James 4:13:17 and others
I just finished reading a book about the building of the Panama Canal by David McCullough. It’s a fascinating book. Did you know that the French tried to build it first? I didn’t. They failed miserably. They spent around $250 million and failed miserably. $250 million in today’s dollars is over $6 trillion. Spend $6 trillion and have nothing to show for it. So America bought the Panama site for $40 million convinced that where France failed we would succeed. The pressure was immense. And the biggest one was the pressure not to run over on costs and also on time. So the first American leader of the project feeling that pressure to get er done, came in and declared we were going to dig from the get-go. And he effectively really had no idea what he was doing. The second leader took the project by the horns and his biggest gift was asking questions and realizing that the worst decision was hurry up and start digging. He stopped all digging and spent nearly 18 months just building the infrastructure of housing, railroads, repair houses, hospitals, sanitation, food service for all the workers, and purchase departments and expanding the seaports. The pressure to hurry was immense yet this guy knew hurrying up and digging would be the same mistake France made.
This past week we spent some time as a staff processing the status of the building and more specifically how many dates we’ve tentatively set as a leadership and eventually blown by. And the frustrations of all the delays. A couple of years ago we were given goals and timelines. As we started going into this project, it was all hunky-dory and then delays started to hit. Coldest February in the history of Ohio? Wettest June in the history of Ohio? Seriously?! Time is starting to tick. Our window on the construction loan was narrowing. Our bids are only good for so long. We have to get into this new building because we can’t afford to own two buildings. We got hurry up! Which brings up a whole different issue, we got to sell this building. Talk about hurry! How long have we been trying to sell this building? We need the money. We’re over budget. We need to the cash. We still need money to put in the elevator cab. And that’s not the only thing, we have to get over there because there are lost people that don’t even know we’re here! They need Jesus. We’ve got to get this done! Hurry up!
Now I’m not so egotistical to think that this entire project has been delayed solely because I, Scott Brooks, needed to learn a lesson about hurry, which I do. Like it’s all my fault. I happen to know that some of you are just as messed up as me. At least I hope I’m right. Anyone in a hurry? Anyone in a rush? How many of us are always in a hurry. Got to get something done. Remember when it took at least a month to sail from the California around South America and back up to New York? Then the Canal and what took a month was simply reduced to 12 hours or less. Talk about accelerating life. Remember when phones were plugged into walls? Remember when mail took days to arrive? Now the cell phone has amped up hurrying to a whole new level. Interrupting the moment. Someone calls us, texts us, emails us, snap chats us, tweets us and we have to respond. In fact if you don’t respond right away you’re being rude. Urgent. Rush. Hurry.
Where does this drive for hurry come from? James wrote in chapter 4:13-14 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” This is where some of the drive of hurry comes from. Something deep within us whispers to us over and over again, “Your life is just a vapor. You’re just a mist. Life is over before you know it. And it’s not right. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But if life is that quick then we had better move even faster than that. We’d better start hurrying. Trying to somehow beat the system. As if a hurried pace of life will lengthen our lives or extend what we can add to it. Jesus even cracked a joke about time. He told us, “Look, you can’t even add a day to your life, and that’s easy.”
There’s a famous story in the Bible about one of Jesus’ close friends Lazarus. Lazarus had two sisters Mary and Martha and they had sent for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus because he was sick. Now it says in John 11 that when Jesus heard about Lazarus, He knew it was an illness that was not going to lead to death. He even said, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” So he didn’t leave for two days. The big bummer was that Lazarus died. When Jesus finally showed up Martha let him have it, “Why didn’t you hurry down here? If you’d been here Lazarus would not have died.
Jesus deliberately waited two days. He knew what was going to happen. So he hung out for two days longer. He did it intentionally. He let his good friend die. Think about it. If we really want to contemplate what or who gets in our way and causes slow-downs and stops to our life. You have to put God at the top of the list. God will sometimes completely slow something down, stall something out, and even delay acting and STOP LIFE ITSELF to bring glory to himself. He’ll do this knowing full well it could cause us intense suffering, grief, and pain, and death. And the question is our timeline, our plans, our agenda more important than God’s or is His more important? It is an exercise in futility to hurrying around trying to make something happen when it is God himself we’re trying to push? Can you imagine the conversations with Lazarus and Jesus after he raised him to life especially when Lazarus put together that Jesus didn’t hurry down to heal him, “You mean you let me die intentionally? Like you stayed long to know for sure I’d be dead? What in the world?! Thanks a lot.” And I can see Jesus just smiling at him and Lazarus left with nothing to do but to laugh.
