Monday, July 2, 2007
SHORT CUTS ARE RISKY
Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the road towards the Philistines, although that was the shortest; for he said, 'the people may change their minds when they see war before them, and turn back to Egypt.' So God made them go round by way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea.
For the moment all discipline seems to be painful rather than pleasant. Later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing towards you, not wishing that any should perish.
I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, beloved, I really do not think I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
'All this I will give you,' the devil said, 'if you will kneel down and worship me.'
My brothers, whenever you have to face trials of many kinds, count yourselves supremely happy, in the knowledge that such testing of your faith breeds fortitude, and if you give fortitude full play you will go on to complete a balanced character that will fall short in nothing.
You should try your hardest to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with fortitude, fortitude with piety, piety with brotherly kindness and brotherly kindness with love. These are gifts which, if you possess and foster them, will keep you from being either useless or barren in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Exodus 13: 17-18, NEB; Hebrews 12: 11, RSV; 2 Peter 3: 8-9, RSV; Philippians 3: 12-14, GNB; Hebrews 5: 8, RSV; Matthew 4: 9, GNB; James 1: 2-4, NEB; 2 Peter 1: 5-8, NEB)
In these days of instant cash, it is well to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as instant Christian character and maturity, and that attempts to find short cuts in these matters can lead to a good deal of disillusionment and frustration. It takes a lifetime to grow to what Paul calls 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ'. We are still 'being saved', and the whole process is attended by growing pains and obstacles which may not be dispensed with without stultifying the whole thing. There are no short cuts.
We fall into this trap in many ways. For example, there are some among us who think that all the problems which beset our world would be solved overnight if everybody suddenly became Christians. It is not as simple as that: they would still need to be worked at and thought out by consecrated minds. And many of what we see now as problems, God surely sees as opportunities.
Even Jesus was tempted to try short cuts to his goals: 'All these I will give you if...' But he deliberately took the long way round, past Galilee and Judea, past the high priest's palace, past Gethsemane, past Pilate's court, by way of the cross to the tomb in Joseph's garden. 'It became him, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering -- not 'in spite of it', but 'by means of it'.
God does an infinitely bigger thing for us than giving us a short cut through our difficulties and instant solutions to our problems when he makes us wise enough and strong enough to find our own way through these things. Which of us, in our better moments, would rather stand without sweating on some mountain peak which God had reduced for us to the size of a molehill, than climb to the peak of some mountain of achievement, with torn hands and bleeding feet, but thanking God for the strength he gave us to get there? To people facing the problems of that age, Jesus apparently gave no specific directions, no easy solutions, but he did tell them how to become the kind of people who would know in their hearts what had to be done. And there are no short cuts to that condition of mind and heart.
Think now of some of the ways in which we tend to become victims of this very human failing; when we become a little impatient with bereaved people passing through the long and painful process of working through deep grief, and try to cheer them up, thinking that it is 'time they pulled themselves together'; when we hang labels on people and put them in categories, without the prior arduous attempt to understand them in depth; our giving glib advice on important matters without really listening to the questions; our inadequate ideas and practice of evangelism; our wrong expectations of prayer and guidance, imagining that these are to save us from the often painful task of thinking through our problems, and acting on our own God-given insight; our craving for quick 'results' in God's work -- all that comes into Bonhoeffer's concept of 'cheap grace'. In all these ways we try to find easy short cuts through our difficulties. (An imaginative reading between the lines of the fragment of the story of Paul's second missionary journey in Acts 16:6-9 is to be recommended.)
If the way to the goal of our dreams sometimes seems to be unnecessarily long and devious, and we think that we can find a more direct route, may we have the faith and courage to obey him, believing that when God is leading, the longest way round is indeed the shortest way home. Short cuts are as risky in religion as in hiking, but not nearly as harmless. I have just spent three hours with a young man who was 'soundly converted' at an evangelistic rally some months ago. Now that the emotional excitement has died down, he is back where he started, indeed further back. The glow has faded, and he is distressed because he has fallen down on his conversion, broken his vows and dishonoured Christ...
As we talked, it became obvious to me that here was a young man accepting a premature solution to a problem that had not been sufficiently explored... he had come to terms with Christ on too narrow a front... It was not the whole person who was committed to Christ, but that part which stood in obvious and pressing need.
