Ed: What inspired you to write How to Grow?
Darryl: My wife started working for a company that does online nutrition coaching. I know, it sounds sketchy! As I learned more about them, I realized that they knew the field of nutrition science very well. In fact, they’re widely respected. But they also had the ability to translate this knowledge into practical steps that people like me could take.
I felt convicted. I know theology, but I haven’t always done a good job of translating that into clear, practical steps that my people could take. I expected that they could just listen to my sermons and grow. I began to think through what it would take for me to blend theological depth with clear, actionable steps that people could take to grow.
Ed: How do you define growth? Is all growth spiritual?
Darryl: We’re whole beings. God designed us to grow in every part of our lives: spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, and more. I love how Jeff Vanderstelt describes spiritual growth: “It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power.” It’s not about just one part of life. It’s about everything.
I saw this in the life of my wife, Charlene. When she began to develop good habits in her physical health, it spilled over into her spiritual life as well. In stewarding her body better, she grew in her capacity to care for her soul. We’re interconnected beings.
Ed: Why does growth tend to be an area of frustration and tension for people?
Darryl: I can think of a couple of reasons. First, we don’t know where to start. We think that growth should happen automatically, but we don’t have a clear plan for how to get there. We also get frustrated because of our lack of progress. We see our failures, and we wish we were further along than we are. We all feel stuck sometimes and get discouraged.
This doesn’t change as we grow. The holiest people I know are also the most aware of their sin. In some ways, they’re less impressed with themselves than before.
I think it is possible, though, to learn how to increasingly rely on God’s grace in the middle of our messy attempts at growth. As God becomes bigger in our hearts, his grace also becomes the reality that keeps us going even when we struggle.
Ed: What is the relationship between holiness and joy?
Darryl: Spurgeon said, “The happiest state of a Christian is the holiest state.” It’s true. The holiest people I know exude a joy that is unmistakable. That’s what’s so attractive about them.
I can think of quite a few examples of people I consider to be spiritually mature. They’re not really impressed with themselves, and they’re far from perfect. But they exude a humility and joy that I find compelling. I want to be like them.
Ed: How do we build daily habits that shape spiritual growth?
Darryl: I’ve been impressed with a program called Tiny Habits created by behavior scientist B.J. Fogg. He tells people to shrink their habits until they’re so small that they can’t possibly fail. Don’t set a goal to floss all your teeth; set a goal to floss one tooth. You’ll probably be more consistent and do more than you’d planned.
The same applies with the habits that are important to our spiritual growth. Sometimes people try too much and give up within a few days. It’s better to start small and build from there.
In How to Grow, I spend a chapter describing how to build habits. Then I outline three core habits that we all need. I don’t know anyone who’s grown spiritually who hasn’t mastered these three habits.
Ed: How do you personally stay motivated and encouraged when you fail in your growth journey?
Darryl: The nutrition company I mentioned talks about a clean slate policy. No matter what happened yesterday, pick yourself up today and continue to grow. That’s good nutritional practice, but it’s more. It’s the daily Christian life. We keep failing, but we also keep discovering God’s grace. He’s got a greater supply of grace than we do of sin.
The thing that keeps me motivated and encouraged is a quote from Robert Murray McCheyne: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” It sounds like a cliché, but it’s not. The more I look at Jesus in the middle of my own stops and starts, the more motivation I have to keep going even when I fail.
Ed: How do you create realistic expectations for growth?
Darryl: I think it’s helpful to know what stage we’re at, and what steps we need to take to progress. There are steps that are appropriate at every stage of growth. It helps us be okay with where we are right now without being frustrated or overwhelmed. The problem is when we’re not progressing to the next stage
No matter what stage we’re at right now, God is at work. There’s hope at every stage. We just need to know where we are, and what we need to do to continue to progress. This helps me think realistically about where I am, and also how to encourage others at every stage of growth.
Ed: Why is it important to pursue growth in community?
Darryl: We were designed to grow in community. God, who exists in Triune community, made us in his image as communal creatures. Most of the commands in Scripture are given to groups, not individuals. We need others to encourage us, admonish us, spur us on, and to practice all the one-another commands of Scripture.
Community is messy and sometimes frustrating. But there’s no way that we can grow the way that God intended without it. God made us to grow in community, which also turns out to be one of the most joyful parts of growth once you get past the mess.