(Having recently read Fr. Stephen’s post at Glory to God for All Things (click here to read), I felt moved to write a bit on “progress”. Certainly my aim is not to contradict any of Fr. Stephen’s excellent points – but rather to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.)
Is my soul making progress on its way toward God?
O yes it is – it is!
How can I be so sure? Well, let me tell you what Jesus said:
Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7: 9 – 11)
Jesus has taught me that His Father is my Father and that I can ask Him for anything. Jesus even invited me to be on intimate terms with our Father, so intimate that I can call Him, “Abba”.
And so, every day, I call upon my Abba. I thank Him, I praise Him and I ask Him for help. I ask Him for many things, for myself and others. I ask for the Holy Spirit to bring His gifts, to work in me and through me.
I cannot imagine that my Abba does not give these good things to me. (If He did not, that would make the words of Jesus untrue and that cannot be.) Because He is my Abba – and I am but a child – I trust that He knows what I need and exactly how to take care of me.
I do not know, but He knows.
Of course, my Abba wants me to find my way to Him. This is why He made me. He never wanted me to get lost like this – but He hasn’t given up on me. If He had, He wouldn’t have sent Jesus to find me. And He wouldn’t have sent the Spirit to teach me.
So I trust that my soul is making progress. The funny part though is that, with me being but a child, I don’t always know when I’m going forward or when I’m going backward. In fact, I’m the worst judge of this there can be.
Sometimes my Father has pointed this out to me, a bit sharply even, but always with love.
I might think proudly that I have made great progress because I am praying often and with great joy. (I might even secretly think that I am holier than the others who don’t go to church or pray.)
But Abba has a good cure for this pride of mine. He takes away all the joy! I didn’t realize at first that He was doing this – it didn’t seem like the sort of thing my Father would do. But then, slowly, I understood.
It was His way of showing me how I did without Him. Ugh. That should have been enough to teach me not to take credit for His gifts!
Unfortunately, however, me being but a child, I learn slowly and make the same mistakes over and over. Abba is so kind and loving though that He doesn’t hold back His gifts for long.
When I repeat my mistakes and am struggling in the joyless place, sometimes I think I have gone backward. I think I am getting farther from God than ever.
But I am no judge. From what people tell me, these times may be when I am learning and growing the most. If God were teaching me to swim, I’d be learning more when my feet were kicking and my arms were swinging than when He was just holding me up, now wouldn’t I?
Not being able to make sense of all of this backward and forward stuff, how can I know I’m making any progress toward God at all? Could I be such a disobedient child that I will never find my way to Abba?
Such a thought sure is scary. I know I can be pretty disobedient at times – even though sometimes I don’t realize it until later, when He shows me what I did.
But I’ve learned that I don’t really have to be scared. Jesus told me that I just need to keep asking and our Father, who loves me even more than my earthly parents, will give me what I need.
I know that I am making progress – I’m not just spinning my wheels. But I know this, not because I’m good or because I’m getting better in some way, but because I trust Him. I trust that He’s doing in me what He promised to do. He’s making me a new creation. Without Him, I’d never be anything.
He is my Abba and I love Him. But even this is true only because He loved me first and is now showing me what love means. He sent Jesus to find me and now He lives in my heart. And His Spirit is always here with me. I’m never alone.
With all of these gifts, even a lost child like me cannot stay lost forever. He just keeps drawing me closer and closer – as long as I ask.
And I pray that I never stop asking. But even if in my foolishness I do stop asking, He will come knocking at my door. That’s how much He loves me.
I just can’t help but trust Him. He is my Abba…