Slowly, Then All At Once

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S_Tanya

The Kingdom of God is slow.

I tell this to myself whenever I’m feeling frustrated with my lack of progress in any particular area, or when I read the news and wish I could change the world. Whenever I’m starting anything new, my instinct is for quick results, something tangible. You can get an app to tell you how many steps you’ve walked each day, or a plugin to tell you how many subscribers you have and how many units you’ve sold. We like these things because we feel on track: we have targets and immediate results, we can see the progress.

But this is not the way of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is frustrating, mysterious, slow, inefficient.

The Kingdom of God is a pinch of yeast. Jesus said the Kingdom of God grows unseen, slowly, like yeast working through a whole batch of dough. It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference.

The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed growing. It looks so tiny and insignificant, but before you know it, there are birds nesting in the top of a huge tree.

***

I have a phrase in my head from The Fault in Our Stars–“slowly, then all at once.” This, too, is how change happens: slowly, then all at once.

This how the Kingdom of God operates.

Whenever I turn the blank page between the Old Testament and New Testament, I think about the hundreds of years where God’s voice was quiet. I consider the prayers of the faithful who yearned for centuries that a saviour would come, and then suddenly, all at once, there he was, a baby in Bethlehem, and the world was completely changed.

For hundreds of years, nothing; then everything, all at once.

***

The Kingdom of God is like an axe toppling a tree.

You pick up the axe, feeling its heft in your hands; you lift it high, and swing with all your strength, bringing the entire force of yourself and the blade down onto the biggest tree trunk you can find. Metal meets wood, but barely–the wood holds firm, with just the tiniest dent on an indestructible institution, and instead, the impact shudders throughout your whole body.

Swing. Clunk. Sawdust.

This is the experience of being a social justice campaigner: it can feel so often like you are shouting into the abyss, focusing all your strength and anger onto an impossibly sturdy corrupt institution that will never topple.

In May this year, after the elections in Britain, I finally had my fill of seeing benefit cuts falling disproportionately on disabled people, so I started a campaigning organisation to speak up for disabled people. On a good day, I write letters to politicians, I galvanise others and I see tiny signs that indicate a shift in opinion. That hope strengthens me to wipe the sweat off my brow and take another swing.

On a bad day, I despair: it all seems so fruitless, so few people listening. It feels like nothing will ever change.

Swing. Clunk. Sawdust.

On the days of desperation, I remember that blank page between the two Testaments, the long years and prayers that preceded the birth of Christ. Some days it feels like I’m living in one long blank page, that God is not listening, that people’s hearts are closed.

Whether it’s the macro or the micro, your desire to change the world or just your immediate situation, the frustration is the same. You feel like nothing will ever be different. You feel every action taken is pointless, a waste of time. It is hard to use all your strength on each swing of the axe and only ever see sawdust. You want to scream, but you fear there is no one to hear it.

The Kingdom of God is like raising the axe against injustice for the 567th time, metal meeting wood, and then suddenly the giant tree sways, moans and falls crashing to the ground. At that point, people rush forward in order to watch and marvel at such a huge thing falling, as if in slow motion, just from one blow of the axe. They don’t see the other 566 blows of the axe, the God-infused sweat and blood that makes big change possible.

***

Prophets, keep speaking.

Intercessors, keep praying.

Campaigners, keep swinging that axe.

It’s frustrating, dispiriting, slow, unseen: it’s the way of the Kingdom of God.

Change will come, and in this way: slowly, slowly, then all at once.

_____________

Image credit: Ryan Tir

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Tanya Marlow
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, until she got sick, and became a writer. She loves singing opera arias, eating dark chocolate and laughing at her own jokes. (Not at the same time). She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, and writes honestly about God, suffering and the messy edges of life at Thorns and Gold. Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook, and  get her book for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow