was reading an article the other day on the Catholic Synod that started earlier this month. If you aren’t familiar, this “Synod on Synodality” convened bishops from all around the world to pray for God’s direction for the Catholic Church. Through a series of meetings, this global gathering will culminate in a document of recommendations to be given to Pope Francis in October 2024. Some are heralding this gathering as equally momentous to that of Vatican II, a similar gathering in the 1960’s that led to, among other things, a more participatory style of mass spoken in the local language (versus the traditional Latin).
Alongside the potentially historic nature of this event, one comment from the journalist struck me as particularly relevant to all of us. While talking of the potential changes that could come from this synod, the journalist noted that the Catholic Church also needs to be cautious in implementing any changes.
Change done too quickly could lead to a schism between those standing fast on tradition and those pushing for reform. Similarly, any needed changes enacted too slowly could lead to schism from those frustrated by a lack of action.
Regardless of where one stands on the theological spectrum of issues being discussed at this synod, the necessary tension of change management is worthy of reflection. Apply this in our own lives and churches. Consider this from both a personal and societal perspective. Change done too quickly can lead to schism; change done too slowly can lead to schism.
Just Right Change
Change needs to be done – in the words of Goldilocks – just right.
Or, in the words of God, little by little.
Little by little is how the Israelites were commanded to take possession of the Promised Land. One might argue that this, the most wonderful change of all – entry at last into the land flowing with milk and honey! – should be done as quickly as possible. After forty years of preparation, surely it is time to flip the switch and be done with the waiting. But God explained He would not drive out the enemy nations quickly, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you” (Exodus 23:29).
Interpretations of this passage range from the practical to the symbolic. For example, if the land were too sparsely populated, the tended vineyards would fall into disrepair, wild animals would thrive in the abandoned fields, and it would become more difficult for the Israelites to re-cultivate the land. Other interpretations use the wild beasts symbolically to represent a range of sins that would overcome the Israelites if they transitioned too quickly to a life of leisure.
Regardless of the interpretation, the message is the same: the Israelites needed time to acclimate to their new land, and the land needed time to acclimate to them.
I remind myself of this passage when I am impatiently waiting for a change. Why does God not give me a breakthrough, an answer, a clear direction? Why does God stand idly when He could do something?
Either I am not ready for the change, or the change is not ready for me.
God can work immediately and unexpectedly, but more often He works “little by little”. The moment of breakthrough is often preceded by long stretches of tiny tweaks and invisible preparation. We are not the first to want instant change. We are not the first to have to wait.
“How long, O Lord?” was a common cry from the Biblical writers.
The answer comes slowly.
God’s works are perfect, but He works through people who are not. He deftly navigates cultures, politics, and stubborn human hearts and knows beyond what we can know. He sees further than we can see and knows the magnitude of change that is needed. More importantly, He knows the magnitude of change that can be tolerated. Suffering breaks God’s heart; it does not hurry Him.
It also does not stop Him.
When we are facing a needed change, we can take courage knowing God is working even when we do not see the results. Like the vision that was given to the prophet Habakkuk, change comes at its appointed time. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
In the midst of great desolation, God enables me – and you – to persevere. More, God enables us to climb to new heights. He does not pluck us from our circumstances and set us someplace new. He gives us the strength, the attributes, and the direction we need to start climbing.
In other words, He changes us. Then He changes our circumstances. He changes our environment. Step by step.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s Word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her two- and four-footed friends. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org