Love the Process
Have you ever wondered why God does some of the things that He does? Do you ever ask yourself why things are the way that they are? I was asked recently about God's method of sanctification. He loves us, saves us, and uses us--but still allows us to sin. Why? What is the point of sinning Christians?
Because here we are as redeemed sons and daughters of God. We enjoy intimate fellowship with Father through Jesus Christ--having His Spirit within us-- and our "sanctification process" looks more like the stock market than the "walking in newness of life" that is offered those in Christ. We are up one moment and down the next. We boom today, but a crash is always around the corner. There are good moments to be sure, maybe even a gradual progress, but the cyclical pattern of: sin, confess, repent--show no signs of stopping. Why is this frustrating and painful cycle the chosen path of the Christian saint?
Wouldn't it be better if God would just perfect us immediately, the very the moment we receive Him? Imagine what the Christian life would look like! No more struggles. No more mistakes. No more denial of self. No more mortification of sin and no more self-deprecation. Suffice it to say the Christian life would be a lot easier, and a lot more enjoyable at that.
And could you imagine what an incredible testimony to the world perfect Christians would be? Goodbye hypocrisy in the church. Farewell to bitter infighting, jealousy, and envy. Ever had difficulty verbalizing the gospel message to someone who needs to hear it? Well problem solved! Our churches would also be far less messy and our ministries would be flawless. Instead of us Christians being the stumbling, limping, flawed embarrassments to the world around that we often are, we would be perfect in our obedience to the Father. Could you imagine?
If God eventually will make us perfectly righteous, why does he not just do it now and get it over with?
When I consider questions like this I am reminded just how different God's ways are from my ways. My ways prefer the path of least resistance, desiring to receive the benefits immediately or at least as soon as possible. And we live in a time where we have little patience for long drawn out processes. This is the age of the instant--of fast food and fiber optic internet. If I want something, credit cards and direct pay capabilities allow me to purchase what I want when I want with the click of a mouse. Today whatever is quickest and easiest is generally assumed to be the best, and we will take whatever shortcuts possible to get what we want as fast as possible.
God, however, works differently. His priorities seem to be different than our preoccupation on the immediate. This is a God who seems to have a thing for "the process," often using peculiar and drawn out means to get us where he wants us to end up. This is the God, remember, who gave Abraham a son at the age of 100, 25 years after he promised him to be the Father of a great nation. The same God who waited 400 years before delivering his people from Egypt, and who waited generations and generations before sending the promised Messiah to his expecting people.
And while I cannot claim to know why God does what He does, there is reason to the madness beyond the mysterious. The long, hard process to perfection gives us something necessary; something we would never have in our possession had we not gone through it. Consider this excerpt from C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:
We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity-like perfect charity-will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help that you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us toward is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.
What Lewis is saying is that often, God's immediate goal is not to make the fumbling Christian perfect in virtue. At least not yet. This cyclical process of falling and getting back up has benefits beyond the ultimate virtues (or perfection) we seek. Here are three invaluable things this up and down process of sanctification gives us:
- The process reminds us who we are. Weak and needy. I am reminded of the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul demanded that God remove the thorn in his flesh; this unnamed struggle that torments him. Three times Paul pleaded to God asking that it be taken away. God's response: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul went on to say, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Paul had no qualms about being weak, in fact he embraced it. Why? Because it forced him to the cross.
- The process forces dependence. It demands that we constantly look beyond ourselves for our everyday needs. Instead of pulling ourselves up by our moral bootstraps and overcoming obstacles by our own strength; the process requires that we cling to our lifeline as our only hope. Like the branch needs the vine in order to bear fruit, we need to be In Christ. “For apart from me you can do nothing.”
- The process produces perseverance, what Lewis calls the power of always trying again. This valuable trait cannot come without rainy days. One cannot learn to pick himself up unless he has fallen. For this reason James says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
It seems God is not about the easy way or the quick payouts like we are. God is about producing something deep within us, not some cheap, immediate perfection--but one that has been purified through years and years with fire. A fire that slowly instils in us a childlike dependence, and day by day chips away at our pride.
I wonder if we as Christians can come to a place where we can actually start to love the process. Not love the failures and the persistence of sin, but love the brokenness that drives us to the cross. Love the frailty that leads us to Him. What if we like Paul can also learn to "delight in our weaknesses"--because it is in those moments "Christ's power rests on me"?
I think we can.