W.B.J. Martin, Five Minutes to Twelve
There is no expeditious road
to pack and label men for God,
And save them by the barrel load.
Francis Thompson, A Judgment in Heaven
The trouble is that the modern world is so dynamic and explosive that we cannot continue for long without becoming conscious of our need for answers to ultimate questions. When we do, our chief danger is that, in our desperation and inexperience, we try to take religious short cuts, like the idolaters of the ancient world. There is already plenty of evidence that this is just as much one of the dangers of the modern world as so-called ‘irreligion’.
Daniel Jenkins, The Christian Belief in God
In the language of psychoanalysis, we are in conflict with ourselves, in the grip of neurotic patterns. How wonderful it would be if we could be saved from the pain of such conflicts! Well, there is help at hand... fanaticism, drugs, religion, sex, power: all of these will help relieve the pain of inner conflict, and save us the trouble of striving for a mature way of being in the world. They will also enable us to elude love, and will prevent us from finding our way 'home'.
Alan Jones, Soul Making
There are no supersonic flights to the Celestial City or even to the Palace Beautiful. Increased awareness can only be obtained by a journey on foot by way of the Slough of Despond, the Hill Difficulty, Doubting Castle and the rest.
H.A. Williams, 'Theology and Self-Awareness'
Nothing is too early or late for me which is due time for thee.
John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer
...the devil urges upon [Jesus] the well-tried methods of all human reformers. They had failed only because they were not able to back their programs with the power to carry them out. But link the irresistibility of the divine omnipotence to the politician's dream of universal plenty, or to the known ability of sheer display to dazzle the human mind... or to the 'realism' of skilful diplomacy -- and with any such program how could he fail to win the world? But Jesus rejects in turn each of these suggestions... There could be no short cuts to the kingdom of God.
John A.T. Robinson, Twelve New Testament Studies
One of the most important factors in the Gesell studies is their working hypothesis that the stages of growth [in children] are not evenly related to each other. There is a jagged rhythm of growth. There will be a spurt of growth and activity, a time of breaking out and vigorous expansion, a time of... troubled and confused behaviour, and a time of rounded, balanced, smooth and consolidated behaviour...
Parents tend to interpret the behaviour of children as being good or bad in terms of the spurts of growth and the periods of quiescent consolidation. Growth is considered to be times of difficulty, badness and unmanageableness... On the other hand, the times of quiescence and consolidation are likely to be identified with goodness, virtue and perfection in behaviour.
Wayne E. Oates, The Psychology of Religion
It is not for you to turn the buds into blossoms.
Your touch spoils them,
You tear the petals and scatter them in the dust.
He who can open the bud
Does it so simply.
D.T. Niles, The Preacher's Task and the Stone of Stumbling
What all life does say to us is that God does not conduct his rivers, like arrows, to the sea. The ruler and compass are only for finite mortals who labour, by taking thought, to overcome their limitations, and are not... infinite... The expedition demanded by humanity's small power produces the canal, but nature, with a beneficent and picturesque circumambulancy, the work of a more spacious and less precipitate mind, produces the river. Why should we assume that, in all the rest of his ways, he rejoices in the river, but in religion, can use no more adequate method save the canal?
John Oman, Grace and Personality
The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties... Help us to perform them with laughter and kind faces; let cheerfulness abound with industry. [Enable] us to go blithely on our business all this day; bring us to our resting beds weary and content and undishonoured, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep.
O God, in whose strong hands are the threads of every person's life, I thank you that you have a purpose for the world, and that in that purpose my little life has its place and a part to play. Forgive me that so often I want life on other terms than you have granted, and that so often I seek the easiest way through the obstacles that beset me, thus robbing myself of the real fruit of pain and frustration. For often I forget that these experiences are the means by which we grow into the likeness of our Lord, who learned obedience by the things he suffered. Keep me from seeking easy short cuts, and from the snare of cheap, quick results from the service I try to render. Let me never forget the way Jesus deliberately set himself. Let my life fulfil your gracious design, and increasingly display the qualities of the life he seeks to live in me. Amen.
Book of Prayers for Students
Be thou within me, Lord, to purify me; above me, to draw me higher; beneath me, to sustain me; before me, to lead me; behind me, to restrain me; round about me, to protect me. Amen.
Book of Prayers for Students
Rivers in the Desert ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 195-201