A year ago, I saw a man in physical therapy where I regularly work out who was very disabled, likely the result of a stroke or brain tumor. He used a walker but struggled to take steps. For a few weeks, I saw him regularly. It was obvious that he had a lot of determination. Even though it took him nearly 20 minutes to walk around an eighth of a mile track, he did it. And then I didn’t see him again, until yesterday, nearly a year later. He was using a cane instead of a walker and his gait had drastically improved. What progress this man has made, but he still has a lot more ahead of him to walk normally again. I believe he will reach that point.
When I had my knee replaced several years ago, I remember a couple of weeks after the surgery going for a walk with my wife. I walked 50 yards and was ready to turn around. A couple of days later, I walked twice that, and soon, I was walking normally. My progress was rapid.
Progress is extremely relative. It depends on where one starts. A stroke victim starts recovery in a very different place than one with a knee replacement or shoulder surgery. Progress will look very different in each situation. Yet, making progress is the goal. With children, physical and mental development are expected a long a timeline, some a little sooner and some a little later. However, if little or no progress is occurring, parents and physicians will know something is amiss.
Spiritual progress also varies among believers. C.S. Lewis once wrote that it doesn’t matter how close you are to God, but rather which way you are heading—toward him or away from him.
Progress in the spiritual realm, then, is a not a matter of proximity but of direction. Are we heading toward God or away from him?
I admit that over my life I have been far away from the Lord, but heading toward him, and closer to him but heading in the opposite direction. When I was 17, one day I felt the undeniable presence of God. I was far away from him, but from that day forward I began moving in his direction, progressing toward a relationship with him, which was established two years later. Slow, steady progress.
Early in my walk with God, there were the proverbial “three steps forward and two back,” but I progressed. I never had a “prodigal son” time where I just outright rejected the Lord and went my own way, but there were numerous times I consciously disobeyed him. However, with every act of confession and repentance, the Lord put me back on the road toward him. And like a muscle being exercised, every time I was tested and did not give up, I was strengthened in my faith.
As I reflect on my life to this moment, what I see is immense progress overall in my walk with the Lord. In the moment, sometimes I get discouraged because of my lack of faith or my disobedience in a certain situation, but it’s such an encouragement to see how far I’ve come. It’s also sobering to recognize how far I’ve yet to go. I think it’s this tension that keeps me going. Like any physical recovery, progress doesn’t equal perfection; it just means you’re getting closer to where you need and want to be.
Progress can often seem dauntingly slow, but we need not fret. We have a God who is patient with us, even a lifetime’s worth of patience! We don’t have to be perfect all at once. The important thing is that we make steady progress throughout our lives, and that we finish well. If our true hope is in Jesus, then we will persevere through this life and make progress toward the goal of becoming more and more like him, regardless of the setbacks along the way.
© Jim Musser 2019