God is never late—but he sure is slow

Some how as a child I got the idea—probably from Sunday school and Bible story books—— that the Bible was God’s promise book. Not ordinary promises mind you, but 100-percent-guaranteed lifetime-warranty, you-must-be-completely-satisfied-or-your money-back, over-night delivery promises.

And so, as a first-grader, I prayed for a pony for my birthday . . . and didn’t get it. I prayed for a pony for Christmas . . . and didn’t get it. Right through junior high school, my prayer wasn’t answered. In junior high, I prayed my face would clear up. It didn’t clear up in high school or in college. And, today, I still don’t have a pony and I still have acne!

What happened to those “ask and ye shall receive” and “you will be given more than you can think or imagine” promise verses? And what about those TV evangelists who tell us to “name it and claim it”?

Perhaps the problem in not with God’s promises but that God doesn’t deliver by FedEx overnight guaranteed next-day delivery. I’ve found that:

God is never late . . . but He sure is slow

In fact, the screen-saver on my computer is Habakkuk 2:2:

      Slowly, steadily, surely the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.

Sometimes God does answer faster than email on high speed cable. In Matthew 8 we see immediate answers to prayer:

      A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.

      When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.

      “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”

      Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

      The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

Fast forward to v. 13

      Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

      When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

That’s not always the case! Speed ahead to Matthew 8:23

      Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

These were seasoned fishermen who spent most of their lives on the Sea and understood its quirks. The lake is 685 feet below sea level surrounded by hills. So, when warm air of the day cools it rushes down the ravines creating a whirlpool effect. A clear, calm night can suddenly turn into a violent storm.

These disciples are not land-lubbering tourists with souvenir sailor hats. They were professional fishermen . . . and they were terrified. Mark 4 says the boat “was nearly swamped;” Luke 8 says it “was being swamped” and “in great danger.”

And where was Jesus? Sound asleep!

Have you ever been in a terrifying, disturbing situation and Jesus seems sound a sleep?

We humans tend to set deadlines for God to act: the boat is filling up with water; the mortgage is due and there’s no money in your checking account; the doctor said you have six months to live and you’re at the half year point

Here’s what I’ve found: We often set a human deadline . . . and God usually ignores it!

God ignores our deadlines for at least four reasons:

1. To increase our faith

How does Jesus respond to the drowning disciples? Look at verse 26-27:

      [Jesus] replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

      The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Keep in mind this is immediately after they’ve seen Jesus heal leprosy, heal Peter’s mother-in-law, cast out demons and now calm a violent storm.

I’ve become convinced that big, razzle-dazzle miracles don’t build our faith.

They didn’t have much effect on the Israelites They saw God part the Red Sea. That’s got to be one of God’s top ten miracles! And almost before they got to the other side, they were building a golden calf idol to worship instead of the miracle-working God.

It’s the time—often a long time—between the human deadline and heavenly deliverance when our faith grows.

In the next chapter Jesus ignores a literal deadline:

      . . . a ruler came [to Jesus] and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”

      Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd . . .

Organ music is often associated with funeral homes, but in First Century Palestine, flutes were used to announce gloom and doom. And, according to union rules at that time, when there was a death in the family even the poorest were required to have at least two flute players and one professional mourner. (The noise at funerals got so out of hand the Romans decreed a ten flute-player limit.)

So as Jarius approached the house and heard the commotion, he knew it was over, done, the fat lady had played her flute. His daughter was way past the human deadline . . . she was dead!

      [Jesus] said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Hopefully, the faith of the temple ruler and the professional mourners was increased. Yet we tend to be, like the disciples, people of “little faith.”

I would get so frustrated with our “little Faith.” She would scream her little lungs out if she didn’t get her formula by her deadline. I would try to be calm and reason with her. See Mommy. See Mommy fixing Faith’s Enfamil See Daddy. See Daddy burn his fingers pulling the bottle top out of the boiling water. See Mommy. See Mommy bringing Faith the formula. See the cartons of formula in the corner. Mommy and Daddy buy it by the case at the factory for half price. There is enough formula to last Faith until she is 16 years old!

