This past weekend I spent about nine hours under the hood of my car. I received the bad news that my A/C compressor needed to be replaced a month or so ago, and rather than pay the thousand or so bucks they wanted to do the repair, I decided I would buy the parts and do it myself to save a little money. People do crazy things to save a little money.
Summers here are hot, so I knew I couldn’t just go the old 4/70 route like I used to (that’s when your A/C system is four windows down, driving seventy down the road). Never having done this repair before I did as much prep as I could and didn’t really expect it to take too long. After all, the instruction manual had all the steps laid out right there in front of me, and they looked simple enough (If you’ve ever done a major repair on your car, you know that it doesn’t take long before you want to hunt down the people who wrote the manual for mocking your pain while insulting your intelligence.).
Things were going smooth until the first hiccup. Then the second, and then the third, and so on. All tolled I had to go out to the store five times for parts or tools, sometimes getting home only to turn right around and go back. That’s ten or fifteen minutes each way, so I spent at least an hour driving instead of working. I’ve had similar scenarios with home improvement projects. No, I can’t do it, and you’re really not that much help. I’m sure the auto parts store guys thought I was an idiot. We were basically on a first name basis by the end of it.
But actually I felt like an idiot, but not because I struggled to get it done. I was very quickly reminded how bad my temper is when things don’t go my way. I mean, it was bad. Really bad. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to hear the things I was saying (and thinking) while I was in a tight squeeze or couldn’t figure out how to get to the next step. Anger (or rage?) rose up in me so quick I didn’t know what hit me, and that was surprising and disturbing. Suddenly there wasn’t much love, joy, or peace, and definitely no patience.
Here’s what bothered me: I don’t know if I was more disappointed or surprised. I’ve been following Jesus for some time now and I thought I would be better at handling a challenge like this. I expected at least some fruit to show up. Have you ever thought that? You react to something in a way that is so unlike Christ that you think, “Have I been paying attention at all…to anything??” This isn’t just true in a difficult project like a car repair for a quasi-mechanic, but in every area of life. I sometimes look around at my lack of ability to control my appetites, my desires, or my reactions and I have to be honest, I get a little discouraged that I haven’t been transformed a little more into Christ’s image.
As I’ve been reflecting about it though, I think I’ve only been seeing half the story when it comes to maturity. I have been thinking that as I mature as a Christian, God’s work in my life would change me as a person so that I become fundamentally different, who I am gets changed from jerk to non-jerk. In this line of thinking, the assumption is that more you walk with God and learn his ways the better your choices will be and the less likely you will be to react with rage when you don’t get your way. Makes sense, right?
Well, this view of maturity may be true to some extent, but it’s only half the story. There are other things at play. No matter how “mature” you think you are, you always reap what you sow. So if you’re not sowing to the Spirit like Paul says in Romans 8, you won’t get spiritual results when difficult times come. Doesn’t matter if that difficulty is disease or a long line at the grocery store.
I don’t think Christian growth works the same as physical growth. In physical growth, or the development of a person, you come into the world as the most dependent of all humans and your job is to grow to become more independent. Feed yourself, dress yourself, earn money etc. I would say that in Christian maturity it is actually the opposite. We come to God as rebellious children, desiring nothing more than our own independence and freedom. As we grow with him, our job is to become more and more dependent on him and less likely to depend on ourselves to make it all work.
That’s where I go wrong. I tend to assume that since I’ve been “in the game” for a while, I can make it happen on my own. I stop sowing because I assume I don’t have to. But walking with God is more about abiding that adapting. God’s plan is not to have me walk with him just long enough for me to learn how to do it without him. I’m not supposed to be an apprentice of Christ I am a disciple, and there’s a big difference. An apprentice learns from the master just long enough to strike out on his own and become a master himself. Apply this to God and it’s pretty ridiculous. Even if I could grow to the point that I didn’t need God’s help anymore, what happens after that? There is no other outcome other than I become my own god. Since I know that isn’t the plan, I have to go back to the fact that dependence is primary. I never outgrow my need for him.
Jesus said “If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit.” If I find myself reacting to life’s circumstances in a less-than-Jesus-like way, it’s probably because I am not abiding in him. And if I’m not abiding, I shouldn’t be surprised when the fruit I get is nasty. For me and my sinful self, nasty is natural. I have to plug in to the source of the good stuff if I want to see it working in my life.
The crazy part is that God already sees the ugly side of me, and that’s the side he loves. It’s beyond incredible. The older I get the more I realize that God’s grace is the only thing that makes me different from the worst version of myself. It really doesn’t matter how long I have been doing this, in fact that thinking will probably get you into trouble really quick. Walking in the Spirit requires a constant awareness to where the Spirit is leading, and left to my own devices I go quickly (and embarrassingly) off the deep end. Even though I keep trying to make that terrible person better, at the end of the day I can’t win. Only Jesus can, and has, won that battle to make me something completely different in him. All I have to do is learn to stay right there where it’s his power and not mine.