Spiritual Growth and Bamboo Tree Illustrations

There’s a new sermon illustration going around, I’ve heard it several times in the last couple weeks. Whenever too good to be true illustrations get popular, I get skeptical. I do this weird thing called “Googling it.”

The illustration goes like this:

When you plant a Chinese bamboo tree, you need to water it, nurture it, and fertilize it every day. But nothing happens the first year. You do the same thing the next year, and still nothing happens. That’s right, you see no results for 4 long years!

You’re waiting for results, not seeing any evidence of progress. But then what happens on the fifth year is just awesome. One morning you wake up and see a small bamboo sprig, then the next day an even bigger one and in 5 weeks it has grown up to 90 ft.

The application is obvious: you read your Bible, pray, and go to church. Nothing happens. Still a sinner. Still a pathetic, nominal Christian. But shazam! After four years of no results, one year you will produce so much spiritual fruit you’ll smell like strawberries.

Couple problems with this:

1) Technical gardening people will tell you that there is no such thing as a bamboo tree. They are technically grass, therefore their growing process is completely different from a tree.

2) It is not true that you see no growth for four years, it grows and you can see it grow. Yes, eventually it can grow fast, not 90 feet in five weeks out of nothing fast though.

3) It’s probably also not true that it needs to be nurtured and fertilized every day. Bamboo trees grow in the wild without any effort from anyone at all.

4) This illustration is nothing more than happy thoughts for people who aren’t growing spiritually. “Well, I might be getting pathetic results, but Bamboo Tree Guy said I can be pathetic for years and then, shazam, I will grow fruit out my ears.”

Look, if you’re not growing spiritually, you’re doing something wrong, There’s no magic moment when all of a sudden you sprout out of nowhere.

The Bible consistently says we grow as babies into mature sons. Nowhere does it say we grow like bamboo trees. Paul told Timothy his progress should be evident before people in the church. You can see it. It happens gradually, like a baby turning into a grown adult.

Don’t use stupid illustrations. Look stuff up. Google makes verifying things really easy. Using wrong illustrations gives the impression that you’re lazy and copying your sermons from the internet.

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