A few weeks ago we had a friend come to stay with us. He was struggling with depression, and substance abuse, and all the challenges that tend to go along with both of those things. It’s been a wonderful process of seeing God’s grace at work in a very real, and practical way. He is clean and sober. He is addressing his depression. And most importantly, he is working his way back to an intimate and growing relationship with Christ.
As we’ve spent time together processing all he’s been through - as well as all that God is working in him now - there has been one question that we have regularly come back to. Why does it take so long to change and grow? The question comes up when my friend is feeling discouraged with the pace of his recovery - and so he wonders why becoming a new person takes so long. It’s a question all Christians can have, because the reality is that, although God could instantly transform us, more often than not, He choses not to. Instead, He works in us slowly.
It’s a pattern we see throughout the Bible - with examples like Joseph enduring slavery and imprisonment for God to refine him into a strong and compassionate leader. Or Peter growing from a cowering disciple denying Christ, to the rock the on which God built the Church. Those are two of the many examples the Bible gives us that show us that, when it comes to transforming us, God tends to work in incremental steps. And I think God does that for several reasons - one of which is that most of us are slow learners. If we’re honest, I think we’ll admit that we usually have to relearn a lesson multiple times in order to fully get it. So God gives us repeated exposure.
Another reason God transforms us incrementally is that we have a lot to unlearn. Since most of our problems and bad habits didn’t develop overnight, it's unrealistic for us to expect them to go away immediately. There is no pill, or principle that will instantly undo the damage that’s accumulated over many years. Instead, transformation requires the hard work of removal and replacement. The Bible calls it "taking off the old self" and "putting on the new." (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22-25; Colossians 3:7-10, 14.)
Finally, I think God transforms us slowly because He knows that change can be a painful and scary process for us. So when we’re faced with having to let go of our old habits and ways of living, we often resist making the transition because we’re fearful of the pain it will cause us. So God, in His mercy, takes our transformation slowly - giving us time to deal with our fear, and to learn to trust and obey Him.
In all of these things, the key is that we can’t give up in the transformation process. Instead, we have to fully embrace all God is doing with patience. We have to persevere in letting go of our old ways so that we can experience the wonderful new things God has for us.
So today, let’s not give up on change. Let’s not get tired of the slow and steady work God is doing in us. Instead, let’s fully embrace all He’s is doing - no matter how long it takes, and no matter what it costs us.