Hurry Kills Love

We are immersed in a culture that places a premium value on efficiency and speed–after all, “Time is money.” But what we often fail to realize is the immense toll on our relationships that stems from our frenetic, hurried pace. Jesus’ life modeled for us a pace that was not dictated by hurry, where the value of relationships superseded the value of efficiency.

Making space for the inefficiency of relating deeply with God and people is a goal I am both continually striving after and continually struggling with. The following quotes have been–and continue to be–a source of challenge and encouragement in that process. So don’t rush through them and immediately jump to the next thing on your task list, but linger long enough to allow the truth of them to sink into your heart. Better yet, print them out and go find a quiet corner where you can be alone and unhurried with God as you read and consider how He would have you respond.

Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book The Overload Syndrome: Virtually all of our relationships are damaged by hurry. Many families are being starved to death by velocity. Our children lie wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. God, I suspect, doesn’t fit any better into our breakneck schedules than our children do. We walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and then announce, “Sorry, I’ve got to run.”

Jesus never seemed in a hurry. Time urgency was not only absent from His life, it was conspicuously absent. Creating a margin—that space between our load and our limits—is perhaps one of the best ways to allow Christlike spontaneity and interruptibility back into our lives. Margin blunts hurry and allows us to focus on the divine appointments God sends our way.         [pg 125 & 132]

 

Paul Miller, in his excellent book A Praying Life: Theoretically, Jesus could have concentrated on his Father while he healed people. He could have used his deity to protect himself from the slowness and inefficiency of life. When the bleeding woman interrupts him on the way to Jairus’s house, Jesus could have healed her without stopping to connect with her as a person (see Luke 8:40-48). But he doesn’t. When he rejects Satan’s temptation to turn the stone into bread, he rejects efficiency and chooses love (see Matthew 4:1-4).

Jesus’ example teaches us that prayer is about relationship. When he prays, he is not performing a duty; he is getting close to his Father. Any relationship, if it is going to grow, needs private space, time together without an agenda, where you can get to know each other. This creates an environment where closeness can happen, where we can begin to understand each other’s hearts.

You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly.      [pg 46-47]

 

John Ortberg, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted: We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. This does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with his ability to give love when love was called for. He observed a regular practice of withdrawing from activity for the sake of solitude and prayer. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.   Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.

The most serious sign of hurry sickness is a diminished capacity to love. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.

It is because it kills love that hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry lies behind much of the anger and frustration of modern life. Hurry prevents us from receiving love from the Father or giving it to his children.      [pg 79, 81, 83]

May God grant us the grace to set aside our hurried hearts in order love well, like He does.

 

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Unhurried Presence

This past Sunday I had the rare opportunity to serve as the preaching pastor at my church, and the passage I preached from was John 4:1-43. In that story of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman beside Jacob’s well, one characteristic of Jesus that stands out is that He was unhurried. In fact, it is largely because He was unhurried that the life-altering conversation with the woman even took place and that so many others from that town in Samaria put their trust in Him.

In Jesus’ day, there was a constant undercurrent of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, so Jews traveling between Judea and Galilee would sometimes take the longer route that crossed the Jordan River and skirted around Samaria, with the express intent to avoid interaction with the despised Samaritans. On this occasion though, Jesus and His disciples take the direct route through the hills of Samaria on their way to Galilee (John 4:3-4). The conversation that ensues between Jesus and the woman is essentially an interruption in their journey, an interruption that extends through two whole days because Jesus concedes to the townspeople’s invitation to stay with them (John 4:40).

Jesus was unhurried. In the very circumstance where hurry would have been most easily justified, Jesus did the opposite: He lingered and conversed and engaged with people. His unhurried pace allowed Him to be fully present to the needs and longings of the people who crossed His path. And the result? A sinful, hurting woman’s eternal destiny was changed, and a whole town was altered because so many people put their trust in God.

How many opportunities like this do we miss, in which we could participate in an extraordinary work of God, but we are too hurried and preoccupied to even notice? Are you–am I–ever unhurried enough to be fully present to the person who crosses our path?

Alan Fadling, in his excellent book called An Unhurried Life, hits the nail on the head when he writes: “relationships grow best in unhurried time.”

