The Fast Pace of Slow Growth

Growth By Gordon Bals

When I started counseling I thought the big questions I would be helping people answer were ones like, “Why I am here?” or “Where am I going?” After two decades plus of counseling I have been surprised to find that instead most people are asking, “Why is it taking so long?” Not surprisingly that is the most often asked question in the Bible (“How long oh Lord?”). There are many reasons I could post to explain why I think we ask that question so much but one reason that stands out is we seem to forget what it is that pleases the Lord so much. He loves faith. God is growing our faith and this means he wants us to become more sure of him (Hebrews 11:1) and not ourselves. If we could make things happen quickly we would take credit for them. The unfolding, gradual nature of the pace of our life is so that we remember to look to and trust the Lord. This is important because as we understand the nature of the process it helps us to rest along the way. 

The unfolding, gradual nature of the pace of our life is so that we remember to look to and trust the Lord.

Once, Jesus addressed the nature of Kingdom Growth when he gave the Pharisees a couple of metaphors to help them understand why they were missing the Kingdom. He said “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds come and find shelter among its branches.” He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?’ It is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough” (Luke 13:18-21, NLT). Jesus gives these metaphors right after healing a woman on the Sabbath. Performing that act enraged the leaders of the synagogue. The metaphors were given to continue the process of exposing the religious leaders’ pride. Religion for them was a way to gain power and be recognized by men. Therefore, they expected the Messiah to bring more of the same and to quickly and powerfully establish His (and their) rule on earth. The fact that the Kingdom Jesus was instituting was not going to do this conflicted with the Pharisees’ goals and caused them to miss it. The metaphors Jesus gave them were an attempt to help the Pharisees understand their misguided notions. Power and control are not kingdom values so the way it grows underscores the need for humility and faith. Kingdom Growth always starts small (like a mustard seed), it grows slowly (from a seed to a large tree) and you can’t see the growth as it takes place (like yeast in bread). At any moment, as we are hoping for kingdom growth, what we actually have will seem too small. 


When Jesus said the kingdom of God grows like “a tiny mustard seed” he was using a popular colloquialism that his listeners would understand. “As small as a mustard seed” meant as small as possible. There could be nothing smaller. Although we long to have a “whole tree” of self-control or joy, it will never start with more than a mustard seed. We don’t have to be surprised when we are aiming toward something grand and in the moment we don’t have much to work with. In fact, the enemy will whisper to you sentences like, “You fool! Do you think you will ever develop real patience - that little ounce you have now won’t get you anywhere?" The truth is that the little mustard seed of hope is all that is needed. Every person that has ended up becoming more and more like Christ started each new part of the journey with just little seeds of hope. A person’s anxiety at having only a mustard seed of hope would be just like a builder being anxious that he was not going to have a completed house when all he could see was the foundation. A builder understands that the foundation is part of the process. So when you are thinking about Kingdom growth remember that along the way you will constantly have to battle feelings of inadequacy. “Do not despise these small beginnings said the prophet Zechariah for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (4:10, NLT). In the same way, when all we have is a little to work with we should rejoice because that is all it takes. 

If Kingdom growth starts small it continues that way. There is a process. We have to become accustomed to “little by little” because it rarely happens any other way. But you must not forget dear friends, that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8, NLT). As we keep focused on having the whole tree we still must be able to enjoy the first sprouts of the seed, and then when the plant breaks through the ground we must celebrate this new movement. The growth process requires that we learn to celebrate small victories. For example, I may have worked with a couple several weeks when I notice a small change. I will stop and make the couple talk about it. As I try to help them enjoy and “celebrate” this small victory they will usually be a little unnerved. The garment of hope feels uncomfortable and they don’t know how to wear it so we talk for a moment about hope and its place in the life of the Christian. Our flesh hates the “little by little” manner of thinking and in contrast the “you can have it now” mentality of modern culture is a great impediment to good spiritual growth. “Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7). This is good advice for the Christian aspiring to more mature love. Real change happens through the work of the Spirit and it will never be in our time or our way. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” (Matthew 5:6). We are not hungry and thirsty for something we have.  As we learn to ache (and wait) for what we don’t have it is growing in our hearts. We just have to keep hungering, thirsting and waiting.  As we adjust to the slow pace of Kingdom growth we will actually move quicker along the path. This is what Luci Shaw calls “growing accustomed to the grace of gradual illumination.”

“Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

Finally, as you are moving towards the growth you desire you will not see it coming. It is an unseen process (like yeast working in bread). Philip Yancey says, “faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”  So often the change is only noticeable as we continue along the path. If you look back two months ago you may not see much change but if you look back two years or ten years the growth is more recognizable. Even when we are actually on the way to the growth we desire the Lord will not let us see it so we have to look to and depend on Him. “And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish” (Heb 12:1-2).  If we could always see our growth in the moment we would rejoice in that instead of clinging to the Lord.  He is about deepening relationship. He wants our heart and he has designed things so that we cannot get away from trusting Him. “The righteous will live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38). So as you continue to walk this journey of faith remember that along the way you will never feel like you have that much; progress is made only little by little, and you won’t even be able to see it happening. You will have to trust that God is working even when you can’t see Him. Hopefully, knowing the landscape of the path that leads toward more will help us relax along the way.

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