My sister lives in Zambia, and I had the pleasure of visiting her there in 2010, and also again in 2016 for her wedding. One of the first things I noticed while there, was the way people approach time. One of the strangest things to get used to is people telling you that they will be coming over “now.” In my mind, that means that they will be there as soon as possible. But this is not the case. If someone lives on the other end of town, and they are beginning to drive over to your place, they will still tell you that they will be there “now,” even though the drive to your house might be an hour or two. If someone wants to convey that they are practically on your doorstep, they tell you that they will be there “now now,” which indicates that they will be there within the next five minutes.
Clearly, this concept of time feels considerably more laid back and fluid than the sense of time that people like me – who measure productivity in minutes – are used to. It certainly teaches you to slow down, and experience life not in finite increments of time, but to experience life as a measure of the relationships with those around you.
The reason this came to mind recently was because I had been musing on the concept of God’s time, and how God might often say “Yes, but not now,” when answering prayer. “Not now” clearly implies “not at this time.” But, it also implies that what you have prayed for will happen “at some time,” though without any indication as to when exactly that might be.
It could be a month or two.
It could be a year or two.
It could be a decade or more.
There simply is no way of knowing when the appointed time will arrive, when God has merely said, “Not now.”
The other night, in a Bible Study on Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we were talking about the concept of putting on new clothes based on Colossians chapter 3. Paul is speaking of transformation, of sanctification, as we follow Christ. But while being created – and renewed – in the image of God might be an immediate thing, transforming into the likeness of Christ takes considerably more time.
God might view us as perfect and blameless through Christ’s work on the cross, but we don’t immediately begin to transform into the likeness of Christ. Just like you are not naked one moment, and then fully clothed the next, your transformation into who and what God has created you to be is like putting on one article of clothing at a time.
Repeatedly, throughout Colossians, Paul brings up things that the people in Colossae have been tempted to follow, or perhaps have already turned toward, some new form of religion or spirituality. And Paul keeps reminding them that whatever they are searching for, whatever they are seeking, they already have everything they need to find wisdom, or knowledge, or peace.
What they have is Christ. They have the faith that Paul and others shared with them. If they seek Christ, they will find what they are looking for, Paul tells them over and over. Nothing more is required; there is no need to continually seek the new.
And today, we are not so different from the Colossians.
I’ve seen books that hype the new way to experience the divine, new methods for seeking God, new ways to enter into that state of bliss that helps us to commune with God.
And these books always seem to sell well. They sell well, because the old, tried and true methods for finding God have been tried, and found not to be true.
These methods were found not to be true because people did not give it enough time. They wanted the new experience with Christ, the new interaction with God, the new ecstasy from a meeting with the Divine. They wanted a deep, intimate relationship with God.
And they wanted it “now now.”
They wanted it at the snap of their fingers.
They wanted it in bite sized microwavable chunks of flavor bombs, without the time and preparation that goes into a true three-star Michelin meal.
They wanted ready-to-wear, instead of tailor-made.
I say “they.” But we are all in the same boat. Seeking quick answers to our prayers, fast solutions to our struggles, immediate resolutions to our spiritual puzzles.
And why wouldn’t we? The vast majority of our current culture is built around the concept of getting things when we want them, as we want them. Want to watch a movie? Stream it. Want a new pair of shoes? Order them online, and have them delivered today. Want a home-made meal, without all the prep work? Subscribe to a meal in a box program that gets delivered to your door.
The immediacy of our culture has trained us to constantly be on the go, getting things now, and doing things we want to do at the slightest inclination or provocation.
We can, at the click of a button, have the new new, “now now.”
But that is rarely how it works with God. Just like with those people who tell us that they are coming over “now” when they still have a whole city to traverse, we must lean into the only thing that matters when it comes to our faith: the relationship. Just as we put on one article of clothing at a time, a relationship grows, one meeting at a time. God is always available, and all that God requires of us is that we draw near.
And then, when we have drawn near to a God who desires that relationship with us, and have grown in that relationship, one step at a time, we may finally hear God say what we’ve been waiting for: “It is time. Now now.”
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.