Then it hit me like a case of Enfamil! I had been crying my lungs out like a baby to God during that winter of ’78: Why did You allow all this snow to cancel all our speaking engagements? Don’t You realize that without meetings there’s no eating? And as all-knowing God, surely You realize this is a really bad time of the year to get evicted!

But real faith grows between the deadline and the deliverance. Notice that the disciples’ faith is tested again. Again, in a boat, in a storm. Matthew 14:22 reports:

      Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance[a] from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

      During the fourth watch [between 3-6 am] of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

      But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

      “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

      “Come,” he said.

      Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

      And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Notice the difference this time! Instead of “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” it’s “Truly you are the Son of God”

God usually ignores our human deadlines to increase our faith. He also ignores our human deadlines . . .

2. To increase our vision

Obviously the disciples’ “vision” of Jesus had changed from “Who is this man?” to “You are the Son of God.” They now had a vision of His power, His providence, and His parenting philosophy.

God is described as a heavenly father, not a vending machine that we insert a prayer and product comes out. Like any good parent, He doesn’t give His children everything they want when they want it.

It’s helped my vision of God to refer to Him as Father, rather than Lord. Lord gives the view that He is in control (and He is) and can do anything we ask. Father gives the view of a God that knows best what His children need.

So, God uses these times of waiting to increase our vision.

God also ignores our human deadlines . . . .

3. To increase our testimony

After Jarius’ daughter is raised from the dead, Matthew 9:26 reads “News of this spread all through the region.” That phrase is repeated throught the accounts of Jesus’ miracles.

I’m convinced that God loves drama. The story of the three Hebrew men in the fiery furnace probably wouldn’t have made it into the Bible if Meshack, Shadrach and Abedigo simply overpowered the guards and highjacked a chariot. Some how “Daniel and the Hung Jury” or “Daniel in the City Jail” just doesn’t have the impact of “Daniel in the Lions Den.”

I’m not one bit impressed with the TV evangelists and their guests who talk about their health and wealth “God loves you and has a wonderful Porshe for your life.” I am impressed with testimonies of believers going through absolute defeat and have come out with victory: maybe not with health and wealth, but have come out with the assurance of Christ’s presence every step. To me, that’s a great testimony!

That why I love Scott Wesley Brown’s song “When Answers Aren’t Enough There Is Jesus”

      You have faced mountains of desperation.
      You have climbed, you have fought, you have won.
      But this valley that lies coldly before you,
      Casts a shadow you cannot overcome.

      Just when you thought you had it all together.
      You knew every verse to get you through.
      But this time all the sorrow broke more than just your heart.
      And reciting all those verses just won’t do.

      When answers aren’t enough, there is Jesus.
      He is more than just an answer to your prayer.
      And your heart will find a safe and peaceful refuge.
      When answers aren’t enough, He is there.

      Instead of asking why did it happen?
      Think of where it can lead you from here.
      And as your pain is slowly easing,
      You can find a greater reason to live your life triumphant through the tears.

God usually ignores our human deadlines to increase our testimony. Finally, God usually ignores our human deadlines . . .

4. To increase our compassion

One reason for God’s incredible slowness is His incredible love:

      The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

While writhing on an x-ray table with a firmly lodged kidney stone, I was praying for Jesus to return right then and there!

That was over ten years ago. How many people do you think have come to Christ during that ten years? If God had answered my prayer in November 1991, no one after that point would have known eternal life!

Part of the delay, then, is God’s divine love that is so much greater than our human desires. And I think we become more compassionate after we have been through that time between human deadlines and divine deliverance. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6:

      Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Lois and I have been flat broke at least two times during our years of ministry, so we have real compassion for those down on their luck.

A kidney stone certainly makes one more compassionate to those in pain.

And Lois and I have been through Parental Purgatory, so we’re very compassionate toward moms and dads facing challenges.

God ignores our human deadlines to increase our compassion, as well as our faith, our vision of Him, and our testimony.

