I was almost twelve years old when I picked up my first George MacDonald novel. The story immediately fascinated me, but the writing style was overwhelming. It stretched far beyond the Janette Oke books I had read up to that point. In frustration, I set it aside after only a couple of chapters, switching to something a little easier to digest.
Over the years, the MacDonald novel continued to call to me from our family library. It reminded me that an unconquered challenge lay waiting. I admittedly do not dive into challenges simply because they stand before me. In fact, sometimes I shy away from them instead, overwhelmed by the thought of tackling something beyond my abilities. But I was an avid reader. By the time I entered my teen years, I had read and reread my favorite books far too many times. I needed something new and fresh. I began to stretch myself, reading increasingly challenging novels and biographies until I finally returned to MacDonald. Before I knew it, I was hooked, caught up in a Scottish world of lairds and fishermen, mystery, suspense, and spiritual awakenings. The writing style that had once left me overwhelmed now broadened my horizons, allowing my mind to absorb and contemplate more than it ever had before.
Spiritual growth can work the same way. Sometimes, God sets a spiritual growth challenge before us. He wants us stretched. He wants us pushed to our limits. Other times, however, we try to dive into a “George MacDonald” concept that is beyond where God has us right now. Admittedly, it can be hard to discern between the two. With one we need to persevere. With the other, we need to walk away for a time. How do we know the difference?
We often cannot tell the difference on our own, because a challenge is a challenge. Fortunately God knows. The way I teach my children mirrors His training of us. Sometimes math facts challenge my sixth grader. I do not let her walk away from dividing fractions; I insist that she learn them. I do not, however, insist that she learn calculus. She just isn’t ready for that yet. So, I teach her a little bit every year, knowing that one day, when the knowledge foundation has been established, she just might want to tackle calculus (unless she continues to take after her mommy!). In the same way, God lays for us a foundation of learning, and He knows when we need to take each step in our growth. In James 1:5, God’s Word tells us that if we ask for wisdom, He will generously give it to us. If we ask Him, He will let us know whether or not the lesson in front of us is timely for our stage of growth, just as I will tell my daughter what she needs to know to increase her math skills.
Never walk away from the challenges of spiritual growth that God sets before you. Be careful, however, to seek His wisdom so that you do not try to swallow a George MacDonald concept with a Janette Oke reading level or tackle a calculus concept with a sixth grade math comprehension. God will put before you what you need to know, one step at a time. Seek His wisdom, trust His training, and grow in His timing.