We love stories of change, don’t we? Stories like this:
Growing up in the 1950’s in rural Kenya, little Charles faced many hardships. His family was living in extreme poverty and had little options for improving their situation. At an early age, Charles parents left him in pursuit of a better life, leaving him in the care of his aunt who was struggling to raise children of her own. With little options remaining, Charles walked many days, headed toward Nairobi in pursuit of a better life.
At the age of 16, Charles found a Friend who would never leave him alone . . . the Lord Jesus Christ. Charles trusted in Christ as His Savior, securing His eternity, though his earthly life still felt very fragile. Charles worked hard and the Lord gave him favor, allowing him to run a string of business successes together, making Charles a multi-millionaire.
One day, Charles was moving through town, seeing the many faces of the street children who dominated the city. He was struck by the fact that he was once in their position and he felt the Lord would have him do something in response. Dr. Charles Mulli, together with his wife, sold much of their businesses and property and opened a home for street children. Nearly 12,000 kids have come through their program — learning about Christ as well as life — while being cared for by the personal sacrifice and vision of Dr. Mulli.
When asked what was the secret of his success and the motivation for his life, Dr. Mulli answers clearly: “It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We love stories like that don’t we? I recently heard Louie Giglio share this story and I was mesmerized by every sentence. From the streets to the penthouse back to the streets to save the lives of thousands of kids. What is not to like about this story!
When we hear a story like this, however, one thing that often gets lost is a sense of time. You can read about Mulli’s life above in just a couple of minutes . . . but his life took 40 years to take him from birth to riches . . . and another 30 years to move from the first kid he received into his care to the 12,000th. In our summary stories, we sometimes forget the “in between” times. Because of this, we often get impatient with the “clocks” for change in our own stories.
We want the benefits of change without delay. Like a “life lottery” we want to go from rags to riches in a moment . . . forgetting that most everything valuable is built a day at a time.
As Christians, (in a real sense) we have all won the “lottery.” When we embrace salvation by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ, we immediately pass from death to life. We immediately are given all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. We immediately are endowed with the Holy Spirit. In an instant, we are forgiven (for more details on all these blessings look at Ephesians 1 and Colossians 2). Because of the instant nature of our eternal blessing, we sometimes expect a similar quick process in all areas of our lives. Some examples:
- We know God has gifted us for ministry, but it seems to take years for us to find the right “role” for us to fill.
- We know God has given us the ability to resist temptation, but we still are tempted by some of the same sins today that we were tempted by 5 years ago.
- We know God can use the power of the Gospel to bring salvation to a friend or family member who has not yet trusted in Christ, but we grow weary as they persist in unbelief.
When our desire for change is immediate and God’s timeline is process, we can grow impatient. We often want to time God with a stopwatch, when in fact, He is using a calendar. Many of God’s great works take time. Though we read their stories in the Bible in just a few sentences, the stories are years in the making:
- It was 80 years between Moses’ birth and him taking his role as God’s prophet in Israel. This path to leadership was marked by failure (murder), isolation (in Midian), and doubt (“I can’t speak very well on my own, how will I speak for YOU?”) 80 years. We get impatient in the checkout line at the store . . .
- It was 15 years between David’s anointing as King and his coronation as King. In between he literally ran for his life from the jealous rage of King Saul.
- It was 14 years between the Apostle Paul’s salvation on Damascus Road and his first missionary journey. In between 3 years were spent in the desert, and another decade was spent back in Tarsus making tents.
We live in a world that can make coffee in a Keurig in less than a minute, but God is brewing something far deeper inside of us. He is preparing us for glory, His glory, and the process normally takes years.
Another example of the extended process of change that God uses is seen in the life of the early church concerning ministry to Gentiles. As you may know, the early Christian movement was birthed out of Judaism. After all, Jesus Himself was a Jew (as were His 12 disciples.) But when Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples a great commission – to go into ALL THE WORLD (not just the Jewish parts) and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus followers were to be His witnesses among those in Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In a moment, Jesus sent His disciples on a mission to the Gentiles, but did they get it? Not really . . . at least not fully.
The Holy Spirit arrives in Acts 2, and the apostles begin sharing the Gospel in the Spirit’s power everywhere they go . . . but they still had a proclivity to focus on the Jews. In fact, men as prominent as the Apostle Peter avoided Gentiles (at least in his social interactions). Of course, this was not what Jesus intended . . . so He gave a vision to Peter in Acts 10 telling him that he was NOT to segregate from the Gentiles any longer. Moments after that vision, he is escorted to Cornelius’s house, and Peter shares the Gospel with this Gentile, and watches as the Holy Spirit falls in a demonstrable way on this Gentile and his household. This was an amazing moment . . . but was 15 years (15 YEARS!!!!) after the Great Commission was given.
Surely this would mean that Peter and the disciples truly “got it” and adjusted their Jewish-centric perspectives . . . but alas, that is not the case. 5 years after the experience with Cornelius (20 years after the Great Commission was given), Peter and the other Apostles still struggled with their relationship with Gentiles.
Galatians 2:1-14 and Acts 15:1-21 show us that the acceptance of Gentiles and their inclusion in the church (as Jesus predicted and commanded) was a process that took at least 20 years to fully implement . . . and the struggle that existed between these two groups (Jew and Gentiles) was still alive and well all the way through the New Testament times (Paul even referred to it in Romans 14 . . . a book he wrote nearly 30 years after the Great commission was given . . . 10 years after the events of Galatians 2 and Acts 15.)
And make no mistake . . . there was MUCH at stake in Galatians 2 and Acts 10 and Acts 15. What was at stake was the inclusion in non-Jewish people in the blessing of God. This is BIG STUFF. We might want God to work EXTRA FAST in this situation, given what was at stake . . . but God still took a few decades to shift this culture.
So what does this tell us? Sometimes the change God is bringing about in our lives takes longer than we would like. Sometimes it seems slow to us. Sometimes we can grow impatient. Thankfully, though, God does not grow impatient with us.
God is at work writing a novel in our lives, not a short story; He is making a mini-series not a commercial. We are saved in a moment, but He grows us over a lifetime.
What are the areas of your life where you are desiring to see Him work? Where are you growing impatient with the pace of change in His program? Do you feel like you are alone at this pace? Do you feel like it should be happening faster?
If this is the case, remember the people in the Scripture. See how God’s timing is longer than ours, and take heart. Though we may be currently discouraged, remember – the story is still being written.