When the doubled-over woman met Jesus he could have said, ‘See me at sundown.’ That was the end of the Jewish Sabbath and presumably no more than twelve hours away – a mere 0.0076% extension to her eighteen-year wait for healing. To heal on the Sabbath was to gush petroleum upon the smoldering wrath of his enemies. The inferno could even offend sincere believers and convince the undecided that his powers were Satanic. But to the eternal Son of God those few uneventful hours in the life of a nameless woman – a 0.0076% deferral – was too high a price.
For the One to whom a thousand years are as a day, one day is like a thousand years.a Infinite Love will restrain himself until the perfect time, but not one second longer.
Waiting, Not Rusting
You are in excellent company if you seem to have spent your entire Christian life crying in pained desperation, ‘How long?’b. Patience frays. Anger builds. A sobering fact, however, sleeps in a Bible statistic. The number of Scripture references to people asking God ‘How long?’ is matched almost exactly by the times God asks this question of humanity.c
Waiting is a fundamental spiritual principle. For example, it is ‘through faith and patience’ that God’s promises become reality in our lives.d
If God really loved me he would act differently. Though that thought that may often sneak in, what we are actually saying is, if God cared for us as little as we do for ourselves; if he were as short-sighted as us; if he knew as little as we do; he would immediately gratify us. If God were as dumb as us, there would be no delay. We have every reason to revel in the certainty that our Lord does not share our inadequacies.
Having explored reasons for delay, luxuriate in the following Scriptures, resting in them like a soothing spa:
I had fainted,
Unless I believed to see
The goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord:
Be of good courage,
And he shall strengthen your heart:
Wait, I say, on the Lord.e
Trust in the Lord,
And do good . . .
Delight yourself also in the Lord;
And he shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way unto the Lord;
Trust also in him;
And he shall bring it to pass . . .
Rest in the Lord,
And wait patiently for him ...
Cease from anger,
And forsake wrath: . . .
For evil doers shall be cut off:
But those who wait upon the Lord,
Shall inherit the earth.a
For the vision is yet for an appointed time,
But it hastens towards the end,
And shall not lie.
Though it tarry, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not delay.b
Such waiting has no partnership with vegetating or sloth. It is characterized by faith and faithfulness; prayer and preparation. The lazy person craves yet gets nothing, says Scripture, but the diligent will get what they desire.c
Were it not for delays and rejection you would be reading an inferior book. Each rejection by a publisher has been a gift from God, providing me with months and even years in which to refine the manuscript.
No matter what the vocation, with every delay comes a Satanic invitation to ease off, and a divine invitation to tighten your schedule, polish your talents, hone your Bible skills, extend your faith, broaden your experience, stretch your prayers, prime your body, purge your thoughts, gird your character, and home in to the heartbeat of God. Accept heaven’s invitation and you will enter ministry so qualified that the result will be beyond anything you could otherwise have touched.
You’re forever doing nothing,
A useless pebble on the beach.
They pass you by without a thought;
A useless pebble on the beach.
You’re cold, common and lifeless;
A useless pebble on the beach.
God looks down and sees you there;
A precious egg within his nest.
Nurtured, warmed, protected;
A precious egg within his nest.
Divine life stirs inside
That precious egg within God’s nest.
From stony shell bursts forth
A tiny chick, so strong and free.
People gather and stare amazed:
A lovely bird, so strong and free!
Wings are stretched and upward soars
That mighty bird, so strong and free.
‘What grace, what power!’ they gasp in awe,
‘Who’d have known in a stone
Slept a life so rare, so full of beauty!’
Christians have got it made! Talk about having a friend in high places! It is impossible to conceive of a more binding or intimate union than the one joining you to the Ruler of the universe. With the omnipotent Lord of glory in control, those annoying, embarrassing, perplexing delays can do nothing but become things of beauty, bearing all the marks of divine perfection.
CHAPTER 16: WAITING IN STYLE
Identifying the problem is half the solution, but only half. Disarming the ‘whys’ that regularly bomb our brains has inflamed the ‘hows’. Let’s get practical. How can we blast through the mountain of hindrances? How can we accelerate spiritual maturity? How can we strengthen our faith? How can we prove our readiness? How . . .?
Turning over the problems unearthed crude answers. Excitement mounted as we brushed off the dirt and saw facets glint in the light of Christ. Let’s now gather those gems and polish them until we hold such riches that we can buy whatever needed to speed our entry to ministry.
First, a warning.
