Grace, Truth, and Time
"Growth = grace + truth + time."
Kim leaned over and wrote that little formula on top of my paper. I'd just been confessing to her how frustrated I was with myself, with my continual struggles and failings and sins.
"What's the matter with me? Why am I still struggling with so much?" I asked her. If intentions counted for anything in the Spiritual Development program, I should have been perfect already.
Or at least awfully close to perfect, if you want to be precise and remind me that we'll never be perfect here on this earth.
But Kim gently reminded me of something I'd never paid attention to before: to grow in our relationship with God and develop spiritually, we need His grace. We need His truth. But we also need time. It won't happen over night.
As she pointed out to me that day, there are a lot of similarities between spiritual growth and physical growth. I can imagine my five-year-old sister coming to me and telling me, quite seriously, that she is worried because she isn't growing. What should I respond to that? I know that she is quite healthy - she is eating the right things, and running around all day, as all little kids do. And I know what she doesn't know: that just because she can't see growth (measured in an extra several inches a day, perhaps) doesn't mean it isn't happening. It is normal and healthy for a five-year-old to be small: she simply hasn't had the time to grow yet.
In fact, physical growth happens in infinitely small pieces. Can you see your hair growing, day to day? I only notice mine when I realize how much shorter it was several months ago. But I can't see any changes or growth if I'm comparing it to yesterday or this morning. That doesn't mean it isn't there; just that I can't see it.
I love this comment by Paul in Romans 7:15: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." I certainly empathize. Like I said, if wishes and good intentions met all the requirements, I'd be perfect already.
But if Paul, a man I consider to be a spiritual giant, felt and acted this way - then maybe I can give myself grace for not being perfect yet. I'm still a mess. I'm still learning. But if I'm running towards God, and seeking His grace and truth - then I am, indeed, growing. God has promised that He is daily working in my life, and I need to trust in that.
Listen to what C.J. Mahaney said to some small-group leaders:
"Most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace. What a privilege and joy it is in pastoral ministry and small-group ministry to turn one’s attention to ways in which God is at work, because so often people are unaware of God’s work. And much of God’s work in our lives is quiet; it’s not “spectacular.” It’s rarely obvious to the individual, and normally it’s incremental and takes place over a lengthy period of time."
It is rarely obvious to the individual. And while it's a good thing to notice our sins, confess them, and strive, by the grace of God, to conquer them - let's not fall into the trap of looking more at ourselves and our sin than God's grace. Let's look for the evidences of grace in our lives, and let's take the time to point out the grace and growth we see in others. They need the encouragement of God's grace (and the truth that they're growing), too.