In the minds of many, grace is a legal concept – an expression of the kindness of God in the forgiveness of sins. As such, grace is instant and complete. This fits well within the legal conceptions of salvation. In the classical understanding of the Orthodox faith, salvation can indeed have a quality of “suddenness” – the thief on the Cross found paradise “in a single moment” according to the hymns of the Orthodox Church. But for most people – salvation is a life-long process in which we “work out our salvation from day to day in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). That experience, like most of life, has a slow quality to it.
From Prayer by the Elder Sophrony:
At times prayer seems over-slow in bringing results, and life is so short. Instinctively we cry, “Make haste unto me.” But He does not always respond at once. Like fruit on a tree , our soul is left to scorch in the sun, to endure the cold wind, the scorching wind, to die of thirst or be drowned in the rain. But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, all will end well.
We live in a culture of fast food, and tend to want grace to operate on the same speed track. Some versions of Christianity make grace as “quick” as walking the aisle. This, of course, is misleading.
In my experience, grace works on a level that is proper to human beings with some notable exceptions (but even then one can wonder). Grace takes time because we are not built on a fast track. Human beings don’t wean until about 2 1/2 years, properly (women you may correct me). We take 9 months of gestation, and we do not reach puberty for 13 years, traditionally. We are not instant people.
Neither does grace work on such an instant level (or is not at least noticeable on such an instant level). We should know that to be human requires years for some things, including things pertaining to God.
I am comforted, that, unlike physicists, theologians do not reach their best work until near retirement age. I’m waiting for my maturity!
But each of us would do well to slow down our expections and speed up our efforts of prayer. Pray more, but wait on God. This lesson of patience is not something God does to us to torture us, but is something He does to bring us back into line with our humanity. Let patience have her perfect work (James 1:4).