Wherever you look the lights are red. You smolder. Nothing green in sight. Your blood ignites. You select first gear and – S-T-O-P!
If there is a right way to hasten ministry, there most certainly is a wrong way. Let’s take our lead from David, the man after God’s own heart.a
As anointed king-to-be, waiting for Saul’s death was not just frustrating and humiliating, it was almost suicidal.b Saul wanted him dead. Twice, this would-be murderer fell into David’s hands. A single blow would ensure David’s survival and give him the throne. Each occasion was so remarkable it seemed an act of God.c
But David is an inspiration. He sensed evil cowering behind those apparent answers to prayer. Stifling urges for self-preservation, revenge, and instant promotion, he resolved to let his dream harden to reality in God’s time and manner.
Regrettably, not all ‘Daddy’s little helpers’ are as smart. Many of us are allergic to waiting. We get itchy feet and come out rash. Ask Abraham.
Instead of heeding God’s calendar, Abraham tried to force the pace.d In fathering Ishmael, he chose what in his era was the obvious solution to his plight, but not God’s solution. The result was a family upheavale that has apparently continued in his descendants down to present times.f
Can you prize a plant out of a seed? Can you release a rose from a bud before its time? Can you hasten the rising of the sun? Can you achieve anything worthwhile outside of God’s time?
The time of waiting – the time when nothing seems to be happening – can be the most critical time of our lives. It was while the Israelites were waiting for Moses to return from the mountain that they committed the grievous lunacy of worshipping a golden calf.a It was while Saul was waiting for Samuel that he recklessly assumed a role never ordained for him (that of priest) and consequently lost his own calling (that of king).b
If you are rash, you will end up in a spot.
Among the rash, fools rule.
They that dash, crash
To fate so cruel.
Though slow the rate,
The wise rise.
The great, wait
And conquer all.
An Anglican priest in Sri Lanka was openly opposed by Buddhist monks. What should he do? Preach harder, of course. No need to pray about that. If necessary, he could get the government to enforce his rights. But instead of falling for the obvious, Rev Mendis sought the mind of God. The response was staggering. Quit preaching, the Lord seemed to say, and befriend the monks. Within months he was invited to conduct Christian services in the Buddhist temple! Several of the monks were converted. Some, wrote John Haggai later, ‘are studying for the [professional] ministry’.168
It is sometimes the ‘obvious’ decisions that pose the greatest danger.
I trust I will always recall the sickening blow to my stomach when I read a mercifully brief biography. Had it merely been an iron fist that had sent me reeling, I would have recovered by now and I would be glad to let the memory fade. But what drained the blood from my face was seeing my own potential etched in the life of a Negro-loving, Bible-adoring, devout Christian who gave God all the glory as he prayerfully and heroically massacred hundreds of Americans in a doomed attempt to wrest victory for the South during America’s Civil War. I gained the impression that, spiritually, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson would in many ways have left me for dead; but then again, on those blood-soaked fields he left many Christians dead. Without contemplating the rights and wrongs of the causes fought for, it is an appalling historical fact that Jackson was vainly fighting for a lost cause; passionately inspiring the butchering of thousands of people for a dead dream. If it is a tragedy to waste your own life, what is it when you waste the lives of hundreds of people? Given that the South finally lost, his every victory was a disaster – inflaming the war; delaying the peace and sanity that everyone yearned for; prolonging the slaughter that finally claimed more than half a million lives and inflicted unthinkable suffering. (In an era when artificial limbs were crude and cheap, one state – said to be typical – blew a fifth of its annual budget on artificial limbs in just one of the four years of carnage.169) Surely something went horribly wrong within the man who attributed his bravery to his childlike trust in Christ. Had a twisted sense of duty and loyalty, perhaps coupled with a sense of urgency, somehow tragically interfered with his ability to hear from God?170
Don’t be like a child thinking only of his toy as he chases it onto a busy road. First, look to Father. Ensure it is his choice, his way of attaining it and his timing. Then, remaining sensitive to his leading, you can move with confidence.
If after seeking the Lord, you still feel uncertain, proceed with care, eyes peeled for heavenly warnings.
A vehicle may be easier to steer when it is moving, but don’t forget the obvious: this is only safe when proceeding cautiously, alert for signs to veer or brake. As we continue with this attitude, we will receive the needed confirmation. The guidance we need, however, is rarely the detailed explanation we would like. Distant objects become clear after travelling that part of the road we can see. The Lord seldom squanders further revelation until we respond to the leading he has already given.