My need seemed obvious. As editor of “Compendium”, the newsletter of the Australian Christian Writer’s Fellowship, I needed a working printer. I found a “classic” (“When I Consider How My Light is Spent” by John Milton) which just filled the final page. It was the only Christian item in a book I found in a garbage bin outside Vinnies. I had prayed for six months for a more reliable supply of “classics,” but searching every Christian bookshop and mainstream one with a religion section yielded nothing. I had spent a weekend laying out “Compendium”, inserting suitable illustrations and perfecting spelling and grammar until it was the best possible offering.
All that remained was printing. It should have taken under five minutes. I tried opening the file. The computer shut down. I turned it back on and re-opened the file. The computer shut down again. After several repetitions and a parody of prayer, the computer finally stayed on with the file open. “Thankyou, God,” I muttered while clicking the “print” icon.
The screen said, “Out of paper.” There was plenty of paper but the printer would not acknowledge it. It had printed joke e-mails perfectly the day before. Why not something that served God and His people? Could I work without a printer? Could I trust God or not?
I can if I slow to His pace. He bids me walk faithfully with Him, but I would rather sprint.
Satan can make almost anything a starter’s pistols. Whatever cannot be sold in TV commercials (the median length of which has halved in the last decade) or promoted in sound bites is not worth selling or promoting. We meet partners speed dating. We eat drive-through – cooking takes too long – driving at an infuriating fifty kilometres per hour (faster than the top speed on a Model T Ford). Two-hour Hollywood musicals have evolved into six-minute video clips. On a whim we take a twenty-four-hour trip to England, which took nine months once. We keep touch with SMS (life’s 2 short 4 vwls). We focus on this moment and milk it dry.
In New Testament times, people focused on the future. If something was inevitable, you waited, living as though it had already happened. Jews omitted vowels in writing, but it was not like our SMS; vowels determined verb tenses, which Jews deemed insignificant. The same four consonants mean “I was”, “I am” and “I shall be”. Therefore, although their life expectancy was about half ours, they treated time frivolously by our standards. Sluggards were admonished to study ants (Proverbs 6:6-8). Today we would call that laziness.
I felt lazy, having squandered two hours trying to print. Letting down the ACWF by waiting until the printer was repaired seemed unconscionable. My only consolation was that, since they were Christians, they would be patient. I flung a disk in the drive and thumped the “save” icon. I needed to pay for printing.
Next morning, I prayed on the train for a printing shop between the station and work that I could use before I started work at 8·30am. I finally found one on the wrong side of the railway line which opened (according to the sign on the door) at 8·30am. I would have called work to say that I would be late had I known the number. I flopped onto their doorstep and opened Mark’s gospel.
I am amazed at how Jesus thought He had unlimited time. He only had three years to found God’s Kingdom and tell Israel the Gospel, yet never resented interruptions. Demoniacs, hungry crowds, lepers, children, quadriplegics and disciples constantly waylaid him, yet He took time out for all of them. I hope the Asian students learn that faster than I do.
Tim, Ying and I tell students Bible stories as yarns. I was lucky this week. I had a dramatic story with a beginning, middle and end. Everything about it appealed to my writer’s ethic.
I often pray that I could make writing my career and ministry. Whenever I do, I get locked into full-time data entry. So I pray, “Lord, if you don’t want me to write, then I’ll give up writing.” Then everybody starts encouraging me about my writing. What is God doing? The best thing about finding that poem outside Vinnies was discovering that another Christian felt the same:
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul were more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask…
Outside that shop, I twigged that I was using my “one talent”. Walking by faith means letting God use me His way. I had imagined writing Christian best sellers. God imagined otherwise. I can’t combine service with self-interest! Only when I stopped praying for my will could God start His.
The shop opened at 8·45. The staff said printing would take twenty-four hours. Did they think I had unlimited time?
That night I dreamed that someone dumped a load of soil beside me on a train. I stood to shovel it into a wheelbarrow. Did God expect me to write on the train? Surely not. Imagine how long re-writing and editing would take without the word processor.
The next day, I thought that I could just reach the printing shop after work if I hurried. Thence I dashed for the post office. Halfway, I stopped and took a stepped backwards. “The Purpose-Driven Life” sat in a shop window. I would never have guessed that a Christian bookshop could be called “Popular Store”.
“More books inside,” said a man on the step.
I wandered in. Alongside everything common to tacky nick-nack shops were Christian books including “The Poetry of Piety: an Annotated Anthology of Christian Poetry.” I laughed and thanked God aloud.
Faithful walking with God yields copious thankfulness. We seldom appreciate what we get immediately. Who can understand “four more months and then the harvest” (John 4:35) if all crops are available all year? Harvest for Biblical Jews is a joyous festival. Four months before harvest you might not have sowed yet! Handwriting two poems and first drafts of a story and this article made me respect past generations of writers, such as Scott Turow who wrote the novel “Presumed Innocent” on commuter trains (it took eight years) and will make me appreciate the printer. Working towards physical or spiritual harvest is hard, but accompanied by patience it is pure joy.
God is more patient than I am. He would need to be to tolerate me. He so seldom gets to gratify His longing to work in and through me, because my quick temper and short attention span does not incline me to walk humbly with Him. Lately, however, I am more motivated to “keep step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) and prioritise communing with Him and waiting on Him.
Ultimately, I should appreciate not what I get after waiting but waiting itself. This appreciation is beyond patience as slow cooked roast veal is beyond McDonald’s drive-through. My goal is no longer to write best sellers but to conform to God’s will. For, as “Patience, to prevent” Milton’s (and my) “murmur,” soon replies,
God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve Him best: his state
Is kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”