We all sat around in the circle.
Students and young adults sharing about everything that God had spoken to their hearts.
The weekend retreat was coming to a close.
“I want to grow spiritually”
“I need to pray more”
“When I get home, I will read my Bible more”
“We need accountability”
Conviction emerged from their eyes with tears.
Compassion flowed as a middle school boy brought a box of tissue to an older high school boy.
Many of them came into that weekend filled with discouragement and disappointment.
- One student was on the verge of giving up on her faith.
- Another young adult is in the midst of a hard transition between churches while balancing a painful family situation.
- Others in college were wavering in their commitment because of pressure and temptation.
As I listened to what each student learned, I was struck by their honesty, their tears, their confessions.
As their guest speaker for the weekend, my aim was to simply encourage the group.
What I heard in that circle could be summarized simply in 5 words:
“DO more to GROW more”.
Unfortunately, it is bad theology.
Growth doesn’t always happen because we do more.
In fact, doing more in the midst of discouragement can actually result in less health, more dysfunction and greater frustration.
Healthy things grow.
Unhealthy things die.
Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is nothing.
Instead we must simply be. Just be.
In the midst of what could inevitably lead to more discouragement, I spoke up with more words of encouragement.
Here’s a paraphrase of what I said (more or less):
I hear the sniffling and see the tears. We were all honest about our own stuff this weekend. And I know you all want to do more when you get home.
But growth doesn’t always happen like that.
All the ingredients God uses to grow are right here, and we don’t need to do anything more to force it to happen.
These are four important ingredients that I see God using to help us grow.
1) CRAP (aka manure, fertilizer, dirt, soil)
Sin stinks. It always does. Like crap.
And we all reek of it.
But the good news is that God is a great gardener. He is able to take our crap and make things grow from it.
The problem is that we sometimes keep our crap inside, deep and unexcreted (is that even a word?)
And that leads to bigger problems.
Human waste needs to be crapped out. Fecal matter that piles up inside makes us sick and unhealthy. We are always better off releasing it.
As in the physical, so in the spiritual.
We are able to release our sin because of the Cross of our Savior.
He has taken upon Himself the sin of mankind and imparted and imputed to us His perfect sinless identity.
Our rags for His righteousness
Our crap for His crown.
Our sin for His salvation.
It’s beautiful when good stuff grows in the fertile manure of our mistakes.
2) TRUTH (aka seeds, Scripture, The Bible, The Word of God)
Into that soil, God plants His truth.
Eternal wisdom. Life-giving truth.
This is not truth that comes from our own opinions.
This is truth from the source of all Truth. God Himself.
Jesus called Himself the Truth. He is the Word made flesh.
And as a seed dies and springs forth with vines and branches, so the Word of God, Jesus Himself has brought us truth in Himself.
Words alone are not enough.
The Words must always point us to the Word made flesh.
Jesus is the goal of the entire Old and New Testament.
He is the main character of the Big Story.
Let His story inform your story.
He is a much better Author and Perfecter than we will ever be.
His words are eternal.
His words bring life.
3) TEARS (aka water, H20)
We cry. And Jesus weeps with us.
And He waters the soil of our hurts with his own tears.
He drenches the drought-stricken ground of our brokenness with meaning and purpose.
And we feel His love seep into the roots below.
The layers that were thought to be too-far lost are revived with Living Water.
Grace abounds where rule-keeping has failed.
Love washes over the lost. The loss.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Our tears are transformed into dew that springs life into the withering leaves.
Resurrecting life again.
Tears are never wasted when they are mingled with meaning and purpose
Pain is redeemed when we discover He is near, sharing in our hurts.
Suffering with and for us.
By His wounds…we are healed.
4) SUNLIGHT (aka JESUS, the Son of God)
Stuff grows better in the sunlight, not in the shade.
Not in the shadows.
Hebrews 10 describes the Old Testament laws as merely “shadows” of something much greater
…someONE much greater: The Son of God is the light of the world.
Grace and truth are found in Jesus who is full of both.
He is the source of life and He is able to take our ingredients and make something beautiful from them.
When our crap is exposed and cultivated in the soil…
When the seeds of truth are planted deep in the fertile ground…
When the water of God’s grace and the water of our tears drench the dirt and mingle with seeds cracked open…
…Then JESUS does his thing!
Hear what the Apostle Paul wrote about growth:
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted,Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor 3:5-9)
When God does His thing, growth happens.
And it takes time. Lots of time. And patience.
All of these ingredients mixed together are a healthy combination of what God uses to grow our faith.
We simply give it over to Him.
He’s the gardener.
He’s the grower.
Let’s simply abide in the vine (John 15) and trust Him to grow us from the inside out.