Tag Archives: Instant

The Easy Way Out

If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Numbers 32:5 (NIV)

When I was a kid I was terrible at waiting for things. My sister, Jody, and I would always tell each other what we were getting for Christmas. I just had to know, even though it pretty much ruined Christmas morning as a time of pleasant surprises.

Driven by my appetites I was terribly impatient as a young person and typically wanted things now. Perhaps this developed from being the youngest sibling and watching others get to do things first while I had to wait until I was big enough or old enough. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality. Whatever the case, I can tell you that throughout my life journey when I was given a choice between the instant, easy gratification of a known quantity or the long, slow, patient wait for a promised, better pay-off down the line, I have typically always chosen the former. I’ve been very good at taking the easy-way out.

This trait has generally not served me well.

So it was with great interest that I read the story of the Hebrew tribes of Reuben, Gad in today’s chapter. If you’ve been following the larger story we know that many years before today’s chapter Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land God had promised them in the land of Canaan.

Back in those ancient days the land was largely made up of small city-states that controlled a small territory. Sometimes these towns would band together to form a larger, regional power in the area, but often each city-state would build a wall around their village and go it on their own.  In those days it was a dog-eat-dog world in which people groups were constantly invading and conquering one another. You were always at risk of a larger, stronger people showing up out of nowhere, conquering you, killing your entire population, and taking all of your possessions as plunder. If the Israelites wanted the Promised Land they would have to take it by conquest. It seems bloody and barbaric in our politically correct, modern Western world, but the ancient world of the near east was a bloody, barbaric place. It’s just the way it was.

A generation earlier, on their first visit to the Promised Land, Moses sent spies into the land to check things out. All but two of the spies were fearful and advised not starting a military campaign to take the land. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, advised that the Israelites have faith in God and go for it. Because of the tribes’ lack of faith God said they’d continue to be a nomadic, wandering people for an entire generation before giving their children another chance.

As today’s chapter opens we’re setting up for the second chance. The Hebrew Tribes have approached the Jordan River and are once more looking out over the Promised Land. It’s right there for the taking, but it will require a hard campaign of conquest an no guarantee of victory. Now, the Reubenites and Gadites come to Moses and say, “We like this land we’re standing on. Perfect for our flocks. We’ll settle for this. Have fun with the conquest.

It’s just like me as a little kid. “I’ll take the thing I can have right now. This land I can see and we already possess and I don’t have to worry about conquering? It will be way more easy. I’ll take the easy way out, thank you.”

Moses immediately thinks, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

When confronted with what they were doing, the Reubenites and Gadites strike a pledge that they will settle the land they were on, but would send their men on the military campaign to support their fellow tribes in the conquest. Moses agrees, but I can feel an eery foreshadowing of problems to come…

  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites really be committed to supporting the conquest when their wives and children are back on the other side of the Jordan?
  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites leave their best fighters to protect their families and possessions and send their worst fighters on conquest? How’s that going to go over with the other tribes?
  • Once the Promise Land is secured will the Reubenites and Gadites be pissed off when they realize that they settled for less when they could have had much better land if they’d just been patient and held-out like the other tribes?

[Cue: red flags waving, alarm bells going off, and a loud buzzer]

All of the hard lessons this impatient person has learned along my life journey tells me this is not going to end well.

This morning I’m reminded of some of my own mistakes when I chose immediate, easy gratification over a much better, promised pay-off that required patience, fortitude and/or hard work. Some of these mistakes were silly and insignificant, but others were tragically life changing.

I’ve learned over time to recognize the pattern in myself. I’ve developed more patience. Having experienced some really good “promised land” rewards and delayed gratification has given me positive reinforcement on which to draw upon. I’m more likely to make wise choices today than I was in my younger years. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that some natural inclinations never go away. I just have to learn to recognize and manage the moment when I’m tempted to take the easy way out.

Worthwhile Things Take Time

From thought to reality in less than a year.
From thought to reality in less than a year.

[Solomon] had spent seven years building [the temple]. 1 Kings 6:38b

Worthwhile things take time.

