REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

Christmas 2008 124
Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

GIANT SEQUOIA TREES ILLUSTRATE PERSEVERANCE.

After going to the Maricopa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I have a tremendous amount of respect for these gentle giants of the forest.  Their size can only be described as gargantuan and their age makes Methuselah sound like a teenager!

But one of the characteristics I note with particular interest is what I would call “perseverance”.  Now, I know that the trees have no awareness or sense that they have persevered through difficult times.  But, the fact remains, that there is evidence on many of these old creatures of significant trial, especially by fire.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

 

These are two of the Giant Sequoia Trees which show the fire scars as evidence of the trees’ perseverance through ferocious wildfires through the centuries they have lived.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree
Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

God, in His ultimate wisdom, created these trees knowing that they would be around for a long time and that, in the natural order of things, fire would destroy some of the forest ground cover as is necessary for a healthy forest environment.  So, God gave the Giant Sequoias the ability to survive severe fire damage, this being, according to the National Park Service, “a remarkable characteristic of the Sequoia.” I spoke of this characteristic in a prior post, “Difficulties Can Produce Beautiful Fruit” posted August 19, 2015.

The focus here, is not so much the physical fact of their survival, but the concept of perseverance … or, as is applicable to Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, perseverance of the saints.

I realize that the trees can’t just pick up and move when the going gets hot.  They are “stuck” there, so to speak.  Notwithstanding this truth, consider what is visible from the trees pictured below — above the top of the fire scar there is green growth and abundant branches.  The trees are not just alive; they are healthy, surviving and flourishing.  They endure the flames and then survive and keep on prospering, right where they are.

Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.
Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.

God knows me, too.  He knows that trials will come and the heat may be intense.  He also knows that I cannot face it alone.  In His grace He has not left me alone – He has provided a way for me to survive, not through a layer of cambium but through Jesus Christ as my Savior, the Holy Spirit as my Companion, and the Body of Christ, the Church.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Whether grandiose and ancient as seen in the 1,400 year old Canterbury Cathedral, or small and rustic such as the historic Cades Cove Church in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the church building is the meeting place for the Body of Christ.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Believers, themselves, are the Body of Christ when they work together for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ and in support of each other as the family of Christ and children of the Living God.

When Daniel’s three friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow down to him, they told the king that they would only worship their God.  In rage, the king threw the three men into the fiery furnace, but when king looked into the furnace, he saw four men in the fire.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were retrieved from the furnace and they were not burned or singed and they did not even smell of fire.  See Daniel 6:23-27.  God walked with them in the fire, and they were unharmed because they persevered in their faith and in reliance upon God.

I have the same God who went into the fire with His children as recounted in Daniel chapter 6.  He is the Great Healer, my Companion and my Guide. He has given me His Word (the Holy Bible) and He has ordained that the Body of Christ, the visible church on earth, be available to me as a believer in Christ for support, prayer, strength, encouragement, and help in time of need.  This does not mean that struggles will not come, or even that I am guaranteed that the struggle will not be stronger than I am — but it does mean that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God that I have through Christ Jesus.  Read Romans 8:35-39.

God's roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him -- the Holy Bible.
God’s roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him — the Holy Bible.

In short, He has provided the way and the strength to persevere through the trial so that, at the last day, I will be able to stand before Him, clothed in the righteousness of His Son and be accepted by Him as His child.  My obligation is to joyfully take advantage of the strength He has provided when difficult times come.

James writes in his letter that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4.

I don’t know about you, but I normally do not consider it “pure joy” when a trial comes my way.  No one wants hard times – but hard times do not play favorites. Jesus promised that there would be hard times for the Christian … it is not a matter of IF there is a trial; it is simply a matter of WHEN the trial will arrive.  Perseverance in our Christian walk comes as a result of enduring the testing of our faith, and the result of perseverance is maturity in Christ.

The Giant Sequoia tree reminds me that perseverance is possible.  The Lord has provided these trees with protection and healing after a fire.  He has provided me with the Comforter who is with me not only for healing after the fire has passed but the Comforter is with me even during the trial, giving strength, encouragement and, yes, comfort.   And He has provided the Body of Christ, the Church, for my support, encouragement and aid.

Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus Christ into this world as the atonement for my sin.  Thank you also for providing means of grace so that I can persevere when difficult times assail, thank you for the Holy Spirit present within and the Church present without for strength and encouragement, prayer and praise, help and aid during times of testing. Help me to be of encouragement to your children through your Spirit and the Word.  Rather than fighting the test, Father, help me to embrace it and persevere through it so that I will be mature in my faith.  Thank you for being with me, even in the furnace of testing.  I praise your name and glorify you in all things.