It Takes Time
The Purpose Driven Life
have a confession to make. I have not been a very successful in my husbandry.
If you ask Joanna she would probably also say as a husband as well, but I mean
my tree husbandry - as in growing trees. Two years ago I had this dream of creating
an orchard in the Vicarage garden - it would be a kind of visual aid of the ministry
- so I bought eight or so fruit trees of various kinds - apple, plum, cherry
and pear - and planted them. And I looked forward to the harvest. I prepared
the ground with fertilizer.
I nurtured them with water. I protected them with netting.
Last Summer the first crop of cherries, pears and apples were growing nicely but just before I could pick them, the birds and deer got there first. They knew to the day when the fruit was ripe. Then a month ago, I foolishly took away the netting to add fertilizer and till the soil around the tree trunks. I forgot to put the netting back and within a day, the deer had eaten the bark of one tree and all the greenery and buds off two others. So now I am down to five trees. It takes longer to grow fruit than I had imagined. It also takes more hard work and husbandry to nurture and protect them than I had anticipated. I think I have found a solution. Last week I bought an olive tree. They are much hardier trees. You can cut them down, burn them, deprive them of water and neglect them and they will still grow for hundreds and hundreds of years because the life of the tree is in the roots.
The idea of growing an olive tree came to me while sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane where some of the trees are hundreds if not thousands of years old. I had thought that if I picked up one of the olives, I could grow a tree from the olive pip and have a tree with a direct line of decent from those Jesus sheltered and prayed under. Not so - to grow an olive tree, I was told, you must start with some root stock from an existing tree. Life for an olive tree begins and is sustained in the roots - hidden.
My recent experience in tree husbandry has taught me that there are no shortcuts to maturity. As Rick Warren says in ‘The Purpose Driven Life’, “It takes years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christ-like character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time and is largely hidden. It has more to do with roots than shoots. We are formed more by our private devotional relationship with God than in the public limelight - but that is where our faith is tested.
When you try and ripen fruit quickly, it loses its flavour… tomatoes, (for example, at least in Britain), are usually picked unripened so they won’t bruise during shipping to the stores. Then, before they are sold, these green tomatoes are sprayed with CO2 gas to turn them red instantly. Gassed tomatoes are edible, but they are no match to the flavour of a vine-ripened tomato that is allowed to mature slowly.
While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned with how strong we grow. God views our lives from and for eternity, so he is never in a hurry.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, pp 217-218).
As we have been discovering through this series on the Purpose Driven Life - we were created to become like Christ.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians which we have just read, he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
“Discipleship” says Warren, “is the process of conforming to Christ… Christlikeness is your eternal destination, but your journey will last a life time. So far in our exploration of the Purpose Driven Life, we have seen that this journey involves believing (through worship), belonging (through fellowship) and becoming (through discipleship). Every day God wants you to become a little more like him.” As Paul explains in Colossians, “You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the one who made you.” (Colossians 3:10). Today, like my frustration over my fruit trees, “we’re obsessed with speed, but God is more interested in strength and stability than swiftness. We want the quick fix, the shortcut, the on-the-spot solution. We want a sermon, a seminar, or an experience that will instantly resolve all problems, remove all temptation, and release us from all growing pains. But real maturity is never the result of a single experience, no matter how powerful or moving. Growth is gradual.
The Bible says, “Our lives are gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
I was speaking to Tom earlier in the week and he was explaining why Umthombo and their work among the Street children of South Africa seems to be succeeding where other projects have not. Tom explained that many people think instinctively that the answer to homeless children is …. homes. So the answer is to build homes. But that is not the greatest need of a homeless child or any child for that matter.
Think about it - what is the greatest need of a child - any child? Exactly - its not food or clothes or money or shelter. The greatest need is for love, acceptance, communication, friendship, relationship. Tom explained that for one child, the most memorable gift he had received was a hug. That is why Tom and Eugene have been fruitful in nurturing and training former street children to become leaders helping to reach younger street children. Isn’t that a picture of what the church should be?
Lets briefly examine this prayer in Philippians 1 to see how, over time, with intentionality, we can become more like Jesus and help others to as well.
1. Notice How Paul Prays (Philippians 1:3-4)
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1:3-4)
What do you do when someone comes into your mind? Worry about what they are up to? Remember the dreadful things they said to you? Turn over in your mind negative long forgotten memories? That is not what Paul did. When he remembered the Philippians he prayed for them, he gave thanks for them, because he was grateful for their relationship. When he thought of them, he didn't worry about them, he offered them to the Lord. Every time you think of someone, turn it into an opportunity to pray for them, and your relationship will change, it will grow. When ever someone comes to mind assume its because the Lord wants you to pray for them. How Paul prays.
2. Notice Why Paul Prays (Philippians 1:5-8)
“because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:5-8)
Paul gives three reasons why he is so thankful.
1. Their Partnership 1:5
2. God's Sovereignty 1:6
3. Paul's Affection 1:7
Paul was an eternal optimist because his confidence is placed not in the fickleness of human nature, but in the sovereign Lord God Almighty. That is why he was so thankful, so emotional when he remembers them. They have become his family.
How Paul Prays 1:3-5; Why Paul Prays 1:5-8
3. Notice What Paul Prays (Philippians 1:9-11)
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
That doesn’t sound like a prayer he prayed just once for these friends. I suspect it was a prayer he prayed often. There is single-mindedness in Paul's prayer. He has a goal in mind for them, and to this end he prays. Their fellowship is not static.
It needed to grow and expand. Fellowship means much more than having your name on the electoral roll, or attending Sunday services. There are three parts to Paul's prayer.
