‘Dinosaur’. That’s what my three year old replied with when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. My five year old’s answer was a little better: ‘astronaut’, he said. I was pleased with that answer. He may not know it but he comes from a line of astronauts. When I was 10 I announced to the world that I too was going to become an astronaut someday, and I’m still expecting it to happen. The way I see it, Tim Peake is 43 which means I’ve still got a good ten years or so before it becomes an unrealistic goal. It may be too late for me to be a professional footballer but my astronaut days are still ahead of me. Or maybe not.
There comes a time in everyone’s life, doesn’t there, when the question ‘what am I going to do when I grow up?’ turns into ‘what am I going to do today?’ When the ‘somedays’ become ‘todays’. But let’s not miss the connection. The grown up you is simply the sum total of the today’s you. Growth, you see, is cumulative and the lesson is simple: we should live today with that day in view. But what is ‘that day’ for you? What do you want to become and how are you going to reach it? Consider how we grow as Christians.
In John 15 Jesus introduces the theme of Christian growth with the words ‘I am the true vine,’ and tells us that growing occurs not as a result of hard work and determination but naturally and deliberately as we trust him and stay close to him (15:5). Spiritual growth, like biological growth is both a natural process and a deliberate one. Let me explain what I mean but considering the key role that perseverance and other people play in our development.
John 15:5 ’If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’
This has to do with deliberate growth. Andrew spoke recently on a Sunday about the difference forming good habits can make in our lives. Aristotle famously said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” True as that is, we know that for a habit to really run its course it needs to last longer than a few weeks or months. It requires perseverance.
I love how the epistle of James opens: “consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Did you spot that last bit? Perseverance when it’s done with us will leave us mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. Another translation uses the word ‘perfect’. I’ll take ‘perfection’ over being an astronaut any day. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Perfect. You can’t argue with that.
“we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”
Jesus then rounds off his message on growth with the words ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)
The watching world ought to be able to spot Christians by their love for one another and since love is a verb, they ought to be able to see our love by the way we express it. Having said that, loving others is not just a good gospel strategy, it’s also the way we grow. If perseverance is the deliberate form of spiritual growth then being in Christian community is the natural way it occurs. One writer puts it like this:
“Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternate society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are.”
Think about it for a second. You are the way you are, in large part, because of the home you were raised in. I have my issues and not your issues because I had my parents and not yours, and that happened naturally.
Therefore if you want to grow as a Christian, belong to a church; serve in a church, be part of a group (there are dozens to choose from in this booklet), pray with other Christians, listen to people, teach people and be taught by people. Get to know people well enough to be honest with them about your shortcomings and listen to them be honest about theirs. Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum; we can’t simply go away on a retreat, read a book, get prayed for, or go to a conference. Christian growth occurs by being with and by being around people.
“Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum. We can’t simply go away on a retreat, or visit some monastery”
The True Vine
So how do we grow? Both naturally and deliberately, by being with people and by persevering over the long haul.
Here in John 15 Jesus says ‘I am the true vine’, and in so doing he conjures up references in the Old Testament where God’s people get described as a vine. The difference is that whereas they’re accused by God of being a corrupt and fruitless vine, Jesus is the ‘true’ or ‘fruit bearing’ vine. Jesus lived his todays with his Father’s plan in constant view and the one glimpse we get of him as a child makes this clear (Luke 2). He didn’t go around making idle boasts about being an astronaut or a dinosaur; instead he prepared himself for a life of devotion and obedience to God. And the difference between him and us is that he actually did it, whereas we only say we’ll do it.
How can we be confident we’ll grow and bear good, lasting fruit for God? Because we’re not left to go it alone and try hard on our own. Instead we can know confidence, hope and joy by being a branch attached to the true fruit-bearing vine of Jesus. He is both our inspiration and the one who makes it all possible.