We are an impatient people. Our contemporary culture has fueled our natural human tendency to go for instant gratification. We want fast food, entertainment on demand, and a pill for any bad feeling. We’re impatient in our character growth and relationship with God as well. Of all the different challenges, impatience may be the biggest obstacle to maturity and wholeness.
How we love the instant. And we want instant character too; just add water and stir. If I ask God to fix me at 7am I’m upset if I don’t feel different by 7:30. Why isn’t reading a Bible verse and a quick prayer in the morning changing my frustration or anger? I asked God to deliver me from my addiction; why isn’t He helping me? How long am I supposed to wait for God to fix my marriage?
Your smart phone is partly to blame. We’ve been trained to get a dopamine hit by swiping. The internet and social media have trained us that faster is better and difficult is bad. We feel something must be wrong if it takes time and effort.
But the kingdom of God is not Amazon; you can’t pay for Heaven Prime to get expedited delivery. God never intended prayer to be a heavenly vending machine; put in a prayer, get out a blessing. You don’t get to become like Jesus, to experience the transformation and healing and wholeness you want and that God wants for you, in a moment.
That’s why it’s called character growth.
The New Testament Picture of Character Growth
It’s easy to dismiss the illustrations Jesus gave as only applying to the times in which He lived here on earth, when the culture was largely agrarian. But that misses the meat of what He was talking about.
One of His stories: “And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).
That sounds slow. And who likes to wait for something to grow?
If it were a matter of behavior only, quick fixes would be more possible. But while behavior very much matters, God is more concerned with matters of the heart. And hearts don’t change quickly.
When the New Testament talks about patience or endurance (hypomone in Greek) it’s not primarily in the sense of putting up with tough times, although that can be part of the meaning. It’s more the sense of sticking with it, not giving up, investing over time what’s necessary to see growth happen. Peter puts perseverance right before godliness in the ladder of spiritual growth (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV).
How People Grow
How do plants grow? Seeds, growing, fruit – that’s the example Jesus and other New Testament writers used so often, so it would seem a helpful question. Plants grow with sunlight, good soil, water–and time. You can’t get an instant tomato by flooding the seed with more water or blistering it with more sun. It takes patience.
Humans grow the same. God works from the inside out. That’s the only way our messed-up brain pathways become different. Nerve connections grow about 2 millimeters a day. That’s slow! It’s more like an oak tree than a sunflower.
If you stop watering the oak tree because it doesn’t seem any taller today than it was last week, you’ll lose out on the wonderful thing it can become. And it can’t continue to grow if you keep pulling it up to check the roots.
Combining what neuroscientists have learned in recent years with what we already know from God’s word helps us understand much about how people grow. Chief among those elements is spending time with Jesus and with other growing people.
And keep coming back. This is no “instant character; add water and stir.” You are becoming someone new. It takes endurance. This is not “trying harder;” it’s continuing to put yourself in the place where growth happens. And doing it over and over and over and over again.
Growing things produce fruit. Want fruit? Stay connected! “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Does Patience Work?
Yes, it does.
Jennifer was triggered by everything. But over a year ago she decided she didn’t want to be a victim any longer. It was hard to work through the trauma, learn skills to understand and manage her own reactions, and practice standing up to be the woman she chooses to be and who God made her to be. But she recently said, “I’m not having to focus on pain management now.” The things her husband or children do that would have previously triggered her don’t throw her off base as they once did. She’s becoming a whole person for the first time.
John had been trying harder for years, but his addiction seemed no better. Some months ago he finally engaged with a group of other guys walking the same journey, and he also allowed Jesus into some parts of his story he had previously kept hidden. He doesn’t consider his journey ended, but the behaviors he had been previously engaging in seem far away now. And his marriage and his ministry are healthier than he can ever remember.
Grace has been married over 30 years. But while there was no violence in their relationship things were so bad their son told her, “It’s OK if you divorce him. You don’t deserve how he treats you.” But over time God has worked in both Grace’s heart and that of her husband. Over the past several months they have experienced healing, forgiveness, validation, and a level of connection they’ve never had. And after 30 years of marriage they’re planning a wedding!
Don’t let impatience be the be the obstacle to your maturity and wholeness.
You can’t control the outcome, but you can keep showing up, listen to God’s direction for what to do next, and continue saying Yes to His work in your heart.
Your Turn: Have you been disappointed when you haven’t experienced quick change? What does perseverance mean for you? Are you continuing to stay connected even while allowing God to determine the outcome? Leave a comment below.
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- Modern culture has exacerbated the biggest obstacle to maturity and wholeness; impatience. God works from the inside out, and that kind of work takes time. Don’t quit! Tweet that.
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