I’m assuming you’re at least somewhat of a reader. And this may just be me, but that feeling of being only a few pages away from finishing a book usually keeps me from actually retaining anything the author wrote.
Such was the case with the book I just finished, until I was struck by a simple five-word sentence: “The process is the outcome.” Mere paragraphs away from the end of the book, the last thing I wanted to do was stop and consider the depth of what I just read, but it was unavoidable. My mind was already spinning from the implications of such a seemingly backwards statement.
I like finishing stuff, and so sometimes it becomes more about finishing or accomplishing something than it is about making the most of the process. But then again, our culture is all about the finish line, isn’t it? Accomplishing goals drives our society’s definition of success.
Finishing school. Marriage. Getting the kids grown and gone. Getting promoted. Retiring. These are each stages of life which are often approached as outcomes. Whatever we need to do in order to reach them are just the means to those ends. But focusing on these ends is also how we miss the miraculous stream of processes life is meant to be.
This applies to the smaller day-to-day stuff as well:
- Monday mornings are the necessary evil to reaching the weekend
- Exercise is for the purpose of achieving a certain look
- Work is what we must do to get a paycheck
- Road traffic is what we must sit and distract ourselves through in order to to get where we want to go
If we are given a choice, we skip the process altogether. I remember how I felt when I reached the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. What took us about five hours of hiking took hoards of people about five minutes via the elevating cable car. Being up there didn’t mean the same for them as it meant for me. Built into my experience was a deep, meaningful process that none of the cable car riders knew anything about.
The industrial revolution had a lot of great impacts on the world, but it also paved the way for a mass extermination of processes. The motivator? “Success” as defined by bigger, better, stronger outcomes. Life hacks are celebrated because they lead to less processes and better outcomes, theoretically at least. I wonder how much this has spoiled us and made us unwilling to engage in other, more unavoidable processes. Or how we’ve been conditioned to see everything for its outcome instead of its process.
This has serious spiritual implications as well. Who doesn’t love the idea of being saved and spending eternity with God? But how much less popular is the idea of surrendering and denying ourselves in the time leading up to that outcome? The notion of bringing our processes– our habits, desires, time, and work–under His care and in line with His heart invites all kinds of subliminal excuses and even outright rebellion. We call that process “religion” and deem it judgmental and unachievable. But if you notice, both of those words are focused on outcomes. That’s how subtle this can be. In reality, knowing God is not about achieving anything or any final judgment, but rather an active, relational, never-ending process of submission and worship.
Worship, by the way, is a huge part of God’s revealed motivation in creating us. And worship has no outcome. Worship is entirely a process, which means no outcome that we seek can, in itself, be worship. That opportunity, which we were created to engage in, is found entirely in the process of how we seek our goals.
A fun little fact for you: where Exodus 34:21 says “Six days you shall labor…”, and where Psalm 104:23 says, “…then people go out to their work,” and where Joshua 24:15 says, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” the same Hebrew word is used for labor, work, and serve that is used in Exodus 8:1, which says, “…let my people go so that they may worship me.”
Did you catch that? The word the Bible uses for labor, work, and serve (all processes we typically avoid) is also used to mean worship.
What happens once that perfect union with God in His new Creation is given to us? What then, once the outcome we wanted is realized and no other outcome is coming? Will our time with God become another process that bores us? How can we honestly expect ourselves to respond at that time if we are not already in love with the process of living with God now?
And what about the discipleship process? It’s messy and there are no promises of any outcomes, but we should be more excited to share our faith and engage in meaningful Christ-focused conversations with people who don’t already know Jesus. I fear many of us within the Church are, in a sense, waiting at the altar to receive and rejoice with those coming to the end of their process of discovering who God is. Once that outcome happens, with most of the confusing, messy, difficult part of the journey out of the way, we are way more open to talking about our faith. Why is that? While I fully agree that coming to know Jesus is a very personal journey, I can’t get past that God calls us to be light, which is only useful if it is taken into dark places. And for us reformed believers, God’s sovereignty demands that we recognize the process of someone coming to faith in Christ to be as important and beautiful as the outcome.
Smartphones and technology have brought outcomes to our fingertips, and we are losing our willingness to find meaning in the processes of building deep, meaningful relationships, finding and learning about purpose, or the life-long process of loving and worshiping God with even the most mundane, unexciting, and even the most frustrating parts of our lives.
It is incredibly important for us as believers in Christ to see the processes of our lives as if they are themselves the outcomes we seek. Relationship is what God created us for. And a relationship for the sake of any particular outcome is more like a transaction or a bargaining chip than a true relationship.
Embrace the process. Love it. Make it your worship. It’s the reason you were made.