A marvelous miracle & laborious plodding
A Christian is a strange species of being. The very nature of faith and of a personal relationship with Almighty God fills our lives with a variety of paradoxes. A.W. Tozer points out, “A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot hear, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, stoops down in order to be lifted up, is strong when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge.” I would add to Tozer’s list that the Christian life is the strange mixture of the miraculous indwelling of God’s own Spirit in us and the believer’s deliberate, laborious plodding along toward spiritual growth. We are a mix of what God is doing in us and what we are pursuing toward God. Discard either side of the mix and the Christian faith becomes empty.
In his book Prayer, Philip Yancey shares a moving story about the first part of the mix, the miraculous indwelling of God’s Spirit:
“I have seen evidence of God’s presence in the most unexpected places. During our trip to Nepal, a physical therapist gave my wife and me a tour of the Green Pastures Hospital, which specializes in leprosy rehabilitation. As we walked along an outdoor corridor, I noticed in a courtyard one of the ugliest human beings I have ever seen. Her hands were bandaged in gauze, she had deformed stumps where most people have feet, and her face showed the worst ravages of that cruel disease. Her nose had shrunken away so that, looking at her, I could see into her sinus cavity. Her eyes, mottled and covered with callus, let in no light; she was totally blind. Scars covered patches of skin on her arms.
“We toured a unit of the hospital and returned along the same corridor. In the meantime this creature had crawled across the courtyard to the very edge of the walkway, pulling herself along the ground by planting her elbows and dragging her body like a wounded animal. I’m ashamed to say my first thought was, She’s a beggar and she wants money. My wife, who has worked among the down-and-out, had a much more holy reaction. Without hesitation she bent down to the woman and put her arm around her. The old woman rested her head against Janet’s shoulder and began singing a song in Nepali, a tune that we all instantly recognized: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’
“‘Dahnmaya is one of our most devoted church members,’ the physical therapist later told us…. ‘[W]e have a little Christian chapel here, and Dahnmaya comes every time the door opens. She’s a prayer warrior. She loves to greet and welcome every visitor who comes to Green Pastures, and no doubt she heard us talking as we walked along the corridor.’
“A few months later we heard that Dahnmaya had died. Close to my desk I keep a photo that I snapped just as she was singing to Janet. Whenever I feel polluted by the beauty-obsessed celebrity culture I live in—a culture in which people pay exorbitant sums to shorten their noses or plump up their breasts to achieve some impossible ideal of beauty while nine thousand people die each day from AIDS for lack of treatment and hospitals like Green Pastures scrape by on charity crumbs—I pull out that photo. I see two beautiful women: my wife, smiling sweetly, wearing a brightly colored Nepali outfit she had bought the day before, holding in her arms an old crone who would flunk any beauty test ever devised except the one that matters most. Out of that deformed, hollow shell of a body, the light of God’s presence shines out. The Holy Spirit found a home!” (p. 273-274)
The other side of the mix has to do with us deliberately and laboriously plodding along toward spiritual growth.
Chuck Swindoll comments, “I love babies…. I think it’s a delightful, enjoyable experience to watch babies grow up and to become little people, little men and women…. But you and I know that there are some things about little babies that are not very attractive. We humor them because they’re babies.
“Here’s a list of things: They are dependent and demanding. They are unable to feed themselves. They are unable to stay out of messes. They love to be the center of attention. They are driven by impulses, such as hunger, pain, sleep. They’re irritated when they’re dirty, even though they made the mess, and you’ve gotta clean it up. They have no manners, no control. They have little attention span, no concern for others, no abilities or skills.
“Now these are natural things that are a part of babyhood. But when you see adults with those characteristics, something tragic has happened, something terribly unfunny. The Christian who is not interested in growing wants to be entertained. He wants a diet of milk when he cries for it. He wants his way. And he’s gonna get it, no matter how many he will have to disrupt to get it.
“You see, in order for a Christian to handle solid food, he has to have a growing, mature digestive system. He needs teeth. He needs to have an appetite that is cultivated over a period of time for deep things, for the solid things of God. Spiritual babies must grow up. Some of the most difficult people to live with in the church of Jesus Christ are those who have grown old in the Lord but haven’t grown up in Him.”
We need the work of God in us, and we need to work at growth.