Last fall I took a day off to go to the mountains to have some extended time alone with God. I walked away with two statements that He had laid on my heart: “Be healthy. Be holy.” In January, our pastors encouraged the church body to pray and ask God for a one-word theme for the year. For me, the word was “health,” and the same two statements from my day in the mountains stayed in the forefront of my thoughts.
Knowing that God has charged me with concentrating on my physical and spiritual health, I started a plan to lose weight and get in better shape, and I’ve done pretty well (up until the last few weeks). I’ve also spent more time in His Word and in prayer. On both fronts, I’ve seen results, but it has taken time for me to notice measurable results. I know that I’m not going to improve – spiritually or physically – overnight, so I’m in it for the long haul, particularly when it comes to my weight loss goals.
In our culture of instant gratification, we want everything to happen right now, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that spiritual discipline takes time and effort. I often think that too many people give up on discipleship and growth because they don’t see results as quickly as they feel they ought to.
The process of spiritual growth is tough and time-consuming, but it’s worth it every time! Earlier this week I read a quote from C. S. Lewis where he touched on patience with the discipleship process, especially the concept of resisting the temptation to sin:
You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.
Notice words like “practice” and “fighting.” The apostle Paul uses similar language, likening spiritual growth to the intense training of an elite athlete:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The truth of the matter is that discipleship and spiritual growth are not easy, and no one ever promised us that the results would be instant. In order to truly grow and develop in our walk with the Lord, we have to take a long view and keep in mind that our prize is far greater than that of anything here on earth.
If you’re struggling with your spiritual growth, hang in there. Rejoice in every incremental change, and praise God for them! Remember that our difficulties are often the equivalent of the muscle soreness that precedes growth. And never lose sight of the ultimate goal:
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Your growth as a disciple is bound to come with its struggles and difficulties, but don’t give up. It’s always worth it!
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Rocksweeper