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A Freak of Nature (and Nurture)

A Freak of Nature (and Nurture)

We are probably so accustomed to seeing bonsai trees that we don’t think much about them. But have you ever paused to consider how strange and freakish they really are?

Bonsai trees are otherwise-normal trees that are deliberately kept small. They are grown in little pots where they can put down only shallow roots. They are obsessively pruned to stunt them and keep them from growing tall or wide. They are mighty woods relegated to mere flowerpots, whole forests confined to side tables. Though they may live for centuries, they grow no more than one or two feet tall. Though they have such potential, their gardener applies constant and deliberate action to keep them from ever reaching it. What a strange thing that a gardener would choose to grow a dwarf in place of a giant.

Some churches do something like this to those who attend them, don’t they? They fear that doctrine is drab or divisive, that it is boring or alienating, and determine that it is best to keep the church entertained and immature. They feed their senses rather than their souls and tickle their egos rather than transform their minds. Rather than help them grow tall and broad in their faith they keep them low and stunted. They give them a bonsai faith.

And then some Christians do something like this to themselves, don’t they? They make a profession of faith but content themselves with scant growth and bare maturity. They can sometimes seem to be passive in this, but there is a sense in which they are very active. They do not merely allow themselves to be satisfied with spiritual puniness but they actively pursue it. They work to dwarf themselves, to resist the impulse to grow their knowledge and stretch their faith. They restrain the Spirit who would so readily help them to grow. They give themselves a bonsai faith.

God’s purpose for his people is never smallness and never stagnation.

But God’s purpose for his people is never smallness and never stagnation. Rather, his purpose for us is constant transformation, constant renewal, constant growth. We are to resist any allure toward spiritual laziness and instead be active in growing and maturing. We are to press on, always straining, always striving, always pressing on toward the goal.

Thankfully, God is committed to our growth and eager to help us. And thankfully there is no trick to spiritual growth and no mystery to solve. We simply have to take hold of the means he gives us—to obey him by being baptized and taking the Lord’s supper, to grow in our relationship with him through Word and prayer, to commit ourselves to a local church where we can serve and be served. As we take hold of these simple means and as we dedicate ourselves to them, God transforms us from the inside out. He causes us to grow rather than stagnate, to have a faith that is tall and broad rather than shrunken and puny. This and so much more is ours through Christ if only we will reach out and take it, if only we will resist the allure to be bonsai Christians who have a bonsai faith.

If you’re a bonsai lover, don’t be a hater. I think they’re neat too. They just happen to make a vivid illustration.

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