When I was in high school, my favorite teacher was Mr. Hugh Epps. He was my Architectural Drawing teacher and I loved him dearly and respected him greatly. He was one of those rare teachers who impacted his students’ lives far beyond the subject he taught.
He was patient, clever and quietly zany. He would expect a great deal from us and he generally received what he expected. He always dealt with us gently, respectfully and with humor.
One of his favorite lines that I find myself using frequently is, “Take your time . . . but hurry!” I was reminded of those words this week when I read the sentence of our Epistle reading from an obscure translation of the New Testament:
Therefore dear friends, just as you always obeyed before,
not just in my presence but now even more in my absence,
work with alarmed urgency to bring about your salvation….
I could just hear Mr. Epp’s words coming from Paul: take your time, but hurry!
This paradox, this dichotomy is a good synopsis of Paul’s charge to the Philippians and to us. Take your time, but hurry….
Both of these charges are important in our walk with God. They are important because, as Paul says, it is God who is at work in us. God himself, our Creator and the Creator of all that there is. God is at work in us. If we take that idea seriously, we must take God seriously. If we believe that God is at work in us, then we should work with alarmed urgency to bring about our salvation. We should take our time and we should hurry in fully accepting the gift of life God gives us.
First, we should take our time. We should seriously consider that we are more valuable to God than what we can accomplish. We were created not to be doctors, or priests, or teachers, or workers in the home. We were created first and primarily to be children of God.
Discovering this, living into this blessing is a lifetime endeavor. This is why Paul tells us to work out our salvation. Paul calls us to be aware, to discover, to explore God’s love for us. This cannot be fully discovered in a single afternoon. It takes time, a lifetime even. So, take your time, but hurry!
Hurry; work with alarmed urgency. Take seriously that you are a child of God. Never allow yourself to stray far from that piercing truth. If we were created first and primarily to be children of God, then we must continually remind ourselves of this.
How do we do this? Through prayer, worship and study. Place yourself in the word of God, in the Scriptures to learn about our Father and his love for us. Place yourself in the presence of God to know of his love for you. Place yourself in the holiness of God to speak and offer your love for him.
St. Francis de Sales once noted that the soul cannot live without love. The primary concern, Francis wrote, was providing it a worthy object to love. God has created us for eternity. God has created us to be his children. That is the central truth of our lives. It is urgent to discover this because nothing else in our lives will make sense without knowing this. But it will take us all our lives to begin to fathom.
In other words, we are called to take our time . . . but hurry!