As a child, I learned to count and was immensely proud of being able to count to one hundred. Then I learned a quicker way of doing it: ‘one, two… miss a few… ninety-nine, one hundred!’ I found this hilarious.
Many of us want to apply this childish rhyme to life itself. We see the end goal. We know what we’re aiming for. We’re eager to get there. So we reckon it can’t hurt if we skip some of the boring bits in order to arrive at our destination more quickly. What can be so wrong about ‘missing a few’, after all?
The problem we thus encounter is that God sets things in place and it’s not always possible to circumnavigate His order. Obedience tends not to have shortcuts. We need to learn to work out our salvation (Phil 2:13), letting patience transform us, allowing perseverance to finish its work so that we can be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)
As a child, I used to flick to the last pages of a book to see if the story ended happily. As an adult, I’ve learned that knowing the ending is no substitute for reading the whole thing, for the ending (if well written) is even more satisfying in the context of a well-plotted storyline which draws you towards that finale.
Similarly, we want to skip to the last chapter of the Bible and reach the rewards of heaven without the slog of counting ourselves dead to sin, fleeing from evil and maintaining vigilance and obedience in our walk with God. Such shortcuts are doomed to failure. There is no substitute for the ‘long obedience in the same direction’, as Nietzsche put it.
This ‘long obedience in the same direction’ is also known as discipleship. The journey, the process of ‘being made holy’, is as crucial as the end product, for this is what actually determines the end product! Discipleship is vital in the process of being made perfect, for being conformed to the image of Christ requires a daily denial of self, a taking up of our cross and a determined following of Jesus. (Mark 8:34) Nothing else will do. There is no way we can skip steps and arrive at our destination safely. We must follow Jesus every day and do things the Jesus way. That’s one of the lessons of Advent. Waiting is never a waste of time as long as our eyes remain firmly fixed on God.