Listenings: Unhurried Formation

With the likely exception of Adam and Eve, the rest of us come into this world as babies.  Even that single fact ought to tell us that God is not in a hurry.  God seems quite content for us to “grow up” in a rather unhurried way.  The same holds true for our spiritual formation.  It is an experience of unhurried growth. 

This doesn’t play well in a results’-oriented church….a church were speed and spirituality are often overlapped, a church where “more is better”—“bigger is better.”  In fact, on one occasion I was talking about the unhurriedness of spiritual formation, and a pastor spoke up and said, “Steve, I don’t have time for that kind of ministry!”  I understood where he was coming from, for I have felt that way myself.  Our world equates a more paced and laid-back approach with laziness, even care-less-ness. Important people are the ones who know “how to get it done.”

But this is not the way of God.  The primary biblical image for formation is “growing up” into Christ (see Ephesians 4:13-15).  And whatever else we may say about growth, it is an unhurried process.  Years ago, my colleague, Dr. Matt Zahnizer said, “One of the most amazing things about Jesus is that he took 30 years to get ready for 3 years of ministry.  To the contrary today, we think we can take 3 years to get ready for 30 years of ministry.”  Having taught in seminary now since 1980, I have seen a fair share of students who would have been happy to skip the preparation and “just get on with it.”  But that is not the way of growth.

The true artists prepare much more than they perform.  They grow more than they “glow.”  And most of what we see and admire in them is the result of innumerable hours of hidden practice sessions—years of training for (sometimes) only a few minutes of public achievement.  The same holds true in the spiritual life.  We must not—indeed, we cannot—“hurry” our growth in Christ.  Our souls grow through an often-hidden, slow but sure, process of development.  You cannot rush maturity.  Fruit must hang on the limb before it is ripe.

Our capacity for relationship (imago dei) raises the question, “What kind of relationship?”  The answer is, an unhurried one.  Because this is so important (and so often neglected), we will not rush on to another topic next week.  We’ll be more unhurried at this stage of blogging.  We really don’t “have time” for anything else!  God is not in a hurry.  Neither are God’s followers.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Listenings: Unhurried Formation

  1. Anne Butcher says:

    Steve,
    I have always appreciated gleaning from the fields of your wisdom and this time is not unlike any others. Thank you for this reminder! The area of my own spiritual growth is one that is before me at all times: either I’m immersed in it and struggling to get all the other things in life worked in OR I’m struggling with the lack of it and busily doing all the “things of life”! There are so many more times that I am the green apple on the tree rather than the one being picked and eaten. I am thankful for the times I am faithful to staying connected to the vine……and happy to be “green”!

  2. Michael Shaw says:

    Steve,

    “The true artists prepare much more than they perform.” AMEN! My theme of late has become, “You have to be before you can truly do.” I want to be (become/subject myself to instruction, transformation, sanctification, reproof, refinement, renewal) before God, and then I can, by the power of his Holy Spirit, go and do. This is not analysis paralysis, it is a method and praxis based upon the “summary of the law”, Matthew 22: 36-39. It takes time, and inspires to gospel action. A both/and equation.

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