As I’ve ministered to college students and young adults over the past few years, one of the hardest things has been seeing young believers grow frustrated with themselves when they aren’t seeing progress in their faith. I’ve had students question whether Christianity really “works.” Does this ancient faith really make a practical difference in our crazy, modern life?
And I’m not going to lie and pretend like I’ve never asked this question myself. I’ve gone through plenty of dry spells in my journey of faith – times when I was disappointed at the apparent lack of “good fruit” in my life. I’d notice myself falling into the same spiritual pitfalls I thought I had already overcome. I’d start to wonder if my faith really ever made a difference, if it really does work.
Short answer: It has, and it does. I know I would never be the person I am now if it weren’t for God’s grace working in me. And I remain convinced that the beliefs of Christianity are true and reliable.
But when it comes to working through the emotional frustration of spiritual dry seasons, I think we need a bit more than just a reminder that what we believe is true. We need encouragement to move forward. We need to be reminded that the results we want to see in our lives don’t happen overnight; they take time, and they require a disciplined effort to keep at it despite our doubts.
I want to encourage you with a passage of Scripture I’ve found incredibly helpful in my dry seasons. The next time you’re feeling stuck and frustrated in your faith, recall this lesson from the book of James:
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.” – James 5:7-8a (CSB)
James originally wrote this to a community of Christians who were struggling with a “dry season” of sorts. They were experiencing stressful times, and it was causing them to doubt God’s goodness and get distracted by worldly pleasures (sounds like a normal week for us today, right?).
The solution? James tells them to wait upon the Lord, to trust his promises, and to be patient just as a farmer is patient. The results they were looking for would come in time. Meanwhile, they needed to be faithful to put their beliefs into practice in daily life.
So when your faith doesn’t seem to be working, here are four practical lessons to glean from James’ analogy of the patient farmer:
1) Broaden Your Perspective.
Wise farmers don’t get frustrated with waiting, because they recognize that growth takes time. In the same way, believers should recognize that spiritual progress takes time. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. As I’ve heard one pastor put it, “The process is the point.” We get frustrated when we fixate on where we’d like to be instead of remembering that it takes a while to get there.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fall prey to this trap more often than I’d like. It’s easy for me to get so overwhelmed by a desire to do more and be more and produce more that I forget that God has called us all to “play the long game,” so to speak. The next time you’re tempted to wonder if this whole Christianity thing really makes a difference, just remember that it’s a long game – any progress is going to take time. It’s also going to take discipline.
2) Practice Daily Discipline.
Just as farmers have to daily tend their fields if they want their crops to grow, so too believers must intentionally practice habits that cultivate spiritual growth. Don’t expect results if you’re not putting your beliefs into practice. If you never make it a point to read God’s word and pray, and if you never gather for worship with other believers, and if you never go out and serve the needy, then you cannot be surprised when you don’t see any results. As James says elsewhere, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
What’s more, it helps if we remember that God is just as concerned with godliness in our daily lives as he is with bigger ministry opportunities. He wants you to be faithful in little things before he’ll trust you with the big things (see Luke 16:10).
Being faithful to encourage those around you at work each day, to serve your family, to have a good attitude, and to pray regularly and get closer to God each day – these are every bit as much good fruits in your life as are the more dramatic ministry moments. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT), “nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
3) Be Patient and Persistent.
To once again hammer home the point of James’ farming analogy: once you’ve been regularly sowing spiritual disciplines into your life, you then need to be patient. Results don’t always come overnight. Fruit comes after whole seasons, not just a few days.
I’ve been a Christ-follower for over eleven years now, and as I look back on my journey I can recall many ups and downs, fruitful seasons and dry spells. When I first started getting to know the Lord, there was a big flurry of joy-filled growth – like the thrill of any new relationship. But the energy of that initial “honeymoon period” eventually wore off, and that was when I needed spiritual discipline the most. I had to patiently, intentionally, and persistently invest in my walk with God.
In the same way, you have to decide if you’re going to persistently invest in your relationship with God, too. You have to be in it for the long haul, because the Christian life really is a journey. You have to build endurance and keep walking.
And I can promise you, it’s worth the effort. Because at the end of the day, having faith in Christ really is the only way to live a fulfilling life – a life that will leave an eternal legacy and ultimately will result in “entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).
4) Trust Jesus.
Last but not least, it all comes down to trusting the Lord. He’s the one who’s ultimately in control of all harvests – physical and spiritual! I don’t want you to walk away from this post with the impression that it’s all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and trying harder. Yes, you do have a part to play. Yes, your choices matter. But ultimately any true spiritual growth comes from the Spirit of Christ doing his work in us as we trust him.
The Bible says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words, we work out our faith because God is working in us. He hasn’t given up on you. You are a work-in-progress, and God can be trusted to bring about great things in and through your life as you stay faithful to walk with him.
So don’t give up, and don’t get frustrated. Be patient – with God and with yourself. The process is the point.
See you down the path.