Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year? Maybe you want to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, start a business, or just put down your phone more. Maybe your resolutions are geared towards spiritual growth, so you decided to read the Bible or pray more. Often we make these resolutions and think, “If I could just get there, then I will be [fill in the blank].” I’m a strong type-A, high-achieving person, and this is a constant struggle for me. I get so tied up with the finished product of growth that I often miss out on the process.
But this is not the way God works. He is just as much in the process as He is in the finished work.
God Plants Seeds
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:4-7 (NIV)
You may have read this passage dozens of times like I have, but recently I read this again and something about it shocked me.
God did not plant trees; He planted seeds.
For some reason, when I think of God creating the world and everything in it, I think of trees just popping up out of the ground in full form with tons of fruit. I think of the beauty of the world as it is now—the redwood forests or the jungles of the Amazon—just appearing overnight. But if you read this passage carefully, it says, “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth, and no plant had yet sprung up.” Can you imagine the earth with no plants at all? It must have looked like a barren wasteland.
And it’s not like it’s outside of God’s capability to make trees appear. He had just spoken the entire world into existence, and it appeared. Couldn’t He have spoken full-grown trees into existence?
We see in the creation account that God chose to express His creative power through process. He planted seeds and chose to watch them grow instead of creating the finished product.
But more than just planting seeds, God intended for the man He formed from the dust of the ground to participate in cultivating the seeds that He had planted.
“…There was no one to work the ground… Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. …The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:5c, 7, 15 (NIV)
God chose a process over a product and called the man to partner with Him in cultivating the planted seeds to produce growth.
Spiritual Growth is a Process
Spiritual growth is a gradual process rather than a sprint. God plants the seed of the Gospel in our hearts, and He does not make us super Christians overnight. He calls us to partner with Him in the process of growth to become all that He calls us to be.
We are called to be healthy, flourishing plants, which means that we may not bear fruit in every season. If you know anything about plants, you know that there is a season for growth, but that there is also a season for being dormant. There is a season for pruning and a season for fertilizing. Our responsibility in our spiritual growth is to respond to the season God has put us in and allow the Master Gardener to do His work in our lives, whatever that may be.
This response doesn’t always look like “trying harder.” For so many years, I was convinced that I just needed to pray harder, read my Bible more, and tell more people about Jesus, and then I would grow spiritually. I was convinced that God wanted my works, and if I wasn’t working, then I wasn’t growing.
Spiritual Growth is a Partnership
As I have learned more about spiritual formation, I am learning that spiritual growth does not happen the way the world pictures growth. It’s not a hustle, a ten-step project plan, or something I produce out of my own disciplines. It is a partnership with God. It is responding to the seed He has planted in my heart, and allowing Him to produce growth in my life as I open my life up to His creative power. Everything I do—reading my Bible, praying, or any other spiritual discipline—is a partnership with the work God is already doing rather than an effort to produce spiritual growth on my own.
So if your good intentions for your New Year’s resolutions are wearing down, take heart. Growth, whether spiritual growth or otherwise, is not intended to be a sprint. You are not “less than” because you are not where you want to be. God delights in the season of growth that you are in, whether it is dormancy, fruit-bearing, pruning, or fertilizing.
How are you responding to God’s creative work of growth in your life?
What would it look like for you to respond to God rather than try to produce growth on your own?
How does it feel to know you are fully loved in the season of growth you are in?
Creator God, You are the One who plants the seed of faith and makes it grow. I yield to Your creative work in my life and rest in Your power rather than my own. I am committed to partnering with You in my spiritual growth in every season, whether it looks like things are growing or it looks like things are dying. I choose to abide in Your love rather than strive for production. In the Name of the True Vine, who makes all things new, Amen.