Embracing Spiritual Growth (Without Despising the Growing Pains)
When our children are little– still young and immature– the discipline and structure we give them is for their good, because they do not yet possess the guardrails that will help them, for example, to get the rest they need. But note: they do not often see these things as “good.” They want to do what they want to do, and they wish their parents would let them. They may even resent the continual discipline on their lives.
As they grow, one of the things that as parents we hope to see happen is for our children to join WITH us in helping them become self-controlled, wise individuals who are committed to growing and learning. We tell our kids, “around the time we start seeing you consistently exercise wisdom and self control from the inside is the time we’ll stop feeling the need to place external constraints on you.”
Our ultimate goal for them is not merely a change in external behavior, but for them to be changed from the inside out– at the heart level.
GODLINESS & SANCTIFICATION
It is the same for us as believers.
If we see discipline as solely God’s work, we may obey, but only in a begrudging way. Resentment may build. This is the young-child-like reaction. We know He is stronger, and has authority over us, but we feel frustrated that He doesn’t just let us go our own way. Or we compare ourselves to other “kids” and think, “they’re not as bad as me; why do I have to be so ‘perfect’?”
But He’s not satisfied if we are merely “not as bad as that guy”, and God doesn’t merely want us to change our behavior. His goal for us is holiness– that we would be “conformed to the image of His Son.”
I believe it honors Him most, and is a mark of maturity, when we willingly, joyfully join with Him in our own growth and sanctification.
Instead of despising the growing pains and wishing away the growth, we work our way through it and lean in to the growth God has put in our lives.
So how can we do that?
WHEN GOD ADDRESSES A PARTICULAR SIN IN OUR LIVES:
- When we notice God continually bringing a particular lesson into our lives, we can go to His Word and read and memorize Scripture about that issue.
- We can decorate our homes (bathroom mirror, hang over the kitchen sink/stovetop) with verses to help us think rightly about our sin.
- We can look soberly at our lives, trying to discern the attitudes, responses, and actions that do not honor God in that area.
- We can ask our friends for an honest assessment (repeatedly, if necessary), and brace ourselves to hear the full (probably quite unpleasant) truth.
- We can journal and pray to the Lord, asking Him to bring true and lasting change to our hearts, so that we see our sin rightly.
- We can see it as a sign of His true love for us as His children.
GOD’S DISCIPLINE IS FOR OUR GOOD
Hebrews 12 says it this way, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
If we begrudge His loving discipline, we are actually wishing that God would stop treating us as His children. We are also ensuring that (because He loves us) He will bring more discipline into our lives.
Consider the child who keeps running toward the street. The mom swats his bottom once and speaks firmly to him, “do NOT run to the street. It’s dangerous.” If in his heart, he still believes he has the right to run toward it, and that it’s fine for him to do so, he is inviting additional discipline into his life. He will undoubtedly be getting more swats and stern reminders. That’s what comes with running toward the street.
But if he takes to heart her discipline, recognizing that his loving and wise authority has made this boundary for him… if he recognizes that she is the one in charge… if he purposes that he does not want to disregard her guidance… he will grow wise and LIVE. And he’ll get less swats. His heart will have changed in such a way that her discipline is no longer necessary in that area. Her law is written on his heart.
This is the way we can grow, and remain joyful AS we grow.
To grow, we have to be willing to listen to hard things that point out our flaws and/or weaknesses, and keep constraining our hearts to be willing to change. Our tendency is to dry out, like cement, and want to stay in the shape we are in. When we are willing to be washed and changed by the “water of the Word,” we are less likely to get brittle and crack, and it keeps us pliable in the hands of our sanctifying God.
As we mature as believers, we can grow to so value His training and the peace and righteousness it brings in our lives, that we no longer despise it. We can humbly submit ourselves to it, thanking Him even amidst the pain, knowing that the harvest it brings will be for our good.
Image courtesy of pinkblue/freedigitalphotos.net
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