Growth occurs both as part of an inherent life process, and with intentionality. Disciplines such as church attendance, Bible reading and prayer are considered staples of intentional spiritual growth. Interestingly, the experiences of life will either grow us, or stunt our growth, depending upon our ability to apply what we know. Too often, practicing the disciplines lulls us into a comfortable place where we believe we are good, and can pull a spiritual truth out of a hat to apply to any problem. But then, we are confronted with a hardship or crisis that proves us wrong. Stress escalates, growth gets lost in survival, and application gives way to frenzy. What happened??
Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Could our knowledge of scripture give us a false sense of security? Have we been as intent on building a relationship with Jesus through conversational prayer? (That would be the love that builds up.) Ultimately, who is in charge of our lives – us or Jesus? 98% of the time, we would have to admit that we really don’t trust Jesus to do what we believe is necessary (never mind what He knows to be good and right).
Trust issues always reveal the condition of our hearts. Scripture has much to say about that: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Pr 4:23); “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Are we willing to be painfully honest about what is in our hearts? What are our emotions telling us about the wounds and fears we’ve been storing there? Where do we go/what do we do for comfort? The answers to these questions just might indicate that Jesus has been crowded out.
Jesus had a poignant moment with Peter just before Peter denied Him three times: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But, I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) Peter’s courage to stand by Jesus failed, and it devastated him. It was only in coming face-to-face with the dark depravity of his heart that Peter was fully able to understand the enormity of Jesus’ love to remove his sin through His sacrificial death. In fact, Jesus took Peter beyond restoration to justification – as if it never happened at all. This reality of immense, deep, unconditional love completely changed the condition of Peter’s heart, and he did precisely as Jesus had predicted.
This unconditional Love will do the same for us. So, what are our hearts saying about us? Are we willing to undergo a spiritual MRI of the heart that would expose our own depravity? Are we willing to endure the pain that accompanies the acceptance of hard personal truth? Jesus said, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” (John 8:32) How very ironic that the truth about ourselves that we’re afraid to acknowledge, is the very thing that blazes the path to deeper intimacy with our Savior! Who wants to grow?