Little by Little

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (Proverbs 13:11).

Hastily acquired wealth can disappear as quickly as a federal budget surplus. A lottery winner hits the jackpot, wins a large fortune, and relaxes, ready to glide through life without a financial care in the world. But his “good luck” doesn’t last. Within a few years his relationships are in shambles, his fortune gone. Likewise an inheritance launches a young man on a spending rampage. Within a matter of months he ends up with as little as he began, and for the remainder of his life, he’s haunted by a once in a lifetime opportunity squandered away.

The sad failure of both men is hardly surprising. Building wealth requires hard work, thrift, saving, restraint, and the willingness to delay gratification, virtues cultivated in the man who patiently gathers little by little.

What’s true of finances is true of spiritual riches, too. Remember Patience and Passion in Bunyan’s Interpreter’s House? Passion, his horizon limited to what he can see and touch, wants everything the world offers, and now! His desire granted, he ends life in rags, unprepared for eternity.

But Patience, by God’s grace, is wise. He is able to distinguish between the evanescent and eternal, and  chooses to pursue treasures that last, even though it means waiting, lots of waiting. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). He will possess in this life only a small portion of what God has determined to give him; his full inheritance awaits him in the life to come. Waiting is not a problem for Patience. He views life now from the perspective of eternity, and little by little acquires eternal riches that will “ne’er be touched by time’s rude hand.”

Each month brochures cross my desk offering programs to jump-start my congregation’s spiritual life. Within the span of 40 days or so, we can be on the fast track to spiritual victory. While I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit can grant seasons of exceptional spiritual growth, I am persuaded that these periods are rare. We shouldn’t assume them; much less should we expect them to be a regular feature of spiritual life. What is certain is that we will grow little by little as we faithfully and prayerfully attend the services of worship on the Lord’s Day; as we develop lives of disciplined prayer and study; as we imitate Christ in the routines of  life; as we carefully manage our wealth as stewards of God; as we raise our families; as we care for the needy; and as we cultivate godly friendships that encourage growth in grace.

I believe it was James Boice who observed that the church tends to overestimate what it can accomplish in a few years and to underestimate what it can accomplish in twenty years. Substantial changes require substantial commitments over a substantial period of time as God purifies our hearts, sanctifies our minds, and strengthens our wills.

Spiritual treasures gathered little by little, by God’s grace, yield an abundantly satisfying harvest of righteousness.

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