Blog post

By

Nicola Eggertsen

I love a time lapse-video. What takes 100 days in real time is unveiled in minutes. I saw one of a sunflower seed, which was planted in the earth before bursting upwards, its tiny leaves dancing to catch sunlight. It then grew taller and stronger as it sped its way towards maturity. In less than 2 minutes, the sunflower unfurled into bloom.

Sometimes people astonish us with seemingly rapid transformation in Christ. They quickly come to faith, get baptised, worship weekly, serve, and join in the fellowship. They seem to expand before our eyes in faith, love, and hope. They grow like palm trees (which, apparently, can grow to their full height in 10 short years), “flourishing in the house of God” (Psalm 92:12-13). When that happens, we rightly ascribe the growth to God’s work in their lives, not ours.

Rapid conversions, like time-lapse videos, are enjoyable to watch. Yet, the truth is, growth – in humans as well as plants – is usually slow.

Impatient and forced growth

When growth is slow, and Christians we know seem stuck and disengaged, we can become uncertain and feel helpless – and, as a result, we often go looking for fixes and solutions. These only ever paper over the cracks. We functionally believe that we have the power to force spiritual growth. That somehow in and of ourselves we can press fast-forward and move people to maturity.

If only that struggling believer got along to homegroup each week, they would be stronger. Constant reminder texts should do the trick. If only that downhearted Christian just sorted out their daily Bible reading, they would start to feel happier. Better sign them up to a Bible reading plan. If only the bereaved Christian would join the coffee team, then they would have something else to focus on. Better take them to the rota and make sure they fill in their availability. Quick fixes never really deliver and sometimes do more harm than good. However, that’s not to say that careful discipleship and Christian formation is wrong. I am certainly grateful for those who encouraged me in the disciplines of the Christian life and helped me to serve in new ways. Why do we feel we need to make things go faster? What if growing slowly is actually better for people?

Humbling and inevitable growth

Some years ago, when I left home for university, I felt full of Christian zeal, determined to share the gospel with the many friends I would surely make. For most of my fresher’s year, I was lonely, homesick, and spent much of the time crying. Yet, while I agonised over the friends I had not made, the Lord grew me in fellowship with him. While I struggled to share God’s word with others, in my walks between my room and the lecture theatre, I ended up memorizing more scripture than I had ever done before. While I prayed unhappy prayers to God daily, I experienced him bending his ear to hear me and comforting me with unexpected blessings. The humbling yet wonderful reality is that Christian maturity comes with time.

Now, when I desire to see quick changes in others, I remember that the transforming power of God came slowly in me. And what a joy to know that it will come – God’s people do inevitably grow! As a mustard seed, once vulnerable to being eaten by birds, grows to accommodate nests of birds in its capacious span, so we will flourish in God’s time. It’s just that more of us are like slow growing oaks (which creep upwards at a mere 5 centimetres per year) than quick-rising palms.

God-centred discipleship and prayer

It’s a simple yet profound truth that Christian growth is always God-empowered. Because of that, we need to be God-centred in our modes and expectations for discipleship. If, as the Apostle Paul says, that it’s as “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory,” that we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor 3:18), then it’s our job to direct people’s gaze to him. As we look beyond ourselves to the Lord, we will be transformed by what we behold. Our veils of blindness will be stripped away to enable us to see the growth-inducing light.

I continue to learn that lesson today. When I recall that God did something purposeful in me over a long while, I am minded to replace my frustrations with others with questions and prayers: What might the Lord be doing in the life of my fellow strugglers and sinners? How might he be teaching them through this drawn-out trial? Lord, would they see your good and compassionate hand at work through the duration of their suffering? Lord, sanctify my friend – even millimetre by millimetre into the beautiful likeness of Christ.

It’s also not wrong to ask what God might be teaching us through someone else’s struggles. A friend told me how for years how she would fill awkward silences with chatter because she found the gaps in conversation so uncomfortable. Then the Lord brought a young woman into her life who was extremely reticent. In their meetings my friend said she could sense the Lord challenging her through the discomfort. So, at every point where she was tempted to fill in the silences, my friend prayed silently to the Lord for patience and wisdom. The young woman slowly opened up and my friend grew in trust.

Time-lapse videos are fun for seeing rapid transformation. But what makes me wonder is looking on things that have stood the test of time. In the Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, not far from where I live, there is an oak tree believed to be 1100 years old. The “Big Belly Oak” was once just an acorn, but it now stands as a picture of what we are becoming – great oaks of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3). May the Lord display his splendour in our slow growth.

Author

Nicola Eggertsen

Nicola completed the Biblical Counselling Certificate with BCUK in 2018. For the last four years she has been a Recitation Instructor for BCUK and is currently a trainee tutor. Nicola runs a “Soul Care” practice and is studying for certification with the Association of Biblical Counselors alongside this. She is a Lay Pastoral Assistant at her church and involved in ministry alongside her husband (who is the vicar). Previously, she was a secondary English teacher.