Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly

The title of this post is very black and white - an absolute statement. Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly. Is it true?

To be sure, the winner of the X-Factor can achieve instant fame, usually a no. 1 hit and a tidy pile of cash. But this is not an achievement of any real value. The world has scores of countries, and every year they each have dozens of number 1 pop stars. Each gets their 15 minutes of fame - but being well known by your fellow humans has no significance at all in God's eyes and will count for big-fat-zero on the day of judgment. It won't even be worth discussing; man is the measure of nothing in God's economy. That which is highly esteemed amongst men is, Jesus said, abomination in the sight of God.

You can certainly wreck things quite quickly. A hasty word, a rash gamble, a foolish stubbornness - and years of work can come crashing down. But it's an unalterable law of our creation that to the opposite direction - to build up - is long and slow.

I think that Christians really need to be convinced of this; otherwise we will be wide open to temptations to discouragement. The West is the instant society - everything is expected now, with big flashing lights and high-tempo music accompanying it. Some of the things you can do right now are very impressive. We rightly enjoy the instant results. Being in the UK a few weeks, I've enjoyed instant Sat-Nav, and bringing up a list of nearby Indian takeaways, a map where to find them and ringing one to order - all inside a minute. But though these results are instant, it wasn't instant when seen from the other end. It's been years of development of phone networks, fibre optic cables, planning and launching communicaton satelites, gathering of hordes of mapping data and the technology to process it, the microchip and computational technology going all the way back to Charles Babbage's mechanical contraptions, and before that the peaceful society and developments in medicine and travel that laid the ground work. It's been the work, not of years, but of centuries of slow, patient development.

That is God's law. He has imposed upon his creatures an unalterable principle which insists that genuine achievement will only follow large amounts of labour. It's true of course that he's free to break his own laws when he pleases; he can send revival in a day instead of working through the plodding pastor's years of faithfulness, and he can send a genius who has a "Eureka" moment that leads to a quantum leap forward in a single hour. So we can allow a tiny caveat in that "never". But in the general run of things, God has ordained that genuine, worthwhile, real fruit (as measured by his own true standards, not the world's) is tied to long, patient and often painful perseverance.

We need to be convinced, because otherwise we'll get discouraged. A society that seems only to value the instant is a society that doesn't encourage the long-term. But developing our gifts and talents, serving and advancing in our vocation, raising children, cultivating a marriage, improving our minds, seeing our churches grow in grace and maturity and leaders converted and trained up - these are all long-term projects. They require us to ignore the distractions and discouragements if we're going to do a proper job of them. They require us to remember that the only verdict that matters is God's on that "Great Day". They require us to know that the next generation won't be shaped positively by TV glitz and a quick audience vote, but by persevering plodding. That's what to aim for. Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly.

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