The Slowness of God
After nearly a year of lockdown and restrictions, how can we wait well for God to act?
The Lord is not slow and keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. (2 Peter 3:9)
Nine months on and we’re still stuck in Covid-gear. The novelty of being a YouTube star has long since worn off and now we’re thoroughly jaded. We’ve written and read endless articles (yes, like this one!) about what to do, what not to do, and what to learn while pastoring in a pandemic. Surely there’s not anything more to say or learn – we get it!
So, please Lord: release the pause button and let us get back to some ministry-normality.
Our impatience is natural at one level – we are finite beings after all, so our timescales will always feel pressurised by the shortness of our days. But we are also children of a ‘get it done now’ culture. Every day the news is full of shrill demands that the Government hurry-up and fix our problems – and so it is easy to quickly expect that God, above all, should be turning things around in double-quick time.
Yet so often that is not our experience, nor is it a pattern we generally see in Scripture. Much to our human dismay and frustration, God never seems to be rushing or fast-tracking his work in the world:
- Abraham waiting for Isaac, year after year, as his later life seemed to drain away;
- Joseph languishing in prison for 11 years, reaching the cusp of freedom, only to be sent back for two more;
- The Hebrew nation grubbing in Egypt for 400 years;
- Moses, the Israelites’ great deliverer, washed-up and tending goats for 40 years;
- The centuries-long succession of kings and prophets;
- The 400 years of ‘nothing much’ between Malachi and Matthew;
- After the birth of Christ and the buzz around Bethlehem, silence for three decades.
It’s all so slow. Why not go immediately from Eden to Bethlehem (or at least to Abraham)? Why the long interludes? Why the need to string things out?
Now, we love to preach lines like ‘God can do in five minutes what it would take us a lifetime to achieve’. Well, of course, that’s true but it’s not normal. God usually takes a lifetime to do a lifetime’s work. Just as well too, because the problem with those celebrated ‘overnight transformations’ is that they often have the painful habit of reversing themselves overnight too.
It’s a reminder that sin and redemption are not little trifles. Our salvation is not a quick or easy fix – its magnitude and depths have cosmic dimensions far beyond human comprehension, never mind timescales.
So, we can be very thankful that God is not pressurised by our sense of time - whether that be long or short (2 Peter 3:8) - and we should be reassured by this in ministry-life too. Some prayers get answered quickly and dramatically, but many more are the seeds of fruit that may not be harvested for years, and in some cases even after our deaths.
Seeing the bigger picture
God’s apparent slowness brings home to us that our greatest hopes can never be short-term – whether a Covid vaccine, an economic upturn, or the resumption of full church services (as welcome as those things will be).
Thus, whether in Egypt, exile or lockdown, the great horizon of God’s people lies in a completely renewed and redeemed world. Our ‘promised land’ does not lie beyond Easter 2021 but in the coming reign of Christ.
So, as Peter encouraged his first-century readers – who were even then feeling the strain of having to wait - let’s steady ourselves and remember:
The need to be patient
Nine months of lockdown really is a drop in the ocean in the great purposes of God. It’s tough but life has been (and is elsewhere) much tougher for God’s people.
Let’s be people of the big picture and remember that God is not stressing. Covid will last just as long as God needs it to in order to accomplish his plans.
The need to persevere
That our contemporary, Western civilization, with all its hubris and godlessness, isn’t snuffed out by God is a miracle – but it’s a miracle of grace. God, despite all the provocation, continues to hold out the offer of salvation to our nation and world. And he does so with a timescale that even his enemies think is beyond reasonable (2 Peter 3:4, 9).
So, let’s keep praying, preaching, serving, and toughing it out - doing it all again each week. Because it is in the continuation of those things that God shows the world his staggering patience, his love, and that he still has souls to save.
The need for godliness
Waiting is wearisome and delay can create doubt. Temptation thrives on stress and boredom, and sin will quickly come knocking to offer us ‘escape’.
Don’t be deceived: although the end (whether of Covid or of these ‘last days’) may feel a long-time coming, it will come. So, let’s keep spiritually alert, with ‘lamps filled and trimmed’.
Because if we’re ready to welcome the King, we’ll be more than ready to resume ‘normal ministry’ or whatever else may lie ahead.