I’m currently in the middle of reading a book about the fall of Rome and the rise of medieval Europe. (Sounds like a real page turner does it? Move over Stephen King.) I haven’t always enjoyed reading books like this. It must have something to do with my age. It seems the more history I come to have, the more history I come to love.
While discussing the various reasons that the towering nation of Rome crumbled into dust, Thomas Cahill (the book’s author), provides a tantalizing tidbit to consider. Cahill wrote,
“Rome [either] fell because of inner weakness, [whether] social or spiritual; or Rome fell because of outer pressure – the barbarian hordes.”
As Cahill points out, historians continue to be divided over the root cause of Rome’s demise. Like the fabled tragedy of Humpy Dumpty, we know that Rome once sat on a “great wall” and had a “great fall.” We also know that, despite the efforts of many men, it could not be put back together again. But no one seems to know exactly why this Roman Humpy Dumpty fell in the first place.
To this, Cahill adds an interesting conclusion.
“What we can say with confidence is that Rome fell gradually and that Romans for many decades scarcely noticed what was happening.”
I want you to read and listen to that statement again, “Rome fell gradually and…for many decades [they] scarcely noticed what was happening.” As the frog in the kettle will tell you, the most permanent changes in life come a little bit at a time.
As I pondered Cahill’s statement, I was reminded that the way Rome fell is also the way that believers should grow. It is the unnoticed, gradual change that makes the greatest difference in the life of a Christian.
The problem for us (myself included) is that this is simply too slow for our timetable. Most of us are like the man who prayed, “Dear God, give me patience, and GIVE IT TO ME NOW!!!” Sound familiar?
Like the growing of a melon vine or an apple tree, Christian growth is so gradual that it is hardly even noticeable. Impatient farmers aren’t farmers for too long. Impatient believers often want to give up too soon.
Jay Adams tell us why this is. Adams has written, “There is no such thing as instant godliness.” Adam continues, “Today we have instant pudding, instant coffee, instant houses shipped on trucks…and we want instant godliness as well…The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way.” There are no “3 Steps” or “4 Principles” to overnight sanctification. If you hear apreacher promise that in his sermon, tune him out immediately. He’s lying to you. Growth in Christ takes time. In fact, it takes a lot of time.
The old proverb asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” To which the wise old sage answers, “One bite at a time.” The same is true with your walk with King Jesus. How do grow as a believer in Christ? The answer? One step at a time.
Walking with Jesus is not about taking giant leaps of faith into the unknown. You walk with Jesus the way that toddlers walk with their parents. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Stumble. Fall. Get up. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot…
You don’t wake up one day and, “BOOM!” you’re holy. No. There’s no magic potion to drink or secret Bible verse to memorize. You simply make one holy choice after another, you think only holy thought after another, and before you know it: you find yourself living in holiness.
I know that this is easier said than done. But it still needs to be done. This means that it is more advantageous to read 10 minutes of Scripture every day for a week, than 70 minutes on Sunday and nothing else. A steady diet of God’s Word is better than a “feast then famine” approach. Or, as David Okholm has said, “You cannot pray at all times, until you first learn to pray some times.” We schedule soccer games, oil changes, and TV time…why not schedule time for sanctification? Just a little bit at a time will go a long way. Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare is a good reminder about the Christian life too: “slow and steady wins the race.”
I frequently tell people, “Don’t measure your Christian life day by day, measure it decade by decade.” If you’re like me, you probably imagine your spiritual life as a yo-yo. You feel that your prayer time and devotions are constantly going up and down. You feel discouraged today about your performance yesterday and overwhelmed by the thought of tomorrow. Rest assured, that’s normal. Even Paul struggled daily with sin and troubles (Romans 7). The key, though, is making a small movement in the right direction every day. Look to Jesus and endure. Trust me, you may feel like a yo-yo going up and down every day, but envision that yo-yo riding inside of an elevator, slowing moving closer to the top. This is how daily choices work as part of the grand story of God’s redemption in your life.
Like the fall of Rome, your godliness will be gradual, unnoticed, and may even take decades, but rest assured, it’s happening by the grace of God.
For more about growing in godliness, read:
Godliness Through Discipline by Jay Adams,
Monk Habits for Everyday People by David Okholm
A Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney