What farmer in his right mind would plant one day and the very next day, week or even month, go back to the same field and expect to see corn or wheat ready to harvest? It doesn’t happen that way in farming, and it doesn’t occur that way in church ministry.
We are not always as patient as we should be in evangelism and discipleship. Planting, cultivating and harvesting require human agents and God’s gracious intervention over some undefined period of time. This “undefined period of time” may be years or decades. I know for me it was 10 years from the time I first heard the gospel until God in His great mercy saved me. Even after a public confession of faith, we then settle into the long process of discipling the new believer in Christ.
All of this requires a patient and merciful spirit. Our legalistic expectations need to be adjusted. It’s not that we hate sin any less by showing mercy. Rather, we show greater understanding and discernment realizing that true change takes time—that’s how God designed it to be. And it’s more than simply correcting outward behavior. Ultimately, sanctification goes to the heart and brings about a transformation of all our desires and allegiances. In the middle of the mess—and that’s what we are as a work-in-process—we bear with one another, confronting the idols and unbelief and administering lots of grace. As the apostle Paul instructed Timothy:
… preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)