conversant at two years of age. It’s really the moment we parents wait for, when we can talk with our children and hear our children express their thoughts to us. What a delight. God must feel the same way when Christians learn to pray.

On a related topic, my wife started saying grace with Alexis since she could start eating solids, which was about six months. By the age of one she would simply respond at the end of her mother’s prayer with, “Amen!” By the age of one and a half she could repeat grace before a meal. At two years old she said grace by herself. She has since been saying grace before every meal of her life. She has practiced an attitude of gratitude and learning to pause before diving into food. And she loves her food and everybody else’s food! These are her exact words, “Dear God, thank You for this food. Thank You I’m strong, protected, healed – no hurt! I worship You, Almighty God. I love You in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

The ability to be mobile starts with the first “roll over”. She did her first spontaneous roll over at six months, sitting up without flopping over at ten months. She skipped the crawling stage and just seemed to independently walk at thirteen months. She started swiping the iPhone at eight months, but that’s another story.

The stages of development of each skill overlap, and the order of which skill comes first differ from children to children. Some children walk before they speak, some children speak before they walk. For some children clothing or feeding themselves is the last thing they learn to do out of that list. But all parents want to see their children develop in these 4 skills: feed, cloth, speak, and walk.

This parallels the milestones of spiritual growth which God wants to see in every one of His children:

1. Read the Bible daily – that’s the self-feeding. We do not expect to spoon feed a ten year old, neither does God. Jesus said for us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” and “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
2. Worship – that’s clothing yourself spiritually. God said when we’re in God’s presence He clothes us with garments of praise and garments of humility.
3. Praying – that’s the equivalent of speaking. Praying is conversing with our Father. God wants to have a conversation with us!

Prayer and worship are different, just as singing and talking are different. Alexis loves to sing songs from church and YouTube, and we delight in her singing, but that is not the same as her talking. Singing is most of the time repeating a song you have heard. Talking is sharing what’s on your heart and mind. Worship can become a form of prayer if we compose our own song to express our heart to God. That certainly may be the highest form of prayer to God.

We as parents delight most in hearing what our child has to say to us. When Alexis walks up to me while I’m deep in my work and says to me, “Papa, it’s time to eat. Papa, stop working! It’s time to eat” I am not offended. The first time she said this, i was actually surprised by her negotiation skills. She even gently took my hands off the keyboard as if to lead me. I got up and left my computer behind to do what was most important to her world: sit and eat with her.

When she says, “Papa, do you want to go into the spa?” I am delighted by her request. Even though it may be an inconvenient time for me, or I’m in the middle of a thought, I have to decide whether to honor her request now or later. Most of the time I do it right away, because I want to teach her that it’s good and safe to express her desires to me. At other times, I might need to get some work done first and teach her patience, but her request remains important to me. She doesn’t bother me at all. I think that’s how God feels when we approach Him boldly and humbly in the Name of Jesus.

4. Walking is witnessing for Jesus. That’s why the prophet Isaiah said “how beautiful are the feet of those who carry the Good News” (Isaiah 52:7) Paul also used this metaphor in the New Testament in Romans 10:15. A passive, stationary Christian is easy for the devil to handle. A Christian showing up to church and warming the pews is no threat to him. But when a Christian rises up to testify about what God has done for him, to share what God has done for others he knows, to communicate the Gospel clearly to friends, that is the momentous spiritual event on the same level as a human starting to walk!

We are not meant to just sit all our lives. We are meant to stand up for Jesus! We are called to walk with God, and to invite others to walk, trek and hike with God along the way. A Christian who sits in church without ever moving to action is not at the same spiritual level as a Christian who is bringing people to church and going out to the workforce to apply his Christian values in the real world.

Do you think Christians are feeding themselves, clothing themselves, speaking to God and walking on the mountains for Jesus? Where are you at in your spiritual growth? Try to honestly answer these questions:
1. Do I follow a daily self-feeding program in the Word?
2. Do I worship God and sing to Him when I’m alone? Can I be exuberant like a child and lift up my hands in praise when I’m standing in front of others or do I feel awkward or ashamed?
3. Am I comfortable with praying to God and relating to Him at an intimate Father-son or Father-daughter level? when I speak to Him, do I know what He has said to me in His Word? Do I hear God’s voice? (If not, just go back to step one. Start with reading the entire Bible through once a year. Take one baby step at a time!)
4. Who have I invited to church this year? Who have I led to the Lord recently? If no one, why not? Am I sitting in God’s house or standing and walking with God as He wants me to? Am I a passive or proactive Christian? (God, like every parent on earth, delights in an active child!)

YOUR COMMENT: What have I left out of the basic milestones of spiritual and natural growth?