While the experience of each person who comes to faith in Jesus Christ is unique, I have observed a few characteristics that appear to be common to most, if not all. This, in itself, should come as no surprise, but what might be is where else this pattern is found.
- Birth: This one is obvious, of course. We are all created. We all have our own genesis. We are born into a big and scary world, but we are oblivious to it all in the relative comfort and safety of our home protected by our parents from the outside world.
- Early Childhood Education: "Don't touch the stove." "Look both ways before you cross the street." "Don't play with sharp objects." All valuable lessons that our actions have consequences. The consequences for obedience are often good. The consequences for disobedience are often not.
- The Promise: "You can be anything you want to be." "Anything is possible." "If you can dream it, you can do it." All things parents tell their children, and all things children believe when they are told. At some point along the way we let "reality" set in and rob us of these beliefs, dreams and ambitions.
- Growing Pains: Education can often be as painful as the pain itself. The cliche "the school of hard knocks" is a cliche for a reason. We learn our do's, don't's, and how to's all in an effort to avoid life's pains, but none provide the comfort and protection we seek. When we are young, we think we are ready for whatever life holds far sooner than we actually are. And, having ignored advice from others, warning signs, and/or our own better judgment, we make bad decisions. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs, dropping out of school, bad business deals, ill-advised relationships, we have all rebelled in some way and been burned in the process. All of life's disappointments build up. Before long, people are covered in scar tissue, hardened to the world.
- Call to Repentance/Encounter With Jesus: If you are a follower of Jesus, you have heard this call. For some of us, we have heard it many times. But, for the truly faithful, there is always that one true, fall-on-your-face broken encounter with Jesus that changes your whole life. This is where you meet the real Jesus, where you appreciate the exchange: His brokenness for yours.
- Learning to Walk Again: As a believer, you have to learn to walk all over again. This is not the same education you received earlier in life, this is a whole new training. Many of us have to undergo a deprogramming before our new spiritual training can begin. This training is ongoing, and, while we can become mature, the possibilities for education and application are endless. We learn to use the tools of the spiritual trade because our battle with flesh and blood is, in theory, over.
- The Grand Finale: For those who have learned to persevere, a glorious ending awaits. A grand revelation of God's glory...and what perhaps an explanation as to what the heck He was up to all along. It's going to be good, and I have a hard time waiting.
Where else do we see this pattern? I assume you have guessed this by now. This pattern is humanity's journey through history as recorded in the pages of the Bible. God created man to be with Him, to reign in a world without fear, and to be safe in the comfort of our home. Genesis.
Mankind got a lesson very early in life that our actions and disobedience have consequences, often severe consequence. The consequences for the very first act of disobedience are still being felt today. Although I believe the penalty for this particular act of disobedience has been paid, humanity still suffers from it. The fall of man.
It is no coincidence that Abraham's faith and child-like faith are set as the standards of faith. The faith of a child is remarkable. When you tell a child they can grow up to be President of the United States, they simply believe it. When God told Abraham, "Go" and "I'll make you a great nation" he simply believed it. The faith of a child is the benchmark for a believer, the faith of Abraham is the benchmark for humanity. The call of Abraham.
I assume the parallels between the growing pains of a young Israel and the growing pains of a young believer (or future believer) are apparent. Learning to manage captivity and freedom can be equally difficult. Rebellion, impatience, ungratefulness, getting along with others, and the like are often lessons that must be learned the hard way. Rules are required and imposed because we cannot be trusted to make wise decisions on our own. We fail to heed the warnings of others for our lives and the choices we make. The list is endless. The law and the prophets.
Then, at just the right moment, we encounter our Messiah. We don't always recognize Him the first time around, but His identity is made manifest. Our encounter is often miraculous, supernatural, and unlike anything we would have expected. We might not even know what happened until afterward, but the course of our life has most definitely changed. Does this sound familiar? Not everyone recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah the first time around, many encountered Him through His miracles, and even His closest followers weren't entirely positive what they had encountered until after His resurrection. But, the course of history most definitely changed. The gospels.
After encountering Jesus, the new believer begins his or her new walk, learning new things and unlearning old things. Learning to walk in faith, apply teaching, hone spiritual gifts, and to fight spiritual battles not fleshly ones, a spiritual graduate school, if you will. In short, learning how to live as Jesus lived. The epistles.
In the end, our very own revelation. One day we will see the battles in the heavens and finally understand how everything played out. The pieces of the cosmic jigsaw puzzle will finally start to come together. And we can spend an eternity admiring the intricacy of the artwork, the design and the construction. We will see as we were meant to see and what we were meant to see. Revelation.
This observation and its development is still in its infancy, there is much that needs to be worked out. But, in child-like faith, I see the promise; and, after a few growing pains and guidance from Jesus, I'm confident there will be a grand revelation. Any ideas, thoughts, comments or criticisms would be much appreciated.