I was shocked over the last month to see how the sport of soccer caught on in this country. Perhaps you were too as you witnessed the large crowds that gathered in places like Chicago, New York and Seattle to watch each American match. To see the banners waving and to hear their chants. To see passion and intensity.
I mean, did you see the reactions people had when the Americans scored? It was amazing.
I’ve been quietly becoming a fan of soccer for years. Since the World Cup in 1994, I have been captivated by the way it is so global, so beautiful when played at a high level. But I say quietly because in the past it has been almost taboo to be an American who enjoys soccer. No one wants to be painted with the big scarlet “S”, because doggone it, we’re Americans. And there’s no shortage of people who aren’t shy to explain why soccer has struggled to catch on in this country. From the typical to the flat-out ignorant and bigoted.
But the reasons always boil down to this: it’s boring.
At least that’s the way people see it. And you know what? I get it. People have a hard time sitting for 2 hours hoping for those few moments when you can really explode with excitement. Baseball suffers in our modern age for the same reason. We want to be titillated with excitement almost constantly. We need action and scoring. The majority of a soccer match is a slow-building tension that makes every goal a huge moment. The game just struggles to survive our ever-shrinking attention spans.
Which leads me to these agrarian metaphors we see throughout the Bible. I can imagine that these comparisons resonated in the ears of the original audience much more than they do in most of ours. Plants and seeds and dirt was their daily world; mine is filled with cars and cell phones and fast food.
But even though they spring from a world different from my own, they speak to me. They speak a truth that I need to hear: That spiritual growth is slow, steady and gradual.
In an age that demands instant results, this can be an unpopular message. We are used to almost instant gratification for most of our desires, but the process of becoming a new creation in Christ can seem torturously slow.
I am not the person I want to be today.
I will not be the person I want to be tomorrow.
Many give up for this reason. Because even when I do the hard work of cultivating “good soil” in my heart, I rarely see large leaps. Instead I see small changes, hints and whispers of spiritual progress.
But this is the way of all growth. You ever have one of those moments where you suddenly look at your kid or relative in a different light and you suddenly realize how big they are? All at once you realize how much they have grown. There they are, growing right in front of your eyes. Yet you are mostly unaware of what is happening in each moment, all the time.
This is why these biblical metaphors are so important. It’s the same thing I love about the slow burn of soccer and those moments when I realize my kids are growing. In between the “aha” moments of life are all of the ones where momentum is slowly building, when growth is steadily taking root and moving forward. And it’s all those moments in between that make those big ones so special.
Our kids don’t grow 3 inches at a time. We don’t make huge spiritual leaps daily like we may desire. Yet the Spirit is still at work, through sunshine and rain, light and darkness, taking root in our hearts.
It is this slow, steady process of growth that makes the big moments of spiritual realization possible.
The work you are doing to make your heart the “good soil” Jesus describes is worth the effort. Even when you don’t see the immediate results — when you read and pray and give of yourself and share your money and listen to others — it’s all worth it.
Because even when you don’t realize it, through both joy and pain, good times and bad, successes and failures, the Spirit is at work to transform your heart. And one day you can open your eyes to realize that you look more like Jesus than you realized.
That is the slow, steady process of growth.