To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven Ecclesiastes 3:1
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
There are no shortcuts to maturity. It take 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. 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.
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 fullness of Christ”-Ephesians 4:13 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” -Colossians 3:10
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 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; there is no change without fear or loss; and there is 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. People often build their identity around their defects. 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. There is only one way to develop the habits of Christlike character: You must practice them- and that takes time! If you practice something over time, you get good at it. Repetition is the mother of character and skill. As you grow in spiritual maturity you must believe that 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. There are seasons in your spiritual life, too. Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth followed by a period of stabilizing and testing. 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.
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. Don’t get discouraged. 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.