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Spiritual Flourishing – In a Pandemic?   Graham Wall

What does it mean to flourish spiritually? 

Principally, it’s a joyful relationship with God. Practically, it’s growing in Christ-likeness both as an individual and as a church community. 

This is God’s purpose for humans: as his children, we’re ‘predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). Peter encourages his readers to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). In Ephesians 4:7–16, Paul uses an image of the growth and maturity of a person to illustrate how Christians can take concrete steps to grow in Christ-likeness and find joy in their relationship with God. How can we, as Christians, take concrete steps to mature in Christ-likeness and find joy in our relationship with God? Especially during a pandemic?

First, we need a healthy heart. Maturing in Christ requires a particular type of attitude and mindset. We’ll never reach maturity if our heart is hardened by sin, fickle, full of worry, or fixated on riches and pleasures. We need a noble and good heart (Luke 8:1-15). Having this kind of heart comes from honestly assessing ourselves before God and choosing to surrender completely to him.

Second, we need a healthy focus. What we focus on in life matters. When our main focus in life is on material things, then that’s what will define our life (Matthew 6:22-23). If we focus most of our attention on maintaining a religious system or tradition, we might, ironically, ignore what God values (Matthew 23). If we're fixated on certain practical features of church life, then what might concern us most is church attendance, adherence to church culture, people-pleasing, and perfecting the order of service rather than cultivating a genuine devotion to God. 

The pandemic is a good time to review our focus. If we focus on Jesus and his work on the Cross, then our life begins to be defined and directed by his saving work, his qualities, his power, his heavenly perspective, and his way of living (1 Corinthians 2:2; Philippians 3:1-11; Hebrews 12:2; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Third, we need a healthy identity. Spiritual flourishing involves obeying God based on a new love and a new life. In Romans 6:1-7, Paul explains that God’s grace isn’t a licence to sin but the start of a new life. Rather than an identity tied to sin, it’s now defined by the righteousness of Christ. That’s what we pursue. We need to recognise our new identity and take the time and effort to grow into it. Its hallmarks are obedience and good deeds (Ephesians 2:6-10). So, to flourish spiritually, we should embrace who we are in Christ and then live up to what we have already become in Christ and are becoming (Ephesians 4:1).

Fourth, we need healthy Christian relationships. We’ll struggle to thrive spiritually without healthy relationships with fellow Christians. That’s why God adds us to the church and makes us dependent upon others within the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 18). That said, healthy Christian relationships go well beyond meeting together on Sundays or mid-week studies. The pandemic can hobble relationships through restrictions on movement. To continue nurturing relationships let’s use phone calls, Zoom chats, and SMS messaging even more. 

The type of relationships that accelerate spiritual development are relationships where people are devoted to one another (Romans 12:10), loving to one another (John 13:24), able to confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and able to admonish one another (Colossians 3:16). It’s a relationship which allows us to weep and rejoice with one another (Romans 12:15). These qualities are especially powerful when they’re present in close Christian friendships with two or three others.

Fifth, we need healthy habits.  These habits orient us toward Jesus. Of course, there are baseline habits and disciplines that every Christian should be practising. They include: reading the Bible (Psalm 1), singing (Ephesians 5:19), praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17), taking the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-29), and meeting with the church (Hebrews 10:24-25). 

The pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. Use this time to explore other habits and disciplines which can help us become closer to God. My sister finds it helpful to maintain a prayer journal. I enjoy bombarding a small section of Scripture with questions and then mulling over it. Some find value in memorising Scripture. Others are inspired by listening to Christian music. As we explore these habits, we may find ourselves gravitating toward some and not others. Don’t feel guilty about that. Excel in what works.

In summary, spiritual flourishing involves maturing in Christ. Doing this requires a healthy heart, focus, and identity, as well as healthy relationships and habits. The pandemic has turned our world upside down. What better time than this to re-examine our lives and make a fresh commitment to Christ our Lord?

Graham Wall works as an itinerant evangelist in Victoria. He and his wife Kristina and family worship with the Border Church of Christ on the VIC and NSW border.   gjwall@hotmail.com

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