God is never later, but He sure is slow!

© Copyright James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.

Additional thought

We often ask the question, “Why didn’t God help me sooner?” It is not His order. He must first adjust us to the situation and cause us to learn our lesson from it. His promise is, I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. He first must be with us in the trouble until we grow quiet. Then He will take us out of it. This will not come until we have stopped being restless and fretful about it and have become calm and trustful. Then He will say, “It is enough.”

God uses trouble to teach His children precious lessons. They are intended to educate us. When their good work is done, a glorious recompense will come to us through them. He does not regard them as difficulties but as opportunities. They have come to give God a greater interest in us and to show how he can deliver us from them. Without difficulties we cannot have a mercy worth praising God for. God is as deep, and long, and high as our little world of circumstances. A. B. Simpson

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47 Responses

  • Kingsley says:

    Thank you. Sometimes when you are going through issues of life we may think its me alone. The perception should focus on being saved than being healed. God has taken me to places I have never wanted because I was angry with Him for not acting when I wanted Him most. I only realise that He wanted me to get the best, see better and act in a different wavelength of Glory. Forgiveness is what I can ask from Him. And to to may God keep on strengthening you to desire Him the more

  • Bennett says:

    I got great strength from this article because am presently in the time when it seems like God is a billion miles away from me and my prayers.

  • William says:

    Thank you for this. It’s 2am and I can’t sleep because of gout in both of my limbs(debilitating pain). God is moving, and I needed to read this. Now I think I can rest a little easier. God bless you and thanks for your prayers.

    • William, I am so sorry to hear about your extreme pain. “Father, please grant my friend, William your perfect plan whether it be miraculous healing. medical intervention, or divine grace to carry this cross of gout with faith and courage! Assure him that you are right there–even at 2 am–in this painful journey. Amen.” Praying!

  • Thx for encouraging lesson and comments. I’m a minister and know where ur coming from.

  • David says:

    Yep somtimes it seems like Gods on holidays. Hang in there everyone…the longer it takes the bigger the miracle and the more Jesus will do for you in the future because you passed a test.

    • I love your perspective. Lee Grady put it this way:

      “In the animal kingdom, big creatures often have the longest gestation periods. A baby whale is in his mother’s womb for 18 months, and a baby giraffe waits 15 months. And some species of elephants are pregnant for two years. The rule, it seems, is clear:

      “The bigger the baby, the longer the wait.

      “If you are carrying a big promise, you should be prepared for painful delays.”

  • trevor says:

    I found your blog refreshing
    especially cause I tend to be impatient and so I quickly lose faith when things don’t happen when I expect them to.

  • Efe says:

    It is written in the Book that he that knows how to do good and does not do it, to him it is a sin. If God has the power to do all things then why delay it. Jesus Christmas never delayed anyone who asked him. The experience at the boat was a case of Jesus asleep. But when the disciples asked for help, he didn’t delay the answer so God is love and He will not allow His children to suffer for one sec because of any of the reasons you mentioned. If Jesus could heal people that came to him under the OT, how much more will he do under the new covenant. When Jeoshaphat had to battle, God responded…

    • Jesus delays going to be with Lazarus when he is told his friend is sick–and Lazarus dies before he gets there. But Jesus does respond in an even more amazing way–by raising him from the dead. Jesus certainly did “good” and even BETTER, so that God would be glorified. I pray that your faith will stay strong when God delays in your life. He will delay . . . and do a greater miracle!

  • chris says:

    Realizing God is never late keep hope alive for a better tomorrow, it make life worth living. thanks for such a great article.

  • pastor Chidi Promise Ihejiamaizu says:

    Learning through how God supplies is very crucial for any heaven bound Christian. God does not bless us through short cuts for short cut blessings can cut our lives short and turn out to be a curse at last. No matter how hungry your Darling little child is, and no matter how touching his cry may be, and no matter how highly you love him, you will never give him the food you are cooking for him until it is done! even when the food is done, you will never scoop it into his tender mouth until it cools down , otherwise you injure your child and end him up in the hospital. Such is our journey with God. If you acted like this out of your love for your child, then think of a loving God who loves us more than we can ever love our children. Be patient with God for His delay is never denial.

