When I was in middle school, I had many classes in which learning vocabulary words was a staple. Memorizing them and reproducing them on an exam was part of my daily life, it seemed. The last thing I wanted as a disgruntled pre-teen was to receive a vocabulary lesson at home from my dad. But to this day, I distinctly remember when he taught me about the word initiative. Like many teens, when it came to cleaning my room and other chores around the house, I did the bare minimum. I did what I had to to get good grades and do well at extracurricular activities because that is what we did in our family. But I had no ambition or drive to do something without being asked. In other words, I had no initiative.
On that day, when my dad taught me about initiative, he likely had no idea how it would resonate throughout my life. From college to career to being a wife and mom, my drive and ambition to do something without being asked began on that day. But sadly, the initiative I took in many areas of my life did not spill over into my spiritual life in the same way. It would be many years before initiative in that area kicked in. I think this is a trap we all face in our consumerist society. We do not mind being spoon-fed from the Bible on Sundays or reading that one-verse devotional that lands in our inbox each day. After all, it should be enough that we showed up to church or clicked “open” in our email. But what if we applied the same drive and ambition we give to our careers to our spiritual lives? How might our walk with the Lord look different?
While the Bible might not specifically use the word initiative to communicate our spiritual growth, it is definitely an underlying theme in many passages throughout the New Testament. The Apostles Peter and Paul and the author of Hebrews all speak about growing up in our maturity in Christ in terms of milk and solid food. Take a moment to read the passages below.
“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still worldly…” 1 Corinthians 3:2–3a
“Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.” Hebrews 5:13
“Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up into your salvation.” 1 Peter 2:2
In each of these passages, the authors are trying to show the different sides of growth in our spiritual lives. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:2–3a, tells us that if we are too worldly, then we are not ready for more solid spiritual food. We have to subsist on a diet of milk because it is all we are ready for in our immature walk. Likewise, the author of Hebrews tells us that if we simply live on a diet of milk, we are inexperienced in righteousness and simply infants in the faith. In each case, we are being warned not to be apathetic in our spiritual life. We are called to grow in maturity and want more of Jesus.
The Apostle Peter uses this idea of a newborn craving milk in a different way. He uses it to spur us on and remind us to want the Word of God in our lives just like a newborn baby. Newborns eat many times a day, and when they do not get food immediately, they make sure everyone knows. Likewise, we are told to crave Scripture in this life-giving and necessary way. Our hearts should scream for it when we are lacking and empty. When we consume the Word in such a way, growth and maturity will occur, and we will leave the infant status behind. But that desire to be in the Word should never leave us.
We see this idea of growth and initiative in Philippians 2:12–13 as well. There, Paul says, “Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.” To work out our salvation requires work. It requires growth. It requires initiative. Working out our salvation is not an exercise in good works but a gift in which we look more and more like Christ and do the will and the work of the Father.
What do you need to do in order to grow spiritually? How can you take initiative to look more like Jesus? Maybe you need to be more consistent in your Bible reading. Maybe your prayer life could use some work. Maybe you need to surround yourself with a gospel-centered community. Whatever changes need to be made, pick one and start small. Begin with milk and work your way to solid food. On earth, spiritual growth does not have a final destination, we always need more Jesus. Take the initiative to grow in your walk with Jesus, you won’t regret it.