“Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until thou be fruitful, and inherit the land.” (Exodus 23:30)
Do you ever wish that the Lord would give you a sign? Maybe if you’ve read this passage you don’t think of asking for signs:
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign. But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39)
But maybe, like me, you wish some things would be more obvious, or something big would happen to course correct your path. Or you seek a big change. “Something dramatic needs to happen and then I’ll______.” “I just need this to change and then I’ll start _____.” Whatever it is, I think we are all prone to waiting for something. Waiting until January first to start a resolution. Or the first of the month, or the first of the week. Can’t stop and make a change in the middle of the week. Nope. “I will go off caffeine this week!” and if I drink some Tuesday, the week is a goner. Gotta start fresh next Monday. Can’t go caffeine free the rest of this week. At least that’s the way my mind works.
Why is that? I get that we want a reset point, or some way of marking our progress and keeping track. And we do think in time and space. That’s how we measure things. By hours, days, weeks. We want to know how long it has been. How many minutes has it been since I last checked my phone? How many days have I been off sugar? How many weeks have I kept up my running?
So we need markers that we’re on track. We want to be able to check off days. We want to see progress and results. We use time to keep track of how we’re doing. But what about getting started in the first place? How do we start a new routine or habit? How and why?
It can be hard to try a new thing, or even to find a reason for it. We want to stay where we are, because it is safe and comfortable. Well, actually, it might not be safe OR comfortable, but it is familiar. And familiarity can masquerade as safety.
So in order to get out of our familiar bubble we want a wakeup call. We want a lightning strike (near us, not on us!) We want an earthquake. Or at least a spiritual earthquake. We want something to wake us up and get us working on repentance and change. We are waiting for something big to jolt us out of ourselves.
But the Lord doesn’t work that way. We don’t have to wait until we’re ready to change all at once. He lets us change little by little. He does not demand that we be ready all at once. We can’t change all at once. We have to accept that one thing at a time is okay. A not so spiritual example is cleaning my room. I often want to wait until I can do a thorough job. “No point in picking that sweater up if I can’t also hang up that skirt right now.” “I can’t sort all my clothes so I’m not gonna bother setting aside this shirt to get rid of.” Um, why not? It would be so much easier if I just put away this one article of clothing today instead of waiting until I can do it all, and yet it is so very hard to convince myself of this.
It is the same for me with spiritual tidying up. I don’t often spend the time resisting this minor bad habit until I can sit down and really work through my evils. Which is just silly, because the Lord tells us that even though repentance is exceedingly difficult we can still remind ourselves to resist every time something comes up:
“Since actual repentance, which is examining oneself recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life, is in the Reformed Christian world exceedingly difficult for many reasons that will be given in the last section of this chapter, therefore an easier kind of repentance is here presented, which is, that when anyone is giving thought to any evil and intending it, he shall say to himself, “Although I am thinking about this and intending it, I will not do it because it is a sin.” (True Christian Religion 535)
We’re supposed to pick up the one shirt, even if there is a massive pile of laundry, start by putting the one shirt away. That’s what the Lord asks. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can’t be. I need the constant reminder that the Lord is not in the fire. He is not in the earthquake. He is calm and He does not demand everything at once, He just wants us to start.
“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)