Impatience. It is easy to feel, especially on the Internet. Click a link, skim an article, and get to the point. Crawling Internet speeds, lagging download times, and long-form writing frustrate our efforts to speed-read and move on.
Our cravings for fast easily creep into our faith and into our churches. We pray and wait, pray and wait, wondering why God hasn’t texted back yet. We celebrate quick victories, immediate healings, and fast-answered prayers. True enough, the Spirit can move quickly. In a single, dramatic moment, the Spirit can intervene in an obvious conversion. In an instant, he can free someone from a besetting sin. In the book of Acts, the Spirit inspired the spontaneous sermons of Stephen and Peter.
“Sometimes God displays his glory by moving slowly.”
But because the Holy Spirit is sovereign and free, his activity cannot be reduced to a single description. Though our fast-paced hearts celebrate God’s fast-moving deliverances, God does not value the things our world values. In fact, sometimes he displays his glory by moving slowly.
The same Spirit who inspired spontaneous sermons also inspired the crafted acrostic poems of the book of Lamentations. He has moved like rapids — quickly and vivaciously — and startling to see. But the Spirit also moves like a glacier — subtly and cumulatively — and sometimes so imperceptibly that the believer might be unaware of his work.
In fact, God has a particular glory that he displays by moving slowly.
God Questions the Come-Lately Idols
In Isaiah 41, God challenges idols to a contest. He dares them to “tell us what is to happen” in the future and “tell us the former things” (Isaiah 41:21–23). Why this emphasis on both former and future things?
Because the idols were not present at the beginning and they cannot determine what will happen in the end. Their idols are “less than nothing,” and foolish people who choose them over the living God are “an abomination” (Isaiah 41:24). These false gods can’t possibly have the same kind of perspective as our eternal, patient God.
God’s Slow-Motion Glory
By contrast, God was there from the beginning, and he was active. God declares that he had stirred Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28–45:1) to “trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay” (Isaiah 41:25). And, unlike the come-lately idols, God “declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, ‘He is right’” (Isaiah 41:26).
By moving slowly, God demonstrates that he alone is God. Since no human being was alive for this entire arc of action, only God can receive the credit and glory. In other words, if the timeline for God’s activity were contained within our lifetime, we might be tempted to confuse God’s glorious accomplishments with our activity. Similarly, if God’s activity was contained within the boundaries or era of our country, we might confuse God’s glory with our national identity.
God protects his glory from human glory-thieves by revealing his purposes over several human lifetimes — beyond the rise and fall of individuals and countries.
Trust the Big Picture
We need to recognize that God has often used unpredictable ways to bring about his purposes in the world. He takes hundreds (and thousands!) of years to accomplish things. Why would he do anything different in our generation?
If we look at the immediate flurry of activity around us, we can become anxious. Things seem to be going terribly wrong. It is in these times that we must trust in God’s character and labor for his kingdom without seeing ourselves as indispensable. This will drive us to prayer, seeing ourselves as dependent on God rather than depending on ourselves for quick fixes. We must be steadfast and immovable — not frittering or frantic, but gentle, peaceful, and purposeful.
“We are more likely to underestimate what God can do in a lifetime if we overestimate what he will do today.”
We need to develop eyes that can see God’s slow-motion activity, an appreciation for the ways that he works over generations. If we don’t, we will be unaware of his work in our lives and become easily discouraged. Even ungrateful.
Instead of chasing immediate, fast-moving, emotionally powerful experiences, consider the God who gloriously moves slowly. We are more likely to underestimate what God can do in a lifetime if we overestimate what he will do today. The impatient world thinks God is wasting his time, and so our time with him is wasted — and they could not be more wrong.