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UNDER CONSTRUCTION

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

Billy Graham, in his book Nearing Home, tells about his late wife Ruth driving through the backcountry of North Carolina one day. She navigated her way through long construction, followed many detour and road signs, when she finally arrived at the last road sign that read: “End of Construction: Thank You for Your Patience.” When Mrs. Graham arrived home she chuckled, telling Billy about that last road sign and that she wanted its words on her tombstone: “End of Construction: Thank You for Your Patience.”

I like Ruth Graham’s theology! First, she reminds us that we are all under construction. We are all works in process. In the grand adventure of following Jesus we have to acknowledge with the apostle Paul: “…we have not reached the goal, but press on to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:12). Each day we wake to yet more wonders of God’s love and new lessons to be learned. There is a sense in which we can never say that we have arrived.

Second, Ruth Graham reminds us that our faith journey is a process. Regardless of what a book, retreat leader, or motivational speaker might promise us, there is no overnight transformation. In our culture of instant coffee, instant oatmeal and nanosecond technology, the “every-day-ness” of our walk of faith might seem daunting. But as Graham Scroggie, an English theologian observed:

Spiritual growth is a gradual process. All growth is progressive, and the finer the organism, the longer the process …And it is from day to day. How varied these are! There are great days, days of decisive battles, days of crises in spiritual history, days of triumph in Christian service, days of the right hand of God upon us. But there are also idle days, days apparently useless, when even prayer and holy service seem a burden. (Quoted by Miles Stanford, Spiritual Green Letters)

Jesus taught that our spiritual growth, like all growth is process: “…first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:28). There are no instant, quick, easy steps to maturity or godliness. It is as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche affirmed: “The essential thing in heaven and in earth is, apparently (to repeat it once more), that there should be long obedience in the same direction.” (Beyond Good and Evil). Yes, “long obedience in the same direction.” We keep on keeping on.

Finally, Ruth Graham’s theology reminds us that we do not make this journey of faith without patience: the patience of others and plenty of our own. Years ago there was a button that said, “PBPGINFWMY”. The cryptic letters stood for: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.” It was a good reminder to the person who wore it, as well as to others, that we are all under construction — patience is required.

That means patience with ourselves: patience that we have not yet arrived, that we have not yet become spiritually mature, that we have not yet overcome sin. It also means patience with others: that they also struggle, they also stumble and fall.

As I write, I pause to look through my window and see a navel orange tree growing in our back yard. I think how the oranges on it have not yet arrived. They are still in process. The plump oranges hanging on it are still green and immature. It seems like yesterday that they were mere blossoms that grew into tiny green spheres, into larger green spheres, and the large green spheres they are today. I am pleased with those green, immature, unripe oranges, as I know they will soon be juicy, delicious, delectable fruit. I wait for them patiently.

I think then how God is waiting patiently for you and for me. God sees more in us than we see. “When Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:1). Let’s be patient with each other, and patient with ourselves. God isn’t finished with us yet!

And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

Grace and peace,
Tim

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