The Process of Time
The most common question I hear from people in spiritual growth is: Why is this taking so long? They will often enter the growth process with great hope and excitement and then, somewhere along the way, become discouraged that they aren’t achieving results as soon as they would like. Someone is still struggling in a marriage; another is unable to open up emotionally to God and others; still another is unable to set appropriate limits, and someone else may be tormented by the pain of the past.
Time – a necessary ingredient of growth
So many people in growth expect that, if they read their Bibles and do the right things, they will instantly and permanently change. They become disappointed when this doesn’t happen. They may feel God has let them down or they are doing something wrong, when in fact, everything may be proceeding as God planned it. Time is a necessary ingredient of growth.
God originally did not include time in his plan, as he exists outside of time, in eternity. He experiences past, present and future all that the same time (Exodus 3:14). We, too, were created to live in an eternal state of relatedness and joy. However, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God’s wonderful creation was marred. He saw the trouble we were now in and knew the seriousness of our condition. He knew that two things were necessary to fix the problem. The first was an atoning death to satisfy the requirements of his holiness. And the second was a process of repair for his creation to be redeemed and healed from what it had brought upon itself. This process we call time.
Time takes the creation out of the eternal state, as quarantine takes a sick person out of the community. This is so the disease of sin will not contaminate eternity. When the creation is healed of sin, time will be no more, as its job will have been accomplished. We will again enter the eternal state with God. There will be no progression of day and night in eternity, only a continual day illuminated by God himself (Revelation 22:5).
The gift of time applies also in the lives of individuals. When a person comes to faith in Christ, the guilt of sin is removed from him, and he now has a relationship with God. Yet, he is born again not as an adult, but as a spiritual baby. Like an infant, he must now enter the process of growth over time and receive the elements of growth that will one day mature him.
We’re not saying that miracles don’t happen. The Bible and our own experience show that God does do instant and marvelous things. We need to ask for these, receive them when they happen, and thank God for them. For example, God can and does instantly remove an addiction to alcohol or a depression. At the same time, however, the norm taught in the Scriptures is a model for growth over time (Mark 4:26-29; Ephesians 2:20,21; 4:15,16; Colossians 2:19; 2 Peter 3:18). Teachings that only emphasize deliverances, for example, can create people who become nonfunctional in real life, dependent not on God and his maturing ways, but on an event to heal them. So our suggestion is to work on the process and ask for the miraculous. God is for us in both ways.
How much time?
Probably the second-most-often-asked question I encounter is: How can I know how long it will all take?
Well, generally it takes more time than you think. Many of us get into the growth process hoping to get some quick answers and comfort and then resume “normal life.” However, this is not really God’s way. For God, normal life is being in the growth process for life. Issues and struggles may and should change over time, but growth is not a season. Rather, it is at the very heart of life itself. Just because an issue may be resolved, does not mean growth is complete. It may just be the beginning.
Several indicators can help give a sense of how long specific growth or repair issues take to resolve. These indicators include the severity of the issue, the onset of the issue and the availability of resources. Although the work of spiritual growth is, at its heart, a miraculous act of God, it still requires resources. The more resources that are available (healthy support system, a balanced church, good materials to study, appropriate leadership and frequent meetings), the less time is needed for each issue.
Keep in mind that growth never ends on this earth. You will find new areas of growth as God helps you search your heart (Psalm 139:23-24). And remember, God is for you not against you!
Taken from How People Grow, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan 2001
This article is part 12 in a series of Feature Articles adapted from How People Grow.
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