Why I Believe It Takes Time

Our microwave died this past week. She was a good friend, long-suffering, hanging perilously above the stove just waiting to serveimagemagic.php us in any way we might need. Popcorn? Coming right up. Neck warmer? Certainly. Defrost those pork chops? At once. We haven't had a funeral or anything, because frankly we're not crazy and it is just a microwave, but events like this bring realizations.

When something like this happens, you realize how convenience shapes your life.

Specifically here, microwaves are built on the concept of speed and immediacy. That's why they aren't built to cook something for an hour. They're sprinters.

There have been enough voices speaking to our culture's fascination with immediacy:

People shaking their smartphones because the signal isn't bouncing back from space fast enough.

People beeping their horns because .03 seconds have passed since the light turned green (I confess here).

People complaining about kids in front of them in line at the public pool taking too long, when in fact there are only 10 people in line and they are the third person.

However, where this speed fetish becomes really difficult is when it lands in the lap of spiritual transformation. It makes sense that all of the metaphors for spiritual transformation in the Bible - childbirth, building a house, vineyards and crops - are long-distance events.

I can't remember at this point if it was John Ortberg or my friend Steve Carter, but someone once said "Spiritual formation cannot be microwaved."

Funny you should mention that.

I believe, when it comes to our being like Jesus, we should think of this as a distance run. It is a long obedience in the same direction, it is a work and labor of love, a work of progression by single-digit percentages and not leaps. Leaps may come, but they are the surprise and not the expectation.

The reason it is key for us to take the long distance mentality is because without it we give up. We walk away. Or worse, we blame ourselves. Our theology won't let us believe something is wrong with God (which is correct) so if things aren't happening according to our timeline (big mistake) then there's only one person who can be at fault.

We either give up out of impatience or out of guilt.

We need to learn how not to be sprinters. We have to train ourselves to wait, to plan, to take small steps in order to walk a long distance. Here are a few questions that help us do a self-assessment of whether we're looking for the long journey or the quick sprint.

1. Am I more or less irritated that I used to be? 

Irritation comes from impatience, and it leads to anger, and both anger and irritation come from not getting our way. One of the hallmarks of the long journey of spiritual transformation is learning that if God is enough for me, then I don't have to get what I want right when I want it. When we die to our own will, daily, we break free of so many things.

2. Do I have more or less stuff than I used to?

Stuff - possessions and material resources - are often used as a comforter. We buy stuff to assuage the pain of life not working out like we had hoped. If we look around and find all kinds of stuff that we don't use and may not remember why we bought it, that's a pretty good sign we've been taking the sprinter's way out and it's time to purge for the sake of making room for Christ's patience.

3. Am I more comfortable with questions than I used to be?

Questions take time. Answers mean solutions. The Google effect on spiritual formation is that we can't allow God to be mysterious because nothing else in our life is mysterious anymore. If I want to know how to make baked Alaska, replace my kitchen sink, or file my taxes the only mysterious thing is which search result I want to click on.

We have to allow ourselves to enter the spiritual discipline of asking if we're going to walk the path of transformation into Christlikeness with health and hope.

So are you sprinting or distance running today? Are you drumming your fingers on the counter, waiting for the spiritual microwave to ding, or have you set the slow cooker and found a quiet spot to wait? In the waiting, I believe, we are rescued.