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The Jesus Community: Lasting Growth Over a Lifetime

Michael Gatlin

Michael Gatlin

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In God’s kingdom, growth, maturity, and lasting change come gradually, in the midst of regular life and activities; not at a special seminar, or with a New Years’ resolution, or on the newest diet. When we try to overhaul ourselves all at once like that, the changes seldom stick. Instead, we just end up disappointed and discouraged.

The fact is, deep and lasting change takes root best when it is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. God’s kingdom isn’t only concerned with the big milestones—birth, death, marriage, career, etc. It’s concerned with all of life, even the little day-to-day things, like the laundry, the diaper change, the crabby coworker, the trip to the bank. No one-time experience with God is going to produce long-term change in these places. Instead, it’s regularly coming to God and interacting with his kingdom right in the middle of the real, unglamorous blow-outs of our lives—the tire blow-outs and the diaper blow-outs—that really changes us.

It makes sense, when you think about it. Say you want to learn French. You wouldn’t decide to just get up one morning and only speak French from then on out, without any studying. It might seem fun at first, but as soon as you needed to talk about something more complicated than food or the location of the bathroom, you would get frustrated by your limited vocabulary and slip right back into English.

If you really want to learn French, you have to spend time studying it, listening to it, making friends who speak it already. Over time, as you weave the new language into your life, your words, and eventually your thoughts will be permeated with French until it starts to come naturally, without even thinking about it.

The same is true of our character-vocabulary. If we want to look like Jesus, if we want his kind of goodness to flow from us, then he needs to be woven into our daily routines. We need to seek him out and practice his vocabulary of love regularly throughout our day. We need to spend time with others who speak that language, too. That way, little by little, we’ll become completely saturated with his character, completely fluent in his language.

Often we hold back from this kind of transformation because it means surrendering more of ourselves to God’s control than we are prepared to give. We get tripped up by putting God into a small, isolated corner of our lives where he won’t affect us too much. Dallas Willard, in a book called Renovation of the Heart, writes:

Jesus’ objective is to eventually bring all of human life under the direction of his wisdom, goodness and power as part of God’s plan for the entire universe…The revolution of Jesus is in the first place a revolution of the human heart or spirit…A revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through an ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It changes our ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as our bodily tendencies, and social relationships. It penetrates to the deepest layers of our soul.

There is something a little terrifying about that statement, isn’t there? A revolution in the deepest layers of our soul sounds a little too uncomfortable, a little too personal, a little too much like hard work. And so we keep God boxed away in irrelevant parts of our lives, all while wondering why we don’t see any change, any more freedom from the controlling sins and fears of our lives.

But if we trust Jesus with all our little daily concerns—our ups and downs, our minor irritations and pleasures—we start to be truly changed. It’s as we’re listening to our heavenly Father address our attitudes and fears and phobias and pain, that we really grow.

Part of the process is that we have to be real. You and I will never experience growth or healing or change in our pretend, fantasy life. No. God can be part of your dreams, but he must come into your reality, too. Only when you begin to be authentic with God, with yourself, and with others (yes, with others) will you begin to experience real growth. What hopes or questions, or unresolved emotions have you been hanging on to that you haven’t ever really shared with God or anyone else? Consider allowing God to come see that part of your life as it is right now, not as you want it to be someday. The minute you allow him to come into the parts of your life that aren’t pretty, he can begin to work in those places, to transform them into something beautiful.

Yes, this kind of growth is a process. It’s long and it’s gradual. But when you look at the end goal, it’s worth it. What God is really inviting us into, is discipleship—becoming students of Jesus so we can grow more and more like him. And as we do, we’ll discover that, the more we become like Jesus, the more we become truly, authentically human. Irenaeus, one of the early fathers and theologians of the church, wrote that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” As we submit to God’s will permeating our lives, we get to experience, more and more fully, life as Jesus lives it, the life God always intended.

What do you think? Leave a comment, or join the conversation at the Multiply Vineyard forum.

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