No Overnight Success

Tree Rings shutterstock_633524765

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.