I want to talk about our walk with God, and the “how” in our growth process. When we are trying to become more mature, what is that supposed to look like?
The more Christians I meet, the more I am amazed and perplexed at how Christian life actually plays out. Recently, I have been once again challenged to take a fundamental look at how I view my Christian walk and question it.
On a basic level, this seems to come down to people being closer to one of two camps; like the works versus faith idea, but more of a “do it yourself’ versus “just let God do it.” Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is vanity. But in this case, it’s more like “you can’t do this without God’s help” and “God won’t force you to change.”
It boils down to this: Are we supposed to mature by rigorous self-awareness, discipline, and study, and then modify our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors? Or is maturity the result of God quietly working in the background, which manifests over time as changes we aren’t even always aware of, but which we can vastly accelerate by getting as close to God as possible as continually as possible?
I’m sure we have all considered this problem in one form or another. We struggle to change a thought or behavior for years, only to find a breakthrough easily in an unrelated moment of intimacy with God. Or, as we rest in his love and trust Him to change us, we still deal with the same thorns over and over.
For a long time, I’ve made the false assumption these are two separate and conflicting ways of looking at the problem. But recently, God is showing me real growth involves both in a way that neither would expect. It all comes back to Hebrews 12:11: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Many translations have that word “chastening” written as “discipline.” In Greek (Paedeia), it has only one other New Testament use, and they both mean the process of Christian discipline itself. The preceding verses make it clear it’s talking about God taking action in our lives to address issues and change us.
On the surface, this still might not answer the question. I mean, it’s just saying after you do the hard work, it pays off peacefully and you don’t have to work at it anymore…right?
I think it’s a little deeper than that. What really stands out to me is twofold: One, that God is initiating this discipline, so we aren’t in control of the timetable. And two, it is both difficult and demanding, and then later, peaceable and productive in the harvest.
What this says to me is neither our own efforts nor simply experiencing him more deeply actually changes us. It takes God initiating a process, and that process requires us to be involved and obedient (to those who have been trained by it). So it takes both sides at the same time, and is not just directed by our will or plan.
Even if we diligently work at something, are spiritually trainable, and stay in His presence to allow the Holy Spirit to work, He might not be interested in working on what we think needs to be worked on.
Growth requires God to move, and us to be obedient. It’s hard at first with little or no outward “fruit,” but later there is a peaceful harvest of righteousness.
We can’t change by our own diligent effort alone or just by spending more time in His presence. Both of those things are required, but neither one gets credit. God dictates when, what, and how, and He isn’t going to give us more than He wants us to bear in every season.
This doesn’t free us from responsibility or from a need for intimacy—but it does free us from being in control. As with everything in Christianity, growth is not something we can bottle up and dose out to ourselves whenever we want it.
Truth is alive, which means it’s in motion, and the spiritual growth that comes from it is organic rather than procedurally generated.
For me, this eases the tension in my mind as to what I should be doing to find and achieve growth in my life. I can’t get there by constantly striving or by taking a laid-back approach.
This frees me to seek God for his own sake—to love Him for Himself, and not out of obligation to find the next thing I need to change. In His time, He will initiate seasons of growth where I will need to be disciplined through hardship, and in the end, I will reap a peaceable fruit of righteousness.