When you estimate a distance, it is best to use a helpful unit of measurement. If someone asks me how tall I am, I don’t give my answer in miles (I’m .00117 by the way). The distance between the sun and me is not normally measured in inches. We use large units for large things and small units for small things. For instance, when we measure our massive universe, we apply one of the largest units of measure—a light-year. But how do we measure things that are exceptionally small?
Have you ever heard of a beard-second? It’s what it sounds like: the distance an average beard grows in one second. Needless to say, a beard-second is miniscule—five nanometers to be exact. The distance a human beard grows in one second is imperceptible; you cannot see it. It’s only after a much longer passage of time, say by 5 o’clock in the evening, that there is even a shadow of evidence that growth is taking place.
Too often when we seek spiritual growth in our lives we become frustrated by the pace of progress. The changes in us can be so slow and microscopic that it may seem like they aren’t happening at all. It would be fantastic to mature instantaneously and testify to how far and how quickly God has taken us from who we were to who we are now. However, the reality is that most spiritual growth is gradual and steady, and the results can only be seen when you look back over large portions of your life.
Slow, Small and Persistent
Very few things that God has created grow in ways that are instantly observable. An oak tree begins as an acorn. An acorn becomes a sapling. A sapling eventually becomes a tree that makes more acorns, and so a tree becomes a forest. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
Likewise, our faith may start small, but as it matures, it should gradually grow to the point where we are planting seeds of faith in others. That is multiplication, that is fruit, and fruit is the result of growth. Using small, slow and persistent growth to change the entire world is God’s modus operandi.
God is the master of using seemingly insignificant things to transform individuals, and thereby, the world. The planting of 1,000 churches can begin with one pioneering member. The eternal salvation of an entire family tree can begin with one hearing of the gospel. The biblical literacy of a nation can begin with one diligent missionary. The repentance and restoration of a wayward brother can begin with one bold reproof. The comfort in a desperate time of grief can begin with one word of truth from one sister. The transformation of an entire man’s life can begin with one morning reading of Scripture.
Change comes at a speed more like an acorn growing into a forest than a spark erupting into a wildfire. The slow, small and persistent growth we have in Christ matters in significant, large and eternal ways. So do yourself a favor and don’t look on spiritual growth, regardless of pace, with contempt. What we think is God’s slowness is God’s patience, mercy and perfect timing.
Working Hard for a Long Time
Why doesn’t God just change you? For those of us who are in Christ, He is always changing us. God is transforming us bit by imperceptible bit, gradually and patiently. Look back at who you were one year ago, three years ago, ten years ago. Can you see the Lord refining you? Are you the same now as you were then? If there is growth, no matter how gradual, it is leading to fruit, and God is using your fruitfulness to grow forests.
Scripture calls us to be diligent. “Diligent” means to work hard at something for a long time. Our tendency is to lose motivation if we don’t see results. Know that many kingdom results are often not immediate or generally large and noticeable. God often grows us in silent, subtle intervals.
So be diligent in your pursuit of personal spiritual growth and your multiplication of spiritual fruit, regardless of obvious gains. Celebrate the rare times when spiritual development can be measured in miles and takes place overnight, but daily delight in God’s imperceptible faithfulness, patiently measuring your sanctification in beard-seconds. A thousand years are as a day to our great God, who is patient to grow the smallest acorns into oaks of righteousness.