We are people in a hurry. We live fast-paced lives in a fast-paced culture. We can never go quick enough to keep up, never do enough to complete every task, never accomplish enough to satisfy ourselves or others. But still we try, still we hurry on.
Yet the Christian life has a way of challenging us, of cutting against our haste. It challenges us that the ordinary state of affairs when it comes to spiritual growth is slower than we’d like it to be and slower than we thought it would be. It challenges us not to expect shortcuts, but to accept slow gains. It challenges us to have confidence in the process.
As individuals, we grow in our understanding of the ways and works of God not by reading the Bible once, but by reading it a hundred times. We read it, and little by little, day by day, we come to understand and apply its truths. We don’t give up after reading it once through or after reading it for only one year. Rather, we maintain our confidence in the long process, and over the course of years and decades we come to know it and to be be changed by it.
As congregations, we grow in godliness not by hearing one sermon but by hearing a thousand. Most sermons do not represent a great stride in a fast sprint toward holiness, but another inch in a slow crawl. Over the course of 45 minutes, we listen, then drift, hear, then get distracted, let our minds and hearts get engaged, then realize they’ve somehow become disengaged. But through hundreds and then thousands of these sermons, we realize that our minds have been renewed in a substantial way, our hearts have been transformed in an encouraging way. God works through his Word, as long as we conform ourselves to the process and don’t give up too soon.
As parents, we teach our children to know God and to obey his Bible. Yes, we have occasional opportunities to speak at length and to speak heart-to-heart, but the great majority of our work is done in brief snippets of conversation and long habits of devotion. Our kids come to follow Christ not through one transformative moment but through twenty years of mostly-forgotten moments. While those special and dedicated daddy dates or weekends away matter deeply, what matters more is that we assert and re-assert our confidence in the ways God works, and that we trust him to do his work over the years.
In all of the Christian life, we need to have confidence in the process and we need to maintain confidence in the process. We need to believe that God really does work and that he really does work over time. Too often we overestimate the growth we can gain in a week, but underestimate the growth we can gain in a year. Then we overestimate what God will do in us over a year, but underestimate what God will accomplish in us through a lifetime of submitting ourselves to his process, to his great means of sanctification. Though it’s right to be harsh with our sin, it’s also right to be patient with our growth.