November 10, 2020
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When we don’t pace ourselves, we tend to miss divine appointments right and left. In fact, they seem like human interruptions. We get so consumed with trying to get where we think God wants us to go that we put on spiritual blinders and miss the Goose trails He wants to take us down. The way you chase the Wild Goose isn’t by going faster and faster. The key is slowing down your pace, taking off your sandals, and experiencing God right here, right now.
A few years ago, two Princeton University psychologists did an experiment that was inspired by a Bible story. Jesus told a story about a traveler who was mugged and left for dead on the side of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest and a Levite (people who fit the religious profile in Jesus’ culture) walked by on the other side of the street. The only one to stop and help was a Samaritan.
John Darley and Daniel Batson decided to replicate the story of the good Samaritan with seminary students. A few variables were introduced. The seminarians were interviewed and asked why they wanted to go into ministry. There were a variety of responses, but the vast majority said they went into ministry to help people. Then they were asked to prepare a short sermon—half of them on the story of the good Samaritan and the other half on other topics. Finally they were told to go over to a building on campus to present their sermons.
Along the way, the researchers had strategically positioned an actor in an alley to play the part of the man who was mugged in Jesus’ story. He was slumped over and groaning loud enough for passersby to hear.
The researchers hypothesized that those who said they went into ministry to help people and those who had just prepared the sermon on the good Samaritan would be the most likely to stop and help. But that wasn’t the case. And the reason is the final variable introduced by the researchers. Just before the seminarians left to give their sermon, the researcher looked at his watch and said one of two things. To some seminarians, the researcher said, “You’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. You better hurry.” To others, the researcher said, “You’re early. They aren’t expecting you for a few minutes, but why don’t you start heading over there?”
Interested in the results? Only 10 percent of the seminary students who were in a hurry stopped to help, while 63 percent of those who weren’t in a hurry stopped to help. In several cases, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!
Darley and Batson concluded that it didn’t matter whether someone wanted to help people or whether someone had just read and was preparing to preach on the parable of the good Samaritan. The only thing that mattered was whether or not they were in a hurry. They concluded, “The words, ‘You’re late,’ had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering.”
Hurry kills everything from compassion to creativity. And when you’re in a hurry, you don’t have time to get out of your routine, do you? No room for Spirit-led spontaneity. No time for Wild Goose chases. Here is the great irony: the priest and the Levite were probably on their way to the temple. They were so busy loving God that they didn’t have time to love their neighbor. And that is when our routines become counterproductive. Let’s be honest. We can get so busy doing “ministry” that we don’t have time for ministry.
Let me put it in bumper-sticker terms: ministry happens. If you’re chasing the Wild Goose, you don’t have to manufacture opportunities to minister. In fact, as I read the gospels, it seems to me that most of Jesus’ ministry was unplanned. Like the time when Jesus was walking out of Jericho and a blind man named Bartimaeus called out to him.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more. (Mark 10:47-48)
The people who rebuked Bartimaeus saw him as a human interruption. And there is no question that Jesus had places to go and things to do. But Jesus didn’t see a human interruption; He saw a divine appointment. And what did He do? “Jesus stopped.” Those two words speak volumes.
Spontaneity is an underappreciated dimension of spirituality. In fact, spiritual maturity has less to do with long-range visions than it does with moment-by-moment sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And it is our moment-by-moment sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that turns life into an everyday adventure.
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezers Coffeehouse, The Miracle Theatre, and the DC Dream Center. Mark holds a doctor of ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books, including The Circle Maker, Chase the Lion, and Whisper. Mark and his wife, Lora, have three children and live on Capitol Hill.