Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Taking the time to see the work of God

There is a quote attributed to the late actress Carrie Fisher in which she said: “Instant gratification takes too long.” We live in that kind of culture. There is a kind of virtue our society places on being able to do things quickly. It once was said that things worth doing are worth doing well. Perhaps, that old proverb modified for today might read that things worth doing are only worth it if done quickly.   

While there are many aspects of our lives in which "instant" or "quickly"  have been real improvements to our lives, there are others which simply require the passage of time. They take a passage of time that simply cannot be sped up. Education, for example, from kindergarten to college, still requires many years of study. A child, within his or her mother's womb, still needs about nine months to become developed enough to be born.

The Bible is full of examples where God's work among His people, as communities of faith, or as individuals, requires time. We learn that trying to speed up the process could actually work against our best interests. When the people of Israel were about to start the process of conquering the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, God indicated that the conquest would not happen quickly because it should not happen quickly. God told His people:

"The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you."  Deuteronomy 7:22 (ESV)  A rapid conquest would bring about other problems. Rapid human de-population would lead to the rapid  growth of the number of wild beasts in the land. A successful and stable conquest required time.

It can also take time to recognize God's work in our lives. For some of God's people, very obvious changes in them have happened quickly. However, that is not always the case. In the Gospel accounts, we find that our growth in Christ is likened to the growth of wheat. The Lord Jesus told the parable of the wheat and weeds. They both develop, side by side, until the time of harvest. (Matthew 13:18-30). Growth in evil happens over time. So does the growth of holiness in Christ. 

Please recognize that there are occasions where it may take time to see that God is doing a truly wonderful work. We find such an example in the 28th chapter of the book of Acts. In that chapter, Luke gives the account of a shipwreck. Those who escaped the shipwreck, including the apostle Paul, find themselves on the island of Malta.  In that account, we find that after getting ashore, Paul gathered some sticks for firewood. Luke tells us:

"When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand."

The reaction of the onlookers made perfect sense:

"When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm."

You could imagine what it would have been like to have been there to witness that event. Everyone was waiting for Paul to fall over ill or dead.  And waiting, and waiting...

Luke confirms this: "They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead."

However, the unexpected happened, not the expected natural outcome of a viper bite.

"But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god."

Those onlookers drew the wrong conclusion about Paul being a god. However, they drew the right conclusion that something supernatural and out of the ordinary happened. 

Sometimes, when God works miraculously, the effects are sudden and dramatic. It does seem to be more the case that when God is working among His people, that work looks, at the beginning, like an ordinary event. Yet, it takes the patient watching of His people to know that something different, something unusual, is slowly unfolding. It simply takes time to distinguish between an everyday event and something special which God is doing.  Keep this in mind when you see what God does and has done, in the lives of His people, especially your own. 

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