I’m leading a Bible study with a friend. This week’s passage says:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philipiians 2: 12-13 (NIV)
In the Philippians passage, the Apostle Paul talks about personal spiritual growth, but it seems to parallel the passage from my Mark reading about the growth of the kingdom:
[Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Mark 4: 26-28 (NIV)
In both cases, man puts in some effort:
- Personal Growth: Obey God and work at your spiritual growth with the appropriate awe of God
- Kingdom Growth: Scatter seed
But in both cases, the real growth comes from God. He is at work to change our wills and help us act as He wants. And He mysteriously causes the scattered seed to sprout and grow to maturity, with little more help from the sower.
I really do feel that my own spiritual growth is a mystery. I try and do my part – like this blogging effort, staying in the Bible. I attempt to maintain fellowship with Christians, worship, serve using my spiritual gifts (like this blogging effort!), learn from other teachers. You know, all the “means of grace.” Except for prayer: I’m not so good at that.
Despite my spiritual sowing, I still see in my life such yuck that I feel pretty inept to fix. The same sins over and over. But occasionally, with no apparent effort on my part, I’ve been freed from habitual attitudes and actions through repentance.
Real repentance pretty much always feels like a mystery, a moment when Jesus reaches down and thrusts the Word through my heart, leaving me seared by conviction, enlightened with new wisdom, and freed from an unseen burden.
I know that in an instant I have become more who I was created to be in some small way, my new nature of the Spirit released a bit more.
And I know that I have grown a teeny bit closer to Jesus.
Even though repentance takes an instant, part of the mystery is the fact that it takes SO LONG to get to that point (and it seems God throws in some suffering to get there, too). If you scatter some seed and return 3 weeks later, it may have sprouted and grown 3 inches. But stay and stare and you won’t see much movement.Yet the Son’s light can’t but yield fruit. At some point the full kernel is formed.
And that’s my hope right now. [And frankly, I have more hope for myself than for other people in my life… I need to know that they have the same mystery at work, too.]
Some days I don’t have much hope. Maybe I need to stop staring at the seed and give God’s mystery time.
Leviticus 17:1-18:30, Psalm 27:1-3, Proverbs 10:9, Mark 4:21-41. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.