“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Nineteenth century theologian Augustus Strong told of a student who asked the President of Oberlin College if he could take a shorter course than the one prescribed. “Oh yes”, the President replied, “but then it depends on what you want to make of yourself. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He wants to make a squash, He takes six months.” (Systematic Theology, Volume 3)
I used to long for some shorter course to spiritual maturity than the one God prescribes. I want to speed up spiritual growth for myself and for others. “I want it yesterday!” I tend to be an impatient person living in a culture that encourages my impatience. I want to get where I’m going fast. I want to drive fast, eat fast, finish fast, and mature fast. I want coffee instant, oatmeal instant, popcorn instant, and spiritual maturity instant.
It can be difficult for me to understand in our “micro” age that God doesn’t hurry the process of our spiritual growth. A thousand years are as a day for Him. He works from eternity to eternity. God isn’t nearly so interested in sprouting squash as He is in raising up oaks. Look at the spiritual ‘giants’ in Scripture and see how God takes His time. That’s why the Bible repeatedly commands that we “wait” for God, and run our race with “perseverance”.
In today’s Scripture Jesus explains how God grows and matures spiritual fruit: “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Spiritual growth like all growth is a process. The more intricate the organism the longer the process takes. Read again what Augustus Strong says about the wonder and mystery of growth:
Yet growth is not a uniform thing in the tree or in the Christian. In some single months there is more growth than in all the year besides. During the rest of the year, however, there is solidification, without which the green timber would be useless. The period of rapid growth when woody fibre is actually deposited between the bark and the trunk, occupies but four to six weeks in May, June, and July. (Systematic Theology, Volume 3)
It is easy to forget in reading the Bible that years might be compressed into a verse or two. There are often years between God calling and empowering His people and the first sign of spiritual fruit. Think about the many years Moses languished on the backside of the desert, the years David hid in the wilderness, the years it took for Saul of Tarsus to ripen into Paul the apostle, or even Jesus’ thirty years of silent preparation.
I find it important to always factor in time when doing ministry. That means that it usually takes longer than we imagine before we see the fruit, fruit that lasts. Look at Paul toiling long in Asia Minor, Timothy in Ephesus, Titus on the island of Crete, or Thomas in faraway India. Or look at your church, your home Bible study, ministry to the homeless, or witness to a neighbor. Days of sunshine and days of storm go into ripening the fruit. And fruit ripens slowly, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). It’s the tortoise and not the hare that always wins the day!
I also find that fruit ripens slowly in my spiritual life. I long and pray to be more spiritually mature, but it takes time to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Quick formulas for spirituality haven’t worked any better for me than quick weight loss diets.
The troubled philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed that, “the essential thing in heaven and earth…is that there should be long obedience in the same direction.” (Beyond Good and Evil)
Long obedience in the same direction is what is needed for us to grow spiritually.
In the 1300’s a chapel was built for one of the colleges at Cambridge University. The high chapel roof was supported by large beams fashioned from oak. Seven hundred years later the oak beams had begun to deteriorate and the roof was in danger of collapsing. The oak beams needed replacing. But where would they find the kind of oak needed to replace the beams? The answer lay right outside the chapel door. The original builders of the chapel had thought long term; they planted acorns in the churchyard!
God has in mind to grow us into oak trees, not just to bless us in our generation, but to bless generations to come! So let us not grow weary in the process!
Grace and peace,
P.S. Water from Rock’s Advent devotional “And the Word Became Flesh: Daily Reflections on the Incarnation for Advent 2015” is available now. Order copies for yourself, your family and friends, study group, Sunday School class, church, etc., by using our order form.