Zechariah 4:10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.
I began writing about the idea of embracing the humble beginnings that God sends our way by describing my own circumstances. If you haven’t yet read that post, I’d recommend you start there before moving on in this post.
When a person first comes to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ, they really do become a new person. It’s amazing to see the change in some people. They mourn over their sin, even sin they use to find so attractive. People who never wanted to read become voracious readers, wanting to know everything about God that they can find out. Habits change, speech changes, thoughts are different; we begin to grow in a new way that we never knew about before Christ. It’s an amazing time in the life of a believer. But as time passes, many of us forget what that’s like and we think we’ve outgrown those things. We may even look down upon new believers for acting the way they do, even though we were the same way back then. There’s a temptation to try to force spiritual growth on other people. We fail to realize that every person is different and that all come from their own specific background and have lived different lives up to the point of their conversion. Everybody doesn’t fit one particular mold so we should have loose definitions of spiritual growth.
I’ve been guilty of thinking that someone who grows rapidly in their knowledge of the Bible was growing more quickly spiritually than someone who was struggling through the Bible knowledge part but growing in other ways. I’ve come to realize that some people actually learn a lot about the Bible in their early days as a believer without necessarily maturing spiritually. Knowledge does not equal maturity. Sometimes new believers mature beyond people much older than themselves, even though it may have seemed they were not growing at first.
Now, here’s a bit of my own story that I think is relevant. I was once a new Christian, like all of us are at some point in our faith. When I was still a fairly new follower of Christ, and I was beginning to really study God’s Word to get some understanding, I was involved at a church where I met a friend that lived in the same building as me. He suggested that we get up early together in the morning and pray before going to work. I was all for this (despite how much I hate getting up early) and I thought it would help us both. We were brothers, moving along the same path, looking toward the same goal line. We encouraged each other and built each other up. Before long, though, it became apparent that my friend was farther along than me in his spiritual walk. That could have been good because he could offer me guidance and answer some questions. I needed a lot of guidance because I had a very mixed background when it comes to theology. I was still figuring some very important things out about God. The relationship took a negative turn though.
My friend began trying to push me to take some steps that I wasn’t quite ready for. Once he even declared to me that “there’s a time for learning, but you’ve got to move on and start doing.” I agree with that notion. It is absolutely true. We can’t keep our heads buried in the books and never become doers of God’s Word. We can’t just hoard knowledge and never put it into practice. But you see, I wasn’t ready for that next step yet. What my friend didn’t recognize is that I was in a particular stage that required me to figure some things out before I could put them into practice. I believe to this day that there’s nothing wrong with what I was doing by sticking my nose in the Bible and working through things. I obviously did start putting things into practice, and now here I am in ministry. It was a time in my life that I needed. I was growing in the way that the Holy Spirit was working on me, just not the particular area where my friend wanted to see growth.
If a baby never grew and it continued to be a baby, never learning to walk on its own or feed itself, we’d know something was wrong developmentally. The same is true spiritually speaking, and yet there’s a time when it is ok to be in that place of dependence and learning. The Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 3:2) and even Peter (1 Peter 2:2) speak a lot about the need to move on from just being fed spiritual milk, but don’t miss the implication that there is a time that it’s ok to be on spiritual milk. When a child is learning to walk, they fall down a lot. We don’t berate them and tell them they were never born, but when a spiritual infant stumbles we often refuse to help them and guide them, and some people even question their salvation because of a mistake. This is sad and it has no place in the family of God.
All of us who are a bit more mature in our faith need to not only help newer believers, but also look back and remember what it was like to be in that period of our lives. We also need to realize that not everyone grows in the same area at the same time. Just like some children walk before talking well, others speak in sentences before they are great at walking. They’re both growing, but differently. Neither is wrong. Don’t disregard the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life as they grow to spiritual maturity. You can come alongside and help in the process. Be a mentor and an encourager. Coach and pray. Let God determine what area is most important. He’s the one that sees the heart.