A few Sundays ago the pastor at my hometown church preached on a very difficult story, which appeared in Judges 11:29-40. The story featured a man named Jephthah who fought the Ammonite people. Though he claimed to believe it was God’s will for him to be victorious over the Ammonite people, he still sought to bargain with God in order to win, saying, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 ESV). Long story short, he was victorious, and, upon returning home, his one and only daughter was the first person to exit his household, and he sacrificed her to God.
Any average person reading that story in the Bible probably wouldn’t know what to do with it. How could anyone be comfortable with the idea of our loving God allowing this man to sacrifice his one and only daughter as a burnt offering? As soon as I finished reading the passage, I had no idea how our pastor was going to teach on it. But somehow, he had prepared an incredible sermon. He explained what the man had done wrong here and what this story showed us about God’s good character. My mind was blown. It amazed me that he could read the same story as me, and where I begin to somewhat doubt God’s good character, he was able to demonstrate how it actually demonstrates God’s goodness and kindness. (P.S. You should definitely go listen to that sermon. Here’s the link.)
Rather than leaving church that day marveling at how much God loves us, I left feeling dejected. See, I’m studying Religion at school. I’m basically majoring in the Bible. I went to a Christian school for the majority of my life. I frequently read books about the Bible and theology and church history. Yet I still didn’t know how our pastor was going to make his way through that story. I doubted God’s goodness. I was annoyed with myself for never having even heard that story before, let alone read it and studied it myself. Honestly, I was kind of beating myself up about my lack of biblical knowledge, since I thought I should know more by this point. But worst of all, I focused on these negative emotions rather than reveling in knowing all that God had done to demonstrate his love for us (i.e. the Gospel).
A few days later, I was listening to a podcast from Saddleback Church entitled “Be Patient Like God.” Throughout the message, the pastor, Johnnie Moore, discussed patience, in all of its forms. The part that stuck out the most to me was when he explored patience in regards to spiritual growth. Moore said, “One of the ways you grow closer to God is to realize how patient He is with you, and one of the ways you grow closer to others is to be patient with them.”
There were 6 things Moore pointed out in his message:
- Our God is patient. (see Psalm 145:8)
- Our patient God gives us time to grow. (see 2 Peter 3:15 + Romans 2:4)
- Our patient God gives us space to grow. (see Romans 14:1 + Psalm 103:14 + 1 Peter 2:2)
- Our patient God helps us when we fail. (see 1 Timothy 1:16 + Proverbs 24:16)
- Our patient God comforts us when we are troubled. (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- Our patient God values patience. (see Colossians 3:12-13)
Y’all, this sermon was just so on point. God’s patience is something I’ve heard about, learned about, and read about for years now, but I guess it just never really sunk in. I was reminded of God’s patience when it comes to our spiritual growth— we don’t have to have it all figured out right now.
Learning and growing is essential to our walk with Jesus. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be regularly spending time in the Bible and studying God’s Word. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t do it nearly enough. But God doesn’t expect us to know everything. Whether you’ve been a Christian for as long as you can remember or you’re just now checking it out for the first time, it is crucial to remember that God is more concerned with your heart than how much knowledge you have acquired. God is far less concerned with how many verses you have memorized, your opinion on the whole Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, or if you can read the New Testament in the original language, than he is with your heart. Focusing on the truth of the Gospel is primary, and everything else comes after.
Additionally, we must keep in mind that not everyone has the same spiritual gifts (I was reminded of this by my cool friend Rikki). She told me to remember that since everyone has different spiritual gifts, such as teaching or discernment, studying the Bible or teaching it to others is going to come more naturally to some people than others. (Spiritual gifts are certain gifts given by the Holy Spirit when a person is saved. They can be found in Romans 12:6-8 + 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30 + Ephesians 4:11). Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 12 that certain spiritual gifts are not more important or better than others. They’re just different, and that should be celebrated! We shouldn’t keep comparing ourselves and our relationship with Jesus to other believers.
Finally, we need to be patient with others. Keep in mind I’m only talking about patience in regards to spiritual growth here. Sometimes we witness to a friend or disciple a new believer, and we have these extremely high expectations for them that we may not even have for ourselves. Maybe we expect them to attend church every Sunday and read their Bible every single day and immediately turn from some of their not-so-Christlike habits they may have developed over the years. But just as we celebrate God’s patience with us in our own spiritual growth, we must demonstrate that same patience, grace, and love to others as we encourage them to continue chasing after Jesus.
So keep learning as much as you can about God. Dive into theology; it helps you to better understand God’s character. But don’t get too caught up in it all. Don’t be like the Pharisees that Jesus criticized who knew everything there was to know about the Scriptures but who never surrendered their hearts. And don’t beat yourself up for not knowing as much as someone else. Definitely don’t think less of your spiritual gifts compared to someone else’s. Just keep taking that next step, and never stop seeking Jesus.