In our hurry, we run right past God-invitations and God-opportunities without even realizing it. We rush to do things for God at such a pace as to miss the appointments his Spirit puts right in front of our noses…. We are moving too fast to stop and act and love.      [pg 85]

Being unhurried enough to be fully present to God–and to the people around us moment by moment–is a pace that must be cultivated and learned through intentional practice over time. But like any other habit, it is learned in the 1001 little, ordinary decisions we encounter every day:

  • Will I check my phone or will I linger in prayer for the first few moments of my day?
  • Will I look into my child’s eyes when he interrupts me for the 3rd time (or the 17th time!) this morning, or will I snap at him in frustration?
  • Will I think to pray for protection and blessing on the young, inexperienced driver who I’m stuck behind, or will I think only of how late I’ll be to work?
  • Will I notice the tight-lipped tension of my coworker at the office, and take the time to gently ask what’s going on?
  • Will I pause to praise God for the colors of the sunset or the fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine?
  • Will I see the person sitting alone at church and step away from my friends to go and greet her?

God carries out His extraordinary work through the ordinary moments of our everyday lives, and when we cultivate an unhurried pace like Jesus, we begin to see those ordinary moments as opportunities to participate in the joyous work of God.

A Soggy Sinner

In the beautiful city of Claremont where I live, there is a lively little section of shops and dining called The Village, and I occasionally go there to study and write. Recently I was sitting in the outdoor plaza there, which has a creative, interactive fountain that is well-loved by the children of our town. As I was working, I happened to see two ladies walking past with a little boy in tow, who was perhaps 5 years old. fountain ClaremontThe boy’s mom had a hold of his hand, but as they walked past the fountain (which the two ladies seemed not to notice at all) the boy was visibly attempting to get out of his mother’s grasp, and he kept longingly looking at the splashing water as he was dragged past it into The Coffee Bean cafe.

I smiled to myself at the boy’s obvious preference of playing in the fountain over sitting in the cafe while his mom and her friend chatted, and inwardly commiserated with him in his unfortunate situation. But then I got back to my work and forgot all about the boy, until some time later when he emerged with a grin from Coffee Bean, unrestrained by his mother’s grasp, and headed straight for the fountain. His mother was still deep in conversation with her friend, but threw a halfhearted threat in the boy’s direction, telling him not to get wet. Sarcasm got the best of me as I thought to myself, “Good luck–that’s not going to happen!”

Well, sure enough, the gravitational pull of the water proved to be greater than the fear of mom’s threat. But it was intriguing to watch that play out in front of me. First the boy just walked up to the edge of the fountain, then he pretended to dip one foot in the water. Eventually the foot that was hovering over the water accidentally got a little wet, then it was a full step down into the water with just that foot. After the first foot was soaked, it wasn’t long before the second foot joined in, and with both feet in the water, the delighted little boy couldn’t help but dance around and splash his feet.

I think you can guess as well as I could how this story played out. The stomping feet produced wet pants, and since the pants were wet, why not just sit down in the water? And since sitting down was so delightful, maybe laying down would be even better! In fact, the raised part of the fountain with water pouring into the lower part looks like a little waterfall, so why not crawl through that head-first? So it wasn’t long at all before this little boy was completely soaked from head to toe, and loving every minute of it. All the while, his mother would occasionally look up from her conversation and scold him, but never intervened to stop him.

As I watched this little drama unfold before me, I was enjoying the obvious delight of the little boy, yet at the same time I was dismayed by his complete disregard of his mother’s instructions (as well as her complete failure to follow through). It was as if James 1:14-15 was being acted out in front of me. James describes the progressive nature of sin, starting with desire, giving birth to sin, and finally leading to death. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

The little boy’s desire was obvious–he wanted to play in the fountain. That was not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when it was set against his mother’s command to not get wet. But desire is strong, and the boy was lured and enticed by what he desired, until desire morphed into action and the sin of disobedience was born. Unfortunately, if that little boy is not rescued from his sin through trusting in Christ, that seemingly insignificant disobedience will end in total separation from God–he will one day get what he desires and find that he has desired the wrong thing.

To be fair, the mother’s desire was also obvious–she wanted uninterrupted conversation with her friend. That also is not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when she elevated her enjoyment over the well-being of her son. She also was lured and enticed by what she desired, and her desire translated into disregard and abdication of her parental role. Unfortunately, what took place that morning was probably already a pattern in her life, and the longer that pattern persists, the greater her need of rescue grows.

