Imagine being a fly on the wall the moment God spoke creation into existence (this of course is impossible since God spoke creation out of nothing, but you get the point). With a word, God hung stars in the sky and set time in motion.

There are too many galaxies to count, and the Milky Way alone is home to 100 thousand million stars, and each is beautiful. This is God’s doing. His creativity makes Rembrandt and Picasso seem like toddlers scribbling with crayons on the wall. God worked, he worked quickly, and he worked perfectly.

When I worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, I spent well over a year crafting a bill that never became a law—months and months of labor with nothing to show for it. God isn’t like that. He is always productive, and the speed with which he created the cosmos staggers the mind.

But God does not always work quickly. His plan of redemption, for example, unfolds quite slowly. Just ask Joseph, who spent two years in prison (Gen. 41:1) before being in a position to save his people. Consider Israel, who labored four hundred years in Egypt (Acts 7:6) before ever tasting the milk and honey of the promised land. Elijah endured persecution at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel before hearing the soft whisper of the Lord (1 Kings 19:1–8, 12).

God is quiet at times, even when His children suffer (Ps. 28:1; Isa. 42:14). Hebrews’ hall of saints is a sobering reminder that God’s timetable is not ours. This side of heaven, our desires often remain unrealized. Though full of faith, these believers failed to “receive what was promised” (Heb. 11:39). Their reward was yet to come.

It’s tempting to think God, who created all things so quickly, might lead us through tribulation with greater haste. But he doesn’t.

God tends to work slowly, then and now.

A wife is afflicted with chronic pain with never a day of relief. A promotion is promised but never comes. A child is confined to a wheelchair. A church never grows. God doesn’t promise earthly success. Furthermore, even when success does come, it’s almost always after an extended time of toil. The NFL running back doesn’t make the Super Bowl without years in the gym. College professor doesn’t stand up to teach without years in the library.

The pastor doesn’t see growth—not real growth—without years on his knees.

This is how God typically works, and it requires patience.

Tempted to give up

When I came to Atlanta, where I currently serve, I felt ready to pastor. I’d spent the previous 12 years training for ministry. I’d been part of two church revitalizations. I’d gone to seminary and sat under excellent teachers. I had a good idea, both from the pages of Scripture and from my own observation, of where a struggling church needed to go. However, a couple of years into ministry here, I’d become unsure of my future. I felt like an athlete who knows the right moves but isn’t sure he has the requisite athleticism to carry the team.

Perhaps you have a similar story. People slowly started leaving the church. We never faced a mass exodus, just a few people at a time. Criticisms piled up. Your sermons are too long. The services lack joy. We need a larger student ministry. You focus too much on membership. You talk too much about the cross. I received plenty of encouragement, too. I distinctly remember one older man lovingly telling me to stay the course. But criticism rings louder than encouragement in the ears of the impatient.

I’d been in ministry long enough to know a good leader won’t make everyone happy. Nonetheless, I began to wonder whether I had what it takes to move this particular church in the right direction. Was my “skill set” sufficient to bring the needed change to this Bible Belt congregation? Yes, God builds his church. No, God does not need my “eloquent wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:17). Yes, God “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). I knew all this intellectually, but my heart was out of breath trying to keep up with my head. In my sinful pride, I thought if I could just pastor better, things would turn around faster.

I was tempted to give up.

Pastors aren’t the only people who struggle this way. Marriages go through valleys. Friendships endure droughts. There are times when you do all the right things at work only to see every project fail. Those who labor in a fallen world are always pricked by thorns (Gen. 3:18). In the midst of all this, patience is not optional.

Growth and change take time

In those early days of my ministry, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed served me well. He said the kingdom of God is like “the smallest of all the seeds on earth,” yet the one that grows “larger than all the garden plants” (Mark 4:30–32). In other words, success isn’t always visible.

When it comes to his kingdom, God’s work is always present but often hard to see. I knew from this parable that Jesus’s ministry wouldn’t be what anyone expected—the cross before the crown. But I also realized his words applied to my quandary.

It takes years for a tiny mustard seed to grow into the plant that dwarfs all others. Why did I assume I’d see fruit in this life? There are no such guarantees in pastoral ministry. None. God blesses some churches with quick, radical, and amazing growth. But he tends to work slowly, like a mustard seed growing in rich soil.

You may be tempted to give up. Again, maybe you should seek out a change. I’m not writing to give you that counsel. I simply want you to know that waiting is possible because God is faithful to fill his servants with patience. You can wait because God loves to give his children patience. In fact, waiting is good.

Editors’ note: This article is an adapted excerpt Aaron Menikoff’s new book, Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission. This excerpt was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.