Back when I was a youth, I remembered being baffled by a nearby youth ministry which was plagued with problems. The youth leaders were constantly resolving family problems, school issues and all sorts of troubles. Yet, somehow, they were cheerful and had an unexplainable joy. On top of that, the youth ministry was thriving and growing in numbers as well as maturity.
When I had the chance to talk to one of the leaders, I told him I prayed my youth ministry would grow like theirs too. His response left a lasting impression on me: “Be careful what you ask for. When you pray for growth, expect trouble.”
The moment we are conceived in the womb, we begin growing and don’t stop growing till we die. Although everyone experiences growth, we experience it at varying speeds.
Children, especially babies, grow at a rapid rate. My second boy is hitting his first birthday soon and has grown tremendously since being a tiny newborn. In less than 12 months, he has continuously jumped leaps and bounds in his height and weight, not to mention his motor skills and speech developments.
While growth in some aspects of life might not be as evident as a baby's development, growth does come naturally. It’s God’s will for us to grow. We all desire growth but often aren't prepared for it. There are two things we can do as we embrace growth—first, expect the unknown; second, expect changes.
Expect the unknown
When we grow, we have to move out of our comfort zone. A toddler learning how to stand and walk needs to take small steps away from the sides. He has to let go off any support he has previously depended on in order to start walking by his own.
Human beings like to be in control and in the know. The unknown is scary and renders us powerless. This makes us uncomfortable. Unless we go through unchartered waters, we will never encounter new places. In order to grow, we need to let go of the familiar and be ready to delve into the unknown.
Getting married and becoming a parent are probably two of the major growths in my life. As I took on new roles as a wife and mother, it was a mistake to expect everything to still be the same as when I was single.
While still being me, I now have a partner for life and we in turn have children who are part of us. Bedtime routines changed from late night to early lights-off at home while family events changed from movie dates to playground outings.
Changes require effort and time, which often add to our inconvenience. It seems obvious for things to change as we grow, yet we somehow tend to want growth whilst avoiding changes. Until we make changes, there will not be space for growth.
God and trouble
With growth comes the unknown and changes; with them come discomfort and inconvenience, which are both recipes for trouble. In plain words, growth comes with lots of trouble. However, surely God wouldn't want trouble for us, would He?
Elisabeth Elliott, the wife of missionary Jim Elliot who died while trying to reach out to an unsafe people group, shared this profoundly challenging thought which got me rethinking where God is in the midst of trouble:
Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering… The love of God did not protect His own Son… He will not necessarily protect us—not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiselling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.
God never causes trouble for us, but He allows it to happen. This in no way signifies His lack of love and concern for us. Neither does it advocate His non-existence. It just means God enables us and is with us through the troubles, giving us an opportunity to grow.
Trouble is the door to growth
In the same way growth is spelt trouble, trouble is the door to growth. It finally dawned on me what it meant by ‘when you pray for growth, expect trouble.’ There’s no message without a mess. No testimony without a test. Often, as with Margie Willers, a woman disabled by cerebal palsy, our troubles are the best catalyst to greater things in our lives, and can glorify God as we become a blessing to others.
The absurd passage in Romans chapter 5, verses 3–5, about praising God especially when in trouble now makes more sense.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
It's not trouble but our growth that reflects God's grace and power which we rejoice for. This is why we can be at peace and even anticipative when we face troubles; because we know we are growing and going places with God by our side.
Esther Koh is a stay-at-home mum living in Wellington with her husband and two sons. She loves people and has a passion for helping others find their purpose for living.
Esther Koh’s previous articles may be viewed at