Your Word grips me: If I really know you, Jesus – my Lord, Rescuer, Messiah— then I may actually participate in who you are, “the divine nature”! To be like you and a member of your healthy Body, doing my part, is what I really want. So I will try hard, make every effort! But without your Spirit (my guide and comfort) my efforts come to nothing. I struggle, hoping that the gifts you gave me are enough, But without direction, I stumble. I am yours: your daughter, your servant, your Linnea. A little finger? An ankle? An eye, in your Body? You made me with a purpose; may I live it out, for you! I need to know you more and more, better and better every day of my life in order to become increasingly like you, following your prompts.
Have you ever worked really really hard at something, doing your best to succeed, only to fail? I sure have. Let me choose which of the stories inundating me from my past I should share with you, not to wear you out with my distresses.
The one that truly sobered me took place my freshman year at Michigan State University. I had always been a straight-A student. So yes, I hit college running hard with great expectations, with a major in pre-med at that time. (How that changed is another story!) One of the required courses was calculus. Math had always been more challenging to me than any other subject (except P.E.), but I expected to do my “usual”: work hard and succeed. I did put every effort into it that I could. But I got a D grade, just above complete failing! How could I expect to succeed in my major with that grade dragging me down?
It’s true that I was in a class of 600 students. We were assigned to small study groups, but the instructor for my group was really at a loss as to how to help us. He was a graduate student from a foreign country who obviously had no experience teaching something like calculus. He tried, but we couldn’t understand his accent very well, and his answers to questions did not help me. I couldn’t believe I had done so poorly!
I was dating a really cool guy named Glenn Boese at the time. He was in his sophomore year at a community college and had already taken calculus. He was one of those types who was fine with getting a B; he was not a perfectionist but instead liked to save some time for sports and other fun stuff. When I retook the calculus course to save my grade point, he coached me a few times when he visited on a weekend. Suddenly some very basic key concepts made sense, and I was off and running, feeling out of breath but really working hard – and getting a final grade of A- (3.5).
I learned in a very powerful way that without essential basic knowledge, the rest of the uphill journey was impossible.
This is true of spiritual growth, as well. When I was in Côte d’Ivoire, involved in Nyarafolo Bible translation, my co-translator Moise and I were assigned many of the shorter New Testament epistles to translate as we raced to our finish line. As we worked through the first chapter of 2 Peter, both of us were wowed at the powerful words in the first part of chapter 1, which wraps up its teaching like this:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters,make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:10 NIV)
Try your hardest, it says! Make every effort you can, because if you do the things listed above, you will never stumble but reach the goal of forever with Christ, with applause!
I was so moved that I began memorizing that section. Even that seemed to take “every effort,” but it also made me meditate on the connections in Peter’s argument. In addition to saying “make every effort” twice, in verses 5 and 10, there is another key to achieving this goal. It is knowing God, and specifically our Lord Jesus. This foundation is underlined in the introduction:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet. 1:2 NIV)
Wham-bang! It is very clear that we cannot develop mature spiritual character without knowing our Lord! And this is obviously not just knowing about him, but knowing him as a person. How can this happen? When we want to get to know a fellow human being, we spend time with them in conversation and life activities. Getting to know God requires this as well. We need to be truly connected to him! That was made clearer than ever to me when Moise and I struggled with how to translate “godly” into Nyarafolo. The idea of “piety,” used in most of the French versions we referenced, meant nothing. Then we noticed the rendition in the Francais Courant (kind of “common French”) version that says: “attached to God.” That worked in Nyarafolo, using a strong term that indicates a strong, clinging attachment.
So, his divine power has given us everything we need to live out our attachment to God, by knowing him (my back-translation of part of verse 3).
Recently a friend introduced me to Renovated, by Jim Wilder. He takes the teaching of Dallas Willard about growing in spiritual maturity and explains it using both Scripture and his training in neuroscience. I highly recommend it! One thing that blew me away was his explanation of how attachment love is essential to achieving deep human relationships, and essential in our spiritual maturation as well:
“Attachment love is central to an older path to Christian character. Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) spoke of attachment in a proverb widely attributed to her: ‘We become what we love and who we love shapes who we become.”
This differentiates knowing about God and truly knowing God, which changes us. Attached to him, bonded to him, loving him, his power (v.2) fuels every effort that we make to become like him!
This is how children bond to their parents, and – when it is a healthy attachment – grow up to follow in their footsteps. I know my parents’ lives deeply influenced me that way.
So, with this basic knowledge of him in place, making every effort to add all the qualities he wants to see in us (verses 5-7) will not be mere striving without getting to our goal like that first attempt at succeeding in calculus was for me. His Spirit lives in us. Through conversation with him and through delving into his Word, we can get to know him more and more. Deep attachment to him is that basic piece that will result in increasing maturity and productivity as we press forward to our high calling and reward as we enter life forever with him. May we each live out his purpose for us by growing in our relationship with him, deeply attached!
 Jim Wilder, “Neuroscience and Developing Character,” in Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church that Transforms by Jim Wilder (Shepherd’s House, NavPress, 2020), 74.