Today is the first day of school for our city. It has been a day of mixed emotions. My oldest son Noah started the fourth grade. This was the first time in his school career that the first day didn’t involve me as anything more than a taxi driver. Every year before today, the first day included some sort of parents meeting or involved meeting the teacher, being included in the process but not today. This morning we got to the front doors of Wilbur Watts Intermediate School, told the aide the assigned teacher and classroom and they told him where to go, no parents. I watched as Noah bounded up the stairs to begin the fourth grade. This is also the first, first day of school that I recall in which I believe Noah and I parted ways with me having more concern in my eyes than he had in his. This is where the mixed emotions come in. We have been praying for and working with Noah to overcome anxiety, to be free from worry and fear and to walk in maturity and self control. Our prayers are being answered and he is growing into the little boy that God created him to be and that he longs to be. I am so proud of him, and yet, at the same time, I have this slight yearning inside of me for him to still need me and for him to still be the little boy that would rather be with his Dad than his friends. Growth and maturity mean change; they require change. As I came home today I am so thankful to God for what He is doing in my son and I have to be willing to put away my sentimental longings and enjoy the answer to prayers and the growth of Noah.
We often face these same dilemma’s of emotion in our spiritual lives. We pray for change, we ask for God to move, to do something new and fresh in us, in our loved ones, in our surroundings. As we are praying we see the outcome but sometimes we miss the cost. We see ourselves growing but overlook the change that growth will cause. We can envision the outcome of promises being fulfilled but we look right past the turning over of fallow ground and pruning of vines that will take place to get to that fulfillment. When John the Baptist met Jesus he quickly realized what must take place. I believe John’s heart and perspective are what gave Jesus the reasons to declare that “of those born of women there is none greater than John.” John was the prophet chosen by God to “prepare the way” for Jesus. He was given the anointing of Elijah and was powerfully used, even if only for a short time. Multitudes came to hear what he spoke, thousands were baptized by him into a baptism of repentance and preparation. In the midst of his ministry, a high point, Jesus appeared to him to be baptized. John immediately knew that he was baptizing the Messiah, he tried to refuse because he saw himself as unworthy but quickly relented and willingly obeyed the will and Word of God. This was an exciting moment for John, it was the fulfillment of everything he had preached, prayed and hoped for; like Simeon thirty years earlier, he had finally seen the “Consolation of Israel”.
A short time later John’s disciples became very upset because Jesus was now baptizing. The bigger issue they had was not that He was baptizing but that “all are coming to Him!” Everything had changed since John baptized Jesus. Now John and his disciples were being a bit overlooked and unappreciated. John answered his disciples with great perspective and even greater faith, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This was a principle that John saw that his disciples did not. John understood that the introduction of Christ was the conclusion of his ministry. As a man, I am sure that he wrestled with this, I am sure that it was not easy but he took hold of the truth.
John’s declaration was not only for him, it is a principle for all of us. For there to be an increase there must also be a decrease. To go back to the thoughts that led me to write today, for Noah to increase in self control he has to decrease in his dependence upon my presence as his safety. For him to increase in maturity he has to decrease in dependence upon me. Where we are praying for increase we must be willing to endure the decrease as well. For those of you reading this that are a part of City of Refuge Fellowship, we are praying for an increase in our community, for salvation, redemption, healing, deliverance and the peace of God. For that increase to come there will have to be a decrease in some of the things that some of us may hold dear. There will be new people that will bring new relationships, new needs, new dynamics, new abilities and new opportunities. We must not be that group of people that chooses to lock arms and force others to join at the back of the line we must be those willing to change and be changed for the sake of fulfillment, for the sake of answered prayers and for the sake of God’s glory. As a group of people it is time to put down expectations, long and familiar identifications and identities, comfortable forms and functions and break free from being what we have always been. Being what we have been will never bring us to be what we are called to be; this step can take us no further than where we are right now. We must grow weary of being in this spot so that we can move forward, grow and mature into the next step of the journey.
As individuals, most of us are reading this today and we have a place in mind that we want to be. We have a change, a fulfillment, a gift that we are ready to see come to pass in our lives. I pray that you will be encouraged and challenged today to realize that that next step will and does require leaving this step behind. There will be change that comes with fulfillment. Hebrews 10:39 says, “But we are not of those who draw back”. Many times we have a temptation to stop moving if there is a cost. We have prayed for change, we have prayed for fulfillment but when it is costly or when there is decrease that comes before the fulfillment, our souls and our flesh cry out that it is too hard, that it must be the wrong time or the wrong way and we are tempted to “draw back”. We are not of those who draw back because we are those that receive the increase, but to walk in that place we must willingly decrease! Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What is the goal you are pressing toward today? A large part of pressing forward is forgetting what is behind. It is not a denial of goodness or a removal of heritage, it is a refusal to not call any step on the path of righteousness the destination. None of us have arrived or as Paul put it, “have already attained”, so we all have growth that is necessary, maturity that is still building, change that is still coming. Every new day requires the putting away of the day before and every new season requires the conclusion of the prior season. The fulfillment of your promises will require the letting go of past pleasures so that you can be free to receive the “mercies” that are new this morning.
As I write this I feel more at peace, more at ease and more grateful for the way this morning unfolded. I went expecting to be involved in Noah’s first day of school and was stopped in my tracks at the door. I just realized something though, this was one of the first times that I have ever watched him walk away. Usually I have taken him to the gym, the auditorium or the classroom. I see him off and then he watches me leave, today I watched him walk up the steps and around the corner. Today I got to see his maturity, his self control, his growth and God’s change in our lives. It was time for both of us to have a new perspective, for both of us to forget what was behind and to press “forward to those things which are ahead”. I personally don’t like change, but I love fulfillment; it is time for me to realize that you can’t have one without the other, to stop resisting change so that I can abound in fulfillment and I am not alone. If you are in a season of change, a season in which it seems that everything is decreasing, hold on tightly, press forward courageously and don’t give in to the temptation to “draw back”, increase is coming. Unemployment will lead to a new direction; broken hearts will lead to perfect peace; transition will lead to provision and peril will lead to protection. If we will learn to embrace the decrease then increase will overtake us and God’s presence will be our source of hope in the midst of all our steps, all our losses and all our gains. He is constant, He is unchanging and yet He makes great changes. If we will decrease He is faithful to increase, and wherever Jesus increases grace abounds!