We live in a world of instant gratification. I can make a range of foods in the time it takes to boil a kettle or turn on the microwave and I can order pretty well whatever I want simply by asking my voice-controlled device to get it for me knowing that it will arrive the very next day. I can stream whatever programmes I want, whenever I want. I can send messages to people with the click of a button and know that, if they have push notifications on their phone, it will arrive immediately. I know lots of Christians bemoan much of that but, in truth, I think it’s generally brilliant.
What is less brilliant is that I am an incredibly impatient man. I don’t mean that in the first sense of the word, in that I am generally short-tempered and irritable (that may be true but it’s not my meaning here). I mean that I expect everything to be done as quickly as humanly possible. Now, it bears saying much of that is personality. I like to get things off my plate and I know if I don’t deal with emails and the like immediately, they will find themselves on an ever-increasing to-do pile that will inevitably be forgotten and thus, ironically, never get done.
What is more, I have come to the conclusion I have quite a high capacity for workload and a high work rate to boot. This means I can happily spend a lot of time working and I am relatively quick at getting stuff done. Working quickly and happily doing so for longer than others generally leads to people repeatedly asking, ‘how do you get the time?’ I’m never really sure how to answer. I figure out the tasks that need to be done, I plan my time according to priority, I make allowances for when inspiration won’t strike, and then I get on with it. This tends to make me a completer-finisher. I like to do a task, get it done and then move onto the next thing.
For example, I generally work c. 3-months ahead on sermon preparation (actually, I’m currently only around 2-months ahead, so I’m feeling a bit anxious) and I am very rarely writing blog posts on the morning they are posted. Generally, I write the day before but this particular post is being written a few days early. If I’m on holiday, have stuff that needs doing out of the office or my schedule won’t allow time to write, I tend to work hard to make sure content is lined up for the majority of the time I’m away. More often than not, this is just good planning.
The problem with this disposition is that I tend to assume everybody else has my capacity for work, functions at my work rate and is predisposed to getting on with stuff as soon as it is placed on their agenda. This makes me extremely impatient. I expect responses to my emails almost immediately. I expect others to begin working on stuff the moment I hit send and I begin to get very antsy when projects are dragging on for weeks. Sometimes, it is true, people haven’t prioritised things that are important. But, more often than not, I am simply expecting people to begin doing something just because I would have started on it by now and I know roughly how long it would take me to finish.
Technology feeds this part of me. Knowing that things are essentially instantaneous, I expect people to instantly begin doing whatever it is I have asked them to do. When they don’t, or they take much longer about it than me, I presume they are dragging their feet. Interestingly, I had cause to use some professionals who required things from me by snail mail (yes, I know, how quaint!) But the very use of standard post meant that I was much more relaxed about the time it took them to do the work. I knew it would take a few days to receive the goods, they would take a set amount of time to do the work and then it would take a while to get stuff back to me. That I had no frame of reference for what the job entailed also helped. But I was much gentler about my self-determined and entirely uncommunicated time frames that I believe are self-evident and incontrovertible.
That is my incredibly long-winded introduction to my astoundingly simple point. My children came out of Sunday School having been taught about waiting. Specifically, they were taught about Abraham waiting on God to deliver on the promise of a son. It was an even longer wait for him regarding the ‘promised seed’, who took another two millennia to come. Having come and established the new covenant, we are a further two millennia on and he hasn’t yet returned to take the true Israel to glory. For impatient folk like me, this may seem interminable.
But here is how Peter puts it:
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
The Lord’s timing is not like ours. His priorities are not necessarily our priorities. To the eternal God, what is a thousand years here or there? What is more, he delays because he – unlike me – is patient. He is gracious toward his creatures and wants to give sufficient time for the fullness of the elect to come into the kingdom.
But the Lord is not idle. He is about the business of bringing to repentance those he has chosen before the world began. He is patiently waiting to return knowing that there are others who will yet bow the knee to him as saviour and Lord. All the while, he is growing his people. The work of sanctification takes a lifetime. The Lord could translate us to Heaven no sooner than we come to faith. But, in his graciousness, he chooses to include us in his plan of salvation and sends us out to share the gospel with a dying world. As we seek to honour and obey the Lord, we grow in Christlikeness until, one day, we are made exactly as he is in glory. This is the only world in which faith can possibly operate.
The Lord is not slow; I am impatient. I may want to emphasise, ‘yes, I am coming soon’ (Rev 22:20) but he can say, ‘yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith’ (Heb 10:37). Faith is not just in Christ’s atoning work on the cross but in his promise that he will come again. That promise is sure and certain but the Lord will do it in his own time. The Lord is not Amazon Prime.