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You’re Running So Hard To Get…Where?

Hebrews 12:1-2

Norman Cousins, in his book, The Healing Heart, tells of an experience he had one day in the Los Angeles airport. He was between planes and needed to make a quick call to his office. He dropped a quarter into the phone—it was the only change he had—but something went wrong. He didn’t get a dial tone. He pressed the coin return button, but nothing happened. Frustrated, with no more change and no time to get any, he began to jiggle the phone’s hang-up lever. Finally, an operator came on the phone. He explained that the phone had taken his last quarter and he asked the operator to press the button to send his money back. She said: “I’m sorry, sir; I can’t do that. If you will give me your name and address, the phone company will be glad to mail it to you.” He said: “Come on, Operator, just push the button and send me my quarter. It would be so much simpler, and besides, I need it now.” The operator calmly replied: “I’m sorry. Just give me your name and address and we will be glad to mail it to you.” He couldn’t believe it. He cried: “You mean to say that you are going to write me a check for a quarter and using an envelope and a 32¢stamp, send it through the mail? That’s ridiculous!” Intoned the operator: “I’m sorry. Just give me your name and address and we will mail it to you.” Impatience got the best of him, and Cousins slammed the coin return button with the side of his fist. Guess what? It was like a jackpot at a Las Vegas slot machine. Quarters began pouring out of the telephone in magnificent and overflowing profusion, filling his hands and spilling onto the floor. Cousins fairly shouted into the phone: “Operator, I hit the coin return button and quarters are pouring out of this machine and it shows no signs of stopping.” The operator said: “Sir, will you please put the money back into the phone?” Well, you guessed it. Norman Cousins said: “Operator, I’m sorry, but if you will give me your name and address, I’ll be glad to mail it to you.”

Great story. It certainly shows how things can come back to haunt us. But also, and perhaps more importantly, it shows how we want, expect, and demand instant results in life. If anything is characteristic of our time, it is our “impatient itch for the instantaneous.” We are impatient people these days, and we want everything done in a hurry. Consequently, God’s patient ways tend to baffle and confuse us. We look for the quickest route, but God refuses to take shortcuts. We are drawn by our impatient itch for the instantaneous while God holds steady with deliberate patience. We look for the speedy way, the instant answer, the immediate solution, but God takes the long way around. He refuses to be rushed. Sometimes in our fast-paced, hurried, harried world, we miss out on seeing the slow, sure ways in which God is at work in the world and in our lives. Let’s take a few minutes and ponder that truth together…

Ponder the truth that God is inexhaustibly patient.

Over and over, we see it in Scripture. The writers of the Bible were convinced that one of the crowning attributes of God is His long-suffering patience, His steady, determined perseverance.

Remember the Exodus. God led the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and into the Promised Land. But notice, please, that He led them the long way around. It was only about 200 miles from Egypt to Canaan, about as far as it is from Orlando to Miami. Back then it would have been a ten-day camel ride. Now it would be less than an hour by plane, three hours by car. 200 miles— yet it took the people of Israel 40 years to get there! So short a way to go—200 miles; so long a time to get there—40 years. Why? The Bible says it was because of their unbelief, which is just another way of saying that they weren’t ready for it. The years of wandering in the wilderness were for them a time of preparation. They were slave people with slave minds and it took time to get them ready for the freedom and the abundance of the Promised Land. It took years and years to mold them into a people of faith and to make them a nation whose God was Lord. There in the wilderness, they received God’s commandments and became God’s people. You see, Promised Lands can’t be entered too quickly. It doesn’t take a graduate degree in psychology to know that “too much too soon” is the perfect formula for frustration, heartache and mediocrity. When we acquire too easily, and arrive too quickly, we tend to appreciate too lightly. Promised Lands in life have to be longed for, worked for, prepared for, waited for. I know it’s true in my life—I expect it’s true in yours: many of our disappointments come from grasping too eagerly for good fruit that isn’t yet ripe. We like the shortcut, but God takes the long way around—the way of slow maturing, the way of deliberate patience.

Remember the crucifixion. As Jesus was pinioned in agony to the cross, the people cried out to Him: “If you are the Christ, show us. Give us a sign. Come down from that cross right now and we will believe.” Then they cried more insistently still: “You claim to have the power of God. Call down twelve legions of angels to rescue you and then we will trust what you say.” Even as you read that story on the pages of the Bible, you find yourself wishing that He would do just that. You almost wish that God would show them once and for all who is in charge. But God refuses to make that power play. He refuses to take the shortcut. He will not employ the petulant way of power, or the expedient way of political strategy or the ruthless way of military might, or the crowd-pleasing way of supernatural magic. Instead, He chooses the slow, deliberate way of love, the patient way of the Suffering Servant, the painful way of the cross.