    • d. j. iverson says:

      Thank you for helping me understand.. I was feeling so lost and abandoned.. Thinking God was not listening. I was crying and pleading and losing faith. God why are you not keeping your word? The child /parent analogy has really helped me to understand. Now, I am going to stop acting like a spoiled child and dwell better in faith, learn from my mistakes and trust in the love God has for me, and wait and pray to accept His solution to this problem.. Thank you so much.. I get it now!!!!

  • Last Mateyu says:

    I love the truth and practical Gospel truths. Your message touched my heart. Thanks a million times for the grace to share

  • Eric says:

    Not sure if this is still active.

    Anyway say someone looses ther home, job, ends up homeless after doin everything the could to get a job, but constant rejection from jobs. The person commits suicide. Meanwhile after His suicide a place calls three years later to offer him a job. Wouldn’t that be God acting to late in his timing?

    • The suicide is so very tragic, but is a decision–although made by a severely trouble mind–by the person and has nothing to do God’s actions–or apparent inactions.

      • Susan says:

        Hey hi,
        Such an amazing article.

        Been waiting on the LORD for marriage for many years and God has been teaching me many things.


        • As my daughter has learned, it’s better to wait for the right man than to marry the wrong one–a serial adulterer. She’s been single for several years following the divorce, and is just now dating a wonderful, godly man. So, I can pray for you with great empathy!

      • Sherry Smith says:

        The suicide is so very tragic, but is a decision–although made by a severely trouble mind–by the person and has nothing to do God’s actions–or apparent inactions. I’m confused by that statement..out of the despair and desperation…did God not care?

        • Yes, God cares. He loves us so much. But he has given humans freewill to make choices. Sometimes those choices are the result of severe mental health issues. And that is so tragic. But God does care. You may want to read my article that deals specifically with God and suicide. Do those who commit suicide go to heaven

          • Sherry Smith says:

            freewill is a fallacy…it says..God knows everything..every hair on our head…God knows.. free will is not true

          • I’m sorry, but I’m not following your argument. Knowing the hairs on my head is something anyone can know–if I and another person took the time to count them. It has nothing to do with the decisions I will make. God can know what our decisions will be without forcing the decision. It’s part of the mystery of God’s incredible abilities.

    • Zack says:

      People dying from some some disease such as cancer do have a timing issue – so pointless if God will intervene in 7 years when you only have 7 months to live. Oh right, God didn’t respond because they didn’t have enough faith or didn’t believe enough – except Jesus spoke of having faith the size of a mustard seed being enough. And what of the 100 of thousands that do have faith and are on a time-crunch but no intervention from God? When the disciples lacked faith, Jesus didn’t just let them drown did he?

  • Dawn says:

    Thank you for this! I felt God asked me to start a prayer meeting for my church five years ago. Since then, from a human perspective things got much worse. I prayed for unity and disunity came and many of my very best friends left my church that I was partnering with to share the Gospel. I am so broken hearted my soul hurts. Thank you for your encouragement to keep praying. It is very hard.

  • Edoror Daniel says:

    Thank you for this great lessons I was grad when I came across it, well to be honest with you as a youth, life have been so tough, especially when you were on a better place before all of sudden things get worst, I’m no where to be find nothing is working, pray all night nothing seen coming, it’s frustrating but I keep on trusting, looking for articles that will strengthen my faith… Once again thank you

  • jason odinaka says:

    Thank u lord for making me to understand that you wanted to teach me a lesson that you are there for me despite being a failure after my hardwork last semester.

