Growing Like Jesus: Wisdom from Fellow Travelers
(Jennifer Taylor was among eight Christian leaders asked to share what helps them mature just as Jesus did. Taylor, one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.)
This spring I tagged a few days onto a California business trip so I could spend time with friends.
First I had coffee with John, who shared his recent decision to leave a safe ministry position and start a new church. “I waited years to discover this calling, and just tried to stay faithful until I saw the next step,” he told me. “And I’m not afraid because God is in it.”
Next was Kyle, who told me about his trip to Africa and how he left his fear there. Then he described how I seem to be struggling with my own fears, and how it could look to create margin in my life to explore these questions.
Then Christie, who pushed me to consider whether I was using workaholism as an escape. When I admitted her questions seemed eerily similar to these other conversations, she replied, “Well, it seems like God’s using anyone he can to get your attention.”
None of these friends knew that many of my recent struggles included lack of clarity over my own next steps, the wrestling match between being and doing, or temptations to stay safe and avoid risk. But God knew, and he spoke truth through people close to me. These days it is the way he is helping me grow in wisdom.
Speaking into the Journey
I wonder how much God might have used the quiet faith of Mary or the strength of Joseph to help Jesus grow. Jesus prepared 30 years for his three-year ministry—how many now-anonymous friends, cousins, neighbors, and teachers spoke into his journey?
We know his interactions with the disciples, with the religious leaders, and even with anonymous followers affected him. He was “astonished” by the faith of the centurion (Matthew 8) and “amazed” by others’ lack of faith (Mark 6).
He asked questions—some rhetorical, to be sure, but not all. “What were you arguing about?” he asks a group of teachers (Mark 9). “Do you want to get well?” he asks the invalid at Bethesda (John 5). In a crowd: “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5). One on one with a Samaritan woman: “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4).
If Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was influenced by the fallen people around him, how much more can we learn from the people in our own lives?
This includes the difficult people. As my minister says, the people we find it most challenging to love often provide the greatest opportunities to become more like Jesus. The employer sharing a less than stellar opinion of my work, the neighbor letting his dogs roam (and more) in my front yard, the church choir soprano proudly and loudly warbling off key—each one has allowed me to practice the graceful art of keeping my opinions to myself (until I publish them in a national magazine).
God can use the frustrating folks, and the frustratingly oblivious ones, as our 101 curriculum for patience, kindness—and wisdom.
Known in Relationship
Of course we must weigh the feedback we receive from both our friends and our critics; just because the insight comes from a mentor or authority figure doesn’t make it accurate. But when we combine the counsel of trusted friends with our own reading of Scripture and connection to a church community, we are refusing insular thinking, accepting correction, and opening ourselves to growth.
At the end of my lunch with Kyle, he expressed his belief, confirmed again during his time in Africa, that God wants to be known in relationship with us.
“I’m not convinced,” I countered. “He seems to hide himself from me most of the time.”
“He doesn’t seem to be hiding now, does he?” Kyle said. “You have serious trust issues with God but even you have to admit he’s showing up.”
He is indeed, through the grace and truth shared by fellow travelers. Their wisdom is slowly helping me to grow in wisdom as well.