Yes, ponder it deeply: how patient is our God.

Then ponder the truth that we are insatiably impatient.

A few years ago, there was a full-page ad in the New York Times that had been taken out by Playboy magazine. It profiled a young architect named John Bradley Springer, a young man on the go and on the rise, and of course an avid Playboy reader. Right next to his handsome picture was a quote from him. It said: “I wish there were 70 minutes every hour, 25 hours every day, 8 days every week. I push myself at 110 percent. My career is on the threshold of skyrocketing. I can feel it. I’m good and I know it. I’m working harder than ever before. I’m playing harder than ever before too. Until last year, I hadn’t climbed a mountain since the Sierra Nevada back when I was in high school. But now I’m climbing again!” Robert Raines saw that ad in the New York Times, and this is what he said about the young man: “He certainly is climbing, but where? Perhaps the time will come for him, as it has for me, when walking on the level is enough; when 60 minutes, 24 hours, and 7 days are enough; when it’s enough to give all or part of myself in a given relationship; when it’s enough to find joy in bringing good to other people’s lives; when it’s enough to know that who I am and what I do is blessed by God.”

In other words, maybe the John Bradley Springers of this world will wake up one day to see how foolish it is to live such a hard-charging, self-centered life. Nothing wrong with having ambition. Hear me please. Nothing wrong with being an ambitious person. Nothing wrong with having goals or wanting to make a difference in life. The problem is that when we let it get out of hand and we start going faster and faster and faster than we need to go and faster than God wants us to go. Then, before we know it, something cracks, something gives way and we find ourselves in a most unhappy place. Then we may have a ton of money, but it won’t mean anything. We may have fancy titles, but they won’t mean anything either. Then we will begin to realize that in our effort to go “full steam ahead” we actually flew right by what really matters most in life.

I like the way one little boy put it to his father. His dad was a hard-charging, successful attorney. In order to achieve that success, he willingly made sacrifices—like working late and not being home with his family, like working on weekends and not doing the things he enjoyed, like living under constant pressure and having no sense of contentment inside. One night he came home late. The little boy was still up. As his dad was complaining to his wife about all the work he had to do and all the pressure he was under, the little boy listened for a few minutes and then he said something priceless: “Dad”, he said, “maybe they need to do with you what they have done with me at school.” The father turned around and said: “And what’s that son?” The little boy said: “Maybe they need to put you in the slow group too.”

Well, there are probably many of us whom God wants to put in the “slow group”. Oh I know, there are times when God needs to light a fire under us and get us going. There are times when God needs to inspire us and stir us into action. But more often, I think, God needs to slow us down and quiet our hearts if we are really going to enjoy what life is all about.

Ponder that please: how impatient we are.

But then ponder the truth that the best things in life take time.

God’s patient ways are right because the things that really matter in life take time to cultivate. This is how our text puts it: “Let us lay aside every weight and sin…and let us run with patience and perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

To be sure, some things you can get immediately. But the great things in life, the real values and valuables in life, do not come that way. They have to be grown and cultivated and developed. You can get a sports car or a big-screen TV with a quick down payment, but character, maturity, morality and spiritual strength require hard work and patient discipline.

Larry Bird is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. How did he become so great? Hard work and discipline. One opposing player tells of arriving with his team at the Boston Garden several hours before they were to play the Boston Celtics. There was the great Larry Bird, all alone in the dark and deserted arena, practicing free throws over and over. The coach of the opposing team took the opportunity to preach a little sermon to his team. He said: “There’s no such thing as a natural-born superstar. Look out there at Larry Bird. He’s a superstar because he works at it day after day, night after night.” Some weeks later, that same team returned to the Boston Arena to play the Celtics again. This time they came a day early, and went immediately to the Garden to practice. The arena was cold and empty. Larry Bird was not at the free-throw line. One of the players couldn’t resist saying: “Well, Coach, so much for your little sermon. Where is the super-dedicated, hard-working Larry Bird now?” Before the coach could reply, one of the other players said: “Wait a minute! I think I hear something.” They fell quiet and heard a noise high above them. They looked up and saw a solitary figure running laps like a rookie on the catwalk way up in the top of the Boston Garden. It was Larry Bird.

Dear friends, there are no overnight, natural-born superstars in the Kingdom of God. To become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, to become a spiritual powerhouse in life, to become everything in life God has given you the capacity to be, to experience the incredible joy of living in, with, and for Jesus Christ doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time and effort and commitment. It takes patience and practice and
perseverance.

There’s a delightful children’s anthem written by Natalie Sleeth entitled, “Little by Little”. It has in it this key line: “Good things that are here to stay don’t get done in just one day.”

Tuck that away in your heart and ponder it awhile.

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