The above phrase can sound so...generally spiritual; even self-obsessive, to be blunt. And fairly speaking, the phrase might fall under both of those categories--if used in the wrong sense.
Let's face it--if we are talking about "looking within" for answers, I do not want to hang around those parts of my heart for long! My heart misleads me every day, and within myself I find a messy sinner being made more holy by a gracious God. It is Him who is any good, who wills and works for His good pleasure, within us all.
However, if "soul searching" refers to a desire for the Lord to unveil our hearts, expose our sin, teach us His truth and lead us onward to righteousness, then it is absolutely a beneficial (and necessary) discipline!
Beginning a brand new calendar year gives the Christian a wonderful opportunity to soul search, to inquire of the Lord God, "How is my walk in holiness going? What have You taught me this past year? Where and how can I grow?" To pass up this chance would be like passing on a one-year review given by your boss, intended to encourage, convict and cause growth for the better.
The major difference is that you will not worship your boss forever unto eternity. You will worship the King of Kings, who reigns and sustains and gives more grace. And He longs to be your help, your searching light, your counselor, your teacher and your friend.
Why growth? A Christian without growth is like a millionaire who buries all his riches away in the sand. The eternal riches believers have been gifted in Christ are meant to be appropriated! They are not simply "nice thoughts" or "somedays," just like the millionaire's money is not just a "nice thought". The fullness of life given to a believer is living and active because Christ overcame death on the cross! He rose to new life, and then sent His Spirit to dwell in believers. Life in Christ begs for growth and change because He is at work within us, promising never to leave or forsake us, until our growth in holiness is complete.
I love what Paul Tripp says about growth and grace:
"The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they are the little moments we live in and that form us. This is where I think “Big Drama Christianity” gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the “small-change” grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us."
So what might "soul searching" look like for the Christian concerned with growing in Christ? J.C. Ryle wrote an immensely helpful article called "Growth in Grace"; he gives the following as marks of the Christian growing in grace:
Increased HUMILITY: "The man whose soul is growing, feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness every year."
Increased FAITH and LOVE towards Jesus: "The man whose soul is growing, finds more in Christ to rest upon every year, and rejoices more that he has such a Savior."
Increased HOLINESS of life and conduct: "The man whose soul is growing, gets more dominion over sin, the world and the devil every year...He is not content with old attainments and former grace. He forgets the things that are behind, and reaches forth unto those things, which are before, making "Higher!" "Upward!" "Forward!" "Onward!" his continual motto (Philippians 3:13)."
Increased SPIRITUALITY of taste and mind: "The man whose soul is growing, takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world...Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation — are of ever-increasing value to him."
Increase in LOVE towards others: "The man whose soul is growing, is more full of love every year...A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people's conduct, and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end."
Increased ZEAL in doing good to souls: "The man who is really growing, will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year...He will just work on, whatever the result may be — giving, praying, speaking, visiting, according to his position — and count his work its own reward."
[I encourage you to read the entirety of the article here--so wonderful! Thanks to Monergism.com for the excellent resource library.]
May David's prayer in Psalm 139 gives us a marvelous template for the start of 2014:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there is any grievous way within me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!"
In which of the above marks have you seen growth? Which of the above can you ask the Lord to specifically grow you in this year?
["Growth in Grace" is an excerpt taken from "Holiness!" by J.C. Ryle; content courtesy of www.gracegems.org]