FS Sunday Sermon
You Have Permission to Slow Down
Start the Day with the Voice of God
By: David Mathis
Permission to slow down — perhaps that’s what you’re aching for again. Maybe you tasted it for a few weeks, or even months, when the pandemic hit, as event after event was cancelled. But now, with vaccinations in arms, and the collective rush to return to life as “normal” (as much as that’s possible), you’re feeling the need again for life to move slower than the modern world seems to allow.
You’re not alone, and the phenomenon may be understandable, at least in good measure.
Age of Accelerations
According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, we are living in “the age of accelerations.” Our world has become increasingly fast-paced through the exponential development of technology and accompanying factors. Now “the pace of technology and scientific change,” he writes, “outstrips the speed with which human beings and societies can usually adapt” (Thank You for Being Late, 39). Friedman claims that “we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history” (3) — perhaps unequaled in the last 500 years.
We have come to “a fundamental turning point in history” (4), and perhaps you’ve felt the effects, as I have. To-do lists seem to grow faster than we have time for. We hurry in the morning. Hurry on the road. Hurry at work. Hurry between meetings, and in meetings, and over meals. Hurry to get dinner ready. Hurry to eat. Hurry to get the kids cleaned up, and out the door, and get back home, and get to bed. Then, hurry to do more on evenings and weekends than we realistically have time for. Then hurry to bed ourselves. Get too little sleep. And start it all over the next day.
Even more important than what constant hurry is doing to our work lives, family lives, relationships, and emotional health, is what it’s doing to our souls. The late Dallas Willard (1935–2013) sounded the alarm toward the end of his life: “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”
Find Your Balance First
The challenge of living in an increasingly fast-paced society, and finding measured ways to slow our lives down to a realistic human speed, will be addressed on many fronts. Whole books, like John Mark Comer’s Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, offer various ideas and strategies. But here I’d like to focus on just one, but one that may be as important, if not more so, than any other:
Begin the day at the pace of God’s word.
Whose Pace? Whose Voice?
In our “age of accelerations,” our lives are awash in words. Words on screens. Words in our ear buds. Words written in articles and ebooks. Words spoken on podcasts and radio. And the in-the-flesh words of family, roommates, neighbors, and coworkers. The question isn’t, Are there voices in your head? But rather whose voices are they — and which ones carry the day in shaping the desires and direction of our souls and lives?
When we begin the day with God’s voice in the Scriptures, we’re welcoming his Truth, his concepts, his mind and will and heart, to direct and shape our lives. We’re making an effort to see the world through God’s words, rather than God through the world’s. Apart from receiving God’s words in sufficient quantity, and with due priority, we will inevitably follow “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) and “be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). In time, the world’s patterns and voice and pace will rule us.
So, one significant way to hold back the tides of the world’s pace is to start the day with the voice of God.
Move at the Pace of God’s Word
Coming first to God is critical, but so is the pace at which we move once we’ve come. Rushing in and out of our readings, at the speed of modern life, will do our souls far less good than learning to let the cadence of God’s words set our pace.
But how might we do that? How might we let God himself set the pace? Consider (1) the design of ancient books, and especially the Bible, (2) how we are to read them, and (3) what effect our reading can have on us.
DESIGN OF ANCIENT TEXTS
Unlike so many of our books today, and internet content, ancient texts were not written quickly, nor written to be read quickly. They were designed to be read slowly, enjoyed, reread, and meditated on. After all, they had to be copied by hand. So published words were precious. They were not meant to be read once, but over and over again. And the Christian Scriptures, of all texts, ancient and modern, reward rereading, and slow reading.
Moreover, these are God’s own words. Written through his inspired prophets and apostles, the biblical text is fundamentally different than any other mere human text and deserves from us a distinct approach — which means, at least, reading without rushing. The Bible is God’s breathed-out Book (2 Timothy 3:16), to be breathed in by us as we catch our breath for the day.
When we “slow down” and meditate, memorize, and study Scripture at an unhurried, even leisurely pace, we are not engaging with it in a foreign, unexpected way. God means for his word to be read slowly, meditated on, not speed-read.
CALL TO COMPREHEND — AND EXPERIENCE
Also, we will need to slow down, from our normal pace of reading the news and contemporary texts, so we might comprehend what the ancient writer, speaking for God, has to say. The Scriptures were written centuries, even millennia, before us — in places and times different than our own. And not only that, but the Bible is divine in its content. No biblical prophecy, Peter writes, “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
Not only is the Bible itself designed to be engaged differently — more slowly and repeatedly — than our published words today, but also we, as humans and moderns, need a more careful, deliberate pace to be able to understand what the words mean — and to experience the truth. Bible reading, and particularly meditation, is to be emotionally responsive.
For this reason, speed-reading and Bible-reading are a mismatch. When we have questions (as we often do) about the meaning of a word or phrase or sentence in context, we don’t just keep going to finish the reading, check the box, and move on. Rather, we need margin to pause and ponder. We need to give ourselves time and space to ask the questions that keep us from understanding, and then seek answers.
BE FED, NOT JUST INFORMED
Finally, another aspect of not just comprehending the text of Scripture, but also experiencing it, might be captured under the banner of Seek to be fed, not just informed.
In Meditation and Communion with God, Jack Davis waves the flag for “a more reflective and leisurely engagement with Scripture” in our day (20). According to Davis, the nature of modern life, and the “information overload” we have through television, smartphones, and endless new media “makes a slow, unhurried, and reflective reading of Scripture more vital than ever” (22).
Leisurely does not mean passive. Quality reading can be leisurely, and enjoyable, while at the same time being careful and active. In fact, the two belong together. An unhurried pace gives space for careful observation and rumination, while active reading demands a certain slowness.
Over time, as we come to know ourselves, we learn what kind of pace and approach is most conducive to feeding our souls, not just informing our minds — what pace helps us catch our emotional breath and find our spiritual balance for the day to come — how to gather a day’s portion of food for our souls. The mind often seems to work faster than the heart. A faster pace might stimulate the mind, while a slower pace gives room to satisfy the soul.
Push Back Against the Tide
Ask yourself, How hurried are my devotions? Do you prioritize a daily season (early morning proves best for most) for unhurried Bible meditation and prayer? And have you learned to move at the pace of the text, or do you feel the pressure to do your devotions at the pace of modern life?
In our world of speed and acceleration, what good will it do the Christian soul, and our love for others, as we learn to push back against the tides of this world, and its patterns of hurry, with a life-giving daybreak routine of catching our breath by breathing in the breath of God, and breathing out to him in prayer?
This may be one of the most countercultural things you can do: go to bed without a screen, get up early, grab a paper Bible, put your phone aside, and let the voice of God in the Scriptures fill your mind and heart at his pace, not the world’s.
God has given you permission to slow down.