So what are you–and what am I–desiring in this moment? Is that desire starting us on a path toward deeper trust and dependence on God? Or is it starting us down the path toward sin and death? We would do well to regularly consider those questions…

Everyday OTS

Instead of the typical Vacation Bible School (VBS) that most churches do (usually consisting of 5 weekday morning sessions), our church does a 3-day, 2-night Vacation Bible Camp (in which the kids and staff camp out for a little over 48 hours). The kids love it, but it’s a whole lot of work for all the volunteers! This year my older son served on the “work crew,” which was a team of 10 high-schoolers who set up tents, cleaned bathrooms, washed dishes, and generally served as the go-fers for the camp. My son (and the rest of the team) worked really hard, with great attitudes–I was super proud of them!

But I was even more pleased when the day after camp, while my son was still very tired, he walked in to the kitchen, saw the sink full of dirty dishes, and immediately stepped up and washed them all. No one asked him to do it, and no one praised him for doing it–he just did it.

Some opportunities to serve (OTS) are big and visible and short-lived, such as serving on the work crew for Vacation Bible Camp. In one sense, that kind of OTS is easy because there is immediate payoff in the kudos that it (rightfully!) procures. Other kinds of OTS are small and seemingly invisible and ongoing, such as washing dishes at home. Though the work itself may be exactly the same (they washed dishes at camp too), the fact that it’s everyday and unending and probably doesn’t garner any praise, makes it much harder to do with a joyful attitude. And I’m not just speaking about my son here!

In Jesus’ parable of the talents (in Matthew 25), the Divine commendation to the faithful servants is: “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” It did not matter how much each servant had started with or how much they had gained–what made them “good and faithful servants” was that they had invested and used the little that they had been given. Immediately after this parable, Jesus gives His well-known challenge that what Christians do for “the least of these,” Jesus sees as being done for Him directly. But in what Jesus says there, the righteous who give food and drink and welcome and clothes to Jesus (through doing it for unknown needy ones) don’t even know that they have done that. They are simply going about their everyday lives in kindness and generosity and love. It is an everyday OTS, not a one-time big event. They are being faithful in the little things, serving in the little ways, trusting that their heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward them (Matthew 6:4).

So I hope that we who call ourselves Christians will not only do the big OTS events, but will also faithfully invest in the small, unseen OTS of our everyday lives. Don’t get me wrong–serving at Vacation Bible Camp (or School, as the case may be) is a very valuable investment of time and talent, so do it, and do it joyfully! But don’t stop there and rest on your laurels, but look for the dishes that need to be washed or the disabled daughter who needs a smile or the stressed-out coworker who could use some help. It’s in those little, unseen OTS that we unknowingly serve our Savior and point others to Him.

Double-Sided Change

As a disciple-maker for Christ, I am fascinated by how people actually change and grow and mature in relationship with Christ–I want to know how I can best facilitate that process of change in others. And as an apprentice of Jesus myself, I long to grow deeper in my own relationship with Christ–how does that happen for me?

Different authors have different perspectives on how the change process takes place, and (nerdy person that I am) I’ve been studying the variety of perspectives and trying to figure out where they overlap, with the goal of being able to articulate my own perspective of how a believer in Christ grows toward maturity.

One thing initially is very clear: change is double-sided. There are two sides of the same coin in this process of change. Change is fully a work of our sovereign, good God…AND change is a work that we engage fully in as well.

God is clearly the agent of change. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3) He is sovereign over all that he has created–he alone can produce change. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…” (Daniel 2:20-21) There are other foundational “stones” which make up the structure of the change process, but God is the “capstone,” without which the whole structure would collapse.

God is the producer of change, but he does not bring change about by magic. Though he has the power to do so, he does not do his work of change by simply zapping Christians in their sleep so that they wake up one morning fully sanctified. Rather, he calls us to abide in him (John 15:4), to obey all that he commands (Matthew 28:20), to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2), to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). He calls us to actively participate in the process of change, yet with the understanding that apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

 

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Here is my attempt to summarize and visualize the process of change: the triune God brings change in Christians as our minds are shaped by his truth, and as we train our hearts to worship him in the midst of the trials he ordains and the tribe (or community) he places us in.

 

 

 

 

 

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God is the producer of change–sanctification is his work from beginning to end. No growth or maturity would happen apart from the foundational saving mercy of God, apart from the truth the Spirit reveals, and apart from the Christian’s union with Christ. The shaping influence of community is because we are united in the Body of Christ, and the formative power of trials is because we share in the sufferings of Christ.

 

 

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God alone forms and sanctifies his children, but we are not passive in the process. We respond and obey and depend and abide, and our action creates space for God to carry out his transforming work–it puts us in a posture of receptivity to the work that he is doing.

