There are no shortcuts to maturity.
It takes years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christlike character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time. When you try to ripen fruit quickly, it loses its flavor. In America, tomatoes are usually picked Un ripened so they won’t bruise during shipping to the stores. Then, before they are sold, these green tomatoes are sprayed with CO2 gas to turn them red instantly. Gassed tomatoes are edible, but they no match to the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato that is allowed to mature slowly.
While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how strong we grow. God views our lives from and for eternity, so he is never in a hurry.
Lane Adams once compared the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used in World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. First they would “soften up” an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a “beachhead” tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.
Adams drew this parallel: Before Christ invades our lives at conversion, he sometimes has to”soften us up” by allowing problems we can’t handle. While some open their lives to Christ the first time he knocks on the door, most of us are resistant and defensive. Our pre-conversion experience is Jesus saying, `Behold I stand at the door and bomb!” The moment you open yourself to Christ, God gets a “beachhead” in your life. You may think you have surrendered all your life to him, but the truth is, there is a lot to your life that you aren’t even aware of. You can only give God as much of you as you understand at that moment. That’s okay. Once Christ is given a beachhead, he begins the campaign to take over more and more territory until all of your life is completely his. There will be struggles and battles, but the outcome will never be in doubt. God has promised that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”
Discipleship is the process of conforming to Christ. The Bible says, “We arrive at real maturity-that measure of development which is meant by `the fullness of Christ.” Christlikeness is your eventual destination, but your journey will last a lifetime.
So far, we have seen that this journey involves believing (through worship), belonging (through fellowship), and becoming (through discipleship). Every day God wants you to become a little more like him: “You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you.”
Today we’re obsessed with speed, but God is more interested in strength and stability than swiftness. We want the quick fix, the shortcut, the on-the-spot solution. We want a sermon, a seminar, or an experience that will instantly resolve all problems, remove all temptation, and release us from all growing pains. But real maturity is never the result of a single experience, no matter how powerful or moving. Growth is gradual. The Bible says, “Our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?
Although God could instantly transform us, he has chosen to develop us slowly. Jesus is deliberate in developing his disciples. Just as God allowed the Israelites to take over the Promised Land “little by little”, so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed, he prefers to work in incremental steps in our lives.
Why does it take so long to change and grow up? There are several reasons. We are slow learners. We often have to relearn a lesson forty or fifty times to really get it. The problems keep recurring, and we think, “Not again! I’ve already learned that! “-but God knows better. The history of Israel illustrates how quickly we forget the lessons God teaches us and how soon we revert to our old patterns of behavior. We need repeated exposure.
We have a lot to unlearn.Many people go to a counselor with a personal or relational problem that took years to develop and say, “I need you to fix me. I’ve got an hour.” They naively expect a quick solution to a long-standing, deep-rooted difficulty. Since most of our problems-and all of our bad habits-didn’t develop overnight, it’s unrealistic to expect them to go away immediately. There is no pill, prayer, or principle that will instantly undo the damage of many years. It requires the hard work of removal and replacement. The Bible calls it “taking off the old self” and `putting on the new self. While you were given a brand-new nature at the moment of conversion, you still have old habits, patterns, and practices that need to be removed and replaced.
We are afraid to humbly face the truth about ourselves. I have already pointed out that the truth will set us free, but it often makes us miserable first. The fear of what we might discover if we honestly faced our character defects keeps us living in the prison of denial. Only as God is allowed to shine the light of his truth on our faults, failures, and hang-ups can we begin to work on them. This is why you cannot grow without a humble, teachable attitude.
Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change, no change without fear or loss, and no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind: You must let go of old ways in order to experience the new. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because, like a worn-out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar. andPeople often build their identity around their defects. We say, “It’s just like me to be …” and “It’s just the way I am.” The unconscious worry is that it I let go of my habit, my hurt, or my hang-up, who will I be? This fear can definitely slow down your growth.
Habits take time to develop. Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind-you show kindness without even thinking about it. You can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest. A husband who is faithful to his wife most of the time is not faithful at all! Your habits define your character.
There is only one way to develop the habits of Christlike character: You must practice them-and that takes time! There are no instant habits. Paul urged Timothy, “Practice these things. Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress.”
If you practice something over time, you get good at it. Repetition is the mother of character and skill. These character-building habits are often called “spiritual disciplines,” and there are dozens of great books that can teach you how to do these. See appendix 2 for a recommended reading list of books for spiritual growth.
DON’T GET IN A HURRY
As you grow to spiritual maturity, there are several ways to cooperate with God in the process.
Believe God is working in your life even when you don’t feel it. Spiritual growth is sometimes tedious work, one small step at a time. Expect gradual improvement. The Bible says, “Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.” There are seasons in your spiritual life, too. Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth (springtime) followed by a period of stabilizing and testing (fall and winter).
What about those problems, habits, and hurts you would like miraculously removed? It’s fine to pray for a miracle, but don’t be disappointed if the answer comes through a gradual change. Over time, a slow, steady stream of water will erode the hardest rock and turn giant boulders into pebbles. Over time, a little sprout can turn into a giant redwood tree towering 350 feet tall.
Keep a notebook or journal of lessons learned. This is not a diary of events, but a record of what you are learning. Write down the insights and life lessons God teaches you about him, about yourself, about life, relationships, and everything else. Record these so you can review and remember them and pass them on to the next generation. The reason we must relearn lessons is that we forget them. Reviewing your spiritual journal regularly can spare you a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. The Bible says, “It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.”
Be patient with God and with yourself. One of life’s frustrations is that God’s timetable is rarely the same as ours. We are often in a hurry when God isn’t. You may feel frustrated with the seemingly slow progress you’re making in life. Remember that God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time. He will use your entire lifetime to prepare you for your role in eternity.
The Bible is filled with examples of how God uses a long process to develop character, especially in leaders. He took eighty years to prepare Moses, including forty in the wilderness. For 14,600 days Moses kept waiting and wondering, “Is it time yet?” But God kept saying, “Not yet.”
Contrary to popular book titles, there are no Easy Steps to Maturity or Secrets of Instant Sainthood. When God wants to make a mushroom, he does it overnight, but when he wants to make a giant oak, he takes a hundred years. Great souls are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering. Be patient with the process. James advised, “Don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed.”
Don’t get discouraged. When Habakkuk became depressed because he didn’t think God was acting quickly enough, God had this to say: “These things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!” A delay is not a denial from God.
Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. Years ago, people wore a popular button with the letters PBPGINFWMY. It stood for “Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet.” God isn’t finished with you, either so keep on moving forward. Even the snail reached the ark by persevering!
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE
Point to Ponder: There are no shortcuts to maturity.
Verse to Remember: “God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.” Philippians 1:6 (NCV)
Question to Consider: In what area of my spiritual growth do I need to be more patient and persistent?
I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns. Philippians. 1:6 (LB)