Earlier this week we were talking about praying in the powerful name of Jesus and about the Lord’s promise that ‘He will do whatever we ask in His name’ John 14:14. We know that James tells us that we need to ask aright and we believe that staying closely connected to the Lord by our thanksgiving will help us in making sure that our hearts are tuned to His and that we are not just asking for things for ‘our own pleasure’ James 4:3.
Even so there will be many times, even after we have sought to ask for the right things with the right motive, when there seems to be silence from heaven. So what do we do then? and how can we square that silence with Jesus’ words to us? Well, when there seems to be little or no response from heaven, this is when our faith, and thanksgiving, can really help us. So before we give up and decide, ‘God is not listening’, or ‘those promises really were not for the likes of me’, or ‘I clearly don’t have enough faith’, let us have a look at it all from God’s point of view.
We know that God is good and that He loves us, but do we always accept the fact that that can sometimes mean a delay? When Lazarus died and Jesus was told about it we read, ’Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two more days’. John 11:6. This was really incredible, because the sisters had specifically sent word to Him saying “Lord, the one you love is sick”. Like the sisters, I always expect that if someone loves me and I am in need they will hasten to help me in any way they can, as soon as they can, but the Holy Spirit makes it clear ‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’, and ‘He stayed two more days’.
It is clear from the narrative that Jesus was not delaying because He thought Lazarus would get better if he was given time to ‘have a good sleep’. He actually spelt it out to His disciples telling them plainly and starkly “Lazarus is dead”. John 11:14. The point we are making here is obvious, the Lord could have gone earlier and healed Lazarus, but He delayed, let him die, and then raised Him from the dead.
“Wonderful” we say, “the delay meant that they saw an even more amazing miracle at the Lord’s hand”, but let’s not forget, that Jesus effectively put the two sisters (who He loved) through several days (travel time included) days of worry and pain, AND through the trauma of seeing their beloved brother Lazarus dying. So what was happening in that time? Well there was lots of grief, doubt, fear, and even frustration and anger with Jesus, judging by the rebuke that He got from the sisters. John 11:21,32. There was certainly disappointment rising by the minute, so what was Jesus up to here?
I think the lesson for us is probably that the Lord works to His own agenda, and that includes His own timetable, for His own glory and His purpose of bringing us closer to Himself and conforming us to be more and more like Him. Romans 8:29. In addition we have several references that help us to see that there is a significant difference between our way of thinking and that of the Lord’s. First of all God, speaking through the prophet says to His people, when they are in trouble and He is promising restoration “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways….As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8,9.
Secondly God’s timetable seems to differ drastically from ours, we being very finite in our thinking , while God is eternal. We also, in the west, live in a very ‘this must be fix instantly’ mentality. So we read what Peter wrote to a suffering church, ‘ But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ 2 Peter 3:8.
Sometimes the purpose of a delay is obvious, and there is a clear blessing, and our faith grows through it. Our story of coming here is such a story. After we had seen this house – after looking at many others – it took us another two years to sell our house, (House buying times have changed since then!!!). Often times during that two years of waiting, we spent much time wondering what we had done wrong, or could have done better. It was a struggle to believe that the delay wasn’t in some way our fault, but the Lord kept that house for us, and by the time we were able to buy it the vendor had significantly improved it and had even built us a wonderful, separate building in which we could do our counseling and training. It was the fulfillment of a twenty year dream, ‘with interest’.
Prayers for other very significant things that have been on my heart for many years, have yet to be answered, but as I was talking to the Lord about this the other day, I felt a real sense that He was saying “You think delay is because I am not working in this situation, but My perspective is so different to yours. I see all things in the light of eternity, and I am doing something wonderful. It might look as it did to Mary and Martha that the delay is because I am not working, but I am, so thank Me for what I am doing, and you will see.”
David wrote this psalm in one of his bad times, ‘Be merciful to me o Lord for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief…….my strength fails because of my afflictions and my bones grow weak……I am utter contempt to my neighbours, I am dead to my friends….. I have become like broken pottery,……… But I trust in you oh Lord; I say “You are my God,” My times are in your hands deliver me ……..Let your face shine upon me……. And by the end of the Psalm he was writing ‘Praise be to the Lord, for He showed His wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city. In my alarm I said “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. Love the Lord, all His saints! The Lord preserves the faithful…….. Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the Lord.’ Psalm 31:9-16,
So today let us thank Him for every answered prayer and also thank Him, by faith, for those that are in the process of being answered. Let us thank Him before we see the fulfillment of our hearts desires and trust Him that i) He is with us, ii) He is for us, iii) He has heard us and iv) He knows what He is doing, saying with the Psalmist, “Thank you Lord that My times are in your hands’ .