Several years back I had the opportunity to take a trip to Nepal, where my Father in Law and a number of others helped support a couple of orphanages.
During this trip we took a flight and rickety car drive to a place called Rodropur, where one of these orphanages was based. It was an amazing trip but there was one moment that has stayed with me and become one of those pictures where God continues to speak through it.
One sunny morning our hosts were making churros (a sweet donut like pastry) over a stove fire. They were tasty and everyone was enjoying them until they had their full. I watch one of the youngest boys (one who had been taken in from a life on the street) after the eating had finished go around and pick up all the left overs and put them in his pocket. Any time another kid came near him he would aggressively grab his pockets and look sternly at the child, as though ready for a fight. It stayed with me.
Here was a boy who was now part of new family, he had a new identity, he was no longer the same. He had everything he needed and yet there was an old momentum that had yet to shift. The thoughts and behaviours that he’d developed to simply survive on the street weren’t easy to shift.
It reminds me of what it’s like for us as people seeking to follow Jesus and be formed in His image. When we surrendered our life to Christ something profound changed. The bible says it is as though we are re-born to a new way of life. We receive a new identity, a new family, we have a new relationship with God, we are not the same anymore. And we’ve died to an old way of life. Paul writes that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Rom 6:11), we’ve put away old desires and patterns – we’re not the same anymore.
And yet, the momentum of our old life, though dead is sometimes difficult to shift. We need to continually put aside our old desires and patterns and give room to the new desires that stem from our new nature. We are alive to the Spirit of God, not under a religious system that relies on our human effort. We must engage in new patterns of thinking and acting that allow the Spirit of God to powerful change us by His love. It sometimes takes time for our old patterns (that are dead) to converge with a new nature that we’ve received because of the unbelievable love of God.
My father in law was back in Rodropur recently, about 10 years on and he told me of the same boy and how he had grown and matured, and it was incredible. The old boy gathering up the scraps of churros was unrecognisable as this new young man full of life and confidence emerged.
Now, the moment the boy was taken in - that was the moment his identity, future and reality changed. But the maturing process took time. It took small choices to engage with the love of a new family one step at a time. The result was a maturity that now looked like his new identity.
That’s God’s desire for us – to be matured into the image of His Son, bit by bit through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we choose to participate in the process one step at a time we are transformed from one degree of beautiful glory to another (2 Cor 3:18).
Note: for some helpful teaching on this listen to "Putty Putman" at the Vineyard National Leaders Conference this year