Not everybody grows in the same way

In John Ortberg’s book, The Me I Want To Be, the author talks about the unique ways God grows each of us spiritually into the people we were created to be. One of the parts that really spoke to me was where Ortberg said this:

“The Bible does not say you are God’s appliance; it says you are his masterpiece (Eph 2:10, NLT). Appliances get mass-produced. Masterpieces get hand-crafted. God did not make you exactly like anyone else. Therefore, his plan for shaping you will not look like his plan for shaping anyone else. If you try to find a generic plan for spiritual growth, it will only frustrate you.”

(Can anyone say journaling?)

Ortberg then goes on to give an excellent summary of some of the ways God worked in the Bible:

“He had Abraham take a walk, Elijah take a nap, Joshua take a lap, and Adam take the rap. He gave Moses a forty-year time out, he gave David a harp and a dance, and he gave Paul a pen and a scroll. He wrestled with Jacob, argued with Job, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar. He gave Aaron an altar, Miriam a song, Gideon a fleece, Peter a name, and Elisha a mantle. Jesus was stern with the rich young ruler, tender with the woman caught in adultery, patient with the disciples, blistering with the scribes, gentle with the children, and gracious with the thief on the cross. God never grows two people the same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.”

Boom. Just like that, your categories and presuppositions, your expectations and formulas, are all blown out of the water. All of a sudden, discipleship returns to what it was meant to be all along: following the Spirit of God, living in relationship with Him, and going wherever He leads. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Go back and read that last Ortberg quote again, and just let it sink in. Take for instance the part where he says “[God] whispered to Elijah.” There is only one instance in the whole Bible where God speaks in a still, small voice (“gentle whisper” in the NIV) to someone– Elijah in 1 Kings 18:12, where the writer says that God was not in the great wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the gentle whisper. Yet even though Elijah’s is the only experience like this in Scripture, how many of us have been taught that this is how God will speak to us, that if we can just learn to quiet ourselves, we will hear His still, small voice? Who decided that the way God dealt with Elijah is the way he will deal with all of His people? God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.

I have read my share of books on church growth, and many of them advocate simplifying church by having every member focus on a couple of things, like joining a small group and serving where you are gifted. But what if God doesn’t transform your heart in small groups? What if you grow best in one-on-one relationships with other Christians? What if you mature in your faith by spending time with people who don’t believe what you believe, as you are challenged to wrestle with what it really means to know and follow God? I know some Christians who benefit tremendously from being in deep relationship with the same three people for twenty years. And then there are others who would go out of their skin if they were forced to limit themselves to such a small number of people for even six months. God grows them the most when they are in relationship with lots of different people.

Some of you love to journal. Others of you can’t stand to write. Some of you experience God best in nature. Others of you experience Him most when you are serving others. Some people are transformed by a solid Biblical sermon and stirring worship. For others, Sunday morning church services have little impact on their spiritual growth. And so on.

Might I suggest that we resist the urge to create a Christian mold into which everyone must fit? That we recognize that God’s Spirit works differently in different people? Can we all agree that the worship song that always inspires us towards greater holiness might be just annoying noise to someone else? Don’t we realize that even though memorizing Scripture might cause us to trust God more fully, there are other people who may not remember where any verses are but know how to live each of them out, and that their poor memory for Scripture does not make them less of a Christian than we are? Or, isn’t it possible that the person whose view of God is enriched by spending time in four different churches over the course of a year is not necessarily less committed to God than you are simply because you have remained faithful to one church body for twenty years?

We have been set free from slavery to the law, and now we live in the freedom of the Spirit of God. As we follow the Spirit, we must keep in mind Paul’s warning in Galatians 5:13: “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” Do not allow your freedom to become an excuse for your disobedience towards God. Not every desire of your heart represents a leading of the Spirit; sometimes it is just a cover for your own selfish cravings or an avoidance of what God wants to do in your life. Your God-given freedom does not give you a license to just follow your own wants and desires, but instead to follow the Spirit wherever He leads you (and remember, He will never lead you to contradict God’s written Word). However, my point is this: do not let your heart condemn you if the exercise of your walk with God looks different than that of your Christian brother or sister. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.

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