The ways to measure progress are a numerous as the situations in which one is looking for change. When it came to my elbow recovery, my therapist measured it numerically. His goal was to get my arm to open up to within at least ten degrees of horizontal, and he was diligent in his efforts to achieve it. From heating pads to bicep muscle massages to physical manipulation of the affected arm, he used every tool in his arsenal to loosen things up. Stopping only occasionally to briefly measure his success, he'd jot the numbers quickly on his hand in black sharpie before getting back to work, being careful not to lose any of what he had achieved in the process. For him it was primarily a numbers game, and he wanted to be able to give the doctor a positive report.
My surgeon saw things differently. Success in his mind was more subjective in nature, related more closely to restored function than any actual numeric value. He wanted me to be able to return to the lifestyle I enjoyed before the injury and to reenter the work force comfortably once more. In his view, the straightness of my arm mattered only to the degree that it helped me achieve those goals, and his advice and the expectations he expressed reflected that mindset.
Progress in my world was marked by the degree of surprise I experienced each time I suddenly noticed I was unconsciously using my arm in ways I had done before the injury. I would be in the middle of an action when it would suddenly hit me that I was using my right arm as before, rather than compensating with my left. All movement would then stop completely for a moment of surprised wonder, celebration, and gratitude. Those moments gradually multiplied in frequency and situation, and were the measuring stick I used in gauging my recovery.
Many are the ways we monitor spiritual progress, as well. Some of us set numerical goals, as in Bible chapters to read each day, verses to memorize, minutes to pray. Diligently we work at the words we say, the sins we avoid, the good deeds we achieve, all in the hope of hearing a positive word from God on Judgment Day.
But God sees things so differently than some of us imagine. Numbers matter little to Him, while changed hearts are huge in his estimation. His goal is to make us into the image of His Son, and He looks to see Jesus' likeness in the love we express in our everyday lives.
How do we measure our progress in that regard? Likewise we see it unexpectedly, when we suddenly realize we no longer lust for things we used to long for, or harbor hate over hurts experienced in the past. Perhaps we'll unconsciously say the right thing in a difficult situation, feel compassion in areas where there used to be none, or surprise ourselves with a sudden willingness to serve others in some capacity. Suddenly we stop as the revelation hits us, our eyes look up and our hearts connect in gratitude with the God who is working within us and likewise celebrates our every victory, no matter how small.
These are the moments God lives for, success measured in sights that delight His eyes and words of love that His heart more than His ears longs to hear.
“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 KJV)