Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Journey Is Important - Avoid The Short Cuts

I heard on the radio yesterday that the current batch of students in college now have turned a corner and are a great improvement over previous years' students. According to the college spokesman students are showing improvement in attention span, fortitude and perseverance. As a result more students are sticking with their courses, more are graduating and marks are improving which is adding up to overcrowding with less drop outs. There may be hope for us yet. However, from general observations of our society I think most of us can agree that this change in students does not apply to our society as a whole.We are not a very patient bunch any more and the rule of thumb appears to be, if there is a short cut take it.

At first this makes sense; who wants to take the long way if a shorter method is available? Unfortunately finding short cuts can lead to all kinds of problems such as poor products, a terrible work force, lazy students and high debt levels. According to a news report, the average Canadian family is carrying a debt of $96,000 and it is getting some people in a lot of trouble. This level is rising and people are now falling behind in their mortgage and credit card payments. Perhaps students are improving their attention span but it is not helping society's patience and fortitude when it comes to taking the longer path. Of course what is true for our society is also true for the North American Church.

When Jesus left John the Baptist at the water's edge he was led by the Spirit into the desert where he spent time in a fast while praying. When the enemy arrived to tempt Jesus he brought a bag of tricks which all appealed to our basic human nature; to provide for ourselves, self preservation, and short cuts. The three temptations were basic:

The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." (Matthew 4:3)

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
   " 'He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
(Matthew 4:5-6)

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." (Matthew 4:8-9)

All of these are short cuts, denying the value of the journey. We forget about the journey because many of us are more concerned about the destination and we miss the purpose of the journey. Jesus understood the value of patience as he waited on his Father to provide the bread. He understood the value of the slow unveiling of his relationship with his Father instead of the short cut of the spectacular. He also knew that the final short cut the enemy offered him to avoid the cross was a lie. Those things did not belong to the enemy to give away. By staying to the path that would include suffering and death he would receive all those things from the legitimate owner. Jesus turned his back on the short cuts.

Perhaps this is the reason so many people seem to lack patience with God these days, expecting to pray and receive all within the same hour. It is because of our fast food mentality that we expect to be able to order and receive within a few minutes. It explains our love affair with our credit card. No need to save when we can get it now with plastic. Gone are the lessons of patiently saving and the wonderful taste of receiving what we have earned. Such a mentality is having a damning effect on our spirituality as we use "tricks" to get us more like Jesus faster. We use five minute devotions, speed prayers, money transfers of tithes, and what ever other gimmicks we can find to save us time and energy. We are failing to understand that relationship takes time and energy. It takes time to sit alone in silence, contemplating verses and allowing Jesus to speak to us. Yesterday I came across a skit that illustrates this point called "Coffee With Jesus".

We fail to take note of what God did with people to develop them. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God appeared to him in the burning bush. This is the same amount of time that the Israelites spent wandering around in the desert under God's direction before emerging as the strongest nation in their day. Funny that it was 40 days that Jesus was in the desert as well. Forty is Biblical language for a long period of time. Our development and relationship with God takes a lifetime of maturing, as he leads us through valleys, deserts, over mountains and across the oceans with all the storms and battles he uses to build us, mature us and help us grow.

The Church culture needs to turn a corner now too, away from the culture of this world. The value of size, numbers, and money needs to be replaced by the things our Father values as important. We need to stop looking for short cut methodology to grow our churches and simply do what we have been commanded to do. It may be a long time in coming but things are happening in us and in others on the journey and there is great value in these things. The Church is about relationships not programs; about people and not buildings; about hearts and not appearances. Instead of building our FaceBook numbers with people we don't know and don't talk to, let's fill our lives with people to love, care for and talk to as we allow ourselves to become a patient tool in our Father's hands. There is real value in these things of the Kingdom; let's not allow the enemy to lead us on any short cuts and rob the journey of the value the Father has woven into it.

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