By Pastor Glenn Pease
Jamie Buckingham has written 20 of the best Christian book of the past decade. And in one of them called The Last Word he tells of how, even for a Christian sometimes, everything can go rapidly wrong. He lived in a quiet country home, but it was one with an unusual water system. He had a cut off valve in the back yard, which diverted water from the system to a pond. One evening he was in bed when his 14-year-old daughter was taking a shower. He heard gurgling in the heating vent, and suddenly he remembered that he had forgotten to reopen the valve after he washed the car. Water would be backing up into the house.
He leaped up, grabbed a flashlight and raced down the stairs and out into the back yard. It was already flooded and so he was sloshing through icy water in his bare feet. When he got to the pump-house he knelt in the cold and reach down into the hole to turn the valve. Something slimy moved and he jerked back quickly. He caught his pajamas on the wire fence and tore them. As a Christian he had given up swearing, but now he needed a substitute, and so he slung his flashlight into the pond in anger. As usual it solved nothing, and he was now in total darkness. He ripped himself off the barbed wire and sloshed his way back to the house.
He stepped in some doggie doo and it felt terrible, and so he began to hop in the high grass. He ran a thorn between his big toe and its neighbor. This was the final straw, and he lost control. He went crashing through the shrubs and into the house with his pajamas ripped half off and his back and neck bleeding. He woke up everybody in the house at the top of his voice. He never saw the humor of the situation at all, but his family got at least 5 weeks of laughter out of it. Life can change so rapidly that it is frightening. Here was a Christian leader who was living a life of tranquility, and in a matter of minutes he was in a rage of anger. His spirituality was radically changed with such rapid speed.
The good news is that the reverse can also happen. You can be in a rage of anger and suddenly be changed and calmed, and find yourself in a state of peace. This is what we see happening to Paul on the road to Damascus. He was like a fire-breathing dragon marching to incinerate the church when suddenly he was confronted by Christ. Paul was instantly transformed into a disciple saying, "What shall I do Lord?" This could be in the Guiness Book of World Records as the fastest transformation in history. Instant servant-hood is what we have here. The second Paul knew that the Christ he persecuted was not dead, but alive and powerful, he knew he was on the wrong side, and it didn't take him anytime at all to switch sides. He immediately called Jesus, whom he considered a false prophet, the Lord of his life.
You could go your whole life not believing there was such a thing as a duckbill platypus, but then when you are suddenly confronted by one, and there it is in your presence, it does not take many seconds before your years of doubt and disbelief are gone, and you are a believer. So Paul, who thought Jesus was a deceiver, discovered that he was a solid rock of reality, and instantly he began to build his life on that rock. Everything happened so fast with Paul. He was converted in seconds, and then in verse 13 he was instantly healed and his sight was restored. In verse 16 Ananias gave him a two sentence sermon and then said, what are you waiting for-get up and be baptized." Usually a baptism class will last longer than 3 or 4 seconds, but this is Paul we are dealing with, and he could be called Speed for a nick name, for the whole process of justification and sanctification is enormously speeded up for him.
Go, go, go is the theme of this chapter of his life. In verse 18 God spoke to him and God's first word is not all that surprising in the light of this rapid chain of events. God said, "Quick, leave Jerusalem immediately." God is usually not in a hurry, but in His dealings with Paul in this chapter, the name of the game is speed. Seeing this motivated me to search the Scriptures to discover what it has to say about the subject of speed. What I discovered is that it is a large subject, which cannot be covered in one message, and so we will deal with just two main classes of speed that the Bible refers to often. First is,
I. THE FOOLISHNESS OF SPEED.
This negative side of speed is seen in this rapid moving chapter as well. Paul was foolish in his speedy attempt to destroy the church. His own teacher Gamaliel warned about being to hasty in solving problems by violence. We see this back in chapter 5 of Acts. When the Jews wanted to kill Peter and the other Apostles he gave some examples of others who stirred up the people and then quickly passed from the scene. He concluded in verses 38 and 39, "Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop these men: You will only find yourself fighting against God." Gamaliel was a wait and see type person, and not a jump in and do something no matter how stupid type of person. He was wise enough to know about the foolishness of speed in men trying to judge the workings of God.
Paul was a brilliant student of Gamaliel, but Paul had a different conviction. He was a shoot first and ask questions later type thinker. He was fast on the draw, and that is how he got the job of persecuting the Christians. He was not bothered by presuming them guilty before they had any chance to prove themselves innocent. Paul did not need to listen, for he had his mind made up before hand that they were worthy of punishment without trial. He illustrates the foolishness of speed.
Paul got a taste of his own medicine when this mob of Jews treated him like he treated the Christians. They made up their minds about him without giving him a chance to defend himself. He got a taste of foolishness of speed and it was not pleasant. The Roman commander was going to give him another dose by flogging him without ever doing a background check on him to see if he was a Roman citizen. This was a short cut that could have taken him swiftly to the grave. There are many foolish things you can do fast, and the Bible makes it a point to reveal to us a good number of these so that we are aware of the danger of speed. It is not just in travel, but in our actions that speed can destroy. We can only look at a few examples.
