All that outworking of His Grace has come so silently – “not with observation” – like His work in all growth around – so that one can hardly tell when or how the expansion has come. 9 March 23
“All that outworking of His Grace has come so silently. . . .” Lilias reflects, as was her practice, on the anniversary of their first setting foot on North African terrain: 9 March, 1888. This year, however, was their 35th anniversary, more than sufficient time to look back and observe significant evidence of “expansion” in their ministry.
She reflects on the very nature of growth – “silently. . . ” “without observation . . .” noting that this is like God’s work in all growth. Whether physical or spiritual, we just don’t see or hear growth happen!
This is, perhaps, most obvious in the physical world. Periodical visits with our young grandchildren, even after only a few months absence, invariably elicits the “My how you’ve grown,” response (no matter how we try to check that overworked welcome). A chart documenting their growth, age and date, verifies the same. But no one – present parents; absent grandparents – ever observed the very moments of growth. Silently. . . without observation. . . .
Look at nature. Take a flower or a tree for instance. Rarely (if ever) do we see or hear a flower open or a tree leaf out. But they do. Silently. . . without observation. . . season after season, year after year.
This past week was a return in time, in which this principle of growth was vividly witnessed. We attended a highschool reunion where we reunited with schoolmates, some of whom we had not seen for a half a century. (Name tags do help!) A reunion dinner concluded with people sharing stories of times remembered and updates on their present lives. Untested teens – awkward, silly, wild, crazy, shy, earnest, driven – transformed by years into full-blown adults, who have evolved, for the most part, into persons of depth, caring and maturity. Growth: silently. . . without observation. . . .
On an even more personal note, was a sentimental journey back to the house of my youth. What first caught my attention was the pin oak tree, straight as an arrow, piercing the sky, great leafy branches shading much of the front lawn. This stately tree was the subject of much merriment when first planted. Based on careful research, my mother planted it with high hopes for its potential beauty and shade. It was a virtual stick in the ground that barely made it through the first season. Second season, it was braced by a pyramid of wire cords to correct a very definite bend. The small scattering of leaves looked comical atop this pathetic excuse of a tree. How we loved to tease Mother as we witnessed the seasons of struggle. But she held fast to her hopes. We stopped the car and I took a leaf from the ground to press in my journal. A reminder of the character of growth: silently. . . without observation. . . .
The process of growth, by its very character – whether physical or spiritual – is contrary to what we by nature desire. We want results. Now. We want evidence that our efforts count. Society rewards and, for that matter, punishes by the same mentality. A losing season can cost a coach his job. An employee may be demoted or dismissed by failure to demonstrate results. The same mentality invades the ecclesiastical world: the number of people or programs – observable results (!) – becomes the measure of success.
So it is with our souls. We want results. Now. We resolve to do what it takes to become people of maturity. We read a chapter of Scripture, go to a Bible Study or retreat, attend church, tackle a service project. So hard to measure the growth of a soul but this we know: we often fall short of the persons we yearn to be.
Lilias concludes her reflections with a helpful insight on growth: “All one can tell is that we have had nothing to do with its evolution except a measure of blind obedience – & oh that that measure had been fuller.” Just as there are certain conditions that assure growth in the physical world – fertile soil, moisture, sun – there are conditions for growth in the world of the spirit. Our souls must be fed, yes, and we must be obedient to God’s Voice as we live out our lives of faith. For the most part it simply involves faithfulness to what we know we should do: asking, listening, obeying. Richard Foster states and expands this process, in his book, Sanctuary of the Soul.
“1. We are asking. Always asking, ‘Change my heart, O God; make it ever true. Change my heart, O God; may I be like you.’ Asking, always asking.
2. We are listening. Always listening. Like Elijah, we wait through earthquake, wind and fire for the still, small Voice. Listening, always listening.
3. We are obeying. Always obeying. We obey Christ in all things. We obey the Spirt at all times. We obey the Scripture in all ways. Obeying, always, obeying.”
The transformation of the human heart, like all growth, is slow. It is a process by which, through time and intent, we develop the habit of divine orientation. We can no more identify each moment of our spirit’s growth than we can the progress of a child to adult, or a sapling to majestic tree. And yet, silently, without observation, our hearts are taking on a new character as we move quietly closer to God.
How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessing of His Heaven.
Painting: Journal 1893