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Can You Measure Spiritual Growth?

Recently Arnie Cole posted a great article over at, and we wanted to share it here.  Measuring spiritual growth can be a tricky thing, and Arnie has some great thoughts and ideas about what it looks like in today’s world.


The latest wearable gadgets leave traditional pedometers in the dust. They track way more than the steps you take including your heart rate, hydration level, sleep patterns, and blood oxygen levels.

This use of technology to modify our habits intrigues me as a behaviorist. After all, I firmly believe that measurement and feedback play key roles in any endeavor.

That may sound funny coming from a guy who devotes his life to helping men engage the Bible and grow as Christ followers. What role could measurement possibly have in ministry?

Recently I delivered a short talk on just this topic at a Yale conference titled What works? Evidence on the Role of Faith in Poverty Reduction. Many ministry professionals attended along with representatives from the World Bank, US AID, the United Nations, and academicians, particularly from the field of economics. A significant number openly expressed hostile views towards anything to do with faith or Christianity. Among the academicians especially this hostility stemmed from what they saw as the impossibility of measuring faith or spiritual growth. They asked: how can you say faith helps reduce poverty when you can’t measure any changes in faith? Many claims have been made about raised hands and transformed lives, yet statistically the lives of self-identified Christians often look remarkably the same as the lives of non-Christians.

I don’t see this as an insurmountable hurdle if you break life transformation down into the specific behaviors that you’d expect to see. If life transformation really means moving closer to Jesus each day, becoming more like him and less like who you were before you met him, then you look for certain behaviors to increase and others to decrease.

Now I’m not saying that all spiritual growth can be boiled down to one number (e.g., Did I sin less today than I did yesterday?). What I am saying is that God does reveal in scripture what spiritual growth should look like. Consider this passage from 2 Peter 1:3-11 (NLT):

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This passage along with other such as Galatians 5:22-26 reveal the signposts or markers for spiritual growth. We may not have a wearable gadget (yet?) that measures the Fruit of the Spirit, but every man can examine his own life for these signs:

  1. Am I displaying more and more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my relationships with others?
  2. Am I giving in to temptations (i.e. those things that pull me away from Jesus) less and less each day?
  3. Am I spending time with God most days of the week, hearing from him through his Word? Do I respond to what he is saying to me in my life?

I challenge you today, friend, to consider these questions deeply. As you look over the past week, month or year, can you see where you moved closer to Jesus…and maybe where you’ve gone in the opposite direction? What can you do today to move closer to him tomorrow?

If you want a tool that will help you start making more progress in your spiritual journey, give our app a try. It’ll give you that little nudge you need to engage the Bible right where you are. Visit to download it today.


Picking a President

The election is right around the corner, and America is looking for leaders with the right stuff. First we have to ask ourselves, what is the right stuff and how will we know when a candidate has it? Ron Moore has identified seven cardinal virtues to look for in advance of the upcoming election, and you can read about them in his booklet, Picking a President. 

Request your Picking a President booklet today as our thanks for your gift of any amount.

You can also listen to Ron discuss his list of seven virtues of a leader on the Back to the Bible program. Listen now.


(Click for a full size version.)

prayer hands

Three Questions about Prayer

“Peeking in prayer closets” originally posted on

Each day presents many opportunities to pray for others. Specific requests come through conversations, email, text, and social media. They come from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even, at times, complete strangers.

I’m not surprised by how often people request prayer. Life can be tough and each of us encounters those storms where we need help.

No, what sometimes surprises me is who the requests come from. I’ve had practicing Christians, practicing Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and functional atheists ask me to pray for them or for someone they love.

So is there a universal tendency for people to pray (or at least petition prayer from others)? It sure does look like it. I’ve found in our research that if you ask just about anyone “How do you communicate with God?” you’ll receive one answer: prayer.

In a recent survey, 80 percent of young adults in the U.S. said they believe in prayer. Our 20 country study from several years ago revealed that in a typical week, 90 percent of Muslims, 86 percent of Hindus, 77 percent of Christians, 47 percent of Buddhists, and 46 percent of Jews will pray.

How regularly does your average Christian pray? Church surveys show that about two-thirds of Christians pray daily. The remaining third will pray on two or more days in a typical week.

Prayer is the most common private spiritual practice. In fact, it’s twice as common as daily devotions or Bible reading.

With its universal appeal prayer becomes a powerful tool, not just as a means of ministry but also as a starting point to connect with someone spiritually. Most often we focus on the need for prayer and that is important.

But are we missing a critical opportunity?

My counseling professor once told me to carefully time when you give a crying person a box of tissues, because having a tissue often shuts down the crying and cuts short the emotional work that’s happening.

Perhaps our typical “I will add them to my prayer list” response has the same effect on (potential) spiritual conversations.

I see requests for prayer as a jumping off point for one-anothering. I encourage you to do so as well. Here are three questions to kick off your conversation:

  1. How do you like to pray? The movie The War Room included many scenes of the various characters in their “prayer closets.” Sometimes they were sitting or standing. Other times they were kneeling or even lying on the floor. Hands may be clenched or raised. In those closets, prayers were silent, whispered, spoken, written and shouted.
  1. What do you pray about most often? Through our surveys, we have learned that when we pray most of us: pray for someone else, ask for God’s help in a particular situation, express thanks or gratitude, ask for help in changing something about ourselves and pray about the wrong things we’ve done.
  1. What do you see as the benefits of praying? You know that scripture outlines many reasons to pray, but you may be surprised to learn that prayer has become a pretty hot research topic in psychology and neuroscience. In fact, the American Psychological Association identified 5 benefits of prayer:
  • Prayer improves our self-control. Like a muscle, we can strengthen our ability to control our impulses. Science shows that prayer helps to build up our self-control “muscles.”
  • Prayer makes you gentler. People who pray for others are less likely to use aggression when something angers them.
  • Prayer helps you forgive. Praying for a loved one or friend makes you more willing to forgive them.
  • Prayer increases trust. Matthew 18:20 tells us that Jesus will be among us whenever two or more of us gather in his name. Science now shows the power of praying in community. Praying with a friend increases the trust and feelings of unity between you.
  • Prayer diminishes the negative health effects of stress. In an interesting study of older adults, researchers found that praying for others reduced the stress of chronic financial problems. A key part here is the focus on others. Praying for your own material well-being did not reduce stress and its health effects.

So the next time someone asks you to pray for them definitely add them to your prayer list. Then continue the conversation by letting them peek into your prayer closet and asking them about theirs.