A “few” years ago, I was on my least favorite mission trip of all time. I was having a hard time with many aspects of the trip, and as a leader, wanted to go home. The host team woke us up every morning with music blaring from speakers placed all over the basement of the church. While the music caused me pain most mornings, there was one morning in particular that the music gently woke me. The song started with, “Did you feel the mountains tremble? Did you hear the oceans roar? When the people rose to sing of Jesus Christ the risen one.” That song pulled me into the presence of God, in part because some of my best experiences have been in the mountains.
Being in the mountains has always been a spiritual experience for me. On that particular trip, we were basically in farm land, so the song was ironic, but I instantly remembered being in some of the most spiritually important places in my life.
This past week my family took a much needed vacation. We headed to the Smoky Mountains, for a week of indulging in tourist traps and nature. The cabin we rented had a spectacular view of the Smoky Mountains, and I found myself drawn to the deck to read scripture in the presence of these amazing aspects of creation.
Halfway through the trip, we went to a touristy cave. My kids were amazed at the way the cave had been sculpted by thousands of years of water rushing through, over, and around the lime stone. I was also in awe of the structure and found myself thinking about the fact that God took all kinds of time to make a beautiful cave, that most of the world would never see. Think about that for a moment. God took millions of years to create a cave system that wasn’t discovered until the last two hundred years, and that many people will never see.
The next morning I sat on the deck at the cabin reading Acts 7, the passage where Stephen is killed for following Jesus. Nothing like a passage about death to get the day started. Anyway, in that passage, Stephen is recounting to the religious leaders all the times throughout history where the people of Israel didn’t understand what God was doing. In their confusion they often turned against God and his leaders and chose chaos over relationship with God. As Stephen recounted Israel’s history, I could see the same God, who took endless time to produce a cave, slowly working in his people to produce a savior.
In that moment I began to ponder how God had been at work in me as well. I often expect dramatic change in myself, and the students I work with. For whatever reason, I think if I say the right thing, in a super creative way, kids will turn to Jesus on the spot, and start living for him instantly. I think I should change as quickly too. The reality is though, that God takes his time planting seeds of faith throughout life. Like the cool waters gently form the cave, the Holy Spirit is slowly forming me through the word of God.
There are a number of reasons I’ve been conditioned to think God should work fast. The reality is that God often takes his time. You and I are invited into his creative process of transformation for our own sake, but also for the sake of others.
This fall as New City Neighbor’s relaunches its fall ministries, we will all be tempted to look for immediate and drastic results. As a staff we’ll push to see those big jumps of development in each student. We’ll be searching for great stories to tell each other and you. The reality though is that the best stories won’t be told for a year or two. When I think of the kids who have been impacted the most, I immediately think about the kids who have been with us for 8 years of ministry. God is forming them into the likeness of Jesus and they are beginning to radiate with his love and goodness in our neighborhood.
Those are the stories we want to tell. They take time to develop, but like the cave and the mountains, some of the best things in this world don’t develop overnight.