Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Baby steps

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“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.

If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?

Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.

If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.

The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.

A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.

That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.

That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.

This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.

As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.

Baby steps

We do not expect a newborn child to talk, to walk, or to do things to help others. A baby has the potential to learn to do all those things, but the learning comes slowly, in baby steps. When a little child begins to walk, she is very unsteady on her feet and will often fall.

Why then do we expect the new birth to make us mature Christians in an instant? A person cannot be born again until he is able to comprehend that he is a sinner. By that time he has walked and talked in the way of the world for some time and now he has to learn a whole new way of walking and talking. And those first steps are going to be tottering steps.

When a child gets converted at the age of twelve, as my daughter did, she is still a twelve-year-old in understanding. She will grow physically, mentally and spiritually all at the same time and we are not surprised that there are bumps and mishaps along the way. All we ask is that she get up again and continue making baby steps toward maturity.

When someone gets converted at twenty-eight, like I did, there are still going to be bumps and mishaps along the way of spiritual growth. Why should we be surprised at that? It still takes the same determination to get up again and continue making baby steps toward maturity.

When someone has been raised in a severely dysfunctional home and early learned to fend for himself, usually in ways that are outside the norms of society, then encounters the Saviour, the conversion will be dramatic. That does not mean that such a person is instantly a mature Christian. I have met one such person who was offered financial support to attend Bible School. But the school was far away and he did not have the means to get there. So he stole a car and drove to the school. It didn’t take long for the police to catch up to him. That was a dramatic, and painful, bump on the path of spiritual growth, but he recovered from that and kept on making steps in the right direction.

Jesus told His disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). He knew that even those who had walked with Him for three years were not ready for all that He expected of them. But the Holy Spirit would lead them, baby step by baby step, to be what He wanted them to be. Do we expect that it will be different for us?

Another man who had grown up on the streets and had found there was big money in making drugs found himself in prison for the second or third time. It finally hit home that as smart and sophisticated as his scheme had been, he still got caught, and he would always get caught. Then he was open to the call of God and surrendered his life. The change was dramatic, and real. When he got out of prison, his pastor advised him to wait several years before giving his testimony before large groups of people. That was Godly wisdom. Too many others have been thrust into the spotlight before they have really learned to walk and have remained babes in Christ.

It is the will of our Lord that we should grow and become useful in His kingdom. We will not be very useful if we try to run ahead of Him. May we let the Holy spirit guide us in making baby steps toward spiritual growth and maturity.

The myth of incompetence

“It’s just not my gift to witness to other people about my faith. I get all flustered and nothing comes out right. Other people can do it, but I just can’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve certainly felt that way. After experiencing those feelings for many years, a little light began to flicker in my mind and the illumination has increased with time. I have been comparing myself with the wrong people all along. I have looked enviously at people who were smooth-talking and self-assured and thought that I needed to become like them. At the same time, just being around them made me feel inadequate.

There is good news for me, and you, and all the other believers who feel inadequate. Those people we envy and wish to emulate may not be the most effective witnesses for the Lord. We can do it. We can visit about most anything else, why not about the thing that is most important in our life?

The way we listen is more important than the way we talk. The questions we ask are more important than the answers we give, because our questions reveal whether or not we are really interested in the person we are talking to.

Being a good witness for the Lord has to start with noticing the people around us and being interested in them. Show some interest in the people who serve you in stores, coffee shops and restaurants. If you see them frequently, get to know their names, ask them about their family or how their day is going. Don’t be nosy, just friendly. Take time to visit with people, find what their interests are.

Eventually you may sense an opportunity to go a little deeper. Don’t be pushy, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask questions, listen, be sympathetic, but don’t be too quick to jump in with suggestions on how to fix things that aren’t working out in their lives. At some point the Spirit my prompt you to share a personal experience. Tell it simply, giving honour to God and not yourself.

Be patient. Keep trying a little friendliness with people you meet. If we come across as superior or pushy, people will clam up, or push back. We might then conclude that the people around us are not interested in the gospel and there is no purpose in trying to talk to them. If we hold back and don’t make small efforts to reach out to others, we come to the same conclusion.

It is comfortable to think that there is no use trying. The Holy Spirit really doesn’t want us to get comfortable with that kind of thinking. That may lead us to direct our efforts into materialism and recreation beyond what is healthy for our spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit wants us to step out beyond our comfort zone, but He is only going to ask us to take one little baby step at a time. We may find that those baby steps take us a long way, into territory that we used to think was completely inaccessible. A little effort can open up whole new vistas for us.

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