Friday, September 21, 2012

The Recipe for Growth

I'm a recipe follower. Some of my friends are the kinds of cooks who throw a bunch of unmeasured ingredients in a pot and suddenly it's the best meal you've ever had. They feel their way through cooking.

I just can't do that. I blame college. The many Chem Labs I had to take permanently burned into my brain the importance of following step by step instructions. We were required to hand write every step of an experiment before actually beginning. It took forever. But to this day, I feel comfort in reading and rereading a recipe in a cookbook as I work through it. This practice has caused me to appear to be a decent cook. When complimented, I always reply, "Well, I just know how to follow directions." I know that there are good cooks, and then there are people who can just read a recipe.

I think people approach spiritual growth similarly. Either a person is the type who feels their way through life, learning bits here and there, or she finds comfort in a recipe.

In the excellent Cloud and Townsend book called Changes That Heal, the Christian family therapists and psychologists offer a recipe for growth. Only three things are necessary, but ALL three are absolutely non-negotiable:

Grace. Truth. Time.

I read that book nearly 20 years ago and this has remained with me. When sharing His faith with others, Jesus is the only person to have ever had a perfect balance of truth and grace. We don't. Depending on our personalities, we either fall a little on the grace side of things, talking all the time about God's love and acceptance, which can undermine His intolerance of sin, or we have a passion for His holiness and truth, which can lead to legalism. And probably most of us struggle to include the necessary ingredient of time into our growth expectations (especially when it comes to others). I am often impatient for God to work. I forget that growth takes a lot of time and requires much patience.

You know how some cooks over-salt everything? Some cooks add too much spice or leave everything bland. No two are exactly alike. It's not unlike our personal walks with God. Everyone is different. And everyone has a taste, or gifting, that can lean us one way or another in following the recipe for growth. Lately, I've been trying to remember that since we are all different and are all part of the same body of Christ, we bring different things to the table. Since none of us is Jesus, we will reflect His strengths in various, albeit unbalanced, ways. 

Jesus is still our example, however, since He was perfectly balanced. He offered grace and loved others so deeply, but it was never without speaking truth. He didn't say to the adulterous woman, "Daughter, I love you and forgive you," give her a hug, and then leave. He said, "Daughter, I love you and I forgive you. Now let your life reflect it. Go and sin no more." Truth came with grace, and He gave a command for the future. There's the time component. He's not expecting instantaneous transformation. He says, "Now start making different choices. I want you to start looking like me." Over time, her life would change. That's growth.

That's what I want, for my life, and for the lives of the women in my sphere of influence. We need to follow the recipe, this time, folks. The haphazard guestimation style may work for soup but not for long term, consistent spiritual growth.

As of yesterday, I'm leading a weekly basics Bible study, so I've been mulling these principles over in my head. How, exactly, do people grow? Is what I'm offering balanced, and are my expectations appropriate given that time is a key component? That's why my mind came back to the book I read oh so long ago.

Grace. Truth. Time.

Which one could you use a little more of in your spiritual journey?

How hard are you on yourself? Do you regularly embrace God's grace and let His love wash away the burden of your failures? I know (because this is my weakest ingredient) that the evidence of lacking grace in your life is an ever present struggle with shame; I deal too often with condemnation and the accusing words of the Enemy because I do not practice grace like I should. I want to thrive in the light of grace daily.

Do you know truth and love God's word? Can you say what King David said in Psalm 119, "I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way." The evidence of lacking truth in your life is a struggle to prioritize learning about who God is and His standards for His children. I want to have a passion for truth, like David did.

What about your patience with yourself. Do you forget that time is a necessary component in transforming your character? If you have anxiety about your spiritual weaknesses, this nagging sense of urgency, or find yourself comparing your walk to others, then you may be needing to add time to your recipe for growth. I struggle with this too. These things take time. Lots. And God is in no hurry to make everything perfect in  your life or heart (darn!). And yet, it's so human to want to rush the process.

Which of the three ingredients for growth do you sometimes leave out of the recipe?


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