Previously on The Journey into Growth…
Part 3: Process—The Model for Growth
How Jesus grew
The scriptures don’t give us a lot of details about Jesus’s childhood, but the ones they do give are quite revealing. Let’s take a look at one boyhood incident recorded in Luke chapter 2:
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the feast, according to the custom. After the feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he meant.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
The dimensions of Jesus’s growth
As we see, there were four dimensions to Jesus’s growth. He grew
- In wisdom—the intellectual/character (inside) dimension
- In stature—the physical (outside) dimension
- In favor with God—the spiritual (vertical) dimension
- In favor with men—the social (horizontal) dimension
In some very important—and dangerously overlooked—ways, Jesus was just like you and me. He didn’t spring into the world full-grown. Every aspect of him, inside and out, grew as he grew older. Even his relationships with other people. Even his relationship with his heavenly Father. Just as he had to be taught how to eat and how to dress himself, he had to be taught manners. In the same way he had to learn how to speak his native language, he had to be taught how to talk to (and hear) other people—and how to talk to (and hear) God.
You may be shocked as you read this. I was certainly shocked when I first saw the practical implications of this scripture. I just assumed that Jesus, as God, knew everything ahead of time. That, no matter what new circumstance Jesus found himself in, he just knew what to do. Because…you know…he’s God. And God knows everything. Doesn’t he?
Yes, Jesus is God. And—no—we can see clearly here that he didn’t know everything. For one thing, he didn’t know his parents expected him to accompany them back to the house. Do you think he would have stayed in Jerusalem if he knew his parents thought he was with their caravan? As I read the story, he seems genuinely surprised they didn’t know where he was. Or why.
In any case, contrary to what he understood up till their return, his immediate calling was not to engage the priests and teachers. It was to go home and obey his earthly parents. Go home and obey he did. (It’s fascinating to me that the first miracle Jesus performed in public was at the direction of his mother—despite his qualms.)
He had much to learn.
This has tremendous implications for us as Christ-followers, because it’s in understanding—and embracing—Jesus’s way of learning and growing that we find the pattern for our own growth.
Look again at the four dimensions (wisdom, stature, favor with God, favor with men).
Do you see that the four dimensions fall into two different pairs?
Picture a small circle. Inside that circle is who you are at the deepest, truest part of you. This is who you are when no one else is looking. Nobody but God can see inside this circle. Even you may have a hard time seeing and understanding what’s there. Inside this circle are the invisible things: Your spirit. Your mind, will, and a large part of your emotions. And your character.
God wants to purify, strengthen, and enlarge this small circle.
Now, surrounding that small circle (and centered on it), picture a much larger circle. This is your visible interface with the world around you. This is your body. It’s also what you do with your body. From the inside out, it’s your senses (touching, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling). From the outside in, it’s your voice, your words, your facial expressions and body language, and what is visible of your physical well-being.
God wants to purify, strengthen, and enlarge this larger circle as well.
However, more than that, he wants to strengthen the connections between the small circle and the larger one. That’s where the other pair of dimensions comes in.
First is the vertical.
Picture a line, running vertically from the bottom of the larger circle, continuing through the smaller circle all the way to the top of the larger circle, where it stops.
This vertical line is the relationship you have with God. It’s vertical because that’s the traditional way folks think about God and his people (he’s up there and we’re down here). This line, as you can imagine, is extremely important because, without it—without that vertical relationship with God—nothing else we look at is going to help us grow. Later, we’re going to break this line down and see two ways of nurturing this relationship, but for now we’ll just leave it as a simple line representing our relationship with God.
Next is the horizontal.
We’re ready to add the horizontal line to our mental picture. Start it at the left edge of the big circle, continue it through the small circle, and finish it at the right edge of the big circle.
This line represents your horizontal relationships—the relationships (good or bad) you have with your family, friends, co-workers, and so on. The line is horizontal because it’s a picture of relationships between people who exist together on the same plane, sharing the planet, and their humanness, together.
Traditionally, there’s a huge contrast between vertical and the horizontal relationships. They underline the idea that God is up there while you and I and the rest of humanity are down here. There’s a lot of truth to that idea, if you don’t take it too far. After all, “it is he who has made us, and not we ourselves.” But there’s another, complementary, truth that we also need to embrace. This truth is absolutely crucial if we’re to have any hope of representing Jesus in this world, and it’s the secret of growing in Christ-likeness.
Well, let’s save that for the next installment!
Think about it…
How do you feel about the idea of Jesus having human limitations?