The God of grace brings forth life in unlikely places.
Surreal moon-like landscape surrounded me — glossy black rivers of rock, ripples frozen in time with chunks of porous a’a lava thrown about abstractly. In the distance, smoke billowed into the sky above the ridge ahead as fresh lava flowed from the Kilauea volcano. Destroying and creating, new earth poured out of the molten center of our not-so-stable planet, continuing to form the big island of Hawaii.
As I hiked back toward my vehicle, I stopped in my tracks at the sight of new life breaking through the inky crust of a decade-old lava flow. Fresh shoots of vibrant green sprouted up in crevices, their roots seeking moisture and nutrients necessary to thrive in the desolate landscape — the beginning of an amazing transformation from barrenness to luxuriant tropical forest.
Scripture flowed into my mind: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). He transformed the unformed mass to the familiar earth we know, filled with plants and animals, land and sea. Wonder filled me as I witnessed the miracle beginning anew.
Just as the seeds perished to break into new forms, their roots reaching downward and their sprouts upward, I thought of the metamorphosis we experience when reborn as new creatures in Christ: death to the old sin nature and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit. And like the transformation pictured before me, we face a maturation process that takes a lifetime.
As a newborn Christian, my life had resembled that barren landscape, made desolate by sin and darkness. Defects and wounds seemed overwhelming and old patterns of living no longer fulfilling. The seedlings had needed light, nutrients, and water to grow into healthy producing plants, as did I.
My new nature sought the Light in this sin-darkened world. “I am the Light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Drawing close to Him dispelled the darkness as His light illuminated and exposed sin.
I was startled to find layer after layer of sinful thoughts and behaviors, and I learned repentance would be an ongoing process, lasting a lifetime. True repentance involved acknowledgment of my wrongdoing and a total about-face from sin, bringing forgiveness and relief. Our gracious God gently peeled away one layer at a time, teaching me to draw close to Himself as I faced trials that tested my faith.
Knowledge brought more light. Jesus declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Daily I fed on nourishing nuggets of God’s Word and applied His light in the big and the small things of life. I learned that our souls thrive as we absorb these nutrients — and we grow in faith.
Plants require water. In John 7:37, 38, Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.” I came to see that thirst and belief in Jesus were the only requirements; the Holy Spirit comes to abide and flow within every new believer.
As I spent time with the Lord, watering my life with prayer, waiting and listening for the leading of His Spirit, He guided me into new patterns of living. I saw His provision and answers to prayer. Sometimes surrounded by pain or darkness, I could not feel His presence. I learned not to rely on my feelings but to have confidence in His promises and His faithfulness — and grow in trust.
Fellowship within Christ’s body, the church, helped me grow as well. Like staking up a tender new stalk, Christian mentors came alongside to encourage and hold me up in prayer. They showed me that being loved teaches us how to love, and we learn that nobody’s perfect. I learned to forgive and not judge. Corporate worship brought joy and opportunities to serve, putting love into action.
Recognizing my many imperfections, I hungered and thirsted for more righteousness. This would help me thrive in my surroundings, as the apostle Paul warns us not to conform to the world but to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). How could I renew my mind? God would patiently show me in time.
Scripture tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Reverence and awe humbled me as I began to realize the majesty and holiness of our God. I reeled at the thought of a Creator who formed man in His own image and gave us the ability to choose His love or not, of a God who planned to redeem broken, sinful human beings by taking our penalty on Himself, suffering and dying to bridge the gap. Wonder at His tender love filled my heart. Amazement brings us to our knees — growth in humility.
The mind functions much like a computer, programmed through daily choices. Paul exhorted the Philippians to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy . . .” (Philippians 4:8) and to put all into practice. Negative thinking, doubts, and fear hold me back; I was to cast all my anxiety onto Him.
Healthy plants produce flowers and fruit. Again, this was not my doing but His, for “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). Jesus reminds us “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). Only as we abide in Him shall we bear much fruit. We exhibit His righteousness.
As Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to be sanctified in spirit, soul, and body, he concluded, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Sanctification cannot be accomplished through my own meager efforts, striving and determining to be pure.
If God can create life on barren lava, He can create beauty in me. As a sunflower turns its face to follow the rotation of the sun, I naturally grow more like Him if I daily look into His face and seek His ways.
Praise God for His provision as He transforms us, His children, into His own image!