My son has been potty-trained for two years.
However, though he is potty-trained, it has taken some time to learn to use the bathroom on his own.
When he does business that requires a long sit-down on the commode, I have to remind him how much tissue to use, how to rub soap to get the germs off when he washes his hands, and how to untangle his clothes and get them back on his body.
I been issuing these same instructions for two years. Though he is getting more adept at remembering what to do, he still needs me to monitor him. He sometimes forgets a step or struggles to get his own clothes on or hops off the toilet in the middle of business and wants to play.
Though we are making progress — the boy is no longer in diapers — the progress is slow. I sometimes wonder if this child will ever be able to be in the bathroom alone without my assistance.
It sometimes feels like my journey to spiritual maturity is taking just as long. Getting into a rhythm with God where certain bad habits are overcome for good, where I obey the second He calls, where sin doesn’t have a hold on me — is taking longer than I want it to.
However, as I was thinking about rhythms this morning, I reflected on the fact that “getting into a rhythm” takes time. You have to learn it. Feel it in your bones before you can join in or snap to the beat. I remember my former choir instructors actually snapping out the beat with their fingers to themselves before they would raise their arms, look at the choir or orchestra, and begin directing.
They had to feel it before they could direct us in song.
When we are discouraged with where we are at spiritually, there are several things Rick Warren points out in The Purpose-Driven Life about spiritual maturity we should keep in mind.
1. God is not in a hurry.
While we want a magical transformation where all of our fleshly ways are remedied at salvation, that isn’t what happens in the Christian walk. We may have a dramatic salvation story and turn from whatever lifestyle we are engaged in, yes, but it takes time to learn to walk in God’s ways. An entire lifetime, in fact!
Warren likens the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used during World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. Note what he says about the Allies’ strategy:
First, they would ‘soften up’ an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a ‘beachhead’ — a tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually, the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.
As Warren stresses, God gets a beachhead in your life, but then he begins His strategy to take over the whole island. Why? For the purpose of liberation! Rather than get discouraged when we compare ourselves to others and see that they are further along than us, our job is to submit to the work God is doing at the moment and trust that as long as we are surrendering to Him, He has us right where He wants us.
2. Certain habits that took time to learn may take time to unlearn.
As Warren notes, we may be struggling with a habit that took years to develop. A quick fix or solution is not realistic. It may take us some time to overcome this. Rather than give up on ourselves or look for an easy out from the pressure we may feel while God is operating on us in this area, we should be patient with ourselves and know that the working out of this trait may take some time. If our struggle is with fear or pride or self-sufficiency, we may have moments of victory but then other moments where we fall back into old patterns because they are comfortable and it’s what we have known for much of our life.
Rather than beat ourselves for our failures, we need to turn to Jesus, confess where we have fallen short, ask Him to help us in our weakness, and allow Him to guide us towards lasting victory (John 1:9).
3. We need to find friends to come alongside us.
As Warren stresses, we don’t do ourselves a favor when we try to keep the sin or habit we are struggling with a secret. Pride says that we should hide our struggles, but there is freedom in admitting our struggle with another person and asking for help and accountability.
The Bible says that those who confess and renounce their sins will find mercy (Prov. 28:13). Perhaps there is a group you can get plugged into or a wise Christian friend that you can regularly meet with. Relating your struggle in an area with another person can help keep you accountable and make ground against this thing — rather than stuffing it down and keeping it silent, so that it just turns into a shameful thing you try to hide. Your friend or prayer partner can also help you make a plan to avoid situations where you will be tempted to act in ways you know you shouldn’t.
Just as it takes time for fruit to grow and ripen on the vine, it takes time for us to mature spiritually and develop the fruit of Christ-like character, as well as develop the ability to effectively minister to others.
Knowing that this maturation is a process can encourage us when we feel like our struggle with the same old habits or sins will never end; we can know that God is always working. The one who can stand in the way of this is us!
So, as Warren says, let Him do as He pleases and trust that He who began a good work in you will complete it (Phil. 1:6).
Related Bible Verses:
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”