The Beauty of Slowness

Howard Snyder encourages all church planters to slow down because “slow-growing trees are usually strongest.”

Speed is an overrated but unquestioned value in today’s world. Slowness is undervalued and undercelebrated unless we’re speaking of turtles.

Or maybe oak trees.

Is faster better? Certainly in some areas. But even the fastest creatures know when to slow down and rest.

The Bible doesn’t say a lot here, but it gives plenty of hints.

God’s “delight is not in the strength of the horse [or the big machine], nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner [or a race car or computer]” (Ps. 147:10).

Fortunately, the Lord is “slow to anger”—as the Bible reminds us over a dozen times!

Jehu drove “furiously” or “like a maniac” (1 Kings 9:20), but wasn’t commended for it.

Moses told God, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). God said, in effect, “So what? Serve me.”

Yet we may pray with the Psalmist, “Do not hide your face from me on the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily on the day when I call” (Ps. 102:2).

Jesus wants us to be quick to hear and understand; quick to obey and respond to human need. He upbraided the religious leaders of his day for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared” (Luke 24:25).

Yet Jesus also calls us to walk slowly, gently, thoughtfully, reflectively enough that we keep in step with him and walk in the Spirit. God’s Spirit may prompt but will not rush us.

In themselves, slowness and speed carry no moral weight. Everything depends on what we’re talking about. The point is to walk in the rhythms of God and his good creation. Trust the “natural” processes God has embedded in creation; trust the ecology of the Spirit.

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Slow-growing trees are usually strongest.

John Wesley had a sense of this. He understood that discipleship, true holiness and the kingdom of God grow slowly. Don’t preach everywhere you can, he said, but only where you can form groups for spiritual growth, character formation. Comparing himself to globe-trotting Methodist missionary Thomas Coke, Wesley said wryly, “I creep like a louse, and the ground I get I keep; but [Coke] leaps like a flea and is sometimes obliged to leap back again.” Not a very attractive image, but we get the point.

God took an awfully long time, it seems, to send the Messiah. Jesus is taking an awfully long time, it seems, to return and bring his kingdom’s fullness. But this test of our faith is the building of our trust and the forming of our character.

Wisdom is knowing when to be fast, when slow and when to just rest. When to hurry and when to tarry. When to act quickly and when not at all. When to speak; when to keep silent.

You can’t meditate quickly, and you really can’t rest or get healthy quickly.

There is no instant holiness. Deep nurturing, transformative community takes time and patience and can’t be rushed.

Since wisdom means walking in God’s way—following Jesus, led by the Spirit—godly wisdom means disregarding (often laughing at) the world’s addiction to speed and acceleration.

Keeping in rhythm with the Spirit and respecting the healthful cycles and pace of the created order: That seems to be the key.

The Apostle Peter gives the best biblical summary: “With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” and when it does, “the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed” (1 Pt. 3:8-10).

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Here is one of the beautiful signs of the faithful church: the practice of slowness. Another way the faithful church is countercultural.

Let us hear the end of the matter: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). The Lord is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).

Howard Snyder
Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); now engaged in research and writing in Wilmore, Kentucky. Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Formerly taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Howard Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. He has written on a range of topics including church history, cultural trends, globalization, worldviews, evangelism, and various cultural issues.