Like just about everything, being fast isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then again, it can get a person into trouble. In fact, going too slowly can do the same thing.
Perhaps that is why this passage from Numbers 9 caught my attention. At the end of the chapter the writer is describing the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting, or the tabernacle, that was the centerpiece of the Hebrew camp. During the day it was a cloud, at night it was a pillar of fire—the same cloud and fire that had been with the Israelites since they had left Egypt. Moses writes: “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped” (9:17, 18).
The passage goes on to say that sometimes the cloud settled for only a few hours. Sometimes it stayed for days, weeks, months or even a year. But until it moved, they didn’t move. “At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order…” (9:23).
Last night I read a few chapters in a book by Steve Brown called, Approaching God. The book is about prayer and if there is ever a time when we are in a hurry it is when some crisis looms and we need answers “yesterday.” Brown quotes F. W. Faber when he writes: “We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and He will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly; fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it before you quicken yours. But when He slackens, slacken at once and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God” (page 15).
As I read this passage on prayer I thought of the Israelites and the cloud. How often might the Israelites have murmured when, after settling up the camp, the cloud moved within a few hours and they were ordered to pack up again. How they must have complained when they sat for weeks or months in one place never seeming to get any close to their goal. Aren't we just like that? God doesn’t always move as fast as we’d like. And sometimes He moves faster than we want Him too as we linger in a pleasant place and hesitate to move on to something less pleasant, more foreign, more challenging.
Brown writes, again referring to prayer though the principle applies to everything: “One simply comes to him understanding that his agenda is the only relevant agenda” (page 15).
The Israelites were told to watch the cloud. The entrances to their dwelling places faced the Tent of Meeting. They were to always check their “north” so that they would know when to move and when to stay where they were. For us, this constant reference to our “north” requires time in the guide book, the Bible. It requires time away from the demands of a world that cautions us to stay where we shouldn't, or urges us to hurry away from where we should stay, so that we neglect to listen for the Voice of the One whose agenda is the only one that counts.