I am fond of saying that transformation in Christ is “excruciatingly gradual.” Most of us are not particularly patient. We do not “wait well.” Our television service gives us the ability to watch movies “on demand.” So, the virtues of waiting and patience, which are at the core of what transformation is all about, has been all but lost. The spiritual disciplines, which presuppose a desire to wait patiently, are adopted with the expectation that they will bear their fruit in a “Christian” environment that is founded on the “instant” and what we can “demand and claim.” And, oh yes, self-control has left the building.
What does this look like in practical terms?”
- We adopt a “throw away and replace” attitude. For many of us, daily life is not about seeking to have things last through patient care (TLC) but figuring out ways to get what is the “newest” and get rid of what is “old” and irrelevant and worthless.
- Children skip childhood. They often don’t get to be kids or child-ish in the good sense.
- Aging becomes something to be avoided. So, antique things are valuable but antique people are not. (this second statement takes some consideration to realize… It does not look like it but taking a deeper look at how Sunday morning looks in most evangelical congregations reveals, perhaps, this dynamic in play. Think “target audience.” While I am on this particular subject, a parallel questions is” How long is the “target length?” OR “How long is too long?”)
- Relationships become negotiations about instant gratification and need satisfaction rather than mutually self-giving love over the course of decades.
So, let’s get the message about waiting and patience. The spiritual disciplines are not just designed to nourish and nurture. They bring to the forefront the need for a whole new matrix for understanding and living out the Christian life. The spiritual disciplines point a prophetic finger at the subtle enemy of transformation in Christ, which might very well be our Christian mindset. Sounds like the kind of thing Jesus said about the Pharisees. He basically said that their way of being righteous was taking them away from God not toward God. It was the problem to which they were blind. Yikes…
I do not stay by the wayside and point the finger as one who purports to be innocent. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…” Lord, have mercy on ME a sinner.
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3.8-9)
“If you should beseech God for a thing and He is slow to hearken to you speedily, do not grieve, for you are not wiser than God. This happens to you either because you are no worthy to obtain you request, or because the pathways of your heart do not accord with your petitions, or because you have not yet reached the measure wherein you could receive the gift you ask for. We must not rush onwards to great measures before the time, lest God’s gift be debased by our hasty reception of it. For anything that is quickly obtained is also easily lost, whereas everything found with toil is also kept with careful watching.” St. Isaac the Syrian
“The ‘fruit of the Spirit’ does not appear instantly in our lives. Fruit trees have several stages of growth before the harvest time comes. As Jesus said in one of His parables, ‘First the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain I the ear.’ One fruit trees the first stage is the appearance of beautiful blossoms. But soon the tree loses its blossoms and there is a long period of growth before the harvest comes. To some extent all of us are in this long period of growth. This emphasis on the gradualness, the slowness of sanctification, of growth in the spiritual life, is a warning against those quack practitioners of the soul who promise instant holiness by a given formula such as ‘being born again,’ as if one becomes a full-grown, mature Christian in the twinkling of an eye. Three is no such thing as instant holiness. Sanctification is a process — a fruit of the Spirit that ripens slowly and steadily.” Anthony Conairis, Daily Vitamins For Spiritual Growth
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. The command, “Be ye perfect …” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” George MacDonald