Prov. 12:16 says, "A fool shows his annoyance at once but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Prov. 20:3 says, "It is to man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel." The man who is quick tempered and ready to fight at the drop at of a hat is not wise. You are always going too fast emotionally when you emotions are in control of your body, and your mind is not in charge. People who let their feelings run their life is just as foolish as teens out in the streets dragging with their cars. Both are illustrating the foolishness of speed.
Prov. 19:2 says, "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way." Haste makes waste is the modern equivalent. All those Christians who suffered and even died under Paul's persecution did so because of the folly of his rash and speedy conclusion that the way of Christ was the wrong way. There are all kinds of ways of being stupid fast. A freshman at the university of Minnesota was amazed when he saw one of his classmates turn in his paper on a final exam in only 15 minutes. Later he asked him how he did it, and he answered honestly, "It don't take long to flunk a test." It is easy to be fast when you are not achieving anything.
We live in an age where so much can be done so fast that we loose sight of the fact that it still takes quality time for many things of value. Development of gifts and relationships take time. A woman buying a chess set asked the clerk if he could explain how to play the game as he wrapped it up. People want to be instant saints and scholars, but it doesn't work that way. It takes time to be successful at anything that is really worthwhile. The fastest way to be shallow is to think you can do or be anything worthwhile at great speed.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That is part of the wisdom of the Proverbs, for it is the hurried decisions of life that often lead to great mistakes. Prov. 21:5 says, "The plans of the diligent lead to prophet as surely as haste leads to poverty." You read everyday of people who make "get rich quick" decisions, and all they get quick is ripped off. All through history people have rejected that which is new in haste. Morse met with considerable opposition to his telegraph. It took a brutal murder to get people to see its value. The murder took place in London where the culprit got on a train headed for a distant city. The only way a message could be sent swift enough to beat the train was by this new invention. When the police were waiting to arrest the man at his destination, the telegraph caught the popular fancy and prejudice was broken down. We need to be aware of the folly of a hasty rejection of that which is new.
It is folly to suppose that people who travel 60 miles per hour are ten times more civilized than those who travel 6 miles an hour, but it is equally foolish to hastily reject the more rapid speed supposing that slower is better. What really matters is not the speed, but whether or not you have a meaningful destination. But it is folly to reject the greater speed just because it is new. The negative side of speed is very real, but it is not all that is real about speed. There is also a positive side that we want to look at.
II. THE FRUITFULNESS OF SPEED.
The primary use of the word slow in the KJV is to describe the fact that God is slow to anger. Over and over the Old Testament describes God as swift to be merciful and slow to let his wrath to fall. If God was fast in judging, nobody would be saved, for all would come under His wrath before they had an opportunity to be saved. Christ could have confronted Paul on the road to Damascus and treated him like he was treating Christians. He could have struck him down in judgment and rid the world of one more hot head. But Jesus is slow to wreck vengeance and swift to show mercy. He forgave Paul in record time, for he forgave him even before Paul recognized his sin. Grace always comes first because God always beats man to the punch. We only love him because He first loves us.
God's speed in love, mercy and grace reveal the marvelous fruitfulness of speed. It helps us to discern when speed is wise and when it is foolish. It may not be an absolute, but it is close, and we can say that you are almost always going at the right speed when you are quick to love, forgive, and look for a way to be kind and merciful. You are almost always blowing it when you are quick to judge, condemn and take action that will hurt people and relationships. There is a time for everything under the sun, but the time for the positive is now, soon and first. The time for the negative is later, and only after the positive has failed to achieve a fruitful result.
God said to Paul to quickly get out of Jerusalem, and from that point on Paul knew the value of rapid movement to stay alive. Speed was the key to his living long enough to fulfill his purpose in God's plan. He had to escape quickly more than once, and the quick action of his Roman guards spared his life more than once. Speed kills, but it also saves. If you read the rest of Acts, you will see that obedience to the advice of James 1:19 was basic to the fruitfulness of Paul's ministry. It says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger."
I read about a young woman who returned to the United States after a year with the Peace Corps. She came off the plane with her new husband and the parents were horrified to see he was carrying a spear, a set of rattles and a shield, and had a bone through his nose. Her mother ran to her screaming, "No you dummy! I said marry a rich doctor-a rich doctor!" Poor listening creates a lot of problems in life, but being quick to listen prevents a lot of problems. Paul became a fast listener who heard God's will and responded quickly to carry it out. The point we need to grasp is that sometimes God is in a hurry. His plan depends upon man's swift obedience. There are urgent situations where speed is vital for escape, and for getting into an open door.
You need to see when it is time to speed up the process of your witnessing, and in trying to touch someone for Christ. They do not have forever, nor do you. You can't just go off half-cocked and be doing things rapidly for the sake of doing them. But you need to develop a greater sense of urgency about looking for opportunities to do the will of God. This does not mean we are to conform to the rat race of the world. A little boy said to his chum, "The way I see it, school is just a mouse race to get us ready for the rat race." The Christian can't escape the fact that he lives in a fast paced world.
