As a child, I got the idea from 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 . . . and it didn’t in high school or in college. And, today, I still don’t have a pony or clear skin!
What happened to those “ask and ye shall receive” and “you will be given more than you can think or imagine” promise verses?
Perhaps the problem in not with God’s promises, but that he doesn’t deliver by FedEx overnight-guaranteed next-day delivery.
The resurrection of Lazarus is perhaps the most dramatic example of God taking his own sweet time as we anxiously wait for him to act. His sisters send an urgent message to Jesus, but when he heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So, although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus—and was only a mile and a half walk away—he stayed right where he was for the next two days (John 11:4-6).
We humans tend to set deadlines for God to act: a loved one is seriously ill, the mortgage is due and there’s no money, a marriage is in danger of dissolving into divorce, a prodigal child is missing. We plead for God to act now . . . and he seems to ignore our urgency! I think there are least four reasons for this:
God is slow to increase our faith
I believe God uses the time between our human deadlines and heavenly deliverance to increase our faith. Mary and Martha’s desire for Jesus to heal their brother is ignored for two full days. In fact, during the delay, Lazarus dies!
But Jesus explains to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe” (John 11:14-15).
Mary and Martha, as well as the disciples, had faith that Jesus could heal the sick, but they were about to “really believe” in the power of Jesus.
God is slow to increase our vision
When Jesus finally arrives, Martha laments, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day” (John 11:21-24).
She had faith that her brother would be raised at the last day, but she had no vision of what was about to happen!
God is slow to increase our testimony
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 Abednego simply overpowered the guards and highjacked a chariot. Somehow, “Daniel and the Hung Jury” or “Daniel in the City Jail” just doesn’t have the same impact as “Daniel in the Lions Den.” And “Lazarus is healed of sinus infection” certainly isn’t a story worth telling your grandchildren!
And so, after Lazarus walks out of his tomb, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45).
To increase our compassion
I believe we become more compassionate after we have been through that agonizing time between human deadlines and divine deliverance.
Paul writes that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
If I want comfort, I don’t go to a believer who has apparently lived a trouble-free life. I go to someone who has been bruised, bloodied and broken! That’s where I will hear of amazing grace and the Almighty’s comfort!
Yes, God can be agonizingly slow, but he is never, ever late!
© Copyright James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.
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
• Why? Some thoughts on life’s tough questions
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