Saturday, March 17, 2007

Personal growth

Some years, ah, some decades ago, I was advised to set goals for personal growth in four areas, based on Luke 2:52, which appears in today's New Testament reading:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with man.
The four areas were: intellectual (or something like that), physical, spiritual, social. These weren't all literally growth goals (how much weight do you plan to gain? for example), but goals/desires for my life in these areas.

As I think back on those goals, or those desires, it seems to me that I have much to be thankful for. Intellectually? I now regularly read and think about subjects that I formerly had no interest in. Physically? I don't do as much exercise as some experts say we should, but then I only have 24 hours in a day, and I am in reasonable shape. On the spiritual front, the Lord has protected me from going totally off the rails, although I don't think I'm as much of a Bible scholar, or an evangelist, as I had once hoped I'd become. And the most important aspect of my social life, the desire for a wife and children, has been granted beyond my expectations or any reasonable hope.

But let's take another look at the verse. I can see how Jesus could grow physically and in favor with man, but wisdom? Didn't he already know everything? And how about that "favor with God" part -- how could Jesus have had less favor with God earlier (in order to grow in favor with God over time)?

Well, I don't have a completely satisfactory answer, but I think I've heard something along these lines. In the process of living life, of having experiences, something happens to us humans besides what we "learn" from them. You've heard so-and-so described as a "seasoned" {therapist, counselor, pastor, executive, writer, _______}. It doesn't just mean that they're smart, or wise, or excellent; it says something else. What? I'm not sure exactly.

Let me take another run at this. When Jesus was twelve years old, how long had he been walking, in the flesh? A little under twelve years, right? So how long had he been walking in the flesh with God? Something under twelve years. Now, at age thirty, how long had he been walking in the flesh with God? Quite a bit longer. If someone's been walking with you for years and years, for decades, there's something that develops, there's something to the relationship that wasn't there earlier. For us, we learn things we didn't know before, but God knows the end from the beginning. And yet, I think there's something besides "just the facts" that we learn -- there's something else, something that requires longevity in a relationship. Because although God is unlike us in his omniscience and omnipotence and omnipresence and all that kind of thing, he is like us (or rather we are like him) in that we feel affection for others, as God does; we get exasperated (more quickly than he does). We are like him in our emotional lives.

And whatever it is besides "just the facts" that we get from the longevity of a relationship, I think it's a sort of shadow of what God gets from long-lasting relationships.

So that's the "favor with God" part. As far as how Jesus could grow in wisdom, I don't quite get that. But I think there's something about the experience of dealing with the limitations of the flesh -- an experience he had not had before coming to earth. And as he acquired more experience, I think there is something that he gained from those years of experience, that there's some way he grew in wisdom over those decades.

And what are my goals for the next few decades? Wisdom, stature (or in my case maybe it should be "cardio-vascular health"), favor with God, favor with man? What are yours?

These may be worth a discussion of some kind, maybe with a small group? Or at least some thought. Where did I come from, how far have I come, where is God taking me?

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