In 1952, New Testament scholar J.B. Philips wrote a book called Your God is Too Small. I’ve never read the book, but I love the title. So many problems in our lives come from cramped, confined notions about God. We construct a mental image of a God who is mostly like us, only with higher scores in the “Strength” or “Wisdom” or “Love” categories. We fall victim to the same error God rebukes in Psalm 50:21: “You thought I was altogether like you.” In our views and thoughts of God, bigger is better. But there’s one area of the Christian life where bigger is not better, where a large and grandiose vision will not serve us but instead hinder us: our sanctification. Let me explain.
If I were to ask you how you need to change to be more like Jesus, you would probably have a ready answer – or several! I need to be more loving. I need to become less impatient with my kids. I need to grow in purity on the internet. We pray for those things: God, make me more loving. Make me more patient. But then when we struggle with impatience or lack of love or impurity, we become discouraged. It’s not working. I guess I’m not praying hard enough…or maybe I’m never going to get over this sin. At that point we either become discouraged at our lack of growth, or we gradually begin to tolerate the sin. Neither of those results will actually help us grow more like Jesus. So what’s the problem?
The problem is we’re thinking too big. Our mental picture of sanctification is something like a series of switches that are either “On” or “Off.” When God makes us more holy, he turns the “Impatience” switch off and turns the “Patience” switch on. But it doesn’t work that way. Instead, the battle for holiness is won or lost in the mundane. As author David Powlison says, holiness is bite-sized. Here’s how it works.
I struggle with pride. Always have. For a long time, I thought the battle with pride would go something like this: January 1: Dear Diary. Struggled with pride today. I am such a sinner! February 1: Dear Diary. I beat it! I’m no longer proud! I can’t believe how humble I am now!
Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not completely. I prayed that God would make me humble, and I expected that would mean one day there’d be a change and I’d feel no desire for praise after a sermon, no jealousy if someone did better than me, no defensiveness when criticized. (It hasn’t happened yet.) I’m slowly learning to think smaller. Growth in humility means instead of praying God, help me not to be proud today, I ask in the moment God, I feel defensive at that criticism. Help me to respond humbly right now. Putting to death sin and putting on the fruit of the Spirit takes place one very small moment at a time. We need to think small.
So here’s my suggestion to you. Take that area of growth in your life and break it down into very small pieces. If you don’t listen well to your wife, don’t just pray, God, help me to be a better listener. Instead pray, God, when I ask my wife how her day went this afternoon, help me to listen through her entire response without thinking about what I want to say when she finishes. It’s those mundane moments where sanctification takes place. So think small. Very small. And watch as God transforms you into the image of Christ one degree at a time.
2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
Photo by Ruocaled.