One of our perpetual struggles as followers of Christ is acknowledging the gap between our current spiritual condition and the one God desires for us. We may become aware that we lack patience — perhaps we failed to show kindness or respond in love to someone who irritated us. Maybe we see how attached we are to the things of this world while eternal matters are secondary. We might be dealing with tensions in family or other relationships, and we see how we've been fighting for our rights.
However we acquire this knowledge, it is uncomfortable, to say the least. Perhaps we've read books by authors such as Watchman Nee or A.W. Tozer, and now we're painfully aware of our spiritual deficiency. Maybe we get this understanding through reading our Bible or from a sermon we've heard. Sometimes the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need for growth, or perhaps a friend confronts us about a behavior that doesn't reflect the nature of Christ.
If you're like me, you'll recall a situation that revealed your true condition. You know you've failed, and you say to yourself, "If only I didn't act like that! When am I going to grow up?"
When we find this ugly gap between where Christ calls us to be and where we are now in our walk with Him, it can be both discouraging and frustrating. We tend to naturally respond to our failure in a number of ways.
We start striving in the flesh. We grow impatient with ourselves and try to make results happen in our own strength. For instance, if we know we should pray more, we set ourselves a goal of a half hour or an hour to pray during our devotions. We fight our way through, and in the end we are either more frustrated than when we started — or puffed up over our accomplishments. But because the whole process has been done in the flesh, we become more unspiritual than spiritual. The Lord had nothing to do with it.
We start pretending to be something we are not. Let's say I've read Humility, Andrew Murray's classic, and I recognize that I need to be more humble. So I start acting more humble, changing the way I speak to others, behaving more like I imagine a servant would be. But eventually my true nature, which hasn't changed, will come out. I am simply a hypocrite—an actor. I cannot expect humility to become part of my character simply by mimicking it.
We feel sorry for ourselves. We see our spiritual deficiency and attempt to correct it, but when it doesn't work we are consumed with our failure to do so. "I've been trying for so long," we say to ourselves, "but nothing is working." We sink into self-pity and turn our attention inward.
We fall into the trap of condemnation. We set expectations for ourselves of what it means to be spiritual. And when we see our inability to live up to those expectations, we live with a growing sense of unworthiness before Him. Unfortunately, when others don't perform according to our expectations of spirituality, we project that condemnation onto them as well, correcting, exhorting and calling attention to their sins and failures.
We replace spirituality with knowledge. We can learn much about the ways of God through books, sermons and even songs — but knowing about something is never a substitute for the actual reality of godly character being lived out in us. In my files, there are certain subjects I have studied extensively. I've taken notes and written all kinds of illustrations. Yet I have never felt the freedom to teach on these topics because these areas are still beyond where I am in my walk with God.
The fact is, none of these responses draws us any closer to our original goal of becoming more like Jesus.
So how do we reconcile this disparity in our hearts without losing hope or despairing? And how do we go from where we are (Point A) to where we need to be (Point B)?
The key to dealing with our discrepancy is understanding this: The process of becoming like Christ takes time. We must cling to the reality that God is doing His work in our lives (see Philippians 2:13) and stand on His promise that "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Jesus embodied this for us in His life on earth. He lived for 30 years under the authority of His parents before beginning His ministry. The Bible tells us that "though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Day by day, Christ chose to die to Himself, to say no to His own will and yes to His Father's will. He needed that length of time to grow in obedience and come to the point at which He would choose absolute surrender — surrender to the point of death on the cross.
And let us have patience — with ourselves as well as with others. God is more concerned about our honesty before Him and our attitude of grace and mercy toward others than He is about us doing everything correctly.
So let us remember: It takes time for God to do His work. We do not have to lose heart because of any spiritual lack we discover in ourselves.
"Commit your way to the LORD," Psalm 37:5 encourages us. "Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass." The Almighty God is at work in our lives. We can certainly trust Him to get us from Point A to Point B!