Over the last 25 years I have gone through many variations of personal fitness goals. As I look back at the years and the goals I can see a common thread: I stick with what works and get frustrated with what does not seem to work. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this approach; if we are not meeting the clearly defined goals then the process or technique should be reevaluated. At the same time, sometimes it requires a little more time and patience in order to meet the goals. Smaller, incremental goals are quite helpful in evaluating overall progress.
This tendency to get discouraged and chuck the process creeps into my ministry thinking also. I tend to want results overnight. I want people to make the jump to light-speed after a short period. But it usually doesn’t work like this. We can’t microwave people into maturity. They need to be marinated and often slow-roasted in the truth. After all, Jesus used the mustard seed to talk about the kingdom advancing. I’m not a botanist, but I know enough to know that you don’t throw a seed in the ground and then take a nap and then “presto” a redwood is growing out of nowhere.
It takes time. It takes patience. It takes persistence. It takes prayer.
This reminder gives me encouragement on the course. Keep operating within the gameplan (biblical ministry) and God will grow his people. We can of course looks for signs that point to growth, some cracks in the ground, but we cannot get discouraged when it takes time, and the soil seems hard.
By way of encouragement, over the last several years I’ve been plodding away doing some of the same things with some advances and some setbacks. In the last few months I’ve seen some surprising (and unforeseen) advancements in people’s love for Christ. Investments with unbelievers are proving fruitful, and time with believers are also. I’ve heard some men speak of a great awakening of love for Christ. These men are Christians, but God is working in their lives to bring gospel-renewal. He is opening their eyes to see and savor the glory of Christ. Others are doing the simple things like praying more, reading their Bibles, talking to neighbors about Jesus, and singing in church. How do I process this? I should be coming out of my chair with excitement! It is a crack in the soil. There is growth! Life is happening. God is working in and through people to bring gospel growth. It may take time (and it will), but it is how the Word works in the church. Spiritual growth is often slow, but make no mistake, the Word works.
Christians should be careful to not approach discipleship like they approach their fitness goals. We are not always evaluating what works. Instead we operate from a position of patient trust. We are convinced of the foundation (biblical doctrine), the vehicle (the ministry of the Word) and then work patiently, faithfully, prayerfully, and skillfully at personal discipleship.
While we live amid a microwave culture, we are never called to a microwave model of ministry. This type of reminder helps to renew my mind in the truth (Rom. 12.1-2). I hope it does you as well.