"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge,; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."--2 Peter 1:5-8 This year, I've been reading Oswald Chambers' classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest. (Hopefully I'll actually finish it this year!) He writes,
"'Add' means there is something we have to do. We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do. We cannot save ourselves nor sanctify ourselves, God does that; but God will not give us good habits, He will not give us character, He will not make us walk aright. We have to do that all ourselves, we have to work out the salvation God has worked in."
It would be nice if after we make the decision to follow Jesus that everything else is changed too. That can happen, of course, but unfortunately, that is not the way it usually works. Instead, Peter tells us to "make every effort" to add the qualities of faith. This suggests that we are proactively looking for ways to grow these graces in our lives. It is not only when it is convenient or when I have the time. There is a diligence and investment into our relationship with God too. It is not a one-way street. Yes, as Chambers writes, there are things only He can do. However, we must also be willing to expend some effort.
One of the the ways that I can do this is by cultivating godly habits. For me, I have found that merely focusing on external behaviors without having an internal motivation usually results in short-lived and unsatisfying results. For example, I know I should read my Bible every day and pray, but realistically speaking, it is hard to find the time to do this when there are so many other things vying for my attention. It really isn't a very practical thing to do when there are so many other pressing needs that need to be done---you know, RIGHT NOW.
However, I have had to learn to not look at Bible reading or study as optional but foundational. Even if I don't see how it applies to my current life situation, I believe that every time I spend time with God, He is slowly shaping the way I think so that when the time does come to make hard decisions, I am ready and equipped to do so. It is like diligently saving your pennies for a rainy day. You don't know when they're going to come, but you sure are glad you made the effort instead of spending it all when times are good. Having a storehouse of God's truth built into me takes effort, but it also reaps untold benefits when I need it most.
Another way is allowing Him to build character in us. Usually, I have found that it is not merely through prayer, but by making the hard choices. Tonight, I was reading the book Little Britches to my kids. The main character, a young boy named Ralph, was learning how to train his horse to obey. He was having a hard time watching his horse suffer in the training process, but he was told, "Yep, they's easier ways, and it would be easier for him to forget. The lessons you remember longest are the ones that hurt you the most when you learn 'em."
God gives us many opportunities to learn obedience throughout our days. It can be learning to hold our tongue instead of letting our anger fly out in words that hurt. It can be learning to give up our agenda for the sake of someone else. It can simply be doing the unseen or unrecognized faithfully without complaining. "Yep, they's easier ways" that God can train us, but I know for me, the ones that have been the most challenging are the ones that stick the longest and have changed me the deepest.
The good news is that there is a promise: as the qualities of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love begin to accumulate in our lives, they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. I don't know about you, that is one of my greatest fears---that at the end of my life I would have nothing to show for it. As I make every effort in my walk with Jesus, not for salvation, but to develop godly character, my life will be both effective and productive.
Now, isn't that worth every effort?