Hello and welcome back!
January 1st lies just up ahead and 2013 reflects already in my rearview mirror and disappears into the past behind me. Somewhere, even further in that river of time flowing past me, lies a memory that has not faded, even in the passage of decades.
“What is it that has stood on the periphery of your thoughts all those many years,” you may ask?
Physical Growth Pains
Back in the early ‘60’s, my younger brother became ill with rheumatic fever. I remember through the mists of time – a whole school year passed when he had to stay in bed, take aspirin, and rest.
Something we think of elderly persons in nursing homes doing, not eight year old boys with freckles, red hair, and a mischievous smile on his face as he slips out of bed and sits on the floor to play marbles with me on the brown, oval rug on the floor between our twin beds.
“I’m gonna win yer big ol’ cleary, Zach,” he would shout with evil glee as he took bead and let ‘er fly.
It wouldn’t be long until one or the other of us would shout or giggle loud enough to draw mom’s attention and it was back in the sack for ‘lil’ bro.
Yep, it’s hard to keep an 8 year old boy in bed for a year but looking back on it all – he was actually the model patient! I can also remember the worried look in mom’s eyes as she and dad would discuss Mark after he had been seen by his doctor who, yes, made house calls.
One of the main things I remember was how my brother would moan and cry when his legs hurt. I didn’t know it then but my brother Mark had a condition that created sharp and pulling pains in his legs from thigh to ankle. This problem was exacerbated due to his having to remain immobile for long periods of time.
Mom would hear his anguish and always come with the lotion and oil mixture that the doctor left for the purpose. Many days she would massage and lotion his legs five or six times. That was quite a dedicated mission. I didn’t have the empathy to understand back then.
I can still hear Mom saying to my brother as he whimpered while tears rolled down his cheeks,
“Baby, I know it hurts but they are just growing pains. Just remember that when you hurt you are growing more and more. You will keep on growing and growing and getting better and better!”
The years passed, Mark kept growing and the pains became less severe as well as less frequent. Over six years, his symptoms diminished and finally disappeared. He likes to say,
“Yep, I suffered with pain for many years, but it got easier as I grew up.”
He and I are walking on the other side of youth these days: less days ahead than have already passed. Being a preacher, I have an eye for illustration. When I consider the pain my brother suffered and how it has created a person who is thankful for good health today, I can’t help but visualize the connection between his physical growth pains and the growth pains of young Christians.
“Self was the downfall in the Garden when Satan tempted Eve.”
A young Christian, regardless of physical age, must face the growth pains of walking with Christ. There are many growth pains that cause hurt and anguish for the babe in Christ. Like my mother used to soothe my brother as she crooned and massaged the lotion into his muscles,
“I know it hurts baby, but pain is gain. The pain shows that you are growing up!”
3 Common Spiritual Growth Pains
There are three common growth pains that all new Christians will face when growing to maturity. If your roots are planted in good soil, these Christians will persevere to maturity:
- Persecution – whenever a new Christian begins to walk a new life in Christ, he or she will run into opposition to that walk. Old friends, family, fellow employees at work, etc. will not appreciate the change. Sometimes a person’s career is threatened because of the morality changes apparent in the newly converted. The bottom line here is that persecution, regardless of the origin, puts pressure on the new Jesus follower to return to the old lifestyle. The cure is discipleship.
- Old Temptations – the new Christian returns to the world he experienced before his conversion. He may not realize that the flesh and temptations of the flesh will still influence his body and senses. The conversion was for his spirit, not his body. These temptations can cause a new Christian to slip back into a previous pattern of behavior that produces guilt, doubt, and a falling away from church attendance, worship, and Bible study. This can produce a downward spiral if not addressed.The cure is discipleship.
- Self – this is the biggest danger of all. Self was the downfall in the Garden when Satan tempted Eve. The ultimate sin is self-will rather than submitting to God’s will. The sin of self is the father of all sin because it is the opposite of loving others. Obedience to one’s own human desires is sin and the great destroyer of fellowship with God. Christians must be taught how to defend against this insidious enemy. The cure is discipleship.
There they are, three main causes for new Christians to fall away from the church. These are by no means the only causes, but they are at the top of the list.
We see that the cure for all three revolves around discipleship. Besides salvation, discipleship is the single most important step in the lives of new Christians.
Like my brother’s leg pains, when a Christian is discipled (had his spiritual legs lotioned into a disciplined, mature Christian), he becomes able to feed himself from the word and not be completely dependent on others. He still needs the fellowship of the Christian community but can study God’s word alone also. The pain brought gain.
Does your church have ongoing discipleship for all new Christians? Are mature Christians in the church working with new Christians on a one on one basis to help guide these new sheep along the path that Jesus trod? Pray for your church’s discipleship programs. If there are no such programs in effect, pray for them to be initiated. Volunteer to start a discipleship class.
Discipleship is key. Spread the word.
QUESTION: Are you a discipler?