Growth for a Purpose

Very early in my career, I was appointed to represent our property-casualty insurance company to agents who sold for us in North central Ohio. My boss traveled with me, initially, to introduce me to these independent business owners, so we spent a fair amount of “windshield time” together over a two-week span. He taught me much as we drove from town to town, and one piece of advice that never strayed too far from my mind was this: “Some people have one year’s experience 20 times, and some people build up 20 years’ experience one time.” It was a call to continual growth through unrelenting application—maturing in knowledge and increasing in effectiveness. Decades later, I remain grateful to him and to others who shared of their wisdom and experience, deepening my understanding and raising my sights.

At greater depth and grander scale, God desires for us a lifetime of ongoing growth and increasing fruitfulness, for the two are always linked in His Kingdom, the former leading to the latter. “You did not choose me,” said Jesus to His followers, “but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”1 He has saved us from eternal separation from God, certainly, the Spirit giving birth to our spirit2, for which we are forever thankful. Yet just as earthly parents would want for their children, our Heavenly Father longs to see us grow up and flourish, and truth be known, we want this, too, for virtually no one wants to exit this life without having brought value and meaning to someone else. As one who has gone before us, then, Peter points to the path of purpose, urging us to add to our faith other divine character traits such as knowledge, self-control, perseverance and love. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”3

One year’s experience 20 times? No, God’s plan for us is much higher than this, so He carries us through infancy, encourages us through toddlerhood, guides us through adolescence, and, through a mature and maturing us, changes lives around the world, for good and forever.

Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for your and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will though all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might … (Colossians 1:9-11a)

1 John 15:16
2 John 3:6
3 2 Peter 1:5-8

Your Loss Is Your Gain

“What people resist is not change, per se, but loss.”1—Ronald Heifetz et al

I knew a man who was so confident in one company’s leadership that, when it issued stock, he mortgaged his house and plowed all of its equity into that business, willing to lose everything in the belief the company would return more on his money than any other feasible option. His faith was well-rewarded, for his investment grew quickly and steadily, tripling in a few short years, and before the man died, he had the opportunity to tell the company’s CEO, “You allowed me to realize the American dream.”

We look to our salvation as gain, and rightly so, for what we have in Christ is too vast to be measured. Yet transformation into His likeness is change, and change requires loss—continually putting worldly values behind us. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it,”2 Jesus told his disciples in private. And to an immense crowd gathered before Him, He taught, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”3 In turn, and much like the investor who staked his confidence entirely in the company’s leadership, Paul sold all for Christ, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”4

What former treasure did Paul now wheel to the curb as trash? Legalistic righteousness, impeccable lineage, unsurpassed education, and worldly accomplishment for starters. He mortgaged safety for danger, traded freedom for imprisonment, and exchanged esteem for ridicule—all in the confidence of the gain that lay ahead of him. So I think, what do I need to drop in the dumpster to make more room for Christ and to serve the people He loves? The yen for conditional acceptance has done me no good, and frankly I’m tired of it—that can go. Comfort and convenience? Those are precious to me, but they render me ineffective in the Kingdom, which nears with each passing day. Toss them, too. Oh, yeah, then there’s that…

Lord Jesus, lead me in loss as I follow you in gain. Grace me to realize the Heavenly dream. Amen.

1 Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linsky, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, (Boston: Harvard Business Press), 22.
2 John 12:24
3 Matthew 13:44
4 Philippians 3:8

Works of Art in Blocks of Stone

Known best for his exquisite statue of David and for his compelling Sistine Chapel frescos, Michelangelo is recognized as one of the elite visual artists the world has ever known, emerging in the minds of many as the foremost among them. How fascinating then to glimpse the master’s perspective as he commences his work, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Of one work in particular, he recounted, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” How profound, and how profoundly humbling: in transforming rock into art, the great carver yet labored as a servant, liberating art from stone.

I wonder how closely Michelangelo’s call to discover and his diligence to emancipate reflected the heart of God, who transforms us into something far greater than any virtuoso might conceive. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” He promised through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you …”1 God’s vision was not merely to reshape rock from one form to another, but, in Christ Jesus and through His Spirit in us, to breathe life into these hearts of stone and set us free.

God’s transforming work continues, for “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”2 So, He shapes us, sometimes painfully through the chiseling hammers of this world or its forging furnaces, and at other times through the joy of His presence and the breathless vision of Him into Whose image we are being formed. For “the Lord is the Spirit,” wrote Paul, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all … beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 3 So, take heart and persevere, for in each one of us “blocks of stone” God sees a marvelous statue, and more capably than any earthly artist, He carves until we are free.

Father, we have no idea the depth of your love for us or the height of your plans for us. All we can do is say, “I trust you” and “Thank you.” You are good. Lead me in your path today. Amen.

1 Ezekiel 37:26, 27
2 Romans 8:29
3 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18 NASB