Sunday, January 25, 2009
Haven't I Finished Growing Yet?
This semester I am once again teaching health to seventh grade girls. Our class verse is Luke 2:52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” We use it to emphasize the four major areas of health: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. The girls are always surprised to discover that health is more than just physical, but it doesn’t take them long to see how the four areas interact, depend upon each other, and contribute to our overall growth.
Another verse in the Bible speaks of growing, too. II Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” This verse is often presented to new believers, with special emphasis on the word “grow.” A closer look, however, reveals that the book of Second Peter is written to people who are “firmly established in the faith.” Therefore, this verse applies to me and to every other individual who is a serious follower of Christ. It would certainly be a mistake to stop with the word “grow.”
Grow in grace. The concept is contrary to human nature –which is no doubt why Peter stated it so plainly. Think about it. How many people grow more gracious, more patient, more tolerant of others as they grow older? Besides, I'm an adult. Haven't I finished growing yet?
I’m reminded of a former neighbor whose own children were raised and away from home. He was a meticulous lawn groomer, so much so that he became irate one afternoon when a stray ball invaded his lush grassy carpet and one of our sons dared attempt to retrieve it. As a pre-teen I recall delivering a meal, thoughtfully prepared by my mother, to an older woman in the neighborhood. Her shades were drawn, her house cluttered and cold. I cleared a chair and sat down, thinking I could perhaps cheer her up. But each attempt to engage her in conversation was answered by a grunt. I left completely shaken. I also recall a church secretary who resented the presence of children in the church building where she worked. Once, while passing through a childcare area, and finding a building block in her path, she kicked it so hard it made a large gash in the wall.
I could go on, but I’m sure these examples have revived memories of your own. Simply put, my observation is this: as we age many of us become less understanding, less patient, less tolerant, and less concerned about others –especially those younger than we are. We become satisfied with our status and daily routines. We are unwilling to be "bothered." Therefore, we, of all people need the directive to grow in grace; which brings me back to my seventh grade girls. It would be easy to identify all the things seventh graders (and other youth) are doing wrong. As parents, teachers, and youth leaders we may often shake our heads at their seeming disrespect, cluck our tongues at their immodesty, and chastise them for their chattiness. But do we extend grace?
If we hesitate to answer a resounding “yes,” it is most likely because we are negligent in the final portion of the verse, “…and (grow) in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Just like the verse in Luke about how Jesus grew, you can’t have one element of the verse without the other. We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus, because He is the perfect example of grace. He invited children onto his lap as his disciples tried to shoo them away. He dined with tax collectors, conversed with sinners, shook hands with lepers, and defended an adulteress. Does this mean that Jesus overlooked sin? Of course not. Ultimately, he died a horrible death for my sins and yours. But among the young, the tenderhearted, the weak, and the down-trodden, he confronted sin with love and grace.
What does grace look like? Among seventh grade girls grace might mean allowing extra time to complete an assignment, or actually listening to their thoughts about boys instead of merely telling them they shouldn’t be interested. Grace often involves empathy. When I honestly recall my own adolescent thoughts and actions, grace for these girls is easier to come by. The bottom line, though, is this. If I truly know Jesus, I will know grace. I will also come to recognize and appreciate how much grace I have received through Him, and through those in my life who have been grace-bearers.
Some grace-bearers come easily to mind: my grandmother, who prayed for me daily to the end of her ninety-seven years; my Sunday school teacher, who often invited fifteen giggly, boy-crazy girls to her home, serving up large helpings of understanding and grace; and Aunt Grace, who really wasn’t my aunt at all, but faithfully lived up to her name before my childish eyes. These three individuals weren’t simply examples of God’s grace, but reflectors of His character, having spent so much time with Him that His image shone through.
I want to be a grace-bearer, too. I want my husband, my sons and daughter-in-laws, my grandchildren, my friends and neighbors, and my students to experience God’s grace through me. So I am spending time with Jesus, drinking in His grace, and consciously dispensing it to others. I haven’t finished growing yet, and by God’s grace I will continue to grow despite my age and human tendencies… “To Him be glory, both now and forever. Amen.”