As I write this, I get to share a house with a wife who is 37-weeks pregnant. While this in itself is a learning experience, the events of this past week have been very revealing to us. We had a near experience with a possible early delivery of our daughter. We found out Friday that we would not be going to the hospital to get induced after-all. But we are still, at the most, just a few short weeks away. When we talked about it, we realized that we had both mentally prepared for a controlled birth-date and getting on with this delivery. But now we have to wait knowing it could be anytime.
We have little control over how a baby will grow and develop, you can’t just speed up the process like you can with a microwaved meal or a class lecture video on 2X speed (admit it, you’ve done it). There are so many mechanisms in our culture that we use to try and increase efficiency and especially reduce that pesky wait-time. But recently I have asked myself if we lose something when church falls right in-line with a fast and impatient world.
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
“Strength will rise as we WAIT upon the Lord” – This is the opening line from a classic Chris Tomlin song based on Isaiah 40:31. I have heard this verse shared in worship many times, but always with the emphasis on the renewal part or the strength part, almost never the waiting. In church we often don’t realize how what we do communicates our values. Patience, stillness and anticipation are so often drowned out by noise even in small things. Even when the congregation is entering or leaving the worship space, most churches have canned music going, along with lights and scrolling announcements. These things are not wrong, but I can’t help but think it reflects our current culture’s need to control the flow of time, reducing the awkwardness of just waiting.
The Authors of a book and founders of a movement called Slow Church, call this “McDonaldization” and it feeds our desires for instant gratification. But the church was always meant to develop the spiritual gift of patience.* God’s kingdom is made up of humans, learning to abide in Him. and as such, we are not machines that can be manipulated for reliable and efficient output. We are more like plants, we require patient work, watering and sun. We require different amounts of these things for different days and seasons. We have productive and fallow seasons. And for all of this, our father is patient with us. He patiently calls us to redemption as we wait for the day of his coming (2 Peter 3).
What would it look like for us to practice waiting together in community and in worship?
I’m not sure if I have all the answers. But I do know that the small things communicate much. What if there were intentional times of silence built in for our community to wait on the Lord? Of course some things you can do to increase the fruit of patience can happen outside of the corporate worship time as well. A church that I used to attend, kept up a community garden at a local elementary school. And we would give the produce away to anyone in need. We had work days every so-often where people could get a taste for gardening and then weeks and weeks later, someone would come share samples of salsa and other products.
Getting connected to the soil reminds us of that many of the things God does, He slowly and patiently. When you think about it, our impatience is a denial of reality. We think that we can triumph over waiting and be filled at our convenience. But this is not how the kingdom of God works. If our waiting for the return of Christ teaches us anything, it’s that things happen on God’s timeline and not ours.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.James 5:7-8 (ESV)
I would challenge us to think through all the ways, our worship is encouraging instant-gratification and convenience and to think through these things and ask if there are ways to cultivate more patience in our community. And as God’s community on earth, how should we be recognizing the slowness of the kingdom as we anticipate the second coming? Like a delivery, it can happen anytime, and yet we patiently and eagerly away it.
*Smith Christopher C. & John Pattison. Slow Church. InterVarsity Press, 2014. pg. 79-80