"This is the age of the half read page
And the quick hash and the mad dash,
The bright night with the nerves tight,
The plane hop and the brief stop,
The lamp tan in the short span,
The big shot in the good spot,
And the brain strain and the heart pain,
And the cat naps till the spring snaps,
And the fun's done!"
People have always been in a hurry, but what we need to determine is if speed is foolishness or a tool of fruitfulness. Thomas Jefferson said, "Most men spend their time at nothing, other than hurrying about and never arriving anywhere." Years ago in a Pogo comic strip one of the characters passes Pogo on the run and he asks him why he is in such a hurry? He tells him there is an emergency. Pogo asks him where it is, and he responds that he doesn't know. Pogo then asks, "What's all the hurry if you don't know where the emergency is?" The response was, "Man! That's jes it! It's when you don't know where you is goin that you gotta hurry." This is one of the reasons that hurry is one of the gods of our age, for modern man is a worshipper of speed. We do not necessarily have better goals, but we are able to go faster and faster.
Modern man measures things in terms of nano-seconds. That is the length of time it takes light to go one foot. In one second light goes around the world 7 and a half times. When it goes one foot that is a nano-second. There are obvious limits to what you can do in a nano-second, and so most of us still operate in the primitive second as our shortest measure of time. But man is in fierce competition to find a way to make computers faster and faster, and to break every kind of speed record of the past in every field of endeavor. Man is a speed lover, and we need to see that it is not all bad, for there can be a wise and fruitful use of speed.
A young man was asking his dentist how much it would cost to have a tooth pulled? The dentist said it would be forty dollars. He complained, "Forty dollars for a few minutes work?" The dentist responded, "I could extract it very slowly if you wish." Here is a case where speed is wise and a blessing. Speed is wonderful in the realm of communication, but it does need control. When Washington was elected as President it took two days for the news to reach Philadelphia, and 6 weeks to reach Paris. Today we know even before the polls close who the winner is.
The speed of technology has made it possible to translate the Bible into a new language in months instead of a decade, as was the case not many years ago. Speed is not evil. It is just a tool, and like all tools it can be used foolishly or fruitfully. It is the Christians responsibility to make sure he uses it in a way that pleases God. God is always in a hurry to do what is good, and wise and loving. In Luke 14:21 the master said to his servants, "Go out quickly and bring in the poor, the maimed, the halt and the blind." A thousand years may be like a day to the Lord, but a day to a hungry lonely man may seem like forever. People with needs need someone who will respond to them now.
The angel said to Mary at the tomb, "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead." People in depression and darkness need good news now, and so we need to hurry with the message of hope. In Children's Letters To God one little girl named Harriet wrote, "Dear God, are you real? Some people don't not believe it. If you are you better do something quick." God has already done something in Christ for all people, and what needs to be done quick is to get the good news to them so they can be forgiven and have eternal life in Christ. That is why God wanted Paul to quickly leave Jerusalem, for he wanted him alive to reach the Gentile world. God was in a hurry to save Paul because He is in a hurry to reach the world with good news.
The point of all this is that God is not anti-speed. He created the universe and our world with built in speed. We are spinning around at one thousand miles per hour. We are orbiting the sun at sixty eight thousand miles per hour, and we are moving through space at forty four thousand miles per hour. Yet with all this speed there is a sense of peace and tranquilly, and the only way we know all of this speed is happening is by our changing position in relation to other heavenly bodies. It is possible also in the spiritual realm to speed up the process of living effectively for Christ and yet, like Paul, still live in a state of faith and not frenzy; a state of rest and not rush.
Nobody has forever, and what we have to do we have to do while it is day, for the night is coming when no man can work. There is a time for everything, but when the time is gone so is the opportunity, and so we need to feel the need for speed, the faster we obey the will of God as we know it the more useful tool we will be in the kingdom of God.
Speed has played a major role in the history of our nation as well as in the history of the Kingdom of God. When congress voted on the Declaration of Independence it had to be unanimous, but the first vote was not. The next day there would be more debate and the final vote taken. The future of America was riding on that vote. Delaware was split with one delegate for it and one against. The only hope was for the third delegate to be there to break the tie. Caesar Rodney was that third delegate and he had been summoned home on urgent business. An express rider was sent to get him back. He reached his home at two in the morning and told him the news that in 7 hours the final vote would be taken. Rodney saddled his best horse and galloped off into the pitch-black stormy night.
It was 89 miles to Philadelphia. He got there just as the vote was being taken. He had to be helped into the state house because he was exhausted. He was barely able to speak, but he said, "I vote for independence." The deadlock was broken and the colonies became the United States of America. It never would have happened had one man not felt the urgency to quickly forsake all other needs and speed to that place of decision with all haste. God, in his providence, has used speed to make America what it is, and to make the Kingdom of God what it is. May God keep us all aware that there is a connection between spirituality and speed.