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The Slowness & Speed of God

Slow & Fast

by Dennis Pollock

The Scriptures tell us that God made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. God most definitely has “ways” and it behooves His people to learn them. This does not mean that you will always figure everything out God may be doing in your life, but knowing the ways of God goes a long way toward making life more enjoyable and less fearful.

One of the most fascinating ways of God has to do with His slowness and speed as He deals with His children and responds to their prayers and desires. The Bible reveals something that sounds a bit paradoxical: that God is slow… and fast.

The Scriptures give a great deal of evidence for this. Space permits only the briefest study, but once you see the principle you will begin to recognize a great many other verses that support this truth, as well as identifying it abundantly in your own experience (if you have walked with God for more than a month or so!).

“That men always ought to pray”

One of Jesus’ parables is a prime example of this concept. We read in Luke of a widow who was determined to get justice from an adversary that had done her wrong. She went to a judge who neither “feared God nor regarded man,” and he blew her off. Not to be ignored, she kept coming back again and again until finally, out of annoyance, the judge ruled in her favor and gave her what she asked. This unjust judge said to himself, “because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:5).

This parable has a wealth of truth packed in it, and it has always intrigued me. We are told at the beginning by Luke what Jesus’ intent was in giving the parable. He states, “He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” The point of it all is to encourage us to pray! The implication here is that it is possible and even natural to lose heart in our praying. The reason losing heart is so easy is that prayers don’t always get answered immediately. If we had an answer to our requests on our doorstep by the next morning, none of us would lose heart. But that is not usually the case. Or if we saw our situation improve noticeably after every prayer session, we would never be discouraged. But what about those times when things do not improve, or may even get worse? And what happens when we have been praying for months and still no sign of an answer from heaven?

This, Luke tells us, is why Jesus gave us this parable. It is important to note that eventually the woman gets exactly what she wants. And it is fascinating to hear how Jesus makes application of it to our lives:

Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.

The last two sentences seem to be contradictory. If God is bearing long with us, how is it that He will avenge us speedily? Here we see the slowness and speed of God. Often in our lives He seems to be in far less hurry than we are, moving at a snail-like pace, yet there are other times when He can and does act with blazing speed that makes our head spin. Slow… and then fast. This is one of the ways of God, and knowing this can help you to make sense of many situations that otherwise would seem to make no sense at all.

Corn & the Sickle

This principle is described in another of Jesus’ parables. He states:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

Plant maturation is a very slow process. Go out into a freshly planted corn field. Pull up a rocking chair and wait for the plants to appear. I hope you bring a good book (or two or three!). Days will pass with no apparent activity. If you are sitting there as a cheerleader, trying to talk the seeds into springing forth, you will soon be frustrated. They will take their time and there is precious little that can be done to hurry the process.

After a number of days little tiny green blades of corn slowly break through the surface of the ground, but the growth is completely imperceptible. If we could pretend that the little corn shoot has a personality he might well be complaining about the terrible slowness of his growth. And to make matters worse, the farmer seems to pay very little attention to him! He is busy with other matters and seems to have forgotten his little corn shoot. If only the farmer would come and harvest him! It is getting very old standing in this dirty field day after day. Surely he is destined for greater things!

Perhaps the young plant decides to persuade the farmer through calling out (in corn language of course!) to the farmer. He pleads, he whines, he begs, he snivels. Still nothing moves the farmer. He wisely ignores the corn, knowing that his time has not yet come. In the mind of the little corn shoot his farmer has to be the slowest man on earth.

After months of waiting and gradual maturation, something miraculous happens. Ears of corn appear on the plants. The farmer, who has been watching carefully, recognizes that the time of harvest has come. Suddenly this man who appeared so slow and unconcerned moves into action. The combine is put in working order and in a very short time that farmer is out in his fields working furiously to get the crop in. He may work late into the night, he may skip meals, but he is determined that he will harvest his crop. Jesus puts it this way: “But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:29).

This speaks of the seasons of our lives. God often appears not only slow to change things, but even oblivious and unconcerned. Appearance is not reality! If that farmer had tried to harvest the corn when it was one foot tall, he might have looked like he was farming, but in truth he would be doing nothing but ruining his crop. There was no grain at that stage. He could have gone over his fields with a combine twenty times without harvesting even a single ear of corn. He was not slow; he was smart! He had a definite goal in mind, and he wasn’t about to jeopardize his harvest merely to give the appearance of activity or to satisfy his bored corn plants. Only when the grain ripened was he ready to act, but once that occurred he demonstrated that he could move with lighting speed when the time was right.

Dungeons & Pharaohs

Joseph thrown in pitA real life Biblical example of this truth can be seen in the life of Joseph. Because of their jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Midianite traders when he was seventeen years old. He would spend the next thirteen years as a slave of Potiphar and then a prisoner, after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape. Both in slavery and in the prison Joseph quickly rose to leadership, having his administrative gifts finely honed in preparation for his destiny as a ruler in Egypt.

It is heartbreaking to read what happens after he interprets Pharaoh’s butler’s dream and gets him to promise to speak about him to Pharaoh when he is restored to his old job. The butler gets restored, just as Joseph predicts, and promptly forgets all about Joseph! We could be tempted to think, “What a piece of bad luck for Joseph!” But luck had nothing to do with this. The Heavenly Father, as a wise farmer, saw that the grain was not yet ripe, and refused to put in the sickle. Two years later Pharaoh goes to bed and has a pair of very strange dreams that obviously mean something significant. When the butler hears of the dreams, Joseph immediately comes to mind. He tells Pharaoh of the young Hebrew man with the strange ability to interpret dreams.

At this point we see once again the principle of slow and fast. To Joseph the last thirteen years must have seemed like an eternity. If anyone could have accused God of being slow, certainly Joseph seemed to have the right. But notice what the inspired Scripture says about how Joseph was brought out of prison to meet with Pharaoh and his date with destiny:

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.

Joseph became the proverbial “overnight success” in Egypt. Quickly he was shaved, quickly he changed his clothes, and quickly he went from prisoner to ruler. The grain had ripened and immediately the sickle was applied.

The Point of it All

In our fast paced world we shudder at the thought of lengthy waits for any good thing. And if we are in situations that are downright unpleasant, we will make great effort and pay any price to extract ourselves. But God has very definite ideas about what is best for His children, and all of our pleadings and ingenuity will not change His mind about the time necessary for us to stay in our present situations.

One of the main reasons God seems so slow to act has to do with His desire to build character in us. We would love it if character could be instantly applied through a miraculous heavenly zap, or perhaps the laying on of hands. But character has never come that way. Paul tells us that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character. Most of us don’t especially like the word perseverance. It implies a lengthy time in situations that are less than ideal. Vacations in Hawaii don’t require perseverance. It takes no perseverance to watch a great movie. Perseverance is needed when things aren’t so great. Thus the slowness of God.

But our Father is not only slow – He can also move with blazing speed. The reason for this is His great love. God may find it necessary to subject His children to unpleasant (or unexciting) seasons for the building of character, but once His object is accomplished He will move quickly to bring that season to an end. As any loving father, He will never subject us to pain or pressure one second longer than is necessary. Thus the speed of God.

When we understand the ways of God, we can more fully cooperate with His program in our lives. And we can have the patience to allow God time to do all He desires to do in us. A man about to enter brain surgery would be most foolish to insist that his surgeon finish within an allotted amount of time. To arbitrarily fix a one hour time limit on the surgeon would be the height of insanity. Let that surgeon take as long as he needs. If he is especially careful and methodical – all the better! Far better to have an extra hour in surgery than to live a lifetime with the consequences of a hurried procedure.

Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again, not only to provide the forgiveness of our sins, but also to reproduce His character in our lives. Having trusted in Him for salvation from the wrath of God, we can also trust Him as our great Sanctifier. Whether He appears to be moving slow or fast, we can be sure that He is always moving at just the right speed.

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