The conversation between four year-old Jackson and his mom in the car after dropping off his siblings at school was all-too-typical.
“Am I growing? Am I getting bigger? Why am I still so little?” Jackson began his habitual morning tears.
“You’re growing, my love… Don’t worry.”
“But I don’t feel bigger. My brother is getting taller and taller and I’m still the same! When will I be big?”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. You’re growing even though you can’t tell. Some day you’ll be able to look back and see how much you've grown. You just can’t see it right now.”
“I’ll never grow!” he hopelessly sobbed. “I’ll always be little!”
Even though the mom tried to comfort her dear little boy, he refused to believe he really was growing. He looked at his little feet and hands and remembered how big his brother’s were. When they arrived home, he ran into the house, up to the wall where he had already been measured that morning. He stood up straight to make himself taller. Then… he stood up on his tiptoes and asked his mom to measure again.
“See? I am growing!”
His mom just smiled and hugged him and said, “Yes, sweetie, you are getting bigger.”
Although I’m a grandmother, I can understand this little guy’s concerns. In fact, there are times when I’m just like him. I’ve been a Christian for forty years now and I still look around at other believers and I wonder, “Am I growing? Will I ever get big? How come she’s so spiritual and I’m still struggling?” I look at my life and then I look at theirs and I think, “Will I ever grow?”
Then, sometimes, when I’m at my lowest, I start searching through my “good deeds”, trying to stand on my tiptoes so that I can feel happy about myself. I so want to know that I’m doing better. I really do want to approve of myself…but the more that I try to discern growth in my heart, the move discouraged I become. Others are growing and changing. I’m still fighting with the same sins. Sure, some of the outer obvious stuff is gone but my heart… oh, my heart… is still so weak, so selfish, so unloving. So I find myself back at the Wall of Self-Approval, failing miserably. I know I need to refuse to be enticed by self-improvement’s allurements but when I realize that I’ve been at the wall again and I feel even worse.
What do I need to hear? How does the Spirit speak to me? Like the loving mom in the vignette above, the Spirit continually reassures me: You’re growing, because I’m at work. I’ve got this all well in hand and even your sin, the failures that make you think you’re shrinking, are the building blocks of a soul that is being fit for heaven. After all I’ve done to make you my own, would I leave you now?
Here’s how Paul sought to encourage our timid little hearts:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31-34)
What I need to remember is that the Father didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for me. If he would do that, wouldn’t it stand to reason that he will grow me in the way I need to be grown, when I need to be grown? He’s already graciously given me everything I need to be pleasing in his sight. So I can rest in his work and wait for the fruit of it to appear in its season, in his time. I can trust that even when I fail he’s using my failure to make me more like him – more humble, more dependent, more thankful for grace.
Who is going to bring any charge against me? If God has justified me, he certainly won’t condemn me. Why would I condemn myself? Is my opinion more important than his?
And then, when I’m tempted to run to the wall with pencil in hand again, here’s where I really need to focus: Christ Jesus is the one who died, who was made small in the incarnation and even smaller in the crucifixion. Then he was raised and is seated now at the right hand of God, interceding for me. He’s there for me. Now.
Do I struggle in my growth? Yes. Further, the sad truth is that sometimes I want to grow so that I can be like Jackson and be happy about my growth as I compete with my siblings. The desire to grow is a good… but my motives are frequently so sinful. But even then, even when my motives to please him are wrong, I can rest. Why? Because he’s interceding for me. Right then, in my unbelief and pride, in my desire to save myself and avoid being little (a weak, unbelieving sinner), he’s praying for me. And not only that, his righteous record is mine. Now.
So, let’s put our pencils and rulers away and rest in his promise to complete the work he’s begun in us. And then, on the days when we pick them up again, let’s remember that he is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father who gave all so we would be his. We don’t need to stand on our tiptoes any more… we’re standing in his righteousness.