The key to being a great student is also the key to growing spiritually

This morning I ran across one of the fundamental aspects of growing spiritually in an unexpected place: a study of what makes the strongest students in school. If you want to grow spiritually, are or know a student, or both, read on...

You might think IQ is the best indicator of a student's track record in school. Not so. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg references a major study performed in 2005 that tracked high school students:
Students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades in their classes and gain admission to more selective schools. They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework... "Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not. ... Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent." (p. 131)
Research also shows that willpower and self-discipline are the real keys to success not just in school but almost everywhere in life. Guess what: the same holds for one's spiritual growth. It's not about having a seminary education, years of experience in church, public speaking abilities, or the right connections. It's about willpower and self-discipline.

The experts on spiritual growth have attested to this over the centuries. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were famous teachers on the spiritual life, and both of them said nothing makes more of a difference than sheer grit and desire to keep going no matter what. Likewise, I have a friend who was going through counseling to break a destructive habit in his life. He kept waffling in his behavior, dipping back into his old patterns. One day the counselor challenged him: "You have to decide you want to do this more than anything else. Until you make that decision, you're just playing around."

Self-discipline is sometimes called "self-control" in the Bible. It's an evidence the Holy Spirit is working in your life (Galatians 5:22). God isn't expecting you to do everything in your power -- but he will ask you to use every ounce of power you have. He wants all of you. In exchange, he will give you all of himself. That's the best trade imaginable!

Maybe today is a day for you to say, "I need to recommit. I am re-engaging my spiritual habits. I am starting again." If so, God is ready to meet you right there.


  1. In Luminous, you caution against infogluttony, filling ourselves with so much information about the Lord that we miss being with Him. Exerting will power with knowledge tends to make me an infoglutton. Any suggestions?

  2. Thanks for the question! The antedate to infogluttony is simple time with God. I went on a solo camping retreat in 2013 (I blogged about it), and I spent about six hours a day hiking and talking with God. It was extremely powerful in teaching me that what God wants most is for us to simply be his children. We need to make time stop, tell him everything, and listen for his whispers in our souls. Prayer walks are a great everyday way to do this. Walking outside has a way of slowing us down so we can "be" with God. In general, anything we can do to spend more time in heart-to-heart communion with God is what we need to discipline ourselves to do. The problem with infogluttony isn't the information; it's the distraction and the hiding from God. I hope that's helpful!


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