February 28, 2014

By Fred Leist

One of my favorite stories is of two rabbinical students who were caught by the Rabbi gambling and drinking in the company of undesirable characters – even before the sun set on the evening of the Sabbath. The Rabbi called them into his study the next day. Both confessed to having given in to weakness, and admitted that they needed to learn and grow from their mistake. The Rabbi thought, and then went into his kitchen and brought back two bags of dried beans. “Put these in your shoes,” he told them, “and walk on them for a week, to remind yourself how hard life can be when you turn aside from God’s loving ways.” 
    
A few days later, the two students met. One was limping painfully, had dark circles under his eyes, and looked very tired. The other seemed much as he had been the week before. “Hey,” said the first, “how is it that you are walking so effortlessly? Didn’t you put peas in your shoes as the Rabbi instructed?” “Of course I did,” said the other, “How could I disobey the Rabbi?” He started to walk away, paused and then said, “But I boiled them first!” 
    
The story illustrates how we can seek the easy path, looking for quick fixes and desiring instant results. When it comes to our Christian discipleship and growth in God’s grace, that approach always proves unfruitful. Growing into Christ-likeness requires more than clouded vision, unfocused thought, and undisciplined actions. The simple truth is that developing spiritual maturity requires intentionality and takes time; no one drifts into deeper discipleship easily, automatically, or accidentally.    
    
This edition of The Missouri Methodists rolled off the printing presses and onto the digital highway as we entered the season of Lent. Lent can serve as a powerful antidote to what someone called, our “impatient itch for the instantaneous.” With roots in the Latin “Lentus” (flexible, pliant, slow) the very word suggests a basic openness to growth and development, characterized by patience, readiness, and intentionality. Lent, is a time of focused attention and calls us to slow down, as in the musical sign “lento”. Sometimes the surest way to make measurable progress forward is to slow down, rather than speed up.  
   
And the best way I know to slow down and focus with intentionality on my own spiritual transformation is to personally engage the proven, reliable practices that help me to gain the power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. Offering myself fully to God in worship, prayer and praise, investing myself faithfully in scriptural study and Christian community, giving generously of myself and my resources for the purposes of Christ, changes me in deep and profound ways. I am at my best when I slow down enough to center my life in Christ. And I do that by attending to those practices that serve to sustain my ongoing growth in God’s grace and fuel my spiritual journey for the long haul of committed Christian discipleship. 
    
There’s a delightful children’s anthem written by Natalie Sleeth (the person responsible for “Hymn of Promise” in our United Methodist Hymnal). It is entitled, “Little By Little.” The anthem has this key line that underscores the importance of intentionality, patience and perseverance: 
    
“Good things that are here to stay, don’t get done in just one day.”
    
I don’t know about you, but I find that to be an honest and hopeful reality. None of us will become fully-devoted followers of Jesus, suddenly, “in just one day.” Growing in grace is a steady, deliberate, ongoing pursuit. It requires that we fully invest in the process and consciously cooperate with the deep, enduring work that God desires to accomplish in and through each of us. And it’s only possible for those who slow down enough to move forward.