Candy and Trinket Christian Living? Not!

Marketers know what they’re doing. They fill clear containers with colorful candies and toys at just the right height for little ones to notice; then place them strategically in restaurant lobbies or other well traveled places so moms and dads can hear, “Can I have a quarter?” on a regular basis. The quarter goes in and a handful of candy or a plastic enclosed trinket falls into eager little hands. Marketing success!

Sometimes we Christians expect the same from our growth in godliness. Put prayer or consistent devotions or serving others in and — boom! — out comes spiritual maturity. While there’s certainly considerable value in these activities, simply doing them won’t produce quick results. Becoming Christlike, as author Jerry Bridges says, requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.”

Why? Because God isn’t in the marketing business. Put the money in/walk away with results just isn’t how He chose to grow Christians. Believe me, if there was a way for that to happen I would have figured it out by now.

One of the main ways God grows children is by using their siblings. This isn’t just true in biological families; it’s also true in spiritual ones. Children learn to share, resolve conflicts, stop tattling, overcome selfishness and love someone besides themselves by messing up and then having others teach them how to change. Even God’s children grow through the normal “iron sharpening iron” rubbing with other flawed believers (see Proverbs 27:17). Add speck removal to living in a fallen world with broken people like ourselves and what falls into our hands isn’t usually a goody. In fact, we often walk away from challenging interactions with disappointment, offense, confusion, misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

Tim Lane of CCEF says, “God has put me in your life, and he has put you in my life, for the purpose of making us more like Christ together.” Yep. One of the primary ways Christian growth happens is in the context of community. We shouldn’t be surprised. From eternity past the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have provided a powerful demonstration to us of how much relationship means to almighty God.

My posts on log and speck removal may have come as a surprise to some. “Seriously,” you may have thought, “are Christians really supposed to be up in each other’s business like this? I don’t know what you’re experiencing but my friends and I are way too polite and accepting to dig around for specks in each other’s eyes. Besides, it sounds way too messy.”

Living in genuine Christian community with others who are similarly fallible, weak and flawed as ourselves is messy. In fact, I have often chosen the tidy road of limiting my input in other’s lives to encouragement. It’s fun to be known as an encourager, after all.

But the kind of life changing growth that God is after in our lives is designed to happen in a mess: a mess that author Paul Tripp says is “worth making.”

I knew a woman once whose home was immaculate every time I saw it. When I asked how she kept it so tidy and clean she responded, “It’s easy. I rarely have people over!” Our hearts and lives can stay relatively mess free if we don’t invite people in. Once we start to confess our sins or invite others to share things about us that concern them or venture into the risky business of humbly asking them about something we’ve noticed about their marriage/character/parenting/interactions with others — well, mess happens. It’s much easier to just keep the door of our lives closed so things can remain tidy and confusion free!

If you’ve found a magic coin that can be inserted into my heart that, when cranked, will produce a fistful of godliness, please let me know! Otherwise, I think Tim Lane is right. I’m grateful for the growth that has come in my life from times alone in my room worshiping, reading God’s word and praying. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines is a true gift. But I can’t refute the growth that has also come after I open the door and interact with my friends and family. After all, “the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'” The God who has lived in trinitarian community forever calls and requires us to do the same.

Is the door to your life carefully locked and protected? Or does a welcome mat invite people to come on in and make a mess with you?

Speck removal in relationships isn’t about barging into someone’s life and pointing out irritants. Rather, it’s about fellow sinners pulling up comfy chairs and getting to know each other. Over time, biblical fellowship is born and specks start revealing themselves. Sometimes it’s hard and painful. But other times you walk away and think, “Hmmm. I can see better. What just happened?”

I’ll tell you about one of those times in my life tomorrow.