A couple of years ago I was able to check something off of my travel “bucket list”. I had always dreamed of seeing the California Redwoods in person, and I finally flew to San Francisco with my family and walked among the towering trees. It is one thing to see the height in a picture, but unbelievable to stand in the midst of a redwood forest. Viewing the stumps of fallen trees and the amount of rings informing us of its age was jaw dropping. For thousands of years, these stately redwoods have weathered the seasons and grown closer to the sky. It was one of my favorite sites from our trip.
The California redwoods are majestic and unfathomably tall. But they didn’t get that way overnight. It took a certain climate, optimal growing conditions, and a vast amount of time to get to where they are today. They thrive near the Pacific coastline where the fog protects them from too much sun, the ocean air is moist, and it is consistently warm. They don’t tolerate freezing temperatures. If you were to plant a redwood, you would need to give it plenty of room to grow. Crowding causes the trees to drop their lower branches and stunts their growth.
As I was thinking about how much room these beautiful trees need to grow and thrive, I began to consider a problem that I see Christians facing in dealing with one another within the Church. While we ourselves want others to cut us some slack and extend grace and kindness, we don’t always offer the same kindness to others. We are quick to judge people as less mature in faith, sinful, or not saved at all when we disagree over something. In doing this, we hinder growth in others when we refuse to truly listen and allow space for transformation. Growth takes time. It will involve making mistakes, misunderstanding Scripture, wrestling with God to find out who He is for ourselves, and the need for forgiveness. God gives us new life in Him, but we are also being made into His likeness as we walk out our new life in Christ. We are all becoming. Some of us are further along, but it takes space to grow and move from glory to glory.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
Through Christ, we are now allowed to enter in to relationship with the Father. We are allowed to behold God’s glory. As we do, through spending time in Scripture and through prayer, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. This tells us that we are not all we can be at the moment of salvation. But we are loved as if we are. We are secure in whose we are. We have all the power available to us to defeat the sin in our lives and to grow in His likeness. But we don’t always listen to the Holy Spirit or spend time being with our Creator and Savior.
When space is needed…
When we are young in faith, we have a lot of questions. God wants us to seek Him. When we do, we find Him. Time and space are important to growing in maturity.
Sometimes we go through a hard season and need to be reminded of His faithfulness to us. Hardship can bring doubt and questions. It can leave us vulnerable to Satan’s lies. Allowing space to process and seek God in these times is vital. When we see others struggling, listen and lovingly encourage them through a gentle and humble presence. Allow space for their questions, and don’t try to fix it all. Let God work.
Sometimes idleness prevents us from appropriating all God has for us. Life can distract us from what is most important if we aren’t careful. Create space in your days to spend with God. To grow, you must have time and space to learn.
Wherever we are in our journey with God, we need to not judge and compare where someone else is. We are to encourage one another to good works, gently pull the struggling back in to the safety of community, and pray for one another out of sincere love. But, I see so much of the world in how we are communicating with one another as believers through social media. As Covid has forced us to be more connected through social media than ever before, it has also caused many negative interactions through the venting of all of our frustrations to anyone who will listen as we type or post a meme. I don’t think this honors Christ in our lives or edifies the body of Christ.
The Problem With Forcing Our Words Onto Others
“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”
1 Corinthians 3:7-8
We think we can use our words to force correct thinking, but only the truth seeping into hearts and minds will transform and renew. Knowing truth leads to right actions. We often force people to pretend by shaming them into thinking the way we believe they should. Even if we are right, what is in their heart can’t be undone by us. God changes hearts. He may use us to speak truth, but only God gives true redemption and transformation. Knowing truth and having head knowledge do not always lead to heart transformation. Fighting and calling people names for differing opinions rarely ever leads to pure change. It alienates and creates walls in relationships. Kindness, even when not deserved or reciprocated, makes a bolder statement about who we serve.
Making others tow our line of thinking causes deception in relationships. They learn what they can or cannot say to avoid a heated conflict. But in reality the relationships are flawed, because it is superficial and full of people pleasing. These kinds of relationships can’t stand the test of time when people aren’t safe to be who they are…what they really believe about controversial issues and things they struggle with. They hide things that need to be brought to light to be healed. Most of us know that few people are safe places for this kind of candor and intimacy.
Have you ever been with someone you have known for a long time and should be able to trust but fear sharing something on your heart with them? Something troubling your spirit? You are not sure you think the way you should but can’t think out loud and wrestle with it, because you believe everyone around you has it figured out and would question your goodness or faith? There are so many people doubting things that they can never speak. God gives us space to seek (Jeremiah 29:13), ask (Matthew 7:7-8), and wrestle (Ephesians 6:12)…and ultimately repent when our thoughts are not in line with His character. But especially as believers, we have a hard time walking through this tension with those around us. This dismissive attitude can be a stumblingblock for growth and healing in others.
While there is a time for speaking truth over the thoughts shared with us, our culture today does so in a harsh manner that shuts down effective communication. Our motivation as believers is love. Our hearts should be for restoration. This often requires more listening than talking, prayer than judgement, and kindness than proving a point.
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. “
Colossians 3:13-23 NLT
Make allowance. Be of one body. Live in peace. Not allowing space for others to grow reveals a lack of the wisdom and love God commands of each of us. Anyone that thinks they are always right on every topic is hard to trust, because no one is capable of this.
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13 ESV
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
Proverbs 28:26 ESV
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
Proverbs 29:11 ESV
Every redwood in Muir forest started out as a tiny seed. Given the space and optimal conditions for growth, they reached great heights. God gives the growth and changes the seeds into mighty trees. He knows what each specific type of tree needs to reach its full potential. He also knows what we need to become all He has for us. We can be used of God to help others transform from one glory to another by allowing them space to grow and become through both resting and wrestling in and toward Christ.
Offering others the space to grow shows grace and benefits the whole body. It leads to lives lived with the richness of Christ ruling every part. If we could change the way we handle conflict within the body of Christ, imagine how fruitful we could become.
In what ways could you approach those you disagree with differently? How could you give yourself and others more space to grow?