by Timothy L. Cooley, Sr.

Read Psalm 118:1-29.Do you want to grow spiritually? If you’re reading this, you probably do. But how do we grow?

We grow through soaking in His Word.We grow through seeking Him in prayer.

We grow through discipline as we establish new habits and vigorously exercise our mind and spirit to the new routines so that Christ may be formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

We grow through frustration, because in our frustration we sort out what really matters and seek to change our attitudes.

We know that we grow through hard times, but who wants hard times?

We grow through obediently following Jesus.

Do we always have to have feelings in order to grow? I think not. Sometimes feelings are part of the growth. The thrill of his presence leaves us hungering for a fresh visitation. But in other times, we grow in spite of a complete lack of feelings, when we steadily plod on although it seems God has gone away from us on vacation. We might say we grow through everlastingly doing what we know we ought to do!

How Can We Bring About Growth Most Effectively?

Years ago, I was gripped by Paul’s description of the great slide away from God in Romans 1:21: “that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  

The first part of backsliding is unthankfulness.

It struck me that if the first part of backsliding is unthankfulness, the safeguard against backsliding was true thankfulness—not just vague, warm feelings, but true thankfulness that springs from our utter sense of dependence, our complete unworthiness, our heartfelt gratitude to God and others for the millions of blessings we have!I want to suggest one way to grow your spiritual life that might surprise you.  In a research project that analyzed the spiritual traits of 5,000 Christians, Michael Zigarelli found three pillars that distinguished Christians who demonstrated strong virtue from those who were average: (1) Gratitude, (2) Joyful living, and (3) God-centeredness through practicing spiritual disciplines.

Working on all three pillars will bring about spiritual growth, but gratitude far exceeded the influence of the other two. In fact, gratitude is a “parent virtue” that produces other virtues.  Grow gratitude and you’ll see other virtues growing. Grow gratitude and your joy will increase.  Growing gratitude will energize your practice of the spiritual disciplines. I must warn you that if you only have spurts of gratitude, you will not grow very much. [1]

We grow most through developing a grateful disposition. Gratitude has to become such a habit that it is second nature, a response that comes so regularly that we don’t have to think about it; we just are grateful! All the time, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Does our being (our spiritual condition) flow from our doing (spiritual practices) or does our doing flow from our being? Well, God has to resurrect us from being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) or nothing would happen. But He also makes us “workers together with Him” (2 Corinthians 6:1), so we can participate in our own growth and in the growth of others.

How Can We Help Others Around Us Grow?

Be Thankful!  Thankful to God, and Thankful to Others! We cannot help others to grow if we are not growing ourselves. But as we grow, we can also help others to grow.Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). That was a reflection not only on how they had treated him, but also of his own spiritual practices.

People grow best in community! I invite you to join in a project of “Giving Thanks: A curriculum for Transformation.” I’m not talking just about the fourth Thursday in November. I’m talking every day, all day, dozens of times, hundreds of times, saying “Thank you!”  writing “Thank you!” signaling “Thank you!”

Recently a pastor friend [2] related how having his people write gratitude notes to someone in the church expressing thankfulness for some way that person had been a blessing transformed his church.  Over the course of eight weeks, he organized his people to start gratitude journals, then he conducted special testimony service when he stipulated that they bring their gratitude journal in order to participate.

Monday evening, I was fascinated to discover a junior high teacher in Stillwater, NY who began a “Compliments Project” [3]. One student sits in a chair with his back to the marker board.  Other students write their compliments on the white board, and the whole class watches as that student rises from his chair, turns around and reads what they have written there about him or her. The surprise of joy, the discovery of how much their classmates value them, the overwhelming tears from realizing how much classmates meant to each other!  They got so excited they began videoing the whole game and posting their videos.

Christians are to build one another up. It’s called edifying in the King James. We don’t really change people by shouting at them, not even by shouting loudly.

How Can We Help Others Around Us Grow?

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.James 1:17 teaches us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Recognize the source of all blessings as God.
Recognize an active evil enemy.
Recognize that other humans interact will interact with us, not always for the good.

Write it out and give the person an actual paper or card. Miss Witherup, one of my teachers, told us to keep an Appreciation File for encouraging notes. You can read them later. Coming from her, that advice has always been special to me. I’ve done it. I don’t pull the papers out all the time, but there have been occasions that the notes were a great encouragement to me.

Why not sit down right now and write our three notes, and then give them to the people later? Keep a stack of cards available on your desk or nightstand, and right a word of appreciation when you think of someone that you are grateful for. I’d like to warm the culture of our churches and schools with frequent expressions of appreciation for each other. We already do this, but I want to encourage us to do it even more intentionally.

Set a pattern of always beginning your prayers with extended Thanks to the Lord! Intentionally look for things for which to thank those around you!  And oh, by the way, enjoy the return on your investment.


[1] Michael Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character (Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2002), pp. 43-49.
[2] Bob Bedford, personal conversation, April 19, 2018, Dayton, OH.  Bedford related how gratitude notes to someone in the church expressing thankfulness for some way that person has been a blessing brought major changes in his church. Over a course of eight weeks, he had them start a gratitude journal, then later conducted special testimony services requiring that they bring their gratitude journals in order to participate.
[3] Jennifer Gonzalez, writing about Stephanie MacArthur; retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Timothy L. Cooley, Sr.  is the Academic Dean of Penn View Bible Institute. He serves as an Advisory Member for the General Board. Formerly, he pastored the Newport and Pillow God’s Missionary churches.