Our mission is being fulfilled when pastors and other helpers understand progressive sanctification. They recognize that change is often hard won. They rejoice even for small growth that displays faith and love.
One of the most important things we can ever learn is the significance of small growth—small steps in the right direction. 1 John 3:2 gives a pithy description of our growth process—we are not yet what we will become, but when we see the Lord face to face, we will be like Him. In other words, the Christian life now is not about reaching our destination. The real question is, are we heading in the right direction?
I have been a Christian for 42 years and a biblical counselor for most of that time. Understanding small growth has helped me personally and in ministry.
If you don’t have a category for small growth, you won’t recognize the way that our Father works on an issue over longer seasons of life. For example, during the first seven or eight years of being a Christian, the Lord patiently and consistently worked on my struggle with anxiety. I learned from many different angles, step by step, over and over, that each day’s trouble really is sufficient for that day. I learned that anxiety projects into the future, but God meets us in the present. I learned that God’s grace gives courage and clarity in whatever we must face.
As you struggle with sin over a longer period of time, God accomplishes two important things. First, he makes you more and more like Christ in even the smallest of ways. Second, he grants you greater wisdom to help others. You learn to avoid the pitfall of offering trite and formulaic counsel to someone who genuinely wants help but consistently struggles with the same issue.
In a different season of my life, God revealed weaknesses I had that corresponded to my gifts. I tend to be intellectual; I can make sense of people’s lives. My natural stance toward people or problems is to be analytical and to be a consultant. Over a number of years in ministry, and in everyday life, I learned to be more than just a person who could figure things out. I learned how to really care for people. Consultants hold people at arm’s length. Helpers enter in to someone’s troubles and seek to orient that person to Jesus. Noticing what is wrong is easy for me. Learning how to help someone become what is right is much harder work.
And now God has me in a new season with my wife Nan. We are empty nesters. The empty nest is not simply a step you take—it is a long period of adjusting to a new normal. Nan and I absolutely loved the nuclear family years, but now our baby is 31, and is herself married and a mother! We are still going through the small steps of coming to terms with aging, with the loss of our nuclear family life, and with the growing up of our children who all live far away. We raised our children so they would grow up. We feel loss and loneliness because they did grow up. Christ becomes fresh and precious in new ways as we adjust to the place God has us today.
What process am I writing about here? The term is “progressive sanctification.” What does that mean? Through lifelong growth, we begin to think, and feel, and choose, and respond in ways that are more and more like Jesus over months and years. God works in seasons as well as in moments. Our Father is a Vinedresser who patiently works in our lives to make us fruitful. I hope that encourages you. It has deeply encouraged me as a biblical counselor. I have learned to truly rejoice in even the smallest of steps. I notice how the Spirit is at work in ways that a person I am helping might not even be aware. For example, sometimes the beauty of a person’s faith is found in the willingness to more quickly ask for forgiveness and help. Sometimes a person simply grows in patience and hope, without consciously trying to do so. The Holy Spirit works in both the conscious changes we made and the subtle growth we only recognize in retrospect.
Several weeks ago I emailed you to consider how you can be part of what we are doing at CCEF. Christians can live out our calling as disciples through a deep and rich relationship with God. Every church can be a place where wise help can be found in times of hardship.
As you have had time to read several stories this month, I hope you have taken time to think about how you can be part of what CCEF is doing in your own community, your church, your family, your network of friendships. Each story highlighted different aspects of how our ministry comes alongside people who want to grow, whether that be by taking one of our courses, reading our Journal of Biblical Counseling, attending a conference or an event, or studying our curriculum.
As the year draws to a close in the next few days, will you also prayerfully consider supporting our ministry financially? Your gift directly supports our vision of how growth and change actually work out in the Christian life. Your gift is used to advance that vision by supporting our faculty and staff in their work.
Thank you for considering this, and God bless you, each and all,
Pastors and other helpers move toward (and not away from) people who are very differentRead Story
You rejoice even for small growth that displays faith and loveRead Story