Christian Growth

Tender Christian Growth

Have you ever planted out a young plant or punnet of seedlings in your garden and soon after found the plants collapsed and shrivelled? This happens because times of transition are vulnerable times for plants. Times of Christian growth and change are also vulnerable times. Moses was moved to sing “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” Tender plants (and tender Christians) need specific conditions to thrive.

Who is Vulnerable?

New Christians can become discouraged and defeated. They start out enthusiastically and soon experience some setbacks. Without strong roots these challenges can be hard to overcome. This also applies to more established Christians who are going through times of rapid growth. Christian growth can happen in seasons just as plants shoot out in the spring time. It also occurs naturally when we are “pruned.” Jesus talked about this, and explained that pruning happens to bring about new growth and more fruit (John 15:1-2). Just as with plants, this pruning is not done on new vigorous shoots, only on established growth.

Whether Christians are new or seasoned, they will pass through times of vulnerability when they are growing. An awakening to the spiritual gifts is one of these times. God is so kind to us all in our tender times. He says,

I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:3-4)  

The Lord nurtures us as small children who need to be fed and cared for tenderly. In times of growth we become like little children, eager to learn, and needing to be looked after. Churches must be safe environments where the children of God can explore and express their spiritual gifts with understanding and encouragement. Those who have been charged with the care of young ones are given stern warnings to not place “stumbling blocks,” but rather to serve them in kindness (Matthew 18:4-7), (Matthew 10:40-42).

An Expression of Love

Paul also warned that it is important to understand the gifts in the context of the church, and to see what effects their use is having. Christians who are exploring the gifts must test them to see whether they are reflecting the love of God in the things they do and say.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

The gifts must be a support to the growth of the church. They must be grounded in humility and love, and never be used to challenge to church leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

Learn From Jesus, the “tender shoot”

Jesus surrendered his identity as supreme God and took on vulnerability as a physical human being. While fully God, he also became fully infant, boy, man. This was the plan of God and had been prophesied long before:

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. (Ezekiel 17:22)

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)

Christian Growth Needs Good Roots

Our Saviour experienced what it is to be weak, to be the young one, to grow in understanding.  The Bible tells us He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Likewise, we won’t always be vulnerable. We are to grow into the fullness of Christ, into the expression of his loving nature toward each other and God (Ephesians 4). To do that we should learn from his example and do as he did. We are told Jesus often withdrew from the crowds of people who needed his touch and his healing, and was nourished and recharged in prayer and quiet time with God (Luke 15:15-16). At times of Christian growth and change this is vitally important. All growth, all strength comes from the Lord, and help in times of need will always be there for us. Let’s remember that all Christian growth comes from setting down deep roots by staying close to the Lord.

This message is an excerpt from a sermon by Karen Dixon on 29 February, 2016. If you would like help or healing as you discover more about your spiritual gifts, or for any other reason, please get in touch using the contact form below. Bless you!