Timanthes, was an ancient Greek painter from the 4th century B.C. who was studying under a respected tutor.
There’s a legend that he once painted an exquisite work of art, but he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent several days gazing at it, instead of finishing it.
One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, he ran to his teacher, who admitted he destroyed the painting. “I did it for your own good. That painting was retarding your progress. Start again and see if you can do better.”
Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.
When I read that story, although I was unfamiliar with that work of art, I was struck by the line, “That painting was retarding your progress.”
Sometimes our success, or at least our perception of success can be one of the greatest obstacles to our continued success. We may allow our past accomplishments to hinder us from making future progress. For improving. For getting better. For growing. For achieving our true potential.
The apostle Paul would be regarded as a successful minister of the gospel by any measurement. Yet, in his later years of life, after three missionary journeys, establishing churches all over the Roman empire, mentoring young preachers, writing more letters than any other apostle, and testifying of his faith before Kings and governors, he offered this insight:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
Paul was still reaching forward. Pressing toward the prize. And striving to make progress.
Our spiritual progress can be impeded at any point in life, young or old when we become self-satisfied. When we become comfortable with the status quo. When we become content with where we are, who we are, what we’re doing.
Our growth in the spiritual graces, developing the fruit of the spirit, and becoming more like Christ will not be attained accidentally, or automatically by simply attending church services three times a week. Martin Luther King, Jr was right when he wrote, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goals requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Of course, as George Bernard Shaw reminds us, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Therein is the challenge. We are often resistant to change. Complacency is an enemy of change, and thus progress.
Sometimes we can become discouraged and disheartened when it seems that we’re not moving quickly enough in the direction we want and need to go. However, as my favorite author anonymous once said, “Small progress is still progress.” Or as Robin Sharma wrote, “Slow, steady progress is better than daily excuses.”
Distractions and delay are an opponent of progress. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the goal. Be intentional. Keep moving forward. Little by little.
Daily devotions. Consistent Bible study. Persistent prayer. Introspective meditation. Encouraging fellowship.And reading challenging, inspirational books. All of these will both encourage and assist you in your spiritual progress.
Like Paul, we must persist in progressing forward until the day we die. I love the story of the young reporter who interviewed Pablo Casals only a year before he died.
“Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?”
“Because I think I’m making progress,” Casals replied.
Are you making progress?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman