No Overnight Success

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Impatience comes naturally to me. Not just in driving, or with “difficult people,” or a tight schedule. I am most impatient with myself. I am so frustrated with how far I am from the spiritual growth and maturity I believe God’s expects of me.

My family, colleagues, and friends are quick to reassure me that I’m being too hard on myself. And they are correct—but for a very different reason. They affirm me, and I’m grateful for their encouragement. But I think I’m too hard on myself because I forget the pace of spiritual growth. It’s not an overnight thing. It takes time. And we usually can’t recognize the progress of things that happen gradually.

I remember how my parents used to comment on the changes in our children when they’d visit, having not seen them for months. I’d hardly noticed any changes. Maybe it’s like that shock we get when we look at old photos of ourselves. We see change best by looking back.

Dr. A. H. Strong (1836-1921, Reformed Baptist theologian and minister) observed that “growth is not a uniform thing in the tree or in the Christian. [For a tree, in] some single months there is more growth than in all the year besides. During the rest of the year, however, there is solidification, without which the green timber would be useless. The period of rapid growth, when woody fiber is actually deposited between the bark and the trunk, occupies but four to six weeks in May, June and July.”

Our assumption that growth should be rapid and continual can lead to frustration and discouragement. Growth happens in episodes, in spurts. A time of learning and a time of practicing. A time of inspiration and a time of absorption. Like a tree, there’s a time of rapid growth and a time of living into that growth.

Growth takes time. And God isn’t in a hurry.

One of the ironies of my writing this now is that I have known and proclaimed this truth for years—and yet continually struggle to live into it. Long, long ago, I spoke at the baccalaureate for my graduating class from seminary. Later, I published my remarks in an article for Christianity Today magazine called, “What to Expect of a Seminary Graduate.” Two sentences from that article have been quoted time and again in other publications (including inspirational calendars!) “A lasting work requires extensive preparation. Full grown oaks aren’t produced in three years, and neither are servants of God.”

Impatience with ourselves is a sure sign we have forgotten how we grow in God’s grace.

I take great encouragement from Paul’s words:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV).

Be patient and trust God. Spiritual growth is gradual.  Grow slowly, grow solidly.

 

“I’m a Video, not a Snapshot”

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Too often our opinion of a person gets “frozen” in time, especially when there’s been a conflict. We allow one negative experience to become the defining factor in our view of that person. Because of that “snapshot” image of the person, we get stuck in our expectations and perceptions. We may even withdraw from them and avoid them. This hurts our relationships, especially in the community of God’s people.

Russ, an elder in one of the congregations I served, taught me a key principle about people and change.

We were meeting for prayer together before a Sunday service and began by reviewing the service assignments. There was a definite ‘contemporary’ (a reference my Presbyterian readers understand!) tone to the services that Sunday, and I had heard that Russ ‘hated the drums.’

“Russ, I imagine this service may be a challenge for you,” I said.

“Really? Why’s that?” he responded with genuine surprise.

“Because of the drums. I heard that you weren’t really a fan of them.”

“Oh, I used to make a pretty big deal about that, but I’ve changed over the years. Worship needs to connect with all God’s people, not just us ‘traditional’ types. I’m not a snapshot, I’m a video.”

That really hit me: a video, not a snapshot. A continually changing image, not a static one. We are not wise when we lock our perception of a person or group of people into one position, as if they are frozen in time, like a snapshot. We need to expect that many will continue to work through their ideas and preferences and make changes. People, especially those actively pursuing growth in Christ, are dynamic, changing, growing and learning.

Paul describes our transformation in Christ as a process of changing “from one degree of glory to another,” as the Revised Standard Version translates the following verse.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Revised Standard Version).

I appreciate that image of degree-by-degree, step by step; and most often it’s baby step by baby step.

The stimulus for change comes as we break free from the limited and limiting perspective of this world. We learn to view everything with the eyes of faith. Another way to say this is that we are learning to see life from the aspect of eternity. We are gaining perspective and a sense of proportion by viewing life as if we were seated with Christ in heaven.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 English Standard Version).

This is a staggering concept with countless implications for every aspect of life: our values, priorities, relationships, commitments and so on. For now, let it remind us that we need to give each other grace to grow. Instead of getting stuck with a negative impression of a person and their ideas, check to see how they have changed with time and experience.