I wish my spiritual growth took place as lightning fast as the growth of the hairs on my face.
About 10 days ago, I got to experience something that has been on my bucket list for a long time. I got my first ever straight razor blade shave. For an hour Friday morning, I experienced the good life. I was pampered, got a face massage, got more oils and creams rubbed on my face than I’ve ever had before in my life, received a few hot towels on my face and even got my first ‘face cream mask’ (man card surrendered). At 10:00, I got to walk out with a smooth face. In fact, I don’t think my face had been that smooth since I was a pre-pubescent boy. For those of you who know me well, you know that meant I was probably nine years old at the time!
While I freaked out my wife and kids with my smooth face and I enjoyed looking younger for a few hours, I knew it would be a short-lived experience. By the time I woke up the next morning, the stubble was back and it felt like I had just shaved with my $11.99 Gillette Fusion Razor. I knew it would happen, but I was still frustrated at how quickly the stubble reappeared on my face.
Meanwhile, I find myself frustrated about the slow rate of growth in other aspects of my life. I still struggle with lust, anger, overeating, passivity and insecurity. Sometimes I feel like I am worse off than when I became a Christian in 1998. While I marvel at the rapid growth of my beard, I grow weary at the apparent painfully slow growth of my character and spiritual intimacy with Jesus. Sometimes I wish all it took was a few oils, a hot towel, a face cream mask, and just like that, I become spiritually mature.
As you know, however, spiritual growth is never easy and always seems like it takes a long time. In some areas we seem to grow quicker, while others seem like they take forever.
If you are someone who is frustrated with a lack of growth, I want to encourage you with some familiar, and wise, words from the apostle Paul. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I am studying the book of Galatians right now, and love the commentary I am reading along Paul’s letter, a book called Galatians For You, by Pastor Timothy Keller. In his commentary, Keller talks about the agricultural image of fruit that Paul uses and describes four things about how the Spirit works and brings about growth:
1. Christian growth is gradual. Just like you cannot see the growth of any plant, vegetable or piece of fruit, so you can’t see the spiritual growth in an individual. You can only measure it over time. I need this reminder as I look at my life and seem to take note of all the times I fall short without taking stock of the great seasons of growth.
2. Christian growth is inevitable. If someone is a follower of Christ and has the Holy Spirit in them, then growth will happen. Keller writes, “A person saved by faith will be a person in whom the fruit of the Spirit grows.”
3. Christian growth has internal roots. Just as the fruit on a tree does not cause its own growth, so the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit do not grow on their own. They are caused by the Spirit working inside of the individual. The fruit is the outward manifestation (and evidence) of the Spirit’s work.
4. Christian growth is symmetrical. In other words, you don’t grow in self-control while your love for others or faithfulness in following God move in the opposite direction. Paul intentionally uses the singular word ‘fruit’ instead of the plural word ‘fruits.’ While we may be naturally stronger in one area than another (i.e. you may be strong at being gentle or kind, but struggle with self-control), all growth takes place together when you follow Christ and are in-dwelt by the Spirit.
I Need These Reminders
These four truths about growth are so encouraging to me. I need to remember to take stock of the areas of growth in my life and remember where I was a a few years ago. I need to remember that the growth is not because I am some amazing person, but because the Spirit chooses to bring about growth. This keeps me humble, grateful and dependent for more growth. I am encouraged that God is not done in me, that I can expect to continue to become more and more like Jesus. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And I am encouraged knowing that He is growing me in all areas of the fruit of the Spirit, not just in a handful. Slow and steady, He continues to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus.
- How about you? Where are you doing well right now (i.e. looks like you’re growing as fast as my beard!), and where is the growth slow, painful or even non-existent?
- As you think through areas of growth, how are you growing in your marriage, your dating relationship, your parenting or with your community/friends?
- This seems like it would be a great time to share with either your significant other or friends in community where you are doing well. It might also be a good time to confess where you are struggling. Confess your sins so that you might be healed (James 5:16) and so that you bring your struggles into the light (Ephesians 5:11-14, 1 John 1:5-10).