3.1 Love and Insight (Philippians 1:9)
of all Paul prays that their love would abound more and more in knowledge and
depth of insight. In our house one of the favourite TV programmes is
"Blind Date". The love Paul describes here is not the kind you see on
Cilla Black's programme. Its not wishy-washy or based a few hours together.
Paul prays that their love grows through knowledge and insight. And that takes
time and trust. Neither does Paul simply pray that they grow in knowledge.
Knowledge without love leads only to arrogance. Christ Church has been growing,
quietly and steadily over the past few years.
More people are attending our services on Sunday mornings than ever before, and that creates its own problems. We have a reputation for friendliness and openness. That is not so difficult when everyone can know everyone. But as we grow as a family, the quality of our love will only be in proportion to our knowledge and understanding of one another. In the corridor is your copy of the new Church Family Directory. I’d invite you to keep it with your bible rather than by your telephone. Use it in your daily prayers instead of for occasional phone calls. I invite you to join me in using it on a daily basis to pray for our church family. Maybe a page or half a page a day. You will soon find yourself remembering the names of adults and children alike. Use it to get to know those members of the family you don't yet know very well yet.
As you do your love will abound more and more with knowledge. That was Paul's prayer. For love and insight. And he had a reason. He prayed that our love and insight would lead somewhere. It would lead,
3.2 Discernment (Philippians 1:10)
Discernment of knowing what is best and pure and blameless in our motives and decisions. As individuals, as families, and as a church we shall have to make important decisions in this coming year. Paul’s prayer was that our love and understanding would grow, so that we would be pure and blameless in our attitudes, and that our decisions would be anointed. But that’s not all he prayed. Paul also prayed that we be
3.3 Filled with the Fruit of Righteousness (Philippians 1:11)
That as these things become true in our experience, so we will literally be filled with the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of the presence of Jesus Christ - fruit that others can taste - fruit that will draw others to Jesus.
God could instantly transform us, he has chosen to develop us slowly - fruit
bearing takes time. Why does it take so long to change and grow up? There are
We are slow learners
often have to relearn a lesson forty or fifty times to really get it. The
problems keep recurring and we think "Not again! I've already learned
that!"--but God knows better.
We have a lot to unlearn
people go into a counsellor with a personal or relational problem that took
years to develop and say "I need you to fix me. I've got an hour."
They naively expect a quick solution to a long standing, deep rooted
difficulty. There is no pill, prayer, or principle that will instantly undo the
damage of many years. It requires the hard work of removal and replacement.
Growth is often painful and scary
is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss; and there
is no loss without pain.
Habits take time to develop
that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can't claim to be kind
unless you are habitually kind--you show kindness without even thinking about
it. You can't claim to have integrity unless it is you habit to always be
honest. There is only one way to develop the habits of Christ-like character:
you must practice them---and that takes time! As you grow to spiritual
maturity, there are several ways to cooperate with God in the process.
Believe God is working in you even when you don't feel it.
Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth followed by a period of stabilizing and testing.
Keep a notebook or journal of lessons learned.
is not a diary of events, but a record of what you are learning. Write down
insights and life lessons God teaches you about Him, about yourself, about
life, relationships, and everything else. The reason we must relearn lessons is
that we forget them. Reviewing your spiritual journal regularly can spare you a
lot of unnecessary pain and heartache.
Be patient with God and with yourself.
God's timetable is rarely the same as ours. We are often in a hurry when God isn't. You may feel frustrated with the seemingly slow progress you're making in life. Remember that God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time. He will use your entire lifetime to prepare you for your role in eternity. Great souls are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering.
Don't get discouraged.
A delay is not a denial from God. Remember how far you've come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.
On Wednesday I was in Nottingham for the Purpose Driven Conference with Rick and Kay Warren. It was lunch time and I fancied some chips. I asked where the nearest chip shop was and a colleague who worked nearby mentioned that the nearest one was a Halal run fish and chip shop - meaning according to Muslim law - and, said my friend, not a particularly clean shop. I went anyway. The owner looked like he was from Pakistan. I greeted him and showed some interest in him and his business. I ordered my chips. He wrapped them in paper. I placed the pound on the counter. But he refused to take it. I asked why - did he know me? “No” he said, “But I can tell.” That is all he said. I shook his hand and thanked him.
Could he tell I was a Christian? Had he endured insults that day? Had he lost business because of the events on the 7th July? Was it simply because I had treated him kindly, with respect? I don’t know. Except, I left with the feeling that we had made a difference to each other - I had done something for him and he had wanted to reciprocate. I hope he saw something of Jesus in me. Next time I am in Nottingham I will go back and see him.
Paul’s prayer? That we experience love, insight and discernment, filled with the fruit of righteousness. Paul goes on in Philippians 1 to explain that from his prison cell, his future is uncertain. Yet he wishes to reassure them. In 1:21 he insists: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).
This week let your circumstances bring you closer to your Creator and to other people, irrespective of their colour or religion. If you have the single mindedness advocated here - living for Jesus and the Gospel - then you will discover that what ever difficulties, what ever problems, what ever uncertainties, what ever anxieties you face this week, God will use them to strengthen you and make you more like Christ. Reeling from the events of the 7th July, I doubt if any of us could have anticipated the events of this week in England and in other parts of the world. With this coming week equally uncertain, let us make Paul’s prayer in verses 9-11 our prayer for one another. I invite you to pray this with me, slowly, if it expresses your hearts desire.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Amen.”
With grateful thanks to Rick Warren and his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, It Takes Time, chapter 28 (pp.217-226)