The Greatest Investment
I once visited the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, with my wife, Margie, and my son. My wife, formally trained as a nurse, is a student of the fine arts. She studies every little thing while I do most things in a hurry so we can get them over with and get to our next destination. As we walked through the museum, she studied every painting while I glanced here and there. I recall it being a magnificent and historic place, but not much more.
Some years later I was reading a book by Henry Nouwen. He was teaching at Harvard and had just returned from an exhausting trip of lecturing when he encountered a poster he had never seen before. Two years later he resigned from his teaching post and went to the State Hermitage Museum to find one painting: the one represented in the poster that he couldn’t get out of his mind. It was The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt’s depiction of the prodigal son coming home. Nouwen traveled to Russia and sat in front of that painting for three hours—and it changed his life. After this encounter, he knew that he wanted to work with mentally handicapped children and joined a community in Toronto dedicated to this ministry.
Sadly, when I saw the painting, I paused for a few fleeting moments and moved on to the next. I have lived to regret that loss.
One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, once observed:
I have often wished that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No shortcuts exist! … May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?
I went through the museum, as Tozer mused, skipping through the corridors looking at everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing.
May I remind you how easy it is to do this, even as we are seeking after God? Remember Jesus’s disciples in the closing chapter of Luke’s Gospel? They are disillusioned, confused, and fearful. On the Sunday following Jesus’s crucifixion, two of them are walking to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They are talking about everything that had happened the previous week, when Jesus himself appears and walks along with them. But somehow they are kept from recognizing him. Jesus asks them why they are so downcast and they respond by asking him if he is the only visitor to Jerusalem that doesn’t know what has happened there over the weekend.
The delightful irony of their question is that he is the only one who did know what had happened! So Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27).
The seven miles fly by and before they realize it, they arrive in Emmaus. True easterners, the two disciples invite Jesus to join them for dinner. As they sit down to eat, Jesus becomes the host and takes the bread in his hands and blesses it. Suddenly, the disciples are stopped in their tracks and they recognize him: Jesus! Whether the breaking of the bread reminds them of a meal shared with him previously or their eyes catch a glimpse of the wounds in his hands, their eyes are opened to him. Though they spent a couple of hours journeying seven miles with Jesus, they did not pause to take in the weight of all that he shared with them until they were seated before him.
Contrast them with a surgeon at work, completely focused on the delicate task at hand and the patient entrusted to his or her care. Think, too, of the hours one must invest in preparing for such a vocation and the disciplines needed in order to develop such skills. Or consider a mother with her children. Think of the hours she has invested to be by their side and be able to understand what they really need.
Can we do any less in the discipline of study and preparation to finish the task to which God has called us? The study of God is the highest science, the loftiest pursuit, and the mightiest discipline. Its rewards are immeasurable: “Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart…. Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalms 119:2,165).
God has not bowed to our nervous haste nor embraced the methods of our machine age. It is well that we accept the hard truth now: the man who would know God must give time to Him! He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the believing members of the holy Church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train!
Might we sit still long enough to take in what God has for us, for that is the greatest investment we will ever make.
A.W. Tozer, “Give Time to God,” Reading for February 24 in Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).