For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 1:8
I have read before of the fact that one of the traits that enables humans to dominate other animals that are otherwise bigger or stronger is our endurance. Human beings cannot outrun many animals, but we can out-persevere them through relentless pursuit. In primitive societies, our success as hunters is not due to great bursts of speed but our ability to chase mile after mile until the prey is worn down. Consistency trumps short, intense bursts.
The same is true of living for God through Christ. If you want to live for God through Christ, you must do so on a regular basis and not via intermittent streaks. When we attempt to live for God through our own power rather than Christ's, we often fall into a pattern of short-lived bursts of personal "holiness" only to fall back into old patterns after a few days or weeks.
Walking Versus Sprinting
I remember doing this as a young man in my teens. I would read the Bible in streaks, sometimes reading the Bible various days in a row, only to go weeks without cracking the spine. One of the problems is that living for God was only understood by me as an obligation without a plan, a goal without a process to get there, and a hope without the necessary habits to achieve it.
Slowly, over time, my life gradually shifted focus from doing things by my own strength to doing things as I understood God wanted them to be done, and this meant changing my daily habits more than steeling myself for long runs of certain godly behaviors I believed I was supposed to achieve.
The difference can be subtle. Many people will try to structure God into their day, but fewer seem to understand that God has to structure your conception of your structure of your day. Living for God doesn't add something to your life - it replaces it.
We can think of our lives as a long walk, with each day comprised of a series of steps, and each step represents a choice that we make. This helps us to make sense of Paul's admonitions to put off the old self and put on the new in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, and also of all the language in Scripture regarding the way we walk, that is, how we live. What path are your steps tracing?
The Importance of Consistency
People often feel a kind of guilt and shame for a failure to follow consistent habits, but mistakenly think they can make up for a lack of consistency yesterday with extra intensity today. But it doesn’t work like that. No moments are ever recovered. No moments allow do-overs. Once time is lost it is gone forever. Each moment presents an opportunity to do what is good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom. 12:2). Someone living for God submits their moments to the will of God above their own. So much of living for God through Christ is living from day to day the prayer, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." That is to say, not my kingdom come, not my will be done.
In all of this, the admonition from the apostle Peter is helpful for understanding what we should be about. He mentions first certain qualities. They are listed earlier in the passage as qualities which ought to supplement our faith. That is, faith is the core or foundation and the qualities are added to or built upon the faith. The qualities Peter lists are virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
Notice that none of these qualities can be developed in a moment or through intermittent streaks! These simply do not work as streaks. They only work, and only are true of a person, if they form a part of daily habit and practice. We would do better to consider ways in which we can cultivate and inculcate practices conducive to these qualities into the fabric of our lives. There is little sense in setting arbitrary goals which our current character simply will not reach.
Trust the Process
So often, it seems, we attempt to force ourselves to act like someone we aren't because we think that's who we should be. This doesn't work because our willpower breaks down and we revert to our normal life patterns. You can only sprint so long before you are reduced to your regular jogging pace. Instead, I believe a text like 2 Peter implies that our goal should consider not only where we ought to be but also where we currently are. This is crucial because how we currently are is determined mostly by our daily habits of thinking, desiring, and acting, and changing how we are will require adjusting our daily habits in the appropriate direction.
So it is that Peter can mention that these qualities should be increasing. Notice that they don't spontaneously mature! Instead, these qualities are the eventual results of a painstaking commitment to them over time. We do not live for God through Christ in short bursts. None of these qualities is developed in short bursts in a short period of time. Their development is gradual over a long period of time.
And if we will trust in this gradual development, this is where and how we will see fruitfulness and effectiveness. Of course, this is the goal that is so often at the forefront of our minds. "I want to be fruitful! I want to be effective!" But so often we forget or don't know what is required to get there. We have the goal without the daily habits to get there. We substitute our desires for God's plans, and we fail.
Far better to see and follow God's blueprints than ours. If we would live for God through Christ, we must listen to how he says it works rather than substitute our own methods.