In the late 1970s, Soap Box Derby racing was a big deal in Flint, Michigan.

If you don’t know what a Soap Box Derby is, I am sad for you, but let me educate you. It is a type of car race where you build a car, start on the top of a hill, and let gravity be the only power to propel your car forward.

My family watched the races one day, and my neighbor Mike and I were inspired. We decided to build a car that would win the big trophy. 

Our only problem was that we didn’t know how. We modified an old dog house for the body, duct-taped rollerskates and skateboards for the wheels, put on a Detroit Lions football helmet and took it to the top of a hill in our neighborhood. We were sure it was the next Speed Racer.

spiritual work how to get closer to god
What Scott thought he looked like

It rolled about eight feet and then fell apart in a heap. 

We were incompetent. Becoming competent requires coaching and work, but we didn’t want either of those. Though my dad built cars for a living and he offered to help, we refused him, saying “We got this.”

Afterward, my dad explained and showed us there was a way to best assemble a car – planning, tools, equipment, and hard work. He saw the big picture of what it took to build something valuable. We just wanted to take shortcuts to a quick victory.

This is one of those life lessons I have had to learn over and over again and continue to learn. Developing competency takes spiritual work.

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. [5] Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. [6] He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 NIV

Spiritual competency comes from God. This Scripture says when we allow God and his Spirit to work in our life, he will make us competent. There have been way too many times that I have taken shortcuts in my relationship with God.

I have cut my prayers short or not prayed at all; I have blown off scripture and not even tried to obey it; I have been deceitful and hidden sin, weaknesses, and insecurities. Then, I still have the audacity to wonder why I am an incompetent husband, father, or friend.

We have to ask ourselves the question: Do we want a “duct-taped” marriage, or do we want to build something that will last? Do we want a “shortcut” friendship built on entertainment and superficiality, or do we really want to make each other better? Do we want a “duct-taped” dating relationship, in which we become enamored with feelings but don’t do the hard work of growing in depth and emotional honesty?

Do we want a “shortcut” friendship built on entertainment and superficiality or do we really want to make each other better?

The good news is that anyone can have spiritual competency because everyone can work at their relationship with God. 

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14 NIV

Every Christian should work hard at being spiritually competent so we can help each other. A church filled with people who are determined to walk with God and learn from him is not overly dependent or focused on a human leader. 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” [37] Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22:36-37 NIV

There are three main areas Jesus directs us to focus on that will help us develop this spiritual competency. 

  • Heart – Emotional Work: Emotional honesty with God and people
  • Soul – Spiritual Work: Choosing the Spirit over the flesh in life and relationships
  • Mind – Intellectual Work: Knowledge of the Word increases our knowledge of God

Core competencies

Core competencies are the foundation on which all successful organizations are built. These are the few key elements that everyone in that organization will focus on and try to master. This is also true for our spiritual lives. Let’s revisit this scripture. 

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [38] This is the first and greatest commandment. [39] And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [40] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

Jesus presents us with the core competencies he wants us to build on because everything in our lives and in the world “hangs” on these two commands. We are to love God and love people. If we get these right, everything will fall into place.

This has been a lifelong quest and desire of mine, but I am still working on it every day. I have so far to go to become a truly loving person. What I have learned is that when I put in the effort, God multiplies it.

Don’t hold back—give freely, and you’ll have plenty poured back into your lap— a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, brimming over. You’ll receive in the same measure you give.

Luke 6:38 Voice 

Let’s break both of these competencies down and discover the kind of work we need to do to develop them in our lives.  

Reflection questions

  • How much spiritual work have I put into God’s core competencies?
  • What is keeping my love from growing?
  • Ask your spouse, friend, or roommate: What is one thing I can work on to become more loving?

Relationship with God

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22 NIV

God said David, out of all the people on earth, was a man after his heart. He loved God and, as a result, did everything God wanted him to do.

Through all of his time as a forgotten shepherd, at the height of his public victories, and in the depths of his crushing personal defeats, David developed his relationship with God. Let’s read one of his prayers to understand how he did this so we can learn how to imitate it and grow in our own relationship with God

Emotional work

O True God, You are my God, the One whom I trust. I seek You with every fiber of my being. In this dry and weary land with no water in sight, my soul is dry and longs for You. My body aches for You, for Your presence.

Psalm 63:1 Voice

This is a prayer David had during a very difficult time in his life. He was in the wilderness where no one was chanting his name, there was no busy-ness to occupy him, nor a to do list to fill.

God brings us to the ‘wilderness’ so we can feel our need for him. David was emotionally honest. He felt empty inside and all dried up. He didn’t have any more to give. His physical body ached from his emotional emptiness.

David was doing the emotional work in his relationship with God. He was taking the time to examine his heart so he could be aware of how he felt, and he identified the emotions. Then, he expressed it honestly to God.

