And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
2 Corinthians 3:18, The Message
Jesus told us to consider the birds of the air and flowers of the field (Matthew 5:26-33). Pay close attention to them and we will learn. Well, on recent walks in the woods of northern Minnesota my wife Rita and I have also been considering mushrooms. Rich undergrowth and trees are home to fascinating varieties of the fleshy fungi such as puffballs, morels, Jack O’Lanterns, Horse Hooves, and The Old Man of the Woods. I am amazed at how quickly they mushroom, pardon the pun. But, literally, they pop up overnight through the soil and on trees. We didn’t see them yesterday, and here they are today amidst the towering pine, maple, and oak trees.
Considering the mushrooms got me to thinking about mushroom spirituality. I mean by that the expectation that spiritual growth springs up overnight. I go on a retreat, read a book, hear a sermon, take a class, and expect instant Christlikeness.
American theologian Augustus Hopkins Strong wrote something that helps me in thinking about overnight spirituality:
A student asked the president of his school whether he could not take a shorter course than the one prescribed. “Oh yes,” replied the president, “but then it depends upon what you want to be. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He wants to make a squash, He takes six months.(Systematic Theology Volume 3)
I think that the Christian life must be a lot like marriage; it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a commitment to faithfulness for the long haul. Today’s Scripture reminds us that our lives are “gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” There is day-by-day walking with Jesus right on into eternity!
When Chris Webb, former President of Renovare, was leading a conference for Water from Rock Ministries, he told a story that I have found helpful. Chris is an Englishman whose father was an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. Once Chris’s father took him on a “take your child to work” week on the H.M.S. Exeter. One day on the cruise the Exeter’s captain took Chris up to the ship’s bridge. The captain placed Chris at the helm and instructed him to turn the ship a certain number of degrees starboard. Chris turned the ship as directed but didn’t feel any change in their direction. But the captain explained that the small change in direction, if followed, would mean the difference between ending-up in Cuba versus Savannah, Georgia. Chris made his point: change the direction of your life and keep going! “Steady as she goes,” Christ our Captain commands.
Spiritual growth in Christlikeness is process, gradual process day by day in the same direction. Jesus explained in a parable that it would be “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:28). That’s why the New Testament has so much to say about patience and perseverance in the Christian life. Keep going! It’s the difference between a mushroom that is here today and gone tomorrow, and a stately oak tree. It will take time.
As I consider the mushroom versus Biblical spirituality, I am reminded of a couple of things:
First. I will want to be patient with others in their spiritual growth. Patience for all my sisters and brothers following Jesus, doing ministry, seeking counseling, working the Twelve Steps! Keep on going!
Second. I will want to be patient with me. I do want to grow and press onto maturity. Yes, I do seem to be struggling with some of the same issues. And yes, it can be two steps forward and one step backward. But I will want to be patient with myself as I am with others.
Third. I will want to be patient with God. Sure, I wish He would make things happen faster. But God is committed to us for the long haul. A thousand years are like a day to God. He’s working on a far bigger canvas than we can imagine! He will keep working with us right on into eternity.
Remember the student who wondered whether or not there was a shorter course than the one prescribed! It all depends on what we want to be, a mushroom or an oak. God has big plans for you and me in wanting to make us like Jesus! So, steady as you go!
Grace and peace,