I love to bake – cookies, cakes, slices, bread, you name it, I’ll attempt to make it. I am always up for trying something new; in fact, you will rarely find that I make the same treat twice. About a year ago I tried my hand at making sourdough bread. I made my own natural yeast starter, fed it and looked after it, and eventually once it had grown, attempted to make bread. My very first loaf was a complete failure. It was dense, barely rose and did not look like sourdough in the slightest. My attempts improved very minimally over the following weeks, but I certainly never achieved anything close to the perfect sourdough loaves that you find at the farmers market or artesian bakeries with that classic open crumb. And as much as I desperately wanted to create beautiful ‘social-media worthy’ bread, and was aware of the many intricacies in the art of creating sourdough, the problem was not with my starter, my kneading technique or my oven – it was with my patience. I simply didn’t have the patience to mix, let my dough rise for some 20 hours, only to knead it once more, and let it rise for another 12 hours before baking it. I wanted my bread to be made quickly, to eat it that day (so much so I actually tried adding instant yeast to the mix …) So needless to say I quickly resorted to returning to normal instant-yeast bread recipes that involved much less waiting-time.
Unfortunately, my lack of patience is not limited to bread making. Recently, I have noticed moments where I have lacked motivation for gospel work due to a seeming lack of visible kingdom growth from my efforts. It is not infrequently that I find myself seeking to see the fruit of my ministry work; an outward change in the people I invest in and pray for, a growth in numbers attending our church services, or even just people I know maturing in certain aspects of their character. And of course there is nothing wrong with desiring to see the results of God’s work in people’s lives – but if we allow the lack of visible growth to be a source of discouragement for us, we can actually be placing misaligned or unrealistic expectations on how God works – even if we feel like we are being patient!
In Luke 13 Jesus teaches us some profound truths about the Kingdom of God. In v10-17, Jesus heals a woman who had been bent over by a disabling spirit for 18 years. He also rebukes the ruler of the synagogue for his lack of compassion, and desire to fulfill the letter of the law (Jesus had healed and therefore “worked” on the sabbath), rather than the glory of God displayed in the power of releasing and healing this woman. We read that ‘all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him” (v17). This display of power, that could deliver this woman from the power of satan, raises the question,’if Jesus is establishing the Kingdom of God, what will it look like?’ (v18).
Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to two things, a mustard seed which grows into a tree (v19) and a leaven, the yeast in the dough that makes it slowly rise. Both these things, a seed and yeast may seem small or insignificant, but with time, they grow to have extensive impact.
I have often considered myself patient in thinking that it could be months or maybe even a year or two to see change in myself or other people. God has been teaching me recently that the Holy Spirit prompts and works in His perfect timing – which is not my timing. I have learnt that I must be patient in the knowledge that what I may already know to be true, or may be convicted by, is not necessarily the same for anyone else. However, the timeframe of a mustard seed growing into a tree, or the yeast in the bread is so much greater than my supposed patience. This image of slow growth that Jesus provides is teaching us that our patience in the growth of God’s Kingdom is not in the realms of weeks or months, or maybe even years – it’s lifetimes. The fruit of ‘your’ ministry may not be for you to see, but may be for the generation after you. Just as I needed to be patient for the yeast to work to create a sourdough loaf, we need to be patient in God’s work in others. And this is not the exception. It is not that most people will change quickly, and the Kingdom will grow rapidly but we need patience for the odd occasion when things are a bit slower – No! Jesus is teaching us what the Kingdom of God is like; this is the norm for us. Patience, a firm trust in God’s perfect timing, and belief that he is faithfully producing fruit even if we cannot see it yet, are prerequisites for continued service in ministry work.