Chuck Swindoll’s preaching is marked by wonderful illustrations. He has compiled hundreds of these in a book entitled The Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart. That title comes from my favorite illustration in the book, one that I’d like to pass along to you.
An old man and his son once farmed a little piece of land. Several times each year they would load their vegetables into an ox-drawn cart and go to the nearest city to sell the produce. The trip was usually marked by disagreement because the son was always in a hurry and the old man couldn’t be rushed.
One morning the two headed out on their trip. The son calculated that if they walked fast and pushed on through the night they’d be in the city early the next morning. To stay on schedule he kept hitting the ox with a stick, prodding the animal to hurry along. Finally, after a few rounds of that, the father said, “Take it easy, son. You’ll last longer.” The boy said, “But if we get to market ahead of the others, we’ll get the best prices.” To that the father just pulled his hat down over his eyes and fell asleep on the seat of the cart. The boy kept hitting the ox, but the ox had a pace all its own.
Four hours into the trip they came to a little house. The father roused from his sleep and said, “This is your uncle’s house. Let’s stop in and say hello.” The boy replied, “But we are already an hour behind schedule.” “Well, then, a few more minutes won’t matter,” said the father. “My brother and I don’t get to see each other much.” And so, for the next hour, the boy sat and stewed while the brothers laughed and talked.
When father and son finally got back onto the road, the father took his turn leading the ox. When they came to a fork in the road, he led the ox to the right. The boy piped up, “The left way is shorter.” The old man answered, “I know, but this way offers prettier scenery.” The boy bellowed, “Don’t you have any respect for time?” “Yes, said the father, “that’s why I want to use it to enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
The winding path led through picturesque meadows, wildflowers, and alongside a babbling brook. But the son missed it all. He was too busy moaning from impatience. He didn’t even notice how perfect the sunset was that afternoon. The father pulled the ox to a halt in a particularly gorgeous spot and said, “Let’s sleep here tonight.” Through his frustration, the boy raged, “I’m not going to take any more trips with you. You are more interested in watching sunsets and smelling flowers than in making money!” He meant for those words to hurt his father, but the old man just smiled and said, “Why, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” It wasn’t long before the father was snoring and the son was staring up at the stars, restless for the morning to come and the trip to begin again.
The sun wasn’t even fully up when the young man shook his father awake. They hitched up the ox and headed down the road. They had traveled about a mile when they came upon another farmer who was trying to pull his cart out of a ditch. The father said, “Let’s give him a hand.” “And lose more time?” the boy shot back. “Relax,” said the man, “you might be in a ditch yourself sometime.”
It was almost 8:00 a.m. by the time they got the other cart out of the ditch and back onto the road. Suddenly a great flash split the sky. What sounded like thunder followed and the sky grew dark beyond the hills. “Looks like a big rain in the city,” said the father. “Yes,” said the son, “and if we’d hurried we’d be almost sold out by now.” “Take it easy, you’ll last longer. And you’ll enjoy life so much more,” said the father.
It was late afternoon by the time father and son made it to the hill overlooking the city. They stood there and stared for a long, long time. Neither of them said a word. Finally, the son put his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “Now I see what you mean.” Then they turned the oxcart around and began to slowly roll away from what had once been the city of Hiroshima.
Do you think that God is dragging His heels in taking you some place? Do you think He is needlessly delaying the answer to your prayers? Do you think He is wasting time with your life? Trust me, He isn’t. What you think are crippling delays might just be that which is necessary to keep you out of harm’s way.