Most of us born-again believers have experienced times of frustration over the apparently slow pace of progress in our Christian lives. For many of us, there seem to be far too many times when our spiritual lives can only be described as one step forward and two steps back. Somewhere we got the notion that new believers should launch like rockets into their new lives in Christ—consistently making enormous strides of spiritual growth. The reality, however, is that our progress is uneven—sometimes rapid, sometimes slow, and sometimes, it would appear, not at all. We need to counter such times of frustration with a better understanding of how God works in bringing us from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.
One of the critical elements in the progress of our Christian lives is time. The Apostle Paul tells us that he was confident “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). The renovation of our lives is not complete until the day when we see Jesus and are transformed into His likeness. Until that point, our lives are unfinished business. Realizing that, we must be patient, acknowledging that the Lord takes time to perfect us. And that is a critical point—it is the Lord who is doing the work, and we are necessarily dependent upon Him for growth.
There are several conspicuous examples of this process in Scripture. Joseph was sold to the Midianites and then to the Egyptians as a boy of 17, but emerges as viceroy of Egypt at age 30; and in the intervening years, he was severely tested as he grew up spiritually. King David followed a similar schedule, anointed by Samuel at 17, but not becoming king until 30. Moses grew up with all of the advantages of Pharaoh’s household—the wealth, privilege, education, and power. But God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so Moses gave up the possibility of becoming Pharaoh some day in order to follow God’s calling. And although he thought the Israelites understood this, he was not yet ready to lead, and for 40 years, he tended sheep in the obscurity of the Midianite desert. Only then was he sufficiently humbled and prepared to lead. The Apostle Paul was converted and commissioned personally by the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, but he then spent three years in the Arabian desert and fourteen years back home in Asia Minor before he was ready to be used. And the greatest example of all is our Lord Jesus who was prepared for 30 years to minister for 3½ years—and He was God!
Peter instructs us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). But why does spiritual growth and preparation take so long? Because there are three things we must learn: (1) we must learn to know God; (2) we must learn to know God’s Word; and (3) we must learn to know ourselves. And this process does not proceed evenly. A toadstool springs up overnight; quality fruit takes several weeks to develop; but a large and sturdy oak tree takes decades to mature. God has made living things to grow, most of all our spiritual lives. And that’s why we must be patient and avoid the temptation to take shortcuts. We need to remember that it takes us a long time to get over ourselves—it takes a long time before we learn that we can do nothing, and that the Christian life advances by allowing the Lord to work through us. God is not in a hurry!
Miles Stanford tells the story of the renowned British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Circumstances required him to give an extemporaneous speech to Parliament one day—a speech that was both brilliant and eloquent. Later than day, a friend of his commended him. “That speech has been on my mind all day,” she said. “Madame” he replied, “it has been on my mind for twenty years.” So don’t be discouraged, brethren. Your Christian life is unfinished business. The Lord isn’t through with you yet!