Welcome back dear ones for part 2 of Coloring in the Lines. I ended last week discussing the idea of improvement; that I would be a bit concerned if my 4 year old was still coloring the same (or worse?) than he was 2 years ago. Something would be wrong, don’t you think? I know I would question if something was amiss- perhaps a physical or mental incapacity that needed to be looked at. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of us would be a bit troubled right? He's still very young, but he's been coloring in some form or fashion for a few years now... he should be improving. So why aren’t we alarmed when the exact same thing happens (or doesn’t happen) in our lives or the lives of fellow believers?
Let us continue to unwrap this idea of improvement. I’ll focus on non-believers and new Christians exclusively for this post.
Those who have not yet accepted Christ as their savior are not unlike Anna (remember the cute baby... see part 1 for another look!) Not only can they not color at all, they don’t even see the picture for what it is. They cannot and do not acknowledge the Artist, they cannot and do not appreciate the artwork. Because of the absence of Christ in their lives, of course they cannot expect to color in the lines. They are physically and spiritually incapable of doing so.
And as an aside, why we would as Christians expect them to? God tells us that they are incompetent of understanding until His spirit reveals these mysteries. Christians are not instructed nor are we commanded to judge this group of people in any way. In all honestly, let’s be real here, there is nothing at. all. that we should ever be surprised that a non-believer does. Right? But the natural [unbelieving] man does not accept the things [the teachings and revelations] of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness [absurd and illogical] to him; and he is incapable of understanding them, because they are spiritually discerned and appreciated, [and he is unqualified to judge spiritual matters].
2 Corinthians 2:14 AMP
I would love to put a visual here, but there isn’t one to add- a picture isn’t on their radar, it isn’t in their world… as Paul tells us above- they are ‘incapable of understanding them.’
Okay, so we’ve got the coloring abilities (or non-abilities) of non-believers. Now let’s address the main audience here- those who profess Christ.
New Believers, those who have freshly accepted God into their hearts, are much like Jonah and Jesse. They may see the picture and they have a limited color palette, but they will often (not unexpectantly) have trouble at the outset staying within the lines and choosing the correct shades. They are still immature in their faith and their hearts have not been fine-tuned to the nuances of all Christ has to offer and what His pictures can look like. They are young in their Christian walk and may initially struggle mightily against sin and temptation. They may veer wildly outside the Biblical boundaries God has set in place. They may regress and show no signs of acknowledgement of the lines at all for a time.
We have all been there. During many seasons of our lives I would imagine!
But as these new Christians (should) grow and mature, their skills and abilities become better, they may utilize a broader range of colors, they see the picture and the lines and acknowledge the need to stay in those lines in order to color the picture correctly. Now their lives are showing spiritual progress, they are more consistently showing fruits of the Spirit, they are more meaningfully active in ministry, and God is continually challenging and refining them. They may even start using a real-life object as reference for what the picture needs to look like (Jesus!). These precious souls with time, practice, discipleship, etc… should and will improve in their spiritual maturity. Their trends will show improvement.
As expected… as they should. Keep in mind… progress is good. Improvement is the goal. God is watching for good fruit- both in quantity and quality.
My father-in-law recently told a story that exemplifies this perfectly. He planted a cherry tree sometime last year. Obviously that year no fruit was produced. He read prior to planting it that this particular kind of cherry tree can take up to 5 years to start producing fruit- so his expectations were not to expect fruit. This year, however, he laughed as he told us, the little tree squeaked out one cherry.
Improvement! Next year, I’m sure he might expect a few more. In actuality, this tree is overproducing what is expected right now. That’s fantastic!
Do not be discouraged dear new brothers and sisters! Improvement is hard, being disciplined is hard, but there is grace to spare for you! God wants you to succeed in growing closer to Him, He wants you to grow strong in your faith, He wants you to run a good race, He wants to be able to say “Well done good and faithful servant.” I would venture to say He expects us to fail, to fall, and to struggle. It would be impossible for us not to; He gets that and there is grace and mercy for it. So no low heads. Keep up the hard work!
But dear ones don’t rest IN His grace on account OF His grace.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4: 12-16 NIV(em phasis mine)
Don’t be deceived that He will tolerate us taking advantage of His patience with us. The entire Old Testament is a diatribe of God growing impatient with His beloved Israelite's as they continually colored outside the lines. Lines (sins, rules, the Law) were placed for their own safety, security, well-being, and in keeping right with God. They were perfectly formed by Yahweh to keep them as faultlessly in line with Him as humanly possible. Yet they resisted, went outside the boundaries, and used their own colors repeatedly (just as we all do); and they suffered greatly for it- not only in losing land, lives, and health, but most importantly in losing communion with God.
The point here is to keep trying, keep working at it. Just as there is story after story of God’s wrath and justice on His people, so also are there more stories of Him lovingly and eagerly searching for any signs of obedience- for that one person who obediently chose the right color, for that one tribe who chose to stay in His lines.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James 1: 2-5 NIV
So brothers and sisters, please keep working at it! Meditate on James this week and see the practical blueprint for what Christian fruit actually looks like. If you continue to pursue Him, you will produce fruit!
Keep coloring! Practice makes perfect!
I pray dear one that your life exemplifies improvement. I hope you are coloring where and how you’re supposed to be. I fervently wish that your life shows a trend of overall maturity and improvement.
Thank you for taking the time to read my heart today. Please comment below with thoughts and ruminations of where your walk is today- and stay tuned for part 3 coming to a blog near you!