• Topic > Spiritual Growth

    The Marriage Metaphor

    After twenty-two years together, I sometimes wonder how my marriage to Merryn works. I’m a writer, Merryn is a statistician; I work with words, she works with numbers. I want beauty, she wants function. We come from different worlds.

    Merryn arrives to appointments early, I’m occasionally late. I try new things on the menu, she orders the same. After twenty minutes at an art gallery I’m just getting started, while Merryn is already in the cafe downstairs wondering how much longer I’ll be. We give each other many opportunities to learn patience!

    We do have things in common—a shared sense of humor,…

    Monstro the Goldfish

    Lacey Scott was at her local pet store when a sad fish at the bottom of the tank caught her eye. His scales had turned black and lesions had formed on his body. Lacey rescued the ten-year-old fish, named him “Monstro” after the whale in the fairytale Pinocchio, and placed him in a “hospital” tank, changing his water daily. Slowly, Monstro improved, began to swim, and grew in size. His black scales transformed to gold. Through Lacey’s committed care, Monstro was made new!

    In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a traveler who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead.…

    Humility Is the Truth

    Reflecting one day on why God values humility so highly, sixteenth-century believer Teresa of Avila suddenly realized the answer: “It is because God is the supreme Truth, and humility is the truth . . . nothing good in us springs from ourselves. Rather, it comes from the waters of grace, near which the soul remains, like a tree planted by a river, and from that Sun which gives life to our works.” Teresa concluded that it’s by prayer that we anchor ourselves in that reality, for “the whole foundation of prayer is humility. The more we humble ourselves in prayer,…

    Strength to Let Go

    Once known as the World’s Strongest Man, American weightlifter Paul Anderson set a world record in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, despite a severe inner-ear infection and a 103-degree fever. Falling behind frontrunners, his only chance for a gold medal was to set a new Olympic record in his last event. His first two attempts failed badly.

    So the burly athlete did what even the weakest among us can do. He called on God for extra strength, letting go of his own. As he later said, “It wasn’t making a bargain. I needed help.” With his final lift, he hoisted…

    Relinquishing Control to God

    Picture a mighty oak tree that’s small enough to fit on a kitchen table. That’s what a bonsai looks like—a beautiful ornamental tree that’s a miniature version of what you find wild in nature. There’s no genetic difference between a bonsai and its full-size counterpart. It’s simply that a shallow pot, pruning, and root trimming restrict growth, so the plant remains small.

    While bonsai trees make for wonderful decorative plants, they also illustrate the power of control. It’s true that we can manipulate their growth as the tree responds to its environment. But God is ultimately the One who makes things…

    We Need Jesus' Help

    The day finally came—the day I realized my father wasn’t indestructible. As a boy, I knew his strength and determination. But in my early adult years, he injured his back, and I realized that my father was mortal after all. I stayed with my parents to help my dad to the bathroom, assisting him in dressing, even guiding a glass of water to his mouth—it was humbling to him. He made some initial attempts to accomplish small tasks, but admitted, “I can’t do anything without your help.” He eventually recovered to his strong self, but that experience taught both of…

    Life-Giving Correction

    A treat we grew to love when we lived in England was Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. When we returned to the States, I was dismayed to discover the U.S. distributor of Cadbury chocolate uses a different recipe and does not allow for any importer to supply the original UK version. You can buy Cadbury chocolate in the US, but it’s not the authentic version. 

    Authenticity. It’s something I can taste in my chocolate but earnestly long to be true of me as well as a believer in Jesus. 

    Authentic faith is a quality Paul commends his disciple Timothy for in the…

    In This Together

    Kelly was battling brain cancer when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Then fluid developed around her heart and lungs and she had to be hospitalized again. Her family couldn’t visit because of the pandemic. Her husband, Dave, vowed to do something.

    Gathering loved ones together, Dave asked them to make large signs with messages. They did. Wearing masks, twenty people stood on the street outside the hospital holding signs: “BEST MOM!” “LOVE YOU.” “WE ARE WITH U.” With the help of a nurse, Kelly made her way to a fourth-floor window. “All we could see was a facemask and a waving hand,”…

    Called to Grow

    The sea squirt is a strange creature. Found attached to rocks and shells, it looks like a soft plastic tube waving with the current. Drawing its nutrients from the passing water, it lives a passive life far removed from its once active youth.

    The sea squirt starts life as a tadpole with a primitive spinal cord and brain that helps it find food and avoid harm. As a juvenile it spends its days exploring the ocean, but something happens when it reaches adulthood. Settling on its rock, it stops exploring and growing. In a macabre twist, it digests its own brain.

    Spineless,…

    A Humble Snack

    The bag of snack chips was small, but it taught an American missionary a big lesson. Working one evening  in the Dominican Republic, she arrived  at a church meeting and opened her chips when a woman she hardly knew reached and grabbed a few from the bag. Others helped themselves, too.

    How rude, the missionary thought. Then she realized a humbling lesson. She didn’t yet understand the culture where she’d agreed to serve. Rather than emphasizing individualism, as in the United States, she learned that life in the Dominican Republic is lived in community. Sharing one’s food and goods is how people…

    Traveling Mercies

    You might start your journey in the southwest United States in a dusty town called Why, Arizona. Heading cross-country would take you through Uncertain, Texas. Bearing northeast, you’d make a rest stop in Dismal, Tennessee. Ultimately, you’d reach your destination—Panic, Pennsylvania. These are real places across the landscape of America, though not likely a trip you’d ever choose to take.

    Sometimes this is exactly what the journey of life feels like. We easily identify with the Israelites’ tough life in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:7)—life can be hard. But do we see the other parallels? We create our own itinerary, turning from…

    A Teachable Spirit

    It has become sadly “normal” to attack not only the opinions of others but also the person holding the opinion. This can be true in academic circles as well. For this reason, I was stunned when scholar and theologian Richard B. Hays wrote a paper that forcefully took to task a work that he himself had written years earlier! In Reading With the Grain of Scripture, Hays demonstrated great humility of heart as he corrected his own past thinking, now fine-tuned by his lifelong commitment to learning.   

    As the book of Proverbs was being introduced, King Solomon listed the various…

    True Freedom

    While reading on the train, Meiling was busy highlighting sentences and jotting down notes in the margins of her book. But a conversation between a mother and child seated nearby stopped her. The mom was correcting her child for doodling in her library book. Meiling quickly put her pen away, not wanting the toddler to ignore her mother’s words by following Meiling’s example. She knew that the child wouldn’t understand the difference between damaging a loaned book and making notes in one you owned.

    Meiling’s actions reminded me of the apostle Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: “ ‘I have…

    Hurry Up and Wait

    “What will we do with all our spare time?” That thought was at the heart of an essay published in 1930 by the economist John Maynard Keynes. In it, Keynes proposed that within a hundred years, technological and economic advances would bring humans to a point where we work only three hours a day and fifteen hours a week.

    It’s been more than ninety years since Keynes published his famous essay. But technology, instead of creating more leisure, has made us busier than ever. Our days are full, and while everyday tasks like travel and meal preparation take less time, we’re…

    Wisdom and Understanding

    In 1373, when Julian of Norwich was thirty years old, she became ill and nearly died. When her minister prayed with her, she experienced a number of visions in which she considered Jesus’ crucifixion. After miraculously recovering her health, she spent the next twenty years living in solitude in a side room of the church, praying over and thinking through the experience. She concluded that “love was his meaning”; that is, that Christ’s sacrifice is the supreme manifestation of God’s love.

    Julian’s revelations are famous, but what people often overlook is the time and effort she spent prayerfully working out what…