Wild Butterflies

I have often wondered why there is confusion in the Christian life between what God does for us and our own continuous struggle. Paul’s words to the Philippians capture the tension well:

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)

I went on an interesting spiritual journey for six months. It began when I asked God to increase my character. Then came the unexpected exposure of hidden selfishness and immaturity. Surprise, surprise!

Thankfully, I confessed, repented, and received God’s forgiveness. I prayed hard for change and sensed God’s voice and activity more than I have in years. Now, in prayer and worship, and as I reflect on Scripture, even as I simply wait quietly, I sense God’s presence. He calms my mind, deals with hidden emotions, exposes residual sin so I can repent and be freed, and He fills me with joy and peace. I enjoy spiritual rest.

But within hours (minutes sometimes) a new irritation or temptation trips me back into my old ways. Certainly God is right there to reveal more of the entrenched pattern so I can better resist next time round. He is there with mercy and forgiveness. He restores His presence to me. But I have to strain to rest again (Heb. 4:11). The roller-coaster seems endless. Is there a tiny, incremental change after each cycle? I can’t say for sure, but I think so.

Why is the tension between God’s intervention in our lives and our own efforts part of every believer’s experience? And why are we so troubled by it? I think we have been misled by the oversimplification and idealization of Christianity. We imagine that, when we give our lives to the Lord, we can restfully glide along the path to perfection by grace alone. The slightest downswing upsets us; it suggests we were deceived, or we are failing as followers. Aren’t we meant to be perfect specimens demonstrating to the world God’s capacity to turn ugly sinners into beautiful saints?

There’s the lie! Disciples are not display butterflies in a climate-controlled dome, obligingly flitting from one photo pose to another. Disciples have a life-cycle and a purpose, just like wild butterflies. Although it must be one of the least strenuous existences, butterflies have a role to fulfill in finely balanced plant ecosystems. The butterfly reaches maturity through a cycle that includes pupation—a passive meltdown of all but the core cells of the caterpillar’s body. Emergence of the re-formed butterfly from the pupa is a battle. First, the delicate insect has to wrestle out of its leathery casing. Then it must strain to pump blood into paper-thin wings to unfurl them before they dry.

Picture of newly emerged butterfly.

Living Desert, 2015. Newly hatched butterfly.

Strain, rest. Strain, rest. Strain, rest. . . .

Never help a butterfly to emerge. The battle is essential to strengthen it sufficiently to accomplish the rest of its life purpose.

God’s true disciples are like spiritual wild butterflies. There is a work of pure grace that He does in us while we rest like a pupa. But we need battle training too. We should be spiritual wrestlers. Straining and wrestling for blessings, prayer breakthroughs, and freedom from sin are part of that training. Do not despair if God has you in a wearying battle season. Ask for His strength. Rejoice that He is preparing you for greater fruitfulness.

The goal of Bible Maturity is to promote spiritual growth and faith in God. Please share these short Bible devotions with your friends and family and pray for revival.

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