At a speaking engagement recently, regarding the blessing of a Christian leadership development course I am undertaking (thanks to a generous CMA scholarship), I was asked three questions, “Why did you apply? Would you encourage someone to do the same course? And why?”
I answered: “I undertook the course because, as a newish Christian, I don’t know what I don’t know. I have experience leading from a secular perspective, but that’s not the point. And absolutely, apply – because if you’re not growing, then you’re dying.”
I didn’t intend to be prophetic in the final part of my answer, but it appears God was listening. Imagine that.
I like the word ‘newbie’. I often refer to my Christian training wheels. Yet after some recent challenges, God has been fairly explicit that it’s time to stop making excuses. “How can you grow if you use training wheels as an excuse?” He asked pointedly. “What did you say the other week? If you’re not growing, you are…what?”
So, as is God’s fairly hilarious way with me, off He led. It started with the sprinting Psalm reality TV week. After I’d remembered to grasp onto Jesus’ hand and stop swallowing seawater he thrust a fairly wonderful sermon regarding the Woman at the Well (John 4 1-42).
Now, this is going to read fairly strangely, given I blog about Jesus, gave testimony about how he had turned my life upside down and around in my mid-40s, even changing jobs to honour how he makes me feel, but it was in the middle of this sermon that God yelled “Jesus Heals” at me and suddenly a new lightbulb went on.
I’ve been trying to take short cuts. Even though the Bible tells me the only way to God is through Jesus, lately I’ve been sloping around the side of him.
I pray to God, I thank Him for what He did for me in His son’s name. But I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus. I’ve been taking tricky shortcuts. Flicking the SAP questions rather than sitting prayerfully and reading through the Bible. That’s the trickiest, sneakiest bit I think. Outsourcing your growth to a smart-alec pastor is still growth, isn’t it God? Ah, no. It’s sort of cheating.
Which is what God fairly threw at me on Sunday night. All the while, I’ve been neglecting the central character.
I left Jesus behind. Kind of like the time I left my newborn in the supermarket freezer section on our way home from the hospital. I didn’t mean to. It’s not like I didn’t love him insanely. I just forgot to pay attention to this precious gift and the next thing you know, I’m at the checkout muttering, “Ice cream, lanolin cream…I’m sure there’s something else I need…”
“You need Jesus,” God told me. “Now turnaround, go back and fetch him, spend more time with him and stop trying to take short cuts.”
Even funnier, the VERY NEXT DAY after this lightbulb blasted into my brain, the SAP took off on some remote mission. Out of range. Hmm. What a Godincidence.
No short-cuts. No outsourcing growth. God is hilariously, weirdly, oddly cool in how He times and presents such lessons. Think you can avoid hanging out with Jesus by distracting yourself by chasing down random theological answers? No. Stop the distracting, bright shiny object syndrome and get on with the work itself. And I’ll help by putting a ‘Stop, Turn Back’ across one of the short-cuts.
Which brings me back to growing. Sitting with Jesus during whatever what pains me and remembering he understands suffering intimately. Getting stuck into prayer yesterday and asking G, J & HS what true growth is. And the three of them, doubtless ROFL in a kind, supportive, ‘oh, she’s finally getting on with the program’ sort of way, sent me the Bible’s book of James. Which is a fairly robust epistle when you realise God is giving you some stick about growth. Forgetting Jesus, Phil? Well, try reading a letter written by his half-brother. You know, just to ram the point home.
Growth is all about persevering. No short cuts. James is like a guidebook for Christian growth. Like faith and action: dear heart, if you believe in what Jesus did, and have faith in that, then your deeds and action last week ought to have been prayer and serious bible time, not sprinting around like a scared meercat on speed.
I take some solace in my sprinting last week being part motivated to keep a poisonous tongue quiet (James 3). But the growth comes from realising that it was very ‘BC’ behaviour on my part – prayers for wisdom would have been more fruitful. Yet we all stumble in many ways. Which led me back to Jesus and his grace.
I like James’ epistle. It’s blunt and to the point beautiful. With the reminder that I will never face any circumstance that God will not use for my good and His glory. Even if it’s when I leave Jesus in the freezer section.