Only God Gives the Growth

I remember very clearly wanting crutches so badly as a kid. I can remember classmates hobbling into school and having envy for their crutches. I don't know why I thought it was cool to have crutches, maybe it was the extra attention these kids received. Maybe it was because they often got dismissed for lunch first so they wouldn't be overrun but a hungry hoard of third graders. All I know is I wanted crutches.

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When I was in college I had two knee surgeries. The first was one to clean out my knee which became painful after years of sports. The second surgery was an ACL reconstruction on the same knee which was injured in an unfortunate slip and fall accident - to this day I wish I could blame my scar on some awesome sports injury. Nevertheless, both surgeries got me the crutches I wanted. I learned very quickly the aides that I so desired were nothing great. It took me quite a while to learn to walk around with them well, they made my underarms bruised and raw and stairs were terrifying. I remember working very hard to rid myself of those aluminum legs as fast as I could.

There's a spiritual lesson here. Many of us have some spiritual crutches that hinder our ability to be the person God made us to be. We awkwardly limp around hunched over and are unaware of the freedom that comes from throwing the crutches away and standing on our own two feet holding God's hand. Some of the things we rely on are subtle and some are blatant and our spiritual maturity will be hindered as long as we depend on anything other than the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes there is someone in our life whose spiritual life is rich and deep - we are eager to be around these people in hopes that some of what the have will rub off on us. There is nothing wrong with mentors, the Bible is full of mentor relationships like Paul and Timothy or Moses and Joshua. Yes, we are to seek wise counsel and observe those whose lives are full of Jesus but if we lean on these folks too hard they can bend beneath our weight and we never learn to own our growth and relationship with the Lord. If we truly want what these people have in the Lord then we might benefit by taking a hard look at how their lives and our lives differ and noting what might be causing our spiritual anemia.

The youth pastor at my church does an amazing job teaching our teens to not simply adopt their parents' faith. This is so important as many people, even mature adults, call themselves Christians because their parents were Christians. They will tell you the genealogy of denominations of their family tree and why that makes them a Christian but when asked if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ they will stare blankly and say, "What do you mean?" It's very easy for us to put our arms around the shoulders of our parents' faith and think that by doing so we are right with God.

There are also the crutches of various forms of media. Books written by pastors and Christian speakers are easy to rely on for answers. Cable TV offers a plethora of Christian channels with various shows featuring pastors and speakers who share solutions to daily living. Social media allows us to interact with some of our favorite authors and ministries and by doing so we feel we're really doing the Christian life well. But books, tv and social media are no substitute for reading the Word of God ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts with truth.

Finally, we rely on the prayers of others who appear to be better at praying than us. Yes, sometimes we are too grieved or anxious to pray, even God offers His Holy Spirit to pray for us when all we can do is groan. Intercession or praying for others is a gift of the Holy Spirit and we are called to pray with others. But God waits anxiously to hear our own voices and our own hearts. Sometimes we doubt He wants to hear from us or we are convinced someone else's prayers are more likely to be answered than our own.

Paul addresses the crutches problem in 1 Corinthians 3. He says:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.

I love this passage because as a mother I clearly remember the times I tried to give my babies solid food and they weren't ready. They would struggle to keep that food in their mouth, then gag and spit because it felt foreign after months of milk. But then the mealtime would come when they would anxiously kick their legs and wave their arms as the airplane spoon made it's way to their mouths. Their eyes would light up at the texture and taste and they would grunt and squeal for more. It's the same when we finally taste the goodness of God's word and savor the sweetness of His grace for ourselves.

Just like Paul says, "only God gives the growth". If we rely on fellow man who is as marred and sinful as us then there will come a time that person or substitute for God lets us down, leads us astray, or fails to deliver.

I wrote this piece as a bit of self reflection. I realize there are areas of my life where I rely on people and tools for crutches and not Jesus himself. I know when I feel spiritually worn, I've likely not been going to the source of healing and growth. There comes a time when we have to own our relationship with God even if we struggle like that baby with the new solid food. Like that baby who needs repeated practice and exposure to the rich food, we need to practice and continue meeting with the One who promises to fill us.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!