As past of the plan for creation, we enter the world as infants. It is God's intention that we grow and mature throughout our lifetime.
Our faith development might be compared to the development of a tree. A tree is a whole tree whether it is five feet tall or fifty feet tall. That same elements are present in roots, trunk, bark, branches, and leaves. But the fifty-foot tree has these elements in greater quantities. And the size and shape of the tree changes as it grows. Likewise a child who is five years old has faith, but an adult of fifty years has an expanded and stronger faith. We are whole persons. Our growth in faith is related to our growth in all areas of our lives--body, mind, spirit, and emotions.
We must be careful, however, not to conclude that faith commitment will automatically develop or that it is a neatly arranged package we can manipulate. While we are created in the image of God, that image becomes distorted. We need to let ourselves be forgiven and reshaped so that we reflect the image of God more clearly. And when we wander astray, we need to be turned around.
Nurture and conversion are both essential in our faith development as Christians. Nurture means to feed, nourish, or support during various stages of growth. Conversion means turning around or changing in character, form, or function. In the Christian church we think of conversion in more specific terms: as spiritual change from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness.
Some of us experience conversion as God's grace coming to us like gentle spring rains. At various periods in our faith development we become more aware of God's grace in our lives. At such times we make quiet, firm decisions to make a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ. For others conversion may seem more like lightning or thunder. God breaks our old life patterns, and we welcome God's grace. Paul, on the road to Damascus, had such an experience.
A common misunderstanding of conversion is that we are transformed from a state of turmoil to a peaceful, tranquil state. This is not necessarily true. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, he shatters our self-centered and clouded ways of viewing reality. Christ demands a total response of heart, mind, will, and lifestyle. We are called to be open to the transforming power of God throughout our lives. As we do this, we begin to see things in our lives and in the world that are not in harmony with what Christ is calling us to be and to do. In reality, conversion often brings discomfort instead of comfort.
While God does not promise us a life of comfort as a result of conversion, God does come to us as Comforter through the Holy Spirit. While God prods us, God also sustains us and guides us as we seek to be faithful to God's will for our lives.
Whatever the nature of our conversion-gradual or sudden, gentle or earthshaking-it does bring to us a new focus and a new power for life. We become new creatures in Christ.
This new life requires not only conversion but nurture. We need to be nourished in the Christian faith in order to become aware of Jesus Christ and make commitments to follow him. And we need nurture throughout our lives so that we continue to grow in our faith.