One of the Bible study groups has been discussing the gifts of the Spirit recently. We started talking about using the Spiritual gifts and that lead to the need to develop the gifts, which caused some significant discussion–it was hard for some members of the study to understand that we could have a gift from the Spirit and not be automatically able to use it. In the process of the discussion, I mentioned that I have the gift of preaching, which didn’t really surprise anyone in the group.
(I am aware that the New Testament doesn’t specifically mention the gift of preaching, although several of the gifts: prophecy, exhortation and encouragement could be seen as being related to preaching. However, I am just going to skip by the issue at this point so that I can deal with the issue I want to look at–something I don’t always get to do in Bible study.)
I then went on to suggest that although I have that gift, I am probably a better preacher than I was when I started preaching 40 or so years ago. At that point, a couple of members of the study who had heard me preach regularly 30-35 years ago agreed with me emphatically. The strength of their agreement caused some laughter in the group and before anyone else could say anything, one of them quickly assured me and the group that I wasn’t a bad preacher in those days but am definitely a better preacher today.
I have to confess that while I appreciated the affirmation of my point, there was a small part of me that found it disconcerting that I had changed enough in the area of preaching for it to be noticeable. While I firmly believe in the need to grow in faith, hearing the evidence that it is happening can be a bit painful.
It can be painful because while the reality of spiritual growth is positive and good, the fact that we had to grow reminds us that we were not perfect–and maybe, more significantly at least for me, that I wasn’t as perfect as I thought I was. Theoretically, I know that, I confess that, I teach that. Practically, I occasionally need to confront the pride that would like my development as a preacher to have been only a minor improvement of what was an already impressive ability even all those years ago.
Tied with that is the idea that I am probably not at evolved spiritually today as I think I am–I mean, if I wasn’t all that clear about what I was back then and how far I have come, I am probably not as aware of where I am now as I think am. Maybe the childish things that I think I have put away (I Corinthians 13.11) haven’t really been put away. I may have a newer, more expensive and more sophisticated version that looks better but it may still be the same thing I had before.
Fortunately, my place with God doesn’t depend on how much I grow or in what direction I grow. That is one of the bed-rock realities of the grace of God. But growth in the right direction does help me connect better with the God whom I serve and enables me to better do what he calls me to. And, even more fortunately, God provides all kinds of help and resources to me to enable me to not only know the direction of my growth but also to have the strength, courage, support and all the rest needed to grow in that direction.
Whether that growth involves showing me how to become a more Christian driver, a better preacher, a more attentive listener, a more understanding pastor, a more focused researcher or whatever, God has a direction and a plan and offers me the resources that I need for the process. I can choose to stay the way I am–or I can take the steps of faith this grace from God asks of me and continue the journey from being what I was to being what God knows and wants me to be.
Either way, God’s grace assures me that I am loved and accepted–but for me, at least, that same love and acceptance almost always encourages me to take the next step. Following God may not always be comfortable but it is always fulfilling and worthwhile.
May the peace of God be with you.