Does God’s Anger Explain His Love?

Good & Angry is a book with a bright red cover, written by Professor and Biblical counselor David Powlison. In chapter 10, Powlison makes the startling statement: “You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger.” God’s anger and his love are two different but complementary expressions of his goodness. It is precisely because God loves so deeply that he has to be angry at anything that harms the ones he loves.

In the chapter, Powlison spells out four ways in which God expresses his love for his children through his anger:

  1. “In love, the anger that your sin deserves fell on Jesus, not on you.”
  2. “In love, God’s anger works to disarm the power of your sin.”
  3. “God’s anger will deliver you from the pain of other people’s sins.”
  4. “God’s anger serves as a warning and check to protect us from returning to a lifestyle of sin.”

For the Christian, these four aspects of God’s anger and love serve to comfort different aspects of our human struggle. In our fearfulness or self-condemnation, we can remember that Jesus took God’s anger against our sin. In our discouragement and weakness, we can remember that God’s anger works within us against what is wrong with us. In our feeling overwhelmed by aloneness or the unkindness of others toward us, we can remember that God’s anger will one day destroy every cause of pain and sorrow, and he will defend us. In our despair and temptation, we can remember that God’s anger will discipline the ones he loves, including us, so that we might share in his holiness.

In this season of my life, I especially resonate with this reality that in my discouragement over my weakness and regular failure to love my daughter rightly, God’s anger is working to right what is wrong within me. He is not angry with me or disappointed in me, but his anger is aimed at breaking the sin that still clings so closely to me and that keeps me from experiencing the fullness of life in him. To have a God who merely “accepts me as I am” would not be comforting–it would eventually lead to despair–but to have a God whose deep love for me is committed to making me holy, that is truly a comfort, even in the uncomfortableness of wrestling with my habitual sin. God’s anger that works to rid me of my sin explains his love as something far deeper than niceness or tolerance. The love of God expressed in his anger is a holy love…and a love that gives all to make the beloved holy also.

Powlison concludes: “God’s wrath is your hope. God’s wrath is my hope… Wrath is our hope because love masters anger. God’s loving anger resolves the entire problem of evil in a way that brings him inexpressible glory and brings us inexpressible blessing. The God who is love justly condemns evil, severs the power of remnant evil, brings relief from suffering, and protects us from ourselves.”  [pg. 121]

May you–and may I–experience the hope that comes through the loving anger of our righteous and good God.

Is Discipleship Different than Psychotherapy?

In his paradigm-shifting book called Connecting, Christian psychotherapist Dr. Larry Crabb comes to the conclusion that “we have made a terrible mistake.” What is that mistake? He writes: “For most of the twentieth century, we have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorder and delegated their treatment to trained specialists.”

From that mistaken definition and delegation, Crabb identifies three significant implications for the church. One of those implications especially catches my eye because it has to do with discipleship:

The work of discipling has been wrongly defined as less than and different from psychotherapy and counseling. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe discipleship, defined properly as caring for the soul, is the reality, and psychotherapy is the imitation. Perhaps husbands and wives should be discipling each other; perhaps parents should be discipling their children, and friends should be discipling their friends. Maybe they can, and maybe discipling (or shepherding) was designed to do what we think only therapists should tackle.    [pg. 201]

I’m not sure that I would define discipleship solely as “caring for the soul” (though soul-care may be a part of discipleship), but even with a more robust definition (such as this one from discipleship.org: “helping people to trust and follow Jesus”) I do agree that a shift in understanding is needed. We tend to think of discipleship only in academic terms of teaching Biblical truths to a new Christian, but miss the vital aspect of walking alongside one another to help each other trust and follow Jesus in all of life. And maybe, as Dr. Crabb is suggesting, that kind of connecting with one another not only applies in something “spiritual” like learning to pray, but also in something “psychological” like addictions or narcissism or anxiety.

This is not a simplistic solution that promises a cure-all by just throwing Bible verses at a person, but it recognizes that what is actually helpful in therapy is often simply the opportunity to share deeply and be understood and loved in the midst of great struggle. And that mercy is something that Christians are uniquely equipped to offer to one another because that is what we ourselves have received from Christ. Trained therapists may be able to offer a certain level of grace and love to a needy person, but God demonstrates His astounding love to us by extending an even greater love and mercy through Christ, and doing so “while we were yet sinners” and enemies of God (Romans 5:8). Because that is how God has loved us, we are enabled to “encourage one another every day…so that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).