I've been attempting—again—to memorize the book of Romans. My brain is getting duller as I age. Memorization becomes more difficult. But yesterday I realized a self-evident truth: memorization at any age takes time and multiple repetitions. Just think of how many times we repeat a new word to a toddler who is just learning to talk. We say it over and over and over . . . ad infinitum. I've often thought that if someone were to repeat something to me that many times without any sense of angst, just realizing that's what it took to drill it thoroughly into my head, I could learn anything and have it stick!
That's the way it is with God's truth. Jesus likened salvation or a relationship with God to new birth: "You must be born again," He said. (John 3:7) Paul says we are a "new creation" when we are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:17), and Peter says we need to come to God's Word like "newborn babies" (I Peter 2:2) so that we can grow by it.
When we receive Jesus as our Savior from sin, we are starting a new life in the spirit—both within our own spirit and within the Holy Spirit of God. Ephesians 2 tells us that our spirit, that was dead because of sin, is reborn, and the Holy Spirit comes to reside within our new spirit. (See also I Corinthians 6:19 and II Corinthians 6:16.) We are just little babies in the spiritual realm, who need to grow and learn all the ways of the Spirit, just like a little baby born in the natural realm.
Just as we repeat, repeat, repeat things to a little child as they are learning to talk, so God the Holy Spirit patiently repeats, repeats, repeats His lessons to us. Gradually over days, weeks, months, and years, we begin to think like God and talk like God; our "vocabulary" in the Spirit expands. We start to "get it," and the ways of the Spirit become more natural to us.
When a child starts to talk, they often use wrong words as they are trying out this new "mother tongue." They use wrong verb forms or switch letters around. What parent hasn't heard the word "mazagine" instead of "magazine" from one of their children? But we don't chide them for this; we laugh and think it's very cute. One of my children said "pooker" for the word picture. I still sometimes call pictures pookers! Eventually the words and verb tenses get figured out and straightened out. How? Simply by listening to us, being around us, and hearing it correctly day in and day out.
When a child is first learning to walk, they stand tentatively on wobbly legs, take that first hesitant step . . . and tumble over. We applaud and exclaim over them and encourage them to try again. We help them up to their feet again, then hold our hands just barely out of their reach, beckoning them to come to us . . . always encouraging, always praising, always applauding the smallest effort. We never chide. And before we know it, they are running around everywhere. What once was SO difficult, such an intense, concentrated struggle has now become second nature, done without thought or effort.
So it is with our life in the spirit/Spirit. To learn to think and "talk" and "walk" like God, we have to be in His presence. The Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. This is truth. This is reality that needs to be cultivated. A baby often cries out when he or she doesn't see Mommy or Daddy around, but it doesn't mean they aren't there. The child has to learn that they are there and begin to relax in that knowledge and safety. We too must learn to rest in the Presence of the Living God within us. He is there. We must affirm this continually.
And we have to intentionally make time to be in His Presence—often. Our relationship with Him is not a casual acquaintance nor even an enjoyable now-and-again friendship; it is a moment-by-moment inner lifeline connection, fostered by daily, purposeful time with Him in prayer and in the Bible, His own Word. As we cultivate the awareness of His Spirit within us (Brother Lawrence calls it "practicing the presence of God") and carve out time to be with God through His Word and in prayer, the ways of the Spirit are developed within us. We learn to talk and walk like God. This is the process of that big Bible word, sanctification. We are becoming holy as He is holy. It happens because the seed of His life is within us (I Peter 1:23). And His life cannot be stopped or contained; it has to grow. It is eternal.