Who doesn’t love a quick fix, an overnight success, or the path of least resistance? Yet that’s not how God usually operates. He prefers a step-by-step approach when He works in us, and in our lives, and this can test our patience and even our faith.
Before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the Lord pledges to clear the way for them but adds that He will do so little by little, or they won’t be able to handle the result. God tells them in Exodus 23:27–30 (NLT): ‘I will send my terror ahead of you and create panic among all the people whose lands you invade. I will make all your enemies turn and run. I will send terror ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land.’
While the last line of the passage refers specifically to population growth, it also serves to illustrate a principle – that God releases new territory a little at a time while we grow into the people He has created us to be.
The truth is God’s plans for our lives come packaged as a process because He cares a great deal about who we’re becoming. The Lord uses the process to shape our characters, renew our minds, purify our hearts, increase our capacities, and generally make us bigger on the inside, so we can handle all He has in mind for us. Think of King David. God anointed David as the next king of Israel about fifteen years before he actually ascended the throne. In the intervening years, the Lord moulded David into someone who was fit to rule.
The process is a journey in which we partner with God. It requires cooperation with Him, perseverance, hard work, and facing all kinds of obstacles, difficulties, and struggles along the way. Thankfully, God is with us in all this, dispensing His life into ours (read Galatians 2:20 TPT), so that we have the strength, wisdom, and patience that we need for every step.
The challenges en route can either frustrate us, or we can learn to manage them better, and use them as steppingstones for growth and development. As we get bigger on the inside, we’re able to handle more of what God has planned for us. The process makes us so that the destination doesn’t break us. It may be tempting to take short cuts or chase after immediate results, but our goal should be sustainable growth and good success over the long haul.
Attitude plays a key role here. What I’ve learnt in my own journey is that maintaining a consistently healthy attitude, especially during hard times, serves as an accelerator to personal growth, whereas a bad attitude can slam the brakes, stop you from moving forwards and be detrimental to your wellbeing.
When I was still a youth pastor, I would pose the following question at Youth meetings: What is the greatest weapon you have at your disposal in ministry? People would answer: the Word of God; the Holy Spirit; the good news of Jesus. And these are all great answers. But, ultimately, it’s your spirit, or inner person, that is your greatest weapon in all spheres of life. Your inner being is the conduit for God’s work in your life and will determine whether you’re impacted by any of the above. The Word of God is only powerful in your life if you’re reading and applying it. In the same way, you have to give the Holy Spirit room to move.
Charles Spurgeon writes: ‘It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organise societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war.’
In the Bible, Caleb is a prime example of someone who is big-spirited. Most of you will know him as one of the twelves scouts, who is sent out by Moses to survey Canaan. By occupation, Caleb is a shepherd and soldier. There’s no mention of him having superior skills in battle or leadership, nor of him possessing great wealth or influence. As far as we’re aware, Caleb is just an ordinary guy, yet he has this extraordinary spirit. When he and the other scouts return from their expedition, Caleb is ready to invade the Promised Land because the Lord has promised it to them (not because he thinks he’s invincible). ‘We should go up and take possession of the land,’ he says (in Numbers 13:30 NIV), ‘for we can certainly do it.’
Despite the Lord’s promises, ten of the scouts reckon it would be madness to invade Canaan, describing the people who live there as ‘giants’. Yet Caleb (along with Joshua) insists: ‘They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us!’ (Numbers 14:9 NLT).
Is it any wonder then that God says of Caleb, ‘But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.’ (Numbers 14:24 NIV). It takes decades before this promise is fulfilled, yet Caleb sticks with God and tends to his spirt (or the culture of himself that Spurgeon talks about).
We know this from the kind of man Caleb becomes. ‘Now, as you can see,’ he tells Joshua four and a half decades after they scouted Canaan together, ‘the Lord has kept me alive and well as He promised for all these forty-five years … even while Israel wandered in the wilderness. Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then.’ (Joshua 14:10–11 NLT). What a legend!
Our inner being is our greatest asset, yet we often neglect it in pursuit of external goals. Caleb follows God wholeheartedly and maintains a healthy, strong, faithful, visionary, pure, big spirit. And that’s really the best way to live. Stick with the Lord wholeheartedly and live out what it says in Proverbs 4:23 (NIV): ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’