This past week I read the incredible story of Brooke Greenberg, a 20-year-old who never developed beyond the toddler stage. She passed away last Thursday, having had the body and cognitive function of a 1-year-old. She didn’t grow after the age of 5 — and basically, she no longer aged. She may have been the only person in the world who suffered from a rare genetic disease, so rare in fact that it is called Syndrome X. (http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/brooke-greenberg-20-old-8220-toddler-8217-8221-185100345.html)
The scientific community looks at Brooke’s death far different than the family. Dr. Eric Schadt, director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology said “Brooke Greenberg, even after her sad passing, may help to reveal answers to one of the major mysteries in human biology: Why do we age and is there any way to slow or suspend the aging process?” While such a statement might give the family some comfort to think their daughter’s death might be helpful to someone else, they are still suffering the pangs of grief and sadness. This was not supposed to happen. Brooke stayed a toddler for 20 years being fed baby food.
When I read this article I immediately thought of the Christian life and the erratic development of many people in their faith. We know that spiritual growth is the norm and is greatly encouraged throughout the New Testament: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus…let your roots go down deep into Christ…just as you are doing, do more and more…until we all attain mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Christian growth is not a work or a performance; it is a natural outgrowth of the work of God’s justifying grace.
Our evangelical heritage has taught us well of the centrality of the gospel and the work of Christ in the salvation of our souls. It has also taught us the importance of Bible knowledge and of evangelism and missions. This is indeed a precious heritage. However, it has left us with the sense that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to grow us as we read the Bible, pray, and go to church; that spiritual growth will just happen automatically. We do not hear much emphasis on the fact that we must cooperate with the Spirit in our sanctification because it smacks of works and performance and not of grace. We tend to look at the gospel, with its emphasis on repentance and faith, as being appropriate only for beginning of our Christian lives and fail to realize that the gospel is also the vehicle for our Christian growth in holiness.
The result is that many leave the evangelical church because they are hungry for God. They move to the more liturgical and contemplative Christian denominations and some even to syncretized eastern religious practices. However some evangelicals are also realizing that discipleship is more than just missions and evangelism, it is about being with Jesus and being shaped or formed into his likeness. I met with a group of old friends last week who have been together for two years worshipping Jesus, studying Scripture, and holding each other accountable for their intentional spiritual development as Christ-followers.
Look at the Old Testament and the great spiritual revivals used of God in lives of his people through Elijah, Hezekiah, Josiah; the seasons of refreshing through Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross; the amazing impact of the Reformation in Western Europe; the First and Second Great Awakening in the American Colonies, the Prayer Revival of 1858, the Welch Revival of the early twentieth-century. We should be reading these things and praying that God would do the same thing again in our lives and churches. Then we should set about the task of intentionally developing our own spiritual lives. Growth requires an open heart and mind to God’s Spirit; our willingness needs to be followed up by our actions. So, where will you begin? How will you conform to Christ’s image by being with him this week? I think you should ask him that; and maybe in the next few weeks I can give you some helpful direction. You see, I desire to grow too and not have Syndrome X characterize my spiritual life.