I only come to know the beauty of the valley from the top of the mountain
I’m beginning to detect a pattern. Spiritual growth goes hand in hand with struggle, strife, transparent prayer, desperate faith, and brokenness that leads to repentance. It’s a pretty simple and predictable equation really. But just because something is simple does not necessarily mean that it is easy.
I woke up this morning to snow and ice covering my car and the roads leading out of my apartment complex. I poured myself some coffee, turned on my computer and got ready for “bed church.” “Bed Church” is an infrequent occurrence, but extremely convenient. I podcast several different churches and listen to sermons at all sorts of random times. When I’m working out, when I’m getting ready for work, before I go to bed, and most appropriately, on Sunday mornings when I am trapped in my own home.
Today’s sermon was entitled “Organic Faith.” Beginning in 1 Peter 2, the pastor referred to the verses in which Paul challenges believers to grow and mature, to crave heartier things and to ween themselves from spiritual milk. Like a child who’s tastes change based on their growth and needs, so our desire for God should deepen, incurring a greater need for Him.
This is fairly elementary. What got my attention is how he went on to describe just what this looks like. What does it look like to go deeper? How does it taste to chew on tougher spiritual matters? How does it feel to wrestle with issues we may never find answers to? How do you live in the world without becoming like it? And how do you live in full confidence of faith when all you have is in fact, your faith?
Now, my fleshly rational would say, “Well, once you become a Christian, spend time in the Word daily, and fill your calendar with ‘churchy’ events 4 days a week, life is smooth sailing.”
Enter divine irony. Que omnipresent paradox.
This is exactly what Jesus said will not happen. This is exactly what he warns will never be the case. And this is exactly why He came, saw us in our depravity, and conquered the sin that clings close and so easily entangles us.
That being said, we must face some hard truths. We must accept a few ultimate realities in order to be better prepared for the defensive battle. After all, defense wins the game, right?
First thing first: Forward motion is all that matters–pace does not. So long as we, no matter our spiritual state, are seeking His face, yearning for His presence, and consuming the Word of the Gospel, we will be propelling ourselves forward. How quickly we get to the next step does not matter.
Once we realize that time is of no importance to God (considering He is outside of it) we can more accurately measure the “nature of growth.” By not allowing ourselves to be contained or restricted by a clock or calendar, we can focus on what change is occurring and what new truths are taking root instead of making sure that we keep up with the spiritual-growth-pattern that the church outlined in a three point sermon.
Here are some components of the growth of maturity (remember, these are not my thoughts–I am simply relaying a message that encouraged my own valley season):
Spiritual growth, change, and maturity may or may not be instantaneous. For some, God may radically and instantly change them, removing huge barriers, demolishing blockades, or simply bringing a peace that is there in the morning when they wake up. Still for others, it may be a process, something that must be worked through with sweat and tears. The former would appear to be easier; but the latter, while longer-lasting, may be used as a testimony to countless others.
Unlike an earthly parent-child relationship in which the parent would teach and instill in their child the ability to be independent of them one day, Christ draws us continually to Him. In strengthening our faith, in deepening our relationship with Him, and in continuing to dip us into the fire of sanctification, we instinctively and intrinsically come to need him more. Life outside the presence of Him begins to feel unnatural, uncomfortable and impossible.
The next part is what has been a real wake up call for me as of late. In drawing closer to the Lord, seeing more of Him, and beginning to understand (or at least attempt to grasp) the expanse of His goodness, grace, justice, and sovereignty, my sin has become so much more apparent to me. It seems to have blown up in my face. All the ways that I fall short, the way I do the things that I don’t want to do (shout out to apostle Paul), and the humble realization of my desperate need for grace is amplified. While I know this is good, right, and a natural outcome of growth, it does not feel good. It had, at first, created in me a panic-stricken need for God instead of a reverent and endlessly grateful love of God. To be panic-stricken is to forget the free gift of salvation and all that it means. So I must remember first His grace that saved me, allowing me to approach the throne, and then again worship Him for such mercy that has written my name in His book. I now see that the realization of my sin generates an understanding of my dire need and thus, an eternal gratitude for salvation.
Maturity at this stage must be maintained through the continual “tasting and seeing” of the Lord’s goodness. Like a plant that needs water, so we need to daily taste of the Lord’s grace and see His goodness in and over our lives. Now, I will be the first to admit that there are times in which I can neither taste or see these things. What’s the remedy?
I think it is two fold: prayer and remembrance. I must pray that the Lord would open my eyes to see all the ways in which He is moving, orchestrating, and intervening on my behalf. Then, I must call to memory all the ways in which He has been faithful to protect and provide for me in the past. He may be unpredictable, but He will never contradict or deny Himself. So there is rest and hope to found in the fact that His faithfulness is without end.
Lastly, we must ask “why.” Why the valley season? Why the spiritual drought? I think that in asking and in wanting to know the mystery of His will, we discover the state of our own heart. And that is the root of it all. If we want to change our behavior and modify our actions, beliefs, etc. we must first confront the matters we house in our heart. At the end of the day, that’s what the Lord is really after anyway, right?