Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing~ 1st Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
When I was in the third grade I missed winning the classroom spelling bee by one word. I remember the stupid word as if it was yesterday.
It was the n’s that messed me up. They still do. More often than not, I still spell banana with three n’s. For some reason banana with two n’s still feels a bit sad and inadequate to me.
Although I did not win the third grade spelling bee that year, the taste of a near-victory ignited within in me a fiery-hot passion to dominate at the next year’s spelling bee. I vividly imagined the sweet victory I would bask in as I sauntered into my house sporting the snappy blue ribbon the teacher awarded to the winner. I believed with all my heart that if I could win the classroom spelling bee I would surely go on to win the school spelling bee and then the regionals, perhaps even nationals. I would be the spelling-bee champion of the entire universe.
Every human being on earth would bow to my spelling prowess.
Unfortunately, I lacked commitment to the one component essential to any sort of academic success, studying. My intentions were noble, but I was kind of lazy and had yet to make the connection between short-term sacrifice (studying) and long-term payoff (spelling bee champion of the universe).
Since then I have learned that there is more often than not a connection between commitment to one thing and success at something that feels completely unrelated. This is particularly true of spiritual growth.
If you have been a Christian for longer than fifteen minutes you have likely heard the tried and true formula for Christian growth and maturity.
Bible reading + prayer + church attendance = Mature believer in Jesus
Bible reading, prayer and church attendance have long been thought to be the holy grail of Christian growth, and with good reason, all three are vital to spiritual growth. However, I am convinced it takes more than just those three things to grow into the people God has called us to be.
We need people.
Sadly, most of us have all but forgotten the fact that spiritual maturity is a complicated process that takes place most successfully in the company of other believers. Bible reading, prayer and church attendance absent of close relationships with other Christians can easily devolve into reading without understanding, prayer without power and the awful sensation of being utterly alone in a gathering of people.
That is a recipe for hopelessness.
Spiritual growth happens when we are exposed to people who have successfully walked through the junk we are currently walking through. This takes place most effectively in small groups or classes where we really get to know people, where we have our ideas about the Bible and life challenged by people who know more than we do and who have experienced things we have not. We grow when we learn to love people, and we cannot truly love people we do not know.
Some things simply cannot be accomplished alone. It is almost impossible to encourage ones self without sounding like a crazy person. But without encouragement there is a very real danger our hearts will become hard towards God (Hebrews 3:13). We will never become wise without the ongoing influence of wise people in our lives (Proverbs 13:20) and it is only in the company of others that our faulty thinking is exposed and rough edges made smooth.
Nothing worth having occurs without some sort of sacrifice, and relationships are no different. Building relationships with other Christians might mean giving up a night of television or having your kid cut back on sports so you can make time for a small group. Building relationships might mean dragging your weary butt out of bed an hour earlier on Sunday mornings so you can attend an adult Sunday school class. It might mean volunteering to lead a small group in your church or inviting a group of people over for dinner so you can get to know them better.
Building relationships is time consuming and tricky but the payoff we receive is well worth the effort it takes. Because God has designed the universe in such a way that it is only within the context of Christian friendship where we find the support and encouragement we need to grow into the people God has called us to be (Acts 2:44-46).