I was sitting in a booth at Panera with a friend, talking through the branding for an online course I’m developing. In fact, it was the same booth I’m sitting in now as I write this, months later. We were discussing the tag line of the course. He was hung up on one of the words I’d chosen.
I believe that the Bible is an incredible tool for nurturing spiritual maturity. In eighteen years of ministry experience, I’ve seen over and over that the difficulties people have with the Bible often come from the fact that they’ve never really been equipped to handle the Bible well.
The tag line pushed right into these issues: “How to read the Bible to hear God and grow without having to be a legalist, a theology professor, or a crackpot.”
My friend bristled at my use of the word, “grow.” We went back and forth. He kept suggesting other words. I pushed back, but he kept coming up with reasons why this was the wrong word. I was confused.
Why would such a great word make him so uncomfortable? Then it came out.
You Are Not Enough?
He started telling stories from his past, and I understood. In his church community the word “grow” was a code word. When you were asked about your growth, you were being asked about whether you were behaving the right way. People who were growing were believing the right things and behaving the right way. If you were growing, you weren’t sinning.
For my friend, this word came with baggage. You’re not enough. You’re not good enough. You’re a sinful mess. But that’s not all. The word implied work. If you were growing, you were working hard to overcome sin in your life.
Now it made sense. This word triggered feelings of being judged.
I thought about that conversation for a long time. For me “grow” is a positive word. Spring is a time of vibrant growth and I love it. In years when we’ve kept a garden, I’ve anticipated the fresh tomatos and other things that are the fruit of growth. I’m excited to watch my kids grow and mature. When I see growth in my own life, it encourages and motivates me.
Healthy things grow.
How do you feel about the word “grow?” Getting clear on this is important. Ephesians 4 says that God’s primary purpose for us is to grow us up in the image of Christ. As we pursue our apprenticeship to Jesus we are going to mature in every way—spiritually, emotionally, relationally.
Yet, if this idea makes you feel overwhelmed or demeaned or afraid, will you ever engage it?
I talk a lot about intentional spiritual growth. I preach about it. I write books about it. This blog is dedicated to it. In this conversation with my friend, I realized that for some folks all this talk may sound like a new kind of legalism, a whole new list of things we oughta to please God. If that’s all it is, then it’s just another burden, another yoke of spiritual oppression.
Set aside the baggage for a moment.
The path forward lies in how we see growth.
In our performance oriented, resume-driven world growth is something we make happen. We do it to fill out our qualifications, to earn respect, to take our platform to the next level. We think that our hard work bears fruit for us.
Of course, the dark side of this perspective is that we’re constantly being measured and judged. Are we doing enough? Do we measure up? Are we being lazy? If we’re not growing (or our church isn’t growing, or our platform isn’t growing) then the fault lies with us, right?
A better view comes from the garden.
Anyone who has kept a garden knows that it’s a lot of work. There is tremendous effort involved. But the gardener doesn’t get confused. All this work doesn’t make the growth happen. Growth happens on its own. The work of the gardener is all about cultivating. Preparing the soil. Creating a space where growth is maximized. The gardener doesn’t make growth happen. God does.
We often get caught up peddling as fast as we can, trying to do those things that only God can do. That is wasted effort, and the fruit it bears quickly becomes all about us.
Instead, like the gardener, our effort is to be invested in cultivation. Creating the space where growth can happen. Doing what we can to remain connected to Christ. When we do this, the growth just happens. God gives it.
I kept the word in the tagline of my course. (If that sounds interesting to you, check it out here. There’s still a few weeks before it officially launches, so you can still get in on a great deal.) I kept the word because it’s such a vibrant, green, living word to me, a word that reminds me of the constant miracle. When we show up, when we put ourselves in the right place, growth just happens. And that’s always good.