Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spiritual Growth? How Discouraging!

Spiritual growth is slow and discouraging. Sometimes, it even seems that we are going backwards. Old problems and conflict re-emerge. Weaknesses often seem to be resistant to our best efforts. Even prayer seems unable to put a dent into our plenteous failures and sins. Evidently, something is going wrong?

Interestingly, the bamboo plant might offer some reassurance. Bruce Malone and Julie Von Vett write,

• The bamboo plant takes five years to mature, showing little “above ground” activity during the first 2-4 years. Meanwhile, an extensive root system is developing underground. From all appearances the plant is accomplishing little. After years of seeming insignificance, the bamboo plant reaps the benefit of its hidden activity – becoming the fastest growing plant on Earth. Nourished by years of unseen activity, at about year five, the bamboo plant sends stalks rocketing skyward at an unbelievable three feet per day. (Inspired Evidence)

Indeed, it’s comforting to see three feet of growth a day after years of what had appeared to be stagnation. But perhaps we’re not ready to luxuriate in our daily three feet of growth. Perhaps it might go to our head.

We see so many example of spiritual self-exaltation. Paul had to warn the Corinthian church against this. To promote some needed self-reflection, he asked them three rhetorical questions:

• For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor. 4:7)

They were human, boasting about things that they had no business boasting about. I think that arrogance and self-trust are the biggest problems that confront the church. They constitute the greatest impediments to trusting in God. No wonder that God’s exquisite workmanship in our lives must be camouflaged! We wouldn’t be able to deal humbly with His artistry (Eph. 2:10)!

Pound for pound, bamboo is the sturdiest plant in the world. It’s used for scaffolding all over SE Asia. It can support unbelievable weights. It’s also incredibly light-weight. I think that the weight of our self-promotion, self-centeredness and self-righteousness must first be lightened before we too can provide the scaffolding for the lives of others, as our Lord desires. However, this requires years of refinement and preparation:

• No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

This “harvest of righteousness and peace” only comes “later on,” but it does come to those who seek it, as Jesus promised:

• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

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