I’m sure we’ve all seen a cartoon or two in our lifetimes. Cartoons are a form of animation in which the smooth motions that we see are the product of many many MANY images being shown quickly in sequence. Each of these individual images are known as a “frame.” In your typical Bugs Bunny episode, for instance, the number of frames necessary to show 1 second of footage is 24. So that’s 24 individually drawn images needed to make Bugs Bunny move for one second. If an average short episode is about 8 minutes long, it takes 11,520 individually drawn frames to be fully animated. That’s a lot of images! Looking at just one frame shows us only a still image and it’s only with the full combination that we see the final animated product. This might make an individual frame on its own seem insignificant, but each one adds up together with the next to contribute to some comical entertainment.
Our lives progress in a similar manner. Our years are filled with months. And our months with weeks. And our weeks with days. And our days with hours and minutes and seconds. Each moment offers us an opportunity to create a single ‘frame’ of who we are. Those individual frames add up quickly, and before we know it, we have a story being told of who we are. Now, we could certainly have a conversation here about how important every moment is in contributing to our walk as Christians, but let’s look at this from another angle.
If I want to see a story of Bugs Bunny play out, I’ll have to play more than just a frame or two of an episode. When we are striving to pursue observable spiritual growth, sometimes we have a tendency to want to take ‘baby steps’, progressing one frame at given time. We read a small chapter from the Bible here, or slip in a short prayer before bed there. And we might pat ourselves on the back for these tiny little contributions to our spiritual development. After all, growing as a Christian means growing in God’s word! We all ought to desire growth in Christ, but can we really see any truly noticeable growth from these small puffs of pseudo-diligence? This brings to mind a few sayings: watching grass grow; a grain of sand on the beach; watching paint dry; a drop of water in an open sea… All of these describe the task of discerning change in insignificant frames of reference.
While an 8 minute episode of Bugs Bunny can certainly be finished one frame at a time, it’s difficult to create true progress with ‘baby steps’, especially as growing Christians since we’re such creatures of habit. It’s so easy to fall back into old practices unless we pull ourselves completely from their influence and become spiritually stable. For those who have a history with alcohol, pulling out of that lifestyle is especially difficult if exposure doesn’t cease altogether. That takes a big leap! If I see a car coming straight at me, do I just mosey along slowly, or do I quickly get out of the way? When we accidentally touch a hot stove, we don’t slowly slide our hand off of the hot surface; we yank it back with nigh superhuman reflexes! When we choose to die to self and leave behind our old lives to live anew for God, we don’t slowly ween ourselves off of the world; we become convinced of the truth that is God, and that resolve makes us want to change our lives in order to get right with Him.
If I want to see growth in biblical knowledge, I’ll find it more advantageous to do contextual book studies as opposed to simple one-chapter-a-day studies. If I want to see growth in the relationships I have with my brothers and sisters in Christ, pursuing every opportunity to gather with them will do me more good than just occasionally showing up for events. It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that doing the bare minimum is a completely unrelated idea to taking baby steps toward growth. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap” (Gal 6:7). Does a person who is only taking baby steps away from an oncoming car really believe that they are in danger? Likewise, does a Christian who only takes baby steps in spiritual growth really believe in God?
The product of baby steps, or someone who takes it one frame at a time, is, more often than not, a Christian who’s been in the Church for 30 years, but is still a 1 year old Christian in need of milk, like baby. Perhaps this is akin to being a “lukewarm” Christian. In Revelation 3:16, God laments about how He would desire to spew such people from His mouth. The product of taking big strides toward spiritual growth however, is a zealous burning disciple constantly saying “Here I am Lord! Send me!” Paul writes to us through the Colossians in chapter 1 praying that Christians become continually filled with knowledge of God’s will and growth such that we might live a life worthy of Him and please Him in every way. Are we living our lives like this? Do we really truly believe in God to the point where we are striving to please Him in every way? Are we working through our spiritual growth just one frame at a time and thus baring ourselves from seeing any substantial progress, or is our walk like an 11,520 frame episode of noticeable improvements? “Make every effort to add to your faith, virtue; to virtue, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord…” (2 Peter 1:5-11)
If you want to see Bugs Bunny chewing on a carrot and saying “Ehhhhhh, what’s up, doc?” it will take more than just playing a single frame. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)