Sonogram after sonogram told the same story. Our baby’s growth was disturbingly slow. And now it had come to a complete standstill. Diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, I promptly underwent a caesarean section, and we met our baby girl just a few weeks earlier than we anticipated. She was beautiful, just small, and we prayed that feeding her on the outside of the womb would resolve the unexplained problem of her poor growth inside the womb.
But over the next few weeks she lost even more weight. When she finally began growing, it was painfully slow. Suddenly words like “failure to thrive” and “metabolic disease” were part of our vocabulary . . . and inserted into our cries for the Lord to help us.
It was a stressful time, and as winter approached and a nasty respiratory infection swept through our other children, I knew our baby was particularly vulnerable. Her little body wasn’t strong enough to fight off an infection like this one until she grew stronger. Thus our days became ones of isolation in order to protect her from illness and nourish her with the food she needed to thrive.
But thanks be to God! Through the good gift of baby formula and round-the-clock feedings, our baby girl finally started growing. Her constant weighing went to weekly and then monthly. By four months old, her extreme frailty was behind us.
Baby Christians and Failure to Thrive
As precious as tiny newborns are, they aren’t meant to stay small. None of us would think it normal for a two-year-old to be the size of a newborn. We understand that a baby who doesn’t grow has a problem.
The same physical needs that a baby has for growing to healthy adulthood—food, exercise, and an environment protected from sickness and disease—are true of Christian women as well. Yet many of us have stunted spiritual growth. With undernourished souls and flabby minds, we never experience the joys that growth in Christ bring us, nor the genuine fulfillment we have when our lives bring Him glory. We were created by God to live for God, so we should aim for spiritual maturity.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God (Ps. 92:12–13).
Like palm trees meant to flourish, God provides everything we need to grow in Him. This pursuit of growth does not save us, nor is it a heavy yoke. On the contrary, it is a pursuit of joy! It is the striving of a creature seeking satisfaction in the only place it can be found—our Creator and Redeemer.
As we grow in our satisfaction of Christ alone, we become more Christ-like. That is, we grow in love for God and others, faith in Him, and trust during affliction. We begin to flourish in areas like humility, peace, and contentment. When others get to know us well, there should be a certain “family resemblance” they can see (Eph. 4:13, 15; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
Three Ways to Grow
1. Long for the milk of the Word.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).
To “grow up into salvation,” a Christian woman must long for and live by the pure milk of the Bible. The Scriptures teach, rebuke, correct and train us for righteousness and contain all we need to know to live a fruitful life as a Christian (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
If we neglect the diligent study of the Scriptures, we ought not be surprised if we suffer from lack of growth—or even shrinkage! Are you a malnourished Christian? Ask God to make you hungry for your Bible. This is your food. It nourishes your soul. Taste of the Lord, and see just how good He is.
2. Get some spiritual exercise.
My baby daughter’s physical development began to take off when her strength was tested. She grew stronger! And a Christian woman grows stronger by exercise as well. For this workout, there is no need to pick up the kettlebells, ladies. (Whew!) Paul tells us that spiritual exercise profits us even more than physical (1 Tim. 4:8). So how do we exercise the soul? By worship. Think of it as core strength training of faith.
We worship God by lifting up our every duty and responsibility as spiritual worship unto Him (Rom. 12:1), for who He is and what He has done for us in salvation through Christ. Changing a diaper? You can worship God in that. Carpooling a load of talkative teens? Serve the Lord in that. Caring for elderly family members? The Lord is with you; do it with the help of His Spirit and give Him praise in it.
It also means there are special times of personal, concentrated communion with God, calling out to Him in prayer and song. And a growing Christian woman will also cherish hearing biblically sound exposition of the Scriptures in her church, because this is the heart of true communion with God and other believers.
Another way we can exercise our faith is in service to others. Jesus said whoever gives of his life for Christ’s sake saves it. He said it is more blessed to give than receive. He said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it doesn’t bear fruit. Thus, serving others by praying for them, loving them with words and deeds, and using our talents and resources to obey and further the kingdom of God exercises faith. And this faith delivers us from self-centeredness and causes others to see we trust and love Christ. Jesus Himself came to serve.
3. Grow through your environment.
As a baby needs a nurturing environment to grow properly, so does the soul. There are two environments that God uses to grow us. The first will be no surprise; it is the church. Just as a baby thrives best with a family who lovingly gives care, concern, and discipline, so does a spiritual child also need this household of faith to grow up in. Here is an atmosphere of love.
As others minister to us through the gifts Christ has given them, we are encouraged, instructed, and “built up.” We also find examples to follow from others as we observe the Lord’s saving and keeping power in their lives.
But we not only grow within the church. We also grow outside, in the world. Jesus said that every vine that is bearing fruit will be pruned so that it is even more fruitful. All the experiences of our lives—the pain, the disappointments, the seasons of waiting, the uncertainties—are under the sovereign hand of God. And they are meant to help us grow in conforming to Christ. When we learn of our deep spiritual weakness, we turn to Him. He then proves to us that He can be relied upon, and our faith is strengthened.
Timehop Doesn’t Lie
I’m able to see growth spurts in my children easily. There are also times their growth is so slow I might doubt it is happening. But my Facebook “Timehop” tells me a different story! As it brings back old photos (even from one year ago) to my social media account, I am amazed at my children’s growth.
So it is in our spiritual growth. Growing in maturity doesn’t always look like a pretty, graphed line heading straight toward the top. For one thing, we’ll never “reach the top” in this life (unlike physical growth, spiritual growth doesn’t end until we reach heaven or Christ returns). No, the graph line would look jagged and pointy and different for everyone, and sometimes it moves fast and often it is slow. But it is always steady, as God faithfully grows us up toward Christ-likeness.
What are some areas where you have experienced Christian growth over the past year? In what ways do you exercise your faith, and how have you grown in understanding of God through that exercise?