Have you ever thought, “If I were rich all my problems would be resolved”? Have you ever imagined, “If I were thin, I would have the answer to all my insecurities”? How about, “When I get my dream job, life will finally come to me on my terms”? I suppose I don’t actually have to say that these are little bits of fantasy. Rich people have problems—big problems—that would probably crush the rest of us. People who do finally achieve their “target weight” simply discover they have other insecurities that were previously overshadowed by their weight problem. The only example here that I can directly relate to is the last. I have my dream job, and you know what? Some days it’s really tough to come in to work. Problems arise, deadlines hound me, and things I really count on don’t always happen. Just because you find yourself in a new and good place in life does not mean you won’t have new challenges that you must be ready to cope with.
This is equally true in the spiritual realm. For all who change and grow, new and surprising dangers lie ahead. I’ll start with outside examples first, and then I’ll tell you about my stuff. It’ll give me time to work up my nerve.
I know several dear and godly men whom I admire deeply for their love of God. They are disciplined, thoughtful, and striving to become humble servants of God. They are making amazing progress, and I am eagerly following in their footsteps. The problem is that, occasionally, they pursue their spiritual growth at the expense of their families—too much time away from home and too much attention on ministries other than the God-given ministry a father should have to his own kids. When you grow more spiritually mature in one area, the danger, perhaps unavoidable, is that you’re going to start making new mistakes that you never struggled with before.
Here’s one more. Another friend is like a diamond miner of truth. He constantly digs and learns and strives to discover what God has told us through Scripture. The problem is that he has lost much of the desire to listen to the people around him. He wants facts, not opinions. He wants God’s perspective, not vague notions from those who’ve studied less than he has. A new and previously unknown flavor of pride has reared its ugly head. As I mentioned, spiritual growth can be very dangerous.
Now it’s my turn. In the last few years I’ve been drawn toward the contemplative. (Hey, no one’s more surprised than I am.) I like to sit and read and then sit and think about what I’ve read. I’m enjoying prayer as I never have before. I can now pray for long periods of time and often without dozing off. I’m growing . . . and it’s really amazing. Lately, however, I’ve found myself greatly annoyed by anything that interferes with my “time with God.” For the most part this is directed at my kids. I want quiet, and I don’t want to be bothered. I’m impatient and irritable because they’re messing up the most important thing that I could be doing—spending time with God! I am such an idiot.
I remember a moment a few years ago when my idiocy became crystal clear to me. Our third child was only a couple of months old. Babies have a way of destroying your calm all by themselves. I was holding her over my arm and patting her on the back as I gazed out our back window. An amazing sunset was being painted out there. I soaked it up. I praised God for it. I was quietly humming a favorite hymn when my 7-year-old daughter bounced into the room. She shouted, “Whatcha looking at?” She then jumped up and stood in the window frame to get a good look at what I was staring at. While she looked at the fading sunset, I was left staring at the back of her head. I didn’t say anything, thank God. I was so frustrated! Here I was trying to worship God with what He had placed in front of me, and my kid was in the way. Argh! Did I mention that I am an idiot?
By the grace of God, I was reminded right there on the spot that though I wanted to worship God and grow close to Him by way of the sunset, God had another plan—a better plan. No voice filled my ears, but nonetheless, I sensed God leading me to worship Him by staring in awe at the amazing child He had given me. In the time it took you to read this paragraph, the sunset was gone. I will treasure my daughter for the rest of my life. I was humiliated and ashamed. It hurt me badly to see what a selfish, pride-filled wretch I was even while I was praising God. God is so gracious.
I wish I could tell you that I am past all of that and am now a paragon of virtue and humble servanthood. I struggled with this same thing in different ways just this week. The lesson I got from my “girl-in-the-window” experience was this: I need to approach God in the way He wants me to—not at the expense of others in my family and not just in a safe and controlled study of His Word but in whatever way He wants. I can approach God when the house rumbles from the shouts, the laughter, and the pounding footsteps of my family. When my wife is stressed, the best way for me to grow closer to God is to stop in the middle of my prayer list and serve her. Though I still struggle in this way, I know that the ups and downs of daily life form the classroom God wants me to learn in the most. This is dangerous stuff, but it’s the very stuff that God will use to make me more like Christ—if I’ll only let Him.