I have a confession to make. (Anyone who knows me will not be surprised at all.) I tend to rush into things. I rush to get to appointments on time (15 minutes early), rush my kids out of bed (15 minutes before they need to), rush, rush, rush. Maybe you are like me and always rushing from one thing to the next.
In this fast-paced, fast-food, fast-lane society, do we sometimes think we can fast-track our friends and neighbors to Christ? The Gospel is so simple, all they really need to do is repent of their sins and trust in Jesus - shouldn't they be able to do that in fifteen minutes or less?
God showed me something in my quiet time this morning that really slapped me in the face with how I've been expecting fast-food results, when God is a slow-growth God. Don't get me wrong, when God wants to, He can move mountains in minutes - but that's when He moves, not us.
I was reading from 2 Timothy 2:25-26, "25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." The picture that came to mind was of fruit that takes time to ripen. We can pick it before it's ready...we can even try to ripen it after it has been picked, but it will never be as sweet as if we allow it the time to ripen on the vine or tree.
Similarly, we must recognize that only God can bring the godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). If instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict someone of sin, we confront them harshly, we are more likely to put them on the defensive or even turn them away. We give the enemy an extra trap to use in holding them - their natural self-defense mechanism - that causes them to 'tune out' anything else we might say.
I'm not suggesting that we ignore sin, cover up sin, or call what God calls sinful anything else.
Fruit needs three things to ripen - sunlight, water, and nutrient-rich soil. Those locked in Satan's grip need the same three things.
They need light - Jesus said that WE are the light of the world. They need for us to be in their lives, allowing Jesus to shine through us on them. Jesus never pointed fingers at those locked in sin, unless it was the sin of Pharisaical pride, instead He showed love and compassion. He met their physical needs and then encouraged them to turn from sin. But even in his admonishment to turn from sin, He did so gently. When we show the love of Jesus to others, especially to those who attack, persecute, or oppose us, we shine His light on them.
They need water - the Holy Spirit is symbolized by water throughout the New Testament. We who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit allow His water to flow to them by living in a manner that demonstrates His cleansing. When we are empowered to overcome sin by the Holy Spirit, those locked in sin see that power, that victory - and they want the freedom and joy that we have. The catch here is do WE have it? We have to live in victory. If we, believers, live in bondage to sin, what do we really have to offer them?
They need nutrition. Matthew 4:4 tells us: "Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ " They need the Word of God, not crashing over their head, but gently applied to their heart. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." and 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
Allowing God to work in someone's life, on His timetable instead of ours, requires faith. We must trust that God loves that person even more than we do. That He has a plan for their life. That if there is any possibility of them being saved, God's plan will succeed in reaching them. But we can't rush that plan. All we can do is offer the warmth and light of Jesus' love, the refreshment and hope of living according to the Spirit, and the nourishment of God's Word.
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." (1 Cor. 3:6)