“The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace.”
– John Owen, from The Holy Spirit, p. 108-109 –
My mom and I drove by a ramshackle house a few days ago, with littered yards and patched-together exteriors. Scrap metal of all kinds dotted the yard. Faded flags and neon orange plastic netting decorated clotheslines and posts.
“Do they think that’s attractive?” I wondered. Honestly, it looked like a dump.
On the bedraggled porch sat a little terra cotta pot. This pot held tiny, pitiful green things, supposed to be a flourishing miniature garden…but, like the rest of the place, had never gotten past an attempt at beauty.
And then I caught my breath, realizing that I decorate the same way.
This must be how my efforts at cleaning up my own mess look from the outside. Just like that homeowner trying to make a cultivated, beautiful spot with her sad little plant, I tidy up a little corner inside of me and say, “There! Now I’m all fixed!” Meanwhile, the rest of me may be in shambles–ripped mattress in the front yard, bare engine sitting in the driveway, rusting-away lawnmower gathering weeds around it in the middle of the grass.
Seeing that poor little dwelling reminded me of just how useless it is to try to make myself beautiful or acceptable before God. Our most diligent efforts are like that dried-up little terra cotta planting: dead, lifeless, useless.
I will never outgrow my need for grace.
This past weekend, I stood singing these words: “And needing more each day Thy grace to know…” (from “We Rest on Thee,” by Edith Cherry)
I realized that, however subtle, the idea had crept inside me that, as I grew in the faith, I would get stronger and need less grace. Somehow, I thought that I’d outgrow it.
“But you, my friends whom I love, are forewarned, and should therefore be very careful not to be carried away by the errors of wicked men and so lose your proper foothold. On the contrary, you should grow in grace and in your knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—to him be glory now and until the dawning of the day of eternity!”
– 2 Peter 3:17-18, Phillips Version –
I don’t know where I got the notion that grace was merely a good starting place. I guess that is why we are warned to beware the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).
In reality, grace is the air we breathe as Christians. I can outgrow grace about as easily as I can outgrow my need for air by running faster. Actually, the opposite is true, isn’t it? The faster I run, the more air my body needs. The more mature my faith is, the more grace I need to live it out.
Spiritual growth doesn’t plateau into an easy ride to the finish line. As long as we live, it is an uphill climb, plunging us stronger and deeper into Christ with each step.
It is far too easy to coast as a Christian. Those few words of that song reminded me of my built-in need for God. He is not trying to grow me into an isolated, self-sustaining being. He knows that my best future lies in Him, seeking His glory. As John Piper puts it, “…God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”
So I can be like that little gardener, trying to coax life into my one attempt at beautifying myself, or I can see the futility of cleaning up my own mess and turn to the One who can actually make ashes into beauty, my only True Satisfaction.
Happily, grace doesn’t get old. Like God’s mercy, grace doesn’t run out, grow stale, or fall short.
Toss out the terra cotta plantings in your life and cling to the grace of the Master Gardener. He alone can breathe life into our dried-out souls and make us grow, grace upon grace, into a well-watered garden that He alone has planted.
“How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!”
– Psalm 92:10b-15 (TLB paraphrase) –