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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