In the nearly 50 years of my lifetime I believe the greatest change in our culture has been the speed with which we live our lives. Our technological age has pushed the envelope of speed in nearly every area of life.

When I was a kid, I delivered the afternoon edition of the Des Moines newspaper on four square blocks up Madison Avenue from Lawnwoods Drive to Lower Beaver Road, south to Douglas Avenue and then back up Lawnwoods catching the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues in between. There were two papers printed each day back then to get more news out to the public faster. News traveled at the speed that my eleven year old feet could carry it in Chuck Taylor high-tops.

My "Paper Route"
My “Paper Route”

When I got home, I read the newspaper myself. I was always fascinated by the small “blurbs” that newspaper editors used to fill space on the page. “Blurbs” were small articles just a sentence or two long. Usually, it was a news story from the far reaches of the world that had little relevance to anyone in Des Moines such as a massive earthquake that struck a remote province in China.

Today, my phone would notify me of that same earthquake minutes after it happened with links to photos, videos and eyewitness reports. Suddenly, everything that happens is newsworthy and we are aware of everything that happens in an instant. Everything happens faster than before. Things get old quicker. Things are obsolete almost as quickly as you purchase them. Fads come and go in a day (remember the “Harlem Shake?”).

Today, I’m thinking about Solomon’s seven year effort to build the temple, and thinking about the house that Wendy and I are watching emerge from a vision in our heads to reality in less than a year. I’m thinking about some of the great building projects of history that spanned generations, and I wonder what it was like for a craftsman to dedicate his whole life to a building project that he knew he would never see completed.

I love all that that technology has afforded us. I love that I can have a coffee date with Taylor in Scotland via FaceTime. I love that Madison can text me from whichever airport she happens to be in at any moment and I can instantly communicate with her from anywhere. And yet, I am aware that having the world at our fingertips 24/7/365 has not made us better people, nor wiser, nor more satisfied.

Worthwhile things take time, but we increasingly steal time from our lives in search of worthwhile things.

 

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Seed, to Sapling, to Shade

source: Ikonotekton via Flickr
source: Ikonotekton via Flickr

Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” Luke 13:18-19 (NIV)

I am notoriously bad at growing things. I often feel ashamed of this. When you are born and live in Iowa nearly your entire life you tend to think that a green thumb should naturally be bred into your DNA. My paltry attempts at gardening and growing houseplants over the years have been an endless string of dismal failures (not unlike the Cubs attempts to win a World Series).

I am, nevertheless, increasingly appreciative of the time and patience it takes for things to take root, grow, and develop over time. I have observed over my lifetime how our culture has become focused on things happening instantly. I marvel to think how fast thing happen. We have fast food, faster downloads, a library at our fingertips, digital photos without developing, news from around the world popping incessantly on our smartphones, video calls with loved ones on the other side of the world, and on, and on, and on.

Along life’s journey I have come to realize that, unlike our consumer society, God is not a slave to the demands of the market He serves. He remains concerned with seasons of cultivating, planting, growing, pruning and harvest. God’s Kingdom is less about instant gratification and more about perfect timing. Chained to this concept we call time, I observe that we are incessantly focused on striving to pack in as much as we possibly can, as quickly as we can make things happen. Existing omnisciently outside of time, present in all moments at once, the Creator affords a perspective we can’t quite grasp in the moment.

I find this dilemma affects even how we want things to happen spiritually. I watch the effects with my fellow Jesus followers in our institutional churches. We want quick decisions, instant repentance, immediate life change, and the fruit of the Spirit produced post haste. We want attendance to explode in our services or we consider it a failure.

This morning I am reminded that God’s Kingdom is comparable to a tree that is grown from a small seed. A tree requires time to progress from seed to root to sapling to fruitful maturity when many can benefit from the shade of its branches. It requires patience and must persevere through difficult seasons and less than ideal circumstances. It will suffer from branches that don’t make it. I am encouraged by this truth. Progress, not perfection, is the prescription of the day. It gives me reason to have a little more grace with myself and to extend a little more love and mercy towards others.