“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting,so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met." (Matthew 6:27-33 MSG)
I like how this passage begins - "Has anyone...." Think on that one a bit - has anyone - meaning it is not likely even one person has been successful in "making" growth happen in their life! Growth is something which is kind of an "applied" thing. You can do nothing to "make" growth occur - you can cultivate the soil, but the growth is totally outside of your control. There is a "force" outside of your control which actually produces the growth!
Here are a couple of points I'd like us to remember the next time we get impatient with ourselves when we don't think the growth is as evident in our lives as we'd like it to be:
1. Growth is really an indication of life - yet even growing things have "seasonal" periods of time when it does not appear there is any "activity" occurring beneath the surface. Take a seed for example. You plant it into the soil, water it a bit, and then what do you do? You wait, right? You don't sit there and expect to see the thing sprout up before your eyes into this gorgeous flowering display of beauty. In fact, you keep returning to the place you last remembered seeing the seed and you watch intently for the growth, but until you see the tiniest of hint of something breaking through the soil, you really don't know what is happening beneath the surface, do you? Growth activity is often not recognizable until the surface has been broken - the whole time you were watering, allowing the sun to shine upon the soil, and giving the little seed time to grow, it was not just sitting dormant - there was growth happening. Life is comprised of both the "above ground" activities we see and the "under-ground" activities we don't. Both are necessary - but what is displayed is really only a sign of the life which is beneath the surface!
2. Growth occurs when the conditions for growth are right both above and beneath the surface. The "favorability" of the conditions determines the growth which will occur. When the conditions of our souls are unfavorable for growth, try as you might and you still won't coax any growth from the "unfavorable" soil! There is a direct correlation between growth and what conditions exist which will support the growth. A seed planted in darkness likely will just rot in the soil - it needs the sunlight to grow properly. The same seed planted in hard, clay-like soil may grow a little, but sustaining the growth will almost be impossible because the "continued" nourishment of the seed is not available. So, as important as it is to not just expect instant growth, it is also quite important to remember the favorability of the conditions of the soil into which we expect to see the seed take root and grow.
3. Growth is gradual, at best. This is the sticking point for most of us - we want it now, not later. This is the point of our impatience - we don't see growth fast enough. If you want a lawn, it starts with the first blade of grass! We cannot forget number 2 above - the conditions must be favorable for growth. We cannot forget number 1 above - there is stuff happening beneath the surface where we may not always see the immediate evidence of growth. Just like you cannot "coax" growth to occur at a pace faster than God intends, you cannot improve the conditions of the soil without a little effort on your part. Time in the Word, moments alone with God in prayer, and more than the occasional season of worship will help to improve the conditions of our "soul's soil". Yet, soil is not "favorable" just because it is soil - it has to be prepared a little in order to "accept" the seed, providing both the "space" for the seed to grow and the necessary "tools" for the seed to produce what it is intended to produce.
4. Growth is more than our own effort applied to seeing the growth. The seed is planted - maybe not even by us! Many a bird carries a seed hither and yon in the natural sense - causing things to sprout forth which we never knew were "planted" in our gardens. God has many ways of sowing his seeds - just as there are many ways the soil is prepared to receive the seed, maintain the conditions for the seed's growth, and ensure the ongoing nurturing of the seed's growth in seasons when growth may be threatened by "forces" beyond your control. Yet, even the best of farmers will tell you they are powerless to control the growth of the seed - their efforts only do so much - then God takes over! We have to be willing to let God take over when our part is done - making growth not just a result of our own effort.
5. Growth implies something about the "health" of the plant and its root system. If you have ever had a "root-bound" plant, you know what happens when you transplant it. At first, it gets a little "shocked" by the transplanting process, but in time, with the proper attention, it takes hold in its new environment. The growth possible in the new environment "out-performs" the growth produced in the previous smaller pot. Why? The roots can expand. There is a new source of nourishment for the plant. The conditions are favorable to the new growth opportunities. Sometimes we are impatient with our growth - expecting to see new growth when we are a little "pot bound". It may be time for us to ask God about "transplanting" us into a bigger pot - just so we can begin the "expansion" of our roots. Just sayin!