My col­league Bri­an and I were dis­cussing the work a pro­mo­tion­al agency was doing to encour­age peo­ple to vis­it arti­cles on Renovaré’s web­site. (Ren­o­varé is a Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion orga­ni­za­tion. I serve there as the direc­tor of education.)

This agency means well,” Bri­an said, but they keep sug­gest­ing head­lines like Four easy steps to spir­i­tu­al growth.’ If we want to be accu­rate, what we real­ly need is How to become more like Jesus in 70 chal­leng­ing years.’ “

I laughed, but I knew he was right. The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve become con­vinced of two impor­tant things.

First, it’s tru­ly pos­si­ble for a human being to under­go gen­uine spir­i­tu­al trans­for­ma­tion, evi­denced in tan­gi­ble, pos­i­tive changes in char­ac­ter, behav­iour, and inner peace.

Sec­ond, such trans­for­ma­tion almost always hap­pens at a pace slow­er than we would expect or desire.

Maybe Bri­an and I are both so clear on this because we report to Chris Hall, Renovaré’s pres­i­dent, who is fond of say­ing (quot­ing one of his men­tors James Hous­ton), Spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion is the slow­est of all human movements.”

It’s not a mes­sage that sells. But it’s the truth.

God is much more patient than we are. As a gen­er­al rule He works incre­men­tal­ly – a shift in per­spec­tive here, a small break­through there, slow­ly enlarg­ing our capac­i­ty to see and receive what He has for us.

Of course, God can and some­times does trans­form peo­ple on the spot. It’s thrilling to hear about folks who are sud­den­ly cured of an addic­tion, or healed of an ail­ment or bur­den in a flash.

And yet, I won­der if even those folks would tes­ti­fy that after the mir­a­cle, it takes a life­time to ful­ly inhab­it the healing.

In his help­ful new book God Walk: Mov­ing at the Speed of Your Soul (Zon­der­van, 2020), Cana­di­an the­olo­gian Mark Buchanan argues, Becom­ing like Jesus doesn’t hap­pen quick­ly for any­one.” And, while he acknowl­edges our trans­for­ma­tion can be ham­pered by our own resis­tance, he also points out the evi­dence sug­gests, God made peo­ple to grow slowly.”

After all, where most ani­mals tran­si­tion from baby­hood to adult­hood in about a year, it takes the aver­age human 18 years (at least) to grow into an adult body.

As in the phys­i­cal, the emo­tion­al, the intel­lec­tu­al, so in the spir­i­tu­al,” Buchanan writes. We are made to mature at a snail’s pace. Though snails, of course, mature much faster.”

I’ve car­ried two babies to term. Dur­ing many stretch­es (for­give the unfor­tu­nate word choice) of those preg­nan­cies, I longed for time to speed up and the baby to arrive.

And yet, I see clear­ly that the dura­tion of a preg­nan­cy is a nec­es­sary mer­cy. Time is not only required for a new life to devel­op, but also for the mother’s body to accom­mo­date it. If either of my babies had gone from zygote to new­born in a day, my body would have quite lit­er­al­ly exploded.

As in the phys­i­cal, so in the spir­i­tu­al. Is it pos­si­ble God is grow­ing and trans­form­ing us as fast as He pos­si­bly can with­out explod­ing us?

There’s a pas­sage about the patience of God in the third chap­ter of 2 Peter that I love, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing it’s in a let­ter either writ­ten by, or named for, the most nat­u­ral­ly impa­tient of the disciples.

Beloved, do not let this one thing escape your notice: With the Lord a day is like a thou­sand years, and a thou­sand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow to ful­fill His promise as some under­stand slow­ness, but is patient with you, not want­i­ng any­one to per­ish, but every­one to come to repen­tance” (2 Peter 3:8 – 9BSB).

Maybe the Igna­t­ian philoso­pher Pierre Teil­hard de Chardin had 2 Peter in mind when he wrote his poem Patient Trust.”

Above all,” the poem begins, trust in the slow work of God.”

… Give Our Lord the ben­e­fit of believ­ing that his hand is lead­ing you, and accept the anx­i­ety of feel­ing your­self in sus­pense and incomplete.

Let’s not mis­take God’s patience for inac­tiv­i­ty. And let’s remem­ber, in the words of Peter’s friend the Apos­tle Paul, that He who began a good work in you will car­ry it on to com­ple­tion” (Philip­pi­ans 1:6). Even if it takes 70 chal­leng­ing years.

First pub­lished in the Sep/​Oct 2020 edi­tion of Faith Today.

Pho­to by ami­rali mirhashemi­an on Unsplash.

Originally published September 2020

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