He didn’t distract himself as a way to avoid how he was feeling nor did he deny or sugarcoat it. For us to learn to be competent in our relationship with God, we have to take the time to examine our hearts, identify our emotions, and express them to God.

Spiritual work 

I have seen You in Your sanctuary and have been awed by Your power and glory. [3] Your steadfast love is better than life itself, so my lips will give You all my praise. I will bless You with every breath of my life; I will lift up my hands in praise to Your name.

Psalm 63:2-4 Voice

David also did spiritual work in his prayer. With all he was feeling, he chose not to escape into entertainment, sin, or distraction but rather allowed his emotions to lead him to God.

He chose God, deciding to believe that God’s love was better than anything this life had to offer. This choice led him to think more about how great and generous God was rather than getting bitter about his current circumstances.

He chose God, deciding to believe that God’s love was better than anything this life had to offer.

So often, my emotions lead me to sins like bitterness, blame, being ungrateful, and escapism. Doing spiritual work requires us to quiet the noise in our soul – the negativity, fears, and bitterness that drown out God reaching out to us.

God’s love will never satisfy us until we do the spiritual work to feel the need in our soul. The spiritual work we need to do is to choose God and believe he is more satisfying than anything else we could turn to.

Intellectual work

Often at night I lie in bed and remember You, meditating on Your greatness till morning smiles through my window.

Psalm 63:6 Voice

Lastly, David did intellectual work in his relationship with God. Of all of the things that could fill his head, David remembered to think about God at night. Thinking about God led David to meditate on different aspects of who he is.

Meditation is when we deliberately quiet ourselves and settle our minds from all of the worries and distractions of life, so we can focus on who God is and how he is working in our life. When we do the spiritual work of meditating on the Scriptures, we will grow in our understanding of how great God is and what he is trying to do in our lives. 

Reflection questions

  • What is the condition of my relationship with God? Am I putting emotional, spiritual, and intellectual work into it?
  • Which area of work do I need to focus on the most in my walk with God?
  • When is the last time I meditated on the Scriptures to grow in my understanding of God? 

Friendship with people

So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. [35] Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.

John 13:34-35 Voice

Jesus makes it clear that the distinguishing mark of those who want to live like he did is loving people. He wants us, above everything else in life, to love people; in a word, to be a friend.

Am I a competent friend who helps those around me to be better, more joyful, have more depth, and know how to get closer to God? Here is how we can learn to become a great friend. 

Emotional work

A truly good friend will openly correct you.

Proverbs 27:5 CEV

You can trust a friend who wounds you with his honesty, but your enemy’s pretended flattery comes from insincerity.

Proverbs 27:6 TPT

Avoidance and flattery hurt friendships. Honest conversations develop trust and build relationships. Emotional work done right develops this trust. The Scriptures are clear, a good friend is one who is emotionally honest in their communication.

It may not feel good when it comes out, but when we love each other, we want to make our friends the best they can be. Are you doing the emotional work of telling your friends the truth about both yourself and them?

Spiritual work

A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.

Proverbs 27:19 TLB

So much in our life is decided by the friends we choose. If we choose friends who are inclined to grow spiritually, we will in turn grow spiritually. If we choose friends who are bent toward superficiality, selfishness, and the flesh, we will grow unspiritual.

What can you learn about yourself from the friends you have chosen? Do people who want to grow spiritually choose you as a friend because they know you will be honest and point them to God?

Intellectual work

A motive in the human heart is like deep water, and a person who has understanding draws it out.

Proverbs 20:5 GW

Understanding does not come accidentally. It comes because we are curious, interested, and thoughtful about our friends. It comes because we pray and ask God to help us help our friends.

Understanding comes because we pray and ask God to help us help our friends.

When we do the intellectual work in Bible study and prayer of understanding the “deep waters” in our friends’ hearts, we are able to help them learn how to get closer to God and become who God wants them to be.

I am working on being a better friend, one that makes those around me more spiritual. It is forcing me to think less of myself and be more curious, interested, and prayerful about others. 

Developing spiritual competency takes work. It requires emotional, spiritual, and intellectual hard work. But as we grow in God’s core competencies, we will see God build our lives and our friends lives like never before. 

Reflection questions

  • Are the people around me growing and changing? Am I helping my friends grow and develop spiritually? 
  • How much time do I devote to understanding how to make those around me better?
Spiritual Work: How to Get Closer to God by Developing Spiritual Competency 6

Scott Colvin works in ministry and community service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Scott ran cross country for the University of North Carolina. Some say he's still running to this day.

Spiritual Work: How to Get Closer to God by Developing Spiritual Competency 6

Scott Colvin works in ministry and community service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Scott ran cross country for the University of North Carolina. Some say he's still running to this day.

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