  • Ms. Deborah says:

    From all the comments, I learned much from reading these helpful remarks.. I was drowning in despair. I was crying and pleading and begging God to help me..Asking Him why was He not keeping his promises. Oh me of little faith. However, reading these comments have helped me tremendously.. Dr. Watkins, thank you for helping me understand… I now feel better.. It has been difficult to say the least!!!! I now have a restful understanding of how God works with us. The child/parent analogy helped me realize why God is not instantly coming to my rescue. So I’m learning to be at peace with this situation and calm myself down. Lean on God, the father, knowing and trusting and believing He knows what is best for me and will only work in my best interest. What a relief… I’m also working on making my faith stronger.. Pray for me I’m a work in progress… Please email me information that will help me along this journey… I seek mush guidance.. Thank you again and may God continue to bless your work.

    • Thanks so much, Deborah, for your encouraging reply. It’s comments like yours that keep me staring at a computer screen over eight hours a day. Please click here and here for lots of resources for growing in your faith. (And, it’s not “Dr. Watkins.” Just Jim.)

  • Jennifer Charles says:

    This was an on time word for me. Amen and thank you.

  • Iyke K says:

    Sir, Please… just pray for God to grant my heart desires. been years after graduation haven’t got a job and its not funny!!! have prayed, fasted and still on fasting… its like am kinda angry with God.

    • Yep, I can relate! I deal with those unanswered prayers and unfulfilled promises in one of my new books. St. John calls these times of seemingly endless waiting “the dark night of the soul.”

      “Father, please grant my friend, Lyle, the perfect job that suits his talents and passion–even if it’s not related to his formal training. You have created himX with a unique skill set and personality, so please open up a fulfilling opportunity to serve you and others. Amen.” Praying!

  • Emmanuel B says:

    Hello, just wanted to say thank you for your perspective on this. Over the past 2 weeks I’ve had sleepless nights trying to balance work and another project that I should’ve said no to but I rushed ahead of God. The deadline for side project is tomorrow and I still have so much to do with not enough time. I’m so tired and I’ve been begging God for help. I’ve experienced so much failure this year and I’m scared that I’m about to again. I’m going to keep praying, reading and listening to Christian music. They’re the only things that seem to calm me but I still have anxiety of not finishing. Romans 8:31 has been coming to me repeatedly but I struggle to fully accept it. Please pray for me.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ve had years like that. This year, my mom died, I broke my foot, and dealt with mental health issues. But, as you know, Emmanuel means God with us and he has indeed been with me through each and every challenge.

      “Father, please make your presence known to my friend. May he sense your love, comfort and peace as he deals with these issues. Amen.” Praying!

  • Joyce says:

    I made an effort to search this topic on line and was directed to this site, this is cos I attempted suicide today 5th December due to the pressure of so much debt I have to pay within a specified time and I having no means what so ever to pay, I lost hope and confidence in God’s love or His willingness to help, I am constantly under harassment from those I owe, I sleep and pray not wake up, cos I can’t face the new day, its terrible, I began to doubt the reality of His existence and decided to end my misery, though somewhere in my heart I knew He is there but I wanted Him to step into my situation and help me. Now I feel ashamed of my lack of faith and understanding of His ways. I am sure He is good God and He loves and cares for me, my debts are still there enormous, and impossible for me to carry but I chose to trust him to do what is best for me, your blog has blessed my heart. Thanks and God bless

  • F... says:

    This is so timely.. God bless you. Please pray for me and my husband. Waiting on God for such a huge miracle that will bring us out of all our debts. So many harassments. So many plans we have. New home, school fees, rent , debts. So overwhelming. And this is CRUNCH TIME.. We literally have only this week to fulfill all these before we are pretty much thrown out..God please help us. My husband , my kids.. Help ALL of our debtors pay is so we can in return pay all our debts please Lord..And please most importantly forgive my lack of faith and help me. Build me up to know more of you and please grant me peace that passes understanding. I need you Lord. I need Your miraculous touch in our situation and most importantly in our lives.God is ALWAYS good! Thank You Jesus!

    • “Father, you have promised to meet your children’s needs, so please provide for this family in every way, not only financially, but emotionally and spiritually–in every way. Amen.” Praying! Praying! Praying!

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