Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
I recently had an interesting conversation with my mother which sparks this post.
I’ve been on vacation for the last week in sunny Florida. I’ve had all sorts of time to read and study and think, it’s been wonderful because I never take the time to do that at home. In the midst of all of this studying and thinking and reading I have found myself still needing something. It wasn’t until the conversation with my mother that it struck me what that was.
She and I were talking about experiencing growth in our relationships with Christ, or currently, a lack thereof. She began talking about how it was when she first became a Christian 30+ years ago and how she was entrenched in the Word and soaking up everything she heard at church. She was experiencing radical growth. She looks at her life now and realizes that she doesn’t experience that same feeling of growth like she once did 30 years ago. Her desire to spend time in the Word is fading, and she’s not experiencing the challenge to grow at church – she called it feeling like “puddle ducks” I think (aka: shallow).
It dawned on me that I have experienced the same thing recently. I have a desire to grow, but I keep coming up short. I took this vacation right in the middle of one of the worst feelings of burnout I’ve experienced in ministry. I brought along lots of books thinking that I could find refreshment in a good book that would give me the answers for getting out of my funk. I read 6 (!) books on my 7 day vacation, but ironically none of them were the Bible. I maybe spent 10 minutes reading the Bible. Why is that?
I think the answer is simple. My mother talked about it in her story. She experienced lots of growth quickly early on in her Christian walk because she was growing in the knowledge of who God is. Everything was new and therefore everything she read or heard was radical and life-changing. But after a while of being around the Bible and the church, you start to plataeu because, frankly, you can know a lot about God but it starts getting to be recycled information (especially after 30 years). She was basing her spiritual growth on how much knowledge she gained about God.
I have done the same thing for most of my adult life. In high school I read my Bible daily. Learned a lot about who God was and what he wanted from me. I was learning so much that I decided to get a degree in learning how to study God. The thing is, I was furthest from God while I was learning to study him. My relationship with him deteriorated the more in depth I studied him…but all the while my depth of knowledge was growing.
The problem that I think I (and my mother) are dealing with is that when we feel distant from God we automatically run to a book (yes, it can even be the Bible) to help give us the answer. When our depth of knowledge about God begins to plataeu we look into getting a higher degree so we can feel closer to him…but therein lies the problem. Experiencing growth in your knowledge of God is an important part of maturing in your journey with Christ, but it’s not the only area of your life that needs growth. The other?
Faith is different than knowledge. Faith is child-like in nature. Faith is believing in something unseen. It’s putting trust in God and allowing God to actually have an influence in our lives. It’s taking steps out of our comfort zones that don’t make sense to us logically. (ie: missionaries…what sense does it make as an American to give up our rights and privleges to serve and live with impoverished people?)
To experience growth in our faith requires action. It requires us to experience things that we sometimes don’t want to experience. Our faith is tested and tried and and experiences growth in the midst of hardship. Faith doesn’t always have to mean hardship and difficulty, but the Bible says our faith is grown when we trust God to bring us through difficult situations. Look at these verses as an example:
Psalm 23:4 (NLT)
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)
So be truly glad.There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
I want to illustrate what I mean to you: Think of a tree that has two roots growing into the ground. One root is the root of knowledge, the other is the root of faith. We can experience and see spiritual growth whenever either one of these roots grows deeper. Some of us (mainly me…and those of you like me) like to experience the growth of our knowledge root, but don’t spend much time working on growing our faith root. What happens after a while is that our knowledge root is very, very deep – so deep we are reaching soil that other Christians are jealous we are reaching. So picture your tree with one deep root and one shallow root. What happens when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm? We topple over. Have you ever walked through the woods and seen a tree that has tipped over with its roots exposed in the air? When you see it, it usually has 80% of its roots just hanging there, but you can see it still has roots planted in the ground. That’s like me, I’ve got these really deep roots of knowledge that are stuck way down deep in the ground, but when I experience difficulty I topple over because it’s not enough to keep me upright. I need to experience growth in both areas of my life. Knowledge AND faith.
I’ve come to realize that I’m not as firmly planted as I thought. I bet I can out-argue most Christians on doctrinal issues, but I have very shallow roots when it comes to faith. But without faith, what am I? Not much. I’m a scholar, I’m a know-it-all, I’m reading into a hobby. Because knowledge that doesn’t inform the way I live my life, knowledge that doesn’t change who I am, is just knowledge. It’s good for winning Bible categories on Jeopardy and not much else.
Yes, having a growing knowledge of God is important. But growing in faith, learning to trust God more than anyone or anything, that’s equally (if not more) important and vital to experiencing growth in my Christian journey.