I love planting a garden each spring. As soon as the weather allows, my family heads to a garden supply store and buys all kinds of young plants or seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, carrots, beans, cucumbers, and herbs. With every house in which I have lived as an adult, one of our first projects was to build garden beds in the yard so that we could plant a garden. Over the spring, summer, and fall we nurture the plants by giving them plenty of water, good amounts of sunlight, protection from harsh conditions, and proper pruning and support. And we watch them grow! We’ve enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables every year. We’ve had tomato plants grow so tall we could hardly reach the top. We’ve had broccoli heads bigger than my kids' heads. And we’ve had more zucchini than we know what to do with. Watching our garden grow every year has been a true blessing.
Plants aren’t the only things that grow. People grow as well. We grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All of these areas of growth require proper conditions and support—just like my garden. Growing physically requires proper nutrition and safety. Growing mentally requires learning and challenges. Growing emotionally requires proper nurture and environment. And growing spiritually requires care, cultivation, and challenges. God promises through the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us grow spiritually. He gives us his word to teach us about who he is and who he created us to be. He promises to help us grow through the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. And he places a community around us—the church—to walk with us in our growth process each day.
Even before Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he promised the disciples that he would send his Spirit to teach them and remind them of everything Jesus said (John 14:26). At his ascension, he again promised to send the Holy Spirit to help his disciples share the good news of Jesus with the world (Matthew 28:19-20). All of this came true at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he talked about the "fruit" of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These are behaviors, like love, joy, and peace, that grow and are produced in followers of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Still elsewhere in the New Testament we learn about spiritual gifts like leadership and teaching that the Spirit produces in followers of Christ for the benefit of his followers and the furtherance of the kingdom of God. All throughout the New Testament we learn about how the Holy Spirit promises to equip us and help us grow.
The water of baptism and the food of communion are constant reminders that the Holy Spirit helps us grow. Water and food are essential elements in our physical growth. We can’t grow and thrive without them. Baptism and communion remind us through images of bathing and a meal that we also need the Holy Spirit to help us grow. The Holy Spirit nurtures us as our faith is formed. From an infant in faith to becoming a full fruit-bearing follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit walks with us every step of the way teaching, guiding, and forming us into the person God has created us to be. Every day that we spend with the Holy Spirit of God in our lives we grow in our knowledge of who he is and who he created us to be. Every day that we spend with the Spirit of God in our lives we grow in our capacity to love our neighbor and ourselves. The water that drenches us in our baptism reminds us of the growth that is promised. The food that is shared in communion reminds us of the nurturing that is promised. The Holy Spirit fulfills those promises in us every day.
We can’t grow apart from community. Even the most introverted person needs other people in their lives to help them become who God intended for them to be. We were created to be in community with others, and the church is called to be the fulfillment of that creational need. We learn from other people in our lives—especially those who have experienced the things that we haven’t yet experienced. Wisdom is shared between generations. Community teaches us how to care for others through compassion and service. It gives us the opportunity to practice hospitality and love. Community celebrates great things together and mourns terrible things together. Through community we hold each other up in prayer. The strong lift up the weak until a time when the weak become strong and can lift up others. Community helps hold us accountable, calls us out on our sins and failings, and lovingly guides us back to the path that God intended for us to be on. All of these things are possible through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of every member of a church community.
We were created to grow. None of us is the same person that we were last year or last week. Our faith journeys progress every day through the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Scripture teaches us this, the sacraments of baptism and communion remind us this in very tangible ways, and the community of the church around us walks along this process with us. Through all of these things we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us grow. If you are feeling stagnant in your faith journey, ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow. Find a community that will help you on your journey, and trust in God and his promises to walk alongside of you and move you to grow in him.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema