When Jesus said, “GO, and make disciples—baptizing and teaching them…”, did Jesus intend for this to be a quick and easy process?
Not long ago I was visiting a place where I had conversations with disciples who were the result of close to ten years of work! That is the result of years of tilling, planting, and watering before seeing much, if any, fruit. Many of those who started the work are now gone. Imagine how discouraging that would have been! For myself, it was incredibly encouraging to witness the initial fruit after many thankless years of faithful work. Seeing that fruit reveals that God has been at work behind the scenes. All along, God had a plan for each of the new disciples’ lives to be transformed by the gospel, but according to his timeline.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church speaks to the realities of ministry, and the slowness of discipleship.
“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. . .I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 6-9).
They are not yet mature, and they’re on pastor number two! Paul the seed planter and Apollos the seed waterer—each faithful, neither seeing the fullest expression of their discipleship. God is at work building his Church. His Kingdom is advancing, but in a way that looks an awful lot like yeast hidden in dough, or a mustard seed placed in the soil.
Are you in it for the long haul? Think of your neighbors, coworkers, friends and relatives. Are you praying for them, and sharing life with them–with the expectation that God does change the hardest hearts? God’s timing is not ours. Sometimes—probably most often—God’s plan for someone is in the years, when we’d like it in minutes. Masterpieces take time. God is writing a master story, with Jesus as the protagonist. We get to play supporting roles, and our stories will reflect that. Embrace it. Be faithful. Pray. Give. Encourage. Exhort. Proclaim Jesus, and expect that God will get the glory of the growth.