But sometimes it’s not God. If you read in Daniel, he had been praying for direction from God. He ended up fasting for 21 days and it was on the 21st day that an angel appeared to Daniel and told him he had been sent with an answer 21 days ago but a satanic being – the Prince of Persia – blocked his coming until Michael the archangel came to put an end to it. So delays could be from spiritual warfare.
But delays and stops to timelines can also come because of our own sin. Look at the 40 years of wondering in the wilderness by Israel. It was their own sin that caused that delay. For 40 years “ain’t no one hurrying.”
Delays and stops can come from this cursed world. Back in Genesis, God promised us that we would toil. Life would be hard and difficult. This world will be against us. We saw it on our project. The coldest February on record. The wettest June on record? How about how sandy our soil was and the delay that caused in trying to tie into the city septic? You want to talk about a cursed world. They estimate over 20,000 people died making the Panama Canal. And most of them from yellow fever or malaria.
This past week our plumber was supposed to finish his work that supposed to be done a month ago. It’s normal construction stuff – some is our fault and some is theirs. But we finally got everything set and it was going to be all finished. He came and then a few moments later they saw him leave in his van. We called and asked him what was up. His wife was just admitted to the hospital and it was an emergency. Was that God? I don’t know. He let Lazarus die. Might be. Was it Satan? I don’t know. He causes people to be sick and delays things. Was it their sin or our sin? I have no clue. Was it just the random chance of living in this cursed world? I don’t know.
Why mention all of this? Because look at what is arrayed against us. God, demonic opposition, the curse of the world, maybe even our own sin, and what are we going to do? What we always do. What James accuses the early church of doing. You’re so arrogant to think you can just push life around and hurry and set your cute little dates and times. Hurry? Go faster? Go harder? Against all that? It’s crazy but that’s exactly what so many of us do. Like we can somehow hurry right past demonic opposition? Like we can just hurry past the curse of this world. Like we can hurry past our sin. Like we can even hurry right past God. Like THE ALMIGHTY GOD. And then we wonder why we’re exhausted. Why were so frustrated. Why were so far behind. And all along that hurry just feeds that awareness that we’re running out time. We won’t have much time left.
This past week I started reading a book called Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. At one point in his life he had just taken a position at Willow Creek in Chicago. He called up his mentor for some advice as he started the new job. His mentor was Dallas Willard, a famous Christian leader who taught philosophy at USC. Brilliant and very meek. Listen to him describe Dallas. “We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.”
Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. Solomon once wrote in Ecclesiates 4:6 “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind.” You want to know what striving after the wind looks like? Set a target date to finish a construction project. Even better, push the county inspectors. Solomon built Israel to its Zenith in power, wealth, and influence. That dude did more construction projects than you or I could dream of. And he said, “Better a handful of quietness than two hand full of toil and striving – hurry, hurry, hurry.” A handful of quietness. You know when God appeared to Moses it wasn’t in a storm, or the wind, or earth quake but in stillness. God even says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Be quiet. Being still is the opposite of hurry. Still is just that. Not going anywhere. Not doing something else. Being still.
It seems that the answer to getting rid of hurry is far more about the interior life you have with God. Are we STILL in here? Do you and I have time where life stops in here, the tasks shut off, the noise is turned off, the calendar is closed, the pressure is let go, and it’s just you and God. Is it your time on a couch? In a prayer room? On a walk? On a drive? Where everything else is eliminated and it’s your time to KNOW God. Be still and Know God. See one of the dynamic things that happens is that when we who are temporal beings and whose time on this earth is running out SPEND time in the presence of the Eternal God perspective comes. What is time to Our God who was, who is, and who will always be? What’s the rush when you’re in the presence of the One to whom a day is like 1,000 years and a 1,000 years like a day? When we stop hurrying around and become still in the presence of God, the crazy thing is we could have our same life and in our spirit or souls we are not hurried therefore the way we live our life is not hurried.
James after hammering Christians who were hurrying about God’s creation running here and there thinking they were going to do so much said this 4:15, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” If the Lord wills. It’s brilliant really. Because if God wills it then what demonic force will stop it? If God wills it what sin will prevent it? If God wills it what obstacle from this cursed world could slow it down? The answer is NOTHING! No one! Not one being! Hence – Rest. Still. Quiet.
Practically? You’re going to laugh but this is my mess. I took off all my game apps and especially the ones that required me to always be checking. I check facebook once a week. This past weekend I took my email app off the phone. I was checking it constantly like a crack addict. I was so addicted to hurrying to read the next email I’ve noticed I get false alarms where it’s actually muscles in my legs. As a staff we all agreed we were done setting dates on this construction project. Took us a while to figure this one out. Clearly we have no idea what God’s will on this is and so we will just wait patiently for it to happen.