There is something radically different in the way a person is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus the way they naturally mature or alter their behavior over time. As people age, inevitable changes occur. These changes can vary from the slight to the dramatic, but they can be followed with relative ease. Observing a person’s growth over a given period of time is like tracking a sequence of interconnected dots. There is a well-established understanding in human development that while some changes give cause for some consideration, there is often a relatively simple explanation as to how or why the change occurred. This is not to belittle the change; it is simply to address the fact that human change is relatively predictable. But a person confronted by the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ who yields to the authority of said truths experiences a transformation rather different than the traditional course of maturity or human development. The transformation of a person by the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing short of supernatural. The changes in the person are inexplicable. They defy logic. Moreover, these changes are real. They do not come and go like a phase. They are roots that are planted deep and yield consistently good fruit. As the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms a person, the desires and interests of their old self are radically transformed as well. The desires that used to satisfy now fall pitifully short of satisfaction. While the old self clung to certain idols of the heart with stubborn persistence, the new self becomes aware that these old desires never truly satisfied and only bring distance from the God that has satisfied the self so completely. True transformation by the Gospel can be measured in many ways, but one way is in how ready we are to hold on and how ready we are to let go. If the desires of our old self continue to convince us of their power to fill our cup, we have not yet made room for God to fill it. If the desires of our old self become to us slithering snakes or poisonous spiders that we are quick to let go of, we can be encouraged that the truths of the Gospel are in fact transforming us.
The process of sanctification is ongoing, and once begun, cannot stop. The basis of sanctification is the radical departure from our sinful nature into the complete and holy nature of God the Father. This process does not happen overnight nor does it happen without challenge and suffering. This process is often slow and often arduous. However, although each step is a painful tear from the world with which we have until this point been so comfortable and satisfied, each step also reveals more and more validation that the process is not only necessary but is ultimately liberating. As we move closer and closer into a union with the spirit of Christ himself in our daily lives, we likewise move closer to the realization of the hope towards which we ultimately strive. That hope is the realignment of this world as it is with how it was intended to be. That hope is also the realignment of our spirit from its current state back to its created purpose. This original creation was intended to be one with the Father in every aspect.
The process of sanctification cannot be rationed; it is always more. To be merely content with where God has brought us “so far” is a loss. Resigning to the fact that he can do little more with us is absolute failure. The spirit born anew in Christ always strives to go farther and search deeper than before. This desire for more does not arise out of a desire for mere activity. It arises out of the realization that the more we align ourselves with the spirit of Christ the closer we will be to him. This closeness is what produces the “wings of eagles and feet of deer” in us that allow us to soar above and beyond, or run gracefully through, the suffering of this world. This closeness has the power to calm every storm. The desire to do more and more with Christ is not just busywork. The desire to do more and more is proximity. The more we strive to be like him, the more will be one with him.
“Patience” is an uncommon thing in this day and age. In a world of one minute microwave dinners and six minute abs we all seem to be raising our voices crying “NOW!” It is amazing how impatient we are.
I remember when my family first gained access to the “Internet.” I could not believe what the Internet promised me. I could not believe that from a corner in our apartment I could communicate with others around the globe within seconds, and gain access to information that would take hours for me to find in books adorning dusty shelves. My mind struggled to grasp the vastness of the claims and promises that the “World Wide Web” was making. However, one fateful day in the Pagaard home it happened. We had the Internet.
Immediately we all huddled around the computer as we double-clicked the “Compuserve” icon and waited in anxious anticipation for this “World Wide Web” to be unveiled before our eyes. There we waited…and waited…and continued to wait. After several minutes of “dial-up suspense” serenaded by dial tones, pings, static and more pings, we were connected. We were on the web. The funny thing about that memory is that, once we were connected, we never thought twice about what it took for us to become connected, and how long the process was. We had no expectation other than being connected to the “web.” There was not even the slightest presumption that the process was supposed to be fast. The only thing we desired was what the “web” offered, and how amazing gaining access to it would be. However, nowadays, it seems to be that we tend to be more bothered by the wait than what awaits us. Speed is everything: without the speed, nothing is worth anything. We are people that want things right away, and being told to wait means we lose interest. Many people focus on power and speed in their connecting to God, with the result that the actual “quality” relationship with God is easily overlooked, under-appreciated and overshadowed. As is all too often the case, many people seek God as a means to a particular end and not the end itself.
As my mother finished preparing the cake mix that she continued to defend despite its unpromising appearance, we entered into the “baking” stage of the process. This is the point to which I can best trace the dissolution of my interest in baking. The “baking” stage meant that my job now was to wait as the mix from the bowl was miraculously transformed into the promised final product of cake. With each passing minute my interest in the cake itself began to wane. In the boredom, I typically found something else to occupy my time and mind. Reassuring that I would be back to help my mom finish the process, off I went, heading off into some new, and likely trivial, activity. My mom always seemed to respond to my promise to return with hesitation and doubt, but I confidently reassured her with three hopeful words, “I’ll be back.”
