Growth by Degrees
Discouragement in the Christian life comes easily when expectations are not realized. Some days we read the Scriptures and sense Christ’s stirring—our soul awakens from its doldrums, our mind engages, our heart inflames, and our affections kindle. We find encouragement or challenge in something we read, and our prayers flow with ease.
But then there are other days, days we don’t see the effect we would hope for. Our devotions aren’t quite so stirring. Our Bible reading feels more like a burden than a means of grace. Listlessness and formality mark our prayers. We begin to wonder if the time spent is worth the effort. We examine our Christian life and wonder why we haven’t progressed further.
At best, that line of thinking and feeling is silly, and at worst, it is dangerous. The Christian life is not lived in a moment, and it seldom progresses by major triumphs. Rather, most often, in Christ, we grow by degrees. Like the kindergartner who shows up for the first day of class and decries his classmates’ inability to answer calculus questions, so the Christian who despairs of seeing little progress in the moment proves rash. Few moments rise to the monumental. Rather, our growth in Christ happens by degrees and small alterations. This should encourage the Christian to read his Bible and pray daily, walk humbly, and keep persevering, even when it feels as though little occurs.
When snow falls, it falls in very small flakes. As those small flakes hit the ground, little appears to happen. Yet, a few hours pass and white covers the ground. An entire landscape changes, but only by small additions.
Most lasting change in Christ takes place by degrees, small additions, as we read and apply His Word. John Newton compared it to a house under construction. The beginnings of the construction appear insignificant. One passes by the home project for days and little progress is evident. The concrete slab is laid and supplies litter the yard. A few nails lie here and a few boards lie there. It doesn’t look like much. In fact, it looks like a mess. Yet, the architect and the builder know exactly what they are doing, and they accomplish it by degrees. The Lord is at work in you, dear Christian. The Master Architect and Great Builder has a plan. He knows what He is doing, but you can’t always see evidence of it today.
Keep attending to the means of grace—read your Bible, partake of the sacraments, and pray. Never give it up, not for a day, and surely not for a week. God is at work. Persevere in pursuing Christ. He is conforming you more and more to His image. You are not what you desire to be, but Christ is at work. We all “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Walk humbly, read the Word, pray, and keep your head up—looking to Christ who is at work in you and upon you. Make no mistake, you are being changed—it is simply by degrees.