Lessons in Growth Meditations: 1. Introduction to Growth
Luke 8:14,15 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Two Goals: A little while ago, in another set of studies, I came across these two verses that stuck with me because Luke, in his version of the parable of the sower, adds a few significant words that grabbed my attention and I have highlighted them above. There is an implication here that we are to grow and develop and mature but it is possible that things in life can hinder or frustrate us and we fail to do those things. It is only by ‘persevering’, by pressing on despite the hindrances, that we are able to go on and mature and be fruitful.
Do you see the two goals there? To mature or come to a greater sense of completion or development, and to bear fruit. Gardeners know that when growing vegetables you have to wait for a plant to grow and mature before fruit occurs. Fortunately in the kingdom of God, we can start bearing fruit immediately, but nevertheless maturity and fruit bearing do go together.
Vineyard Fruit: In the Old Testament Isaiah composed a song about the Lord’s vineyard as a prophecy: “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isa 5:2) It was clear that the Lord expected His vineyard (Israel) to bear fruit and was disappointed that it failed to do so, so much so that He was going to remove it. In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (Jn 15:1,2) Again it is clear that he expects fruit from us and in the same way, any branch (believer) that does not bear fruit will be cut off from him.
Jesus Parallels: Now those are strong warnings but the parable of the Sower indicates that there are specific things or specific reasons why we may not mature and why we may not bear fruit in our Christian lives. As I have started to ponder on this and pray about it, I have found myself seeing these things in the context of something Jesus said: “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32). Now Jesus speaks about being lifted up three times in John’s Gospel but as I have pondered on this, I believe there are, three applications that correspond with different phases of Jesus’ life.
Three Phases: As I have thought on that, it seems to me that those three phases can also be seen to be three phases of the Christian life or, I should add, three phases of the Christian life that goes on to mature and bear fruit. We should acknowledge that according to Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Sower, not everyone hearing God’s word, goes on to mature and bear fruit. So, as we ponder those three phases, I hope to also face up to the things that we can fail to deal with or the things we can fail to appropriate in each phase and thus fail to reach maturity and bear fruit. I have not been down this path before, and so some of the areas seem presently cloudy but I am sure that as we meditate on these things they will become clear.
We all grow: Now it is possible that some of us may feel either fearful or perhaps wary about talk of growth, so let me put your mind at rest. Growth is something that takes place in some measure in every Christian life, even though we may not be very aware of it. When we came to Christ, we knew very little, we understood few spiritual realities and we perhaps were wondering what we had done. As the days pass we are taught – we hear sermons, we go to Bible Studies, or we perhaps have a mentor – and our knowledge of the Bible and of what has happened to us increases. We grow in understanding. But then there can be two problems.
Limited by Environment: The first is that our ‘teaching environment’ is limited and so the extent of out teaching is limited. I have grown up in a period of church history and in a country where the teaching that was available was extensive. I am grateful that through the circumstances I found myself in as a young Christian, I encountered the Brethren, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the early charismatics and even the Restoration Movement, as well as the occasional teacher from the Anglican Church or from other ‘free’ streams. It was a very wide spectrum of teaching for which I am very grateful. One of my grown up sons said to me some time back, “You know Dad, your generation received so much more teaching than mine is receiving.” That was his perception at least. But I also had opportunities to teach and to evangelize and go on missions, both at home and abroad, and all these things work for growth, which I must admit, sitting in one church in one denomination rarely does.
Personal Blockages: That is what I meant when I referred to our ‘teaching environment’ above. But there is also a second problem and that can be a personal and individual one. It is the fact of the circumstances of our lives, the pressures we encounter, the problems that beset us and the crises that drop on us – and the way we respond to them! All of these things have the potential for bringing our spiritual development to a halt, and the trouble is, we don’t just come to a halt at a high, we plummet.
When Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus, he said, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They had reached great spiritual heights, but now they had fallen. They had done great things in their early years but now they had given up on them. He had been very positive about them: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.” (v.2) but nevertheless, despite that, they were not what they had been once. Jesus doesn’t say what it was that had caused their fall, and perhaps we need to think about such things.
Deal with Past Issues: There is, in fact, a third problem that can arise, and it is that, for a variety of reasons, we failed to deal with issues in our lives that were there before we came to Christ, and so we perhaps also need to ponder those things as well, for each of these thing can be the things that stop us growing.
Maybe if we can eyeball such things, becoming aware of them may be the first step in dealing with them. These are the sorts of areas I believe we need to consider, the barren areas we need to wander in to see their reality and their effect. I hope by walking these paths we may find this series not only helpful, but also a means of enabling our growth to proceed and our fruit-bearing to increase. May it be so.