Some time later, my mother would call that the cake was finished. To my shock, and shame for leaving my mom to finish the cake by herself, the process I began with intentions to complete was finished without me. Not only was the cake finished baking, but my mom had proceeded to step three alone, icing and applying the finishing touches. The looming reality of my decision to give into boredom and abandon my mom and the baking process left me with the conviction of failure and betrayal. “How could I eat and enjoy the cake now?” I asked myself. I was not prepared to endure the patience required in baking. I was in it from the beginning to simply eat the cake and enjoy the fruits of the labor, not to do what was required in order to bring about the finished product.
This natural aversion to patience is always present in our walk with God but, in some instances, can downright control our walk with God. In the Bible, God is often referred to as a gardener who takes his time growing the plants and pruning for progress when necessary. We, as Christians, are compared to branches that grow slowly, or plants that arise from planted seeds that grow at a gradual pace. All of these words like “slowly” and “gradual” have little in common with words like “now” and “right now.” Yet, this slow, gradual, yet productive, characteristic of God is the only one described in the Bible. This slow, gradual, yet effective process is the only one concerning our growth as Christians. Therefore, to grow as a Christian under the will of God often means two things: the process will be gradual, and the process will be slow. However, the process promises to be real and absolutely worth it and transformative.
The baking process not just require patience. The other necessary element needed to transform the mix into a cake is heat. And this heat is extreme.
I am a self-professed “know-nothing” when it comes to baking and all of its molecular intricacies; however, I have been able to wrap my head around the basics. I know that baking requires an oven, and this oven needs to be able to produce extreme temperatures. Regarding the nature of chemical reactions and molecular transformation I have no clue, however, I do know that when you take the mix from the mixing bowl and place it into the oven at high temperatures over a period of time, something tends to emerge in some sort of baked form. Required in the process is heat, and the endurance of heat. It is these elements that I believe are most directly related to our continual growth as Christians.
Heat is necessary in order to bake something. And when the heat is being applied to something other than ourselves, when we are protected from that heat by a barrier, we can all agree that this heat is not only important, but necessary. No one would stop someone from baking a cake out of compassion for the mix in the pan, in regards to the intense heat it will soon face. On the contrary, we tend to encourage the more immediate loading of the mix into the oven out of some inherent primal desire to feast. We want the mix in the scalding hot oven without delay because we want to eat. However, with us in the place of the cake-mix, extreme heat tests our faith in the process that promises we will not only survive the heat, but that, in the end, we will be made even more beautiful as a result.
The truth is, we do not like to experience heat. In other words, we do not like to experience challenges or times of trouble. If there is any hope in averting such things we try with all of our might to do so. It is easy to dream of the end results in things, but when faced with the realities that lie ahead on the journey, we often seem paralyzed by the impossibilities and difficulties confronting us. We like the easy road. Any hint of setback is translated as a sign directing us to turn around, rather than to press onward. In moments of trial, it is difficult to trust in the process. It seems much easier for us to question the necessity for such a stage than for us to see the irreplaceable value in the state. While praying to God regarding a particular new venture, we often pray for three things: safety, health and success.
The other step of the “baking” stage where we find common ground with cake mix concerns the element of endurance. While we might be troubled by the nature of our personal “ovens,” we become beside ourselves when we are informed of how long we might be expected to remain in the heat. Feeling a quick burn on the stove is one thing, but slowly cooking in extreme heat is another. No one desires this. No one welcomes this. When we find trouble or challenge in our lives, apart from the prayer for general deliverance from our time of difficulty, we most likely emphasize our desire for a “quick” or “rapid” rescue. When we are sinking, the last thing we want is for the lifeguard on duty to take their time addressing our very real emergency. We need help and we need help right away. When we find ourselves facing the “heated oven” qualities of life, it is no surprise that we want out fast. Perhaps we have come to the spiritual maturity that agrees on the necessity of challenge, however, this maturity becomes increasingly tested as we find that our rescue is nowhere in sight.
While both “heat” and “endurance” are two things that cake-mix should expect when becoming a cake, they are also two things that we must prepare for as we make our way down the road of discipleship. Jesus was always open to his disciples that this world was not going to be easy. His most profound and moving example of his expectations of discipleship came in his personal sacrifice in the passion narrative. Jesus is upfront with his disciples that the ones in this world who enjoy the comforts of worldly wealth, health and success are not the ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God. Rather, in the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones are the ones that not only experience the “heat of the oven” but those who endure it. Only by doing both can we fully come to an understanding of why we suffered in the first place. Only by doing so can we come to trust God that the fire is not there to destroy us. but to reveal the brilliance of our creation in the eyes of our Creator.