As much as we wish it were otherwise, life has no easy answers to our struggles. Oh, I know, I know . . . God is the Answer. But what happens when the Answer doesn’t answer?
Because God can stop our pain, we think He should. So we pray. And pray.
But nothing happens.
That’s what occurred with Mary and Martha. They sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus lay sick. But instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, Jesus stayed right where He was beyond the Jordan River. When He finally did arrive, Lazarus had been dead four days.
In other words, Jesus had taken His sweet time showing up.
From what happened next, I see 3 lessons to help us understand why Jesus waits to answer our prayer.
As the ancient International Highway cut its way though Israel, it divided three ways through the Mount Carmel range. The eastern fork passed through a valley named after the town of Dothan.
On the day Joseph’s brothers dropped him in the pit at Dothan, neither they nor Joseph gave one thought about how that decision would affect eternity. It was all about the here and now. But in hindsight, both Joseph and his brothers saw God’s hand in the events and interpreted them accordingly.
Hindsight provides insight. It always can.
In our lives we can get so caught up in today’s issues that they blind us to tomorrow’s purpose for them.
Interestingly, Dothan appears only twice in the Bible. In both places, we learn how to see near and far in our spiritual lives.
Sometimes it seems the Lord leads us into a life that can’t possibly be His will. What started with such promise has become such a challenge. It’s tough to know what to do next.
What do you do when the life God has promised you looks nothing like the life God has given you?
God had promised a son to Sarai and her husband, Abram. And yet at the same time, God prevented conception. This is the will of God? Go figure.
What God said is a lesson we need to hear.
The songs play it. The movies portray it. Even our church services have their part to play. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yeah, well what if it isn’t? For many people, holidays bring up painful memories.
Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.
During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).
David felt very alone.
His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.
His name is a byword for betrayal. But it never began that way. “Judas” is the Greek form for the Hebrew name Judah—a common designation in ancient Israel.
(Painting: “The Judas Kiss” by Gustave Doré, Public Domain, via Wikimedia)
Judas’s treacherous betrayal came as a complete shock to all who knew him. On the surface, he appeared as dedicated as all the other apostles.
- Chosen by Jesus.
- Worker of miracles.
- Even entrusted as treasurer.
So when Jesus foretold His betrayal at the Last Supper, no disciple at the table pointed and said, “Aha, Judas! I knew there was something about you!” The whole group remained clueless. Each one, in fact, asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).
Strangely, even Judas asked. Don’t you wonder why?
Sometimes the ordinary days make us wonder if God has forgotten us. After all, when we read the Bible, it all seems so exciting. Our lives, on the other hand, seem boring.
But the natural events in Joseph’s ordinary day in the Dothan Valley revealed God behind the scenes.
Jacob’s 10 oldest sons had traveled north to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. So Jacob dispatched Joseph, whom he loved more than all his other sons, from the Valley of Hebron to check on their welfare.
When Joseph arrived, he found that his brothers had moved further north to the lush pastures of Dothan. Seeing him in the distance, the brothers—jealous of their father’s love for Joseph—purposed to kill the boy. But the presence of a nearby cistern convinced them instead to hurl Joseph into it—and leave him there to die (see Genesis 37:12-28).
It seemed that God dropped the ball. But His painful providence would prove wiser than Joseph’s limited insight.
The same is true for you. God uses your natural stuff in His marvelous plan.
In King David’s day, the city of Jerusalem stood as a renovation and expansion of Jebus, a site the Hebrews never occupied in the territory of Benjamin.
Those who come to Jerusalem today for the first time are often surprised to learn that the original Jerusalem, “The City of David,” sat on a mere ten acres just south of the Temple Mount. Hardly impressive, it looks like some third-world neighborhood.
Steep slopes surround the City of David and gave it in a strategic advantage during any military threat. So much so, the inhabitants of Jebus felt confident “David cannot enter here” (2 Samuel 5:6). But he did, and David made the site his new capital.
The steep slopes became King David’s military strength.
But the slopes also played into his moral weakness. Here’s how.
I’ll never forget the images of Mount Carmel’s scorching flames in December 2010. The largest fire in Israel’s history billowed so much smoke that a NASA satellite could photograph it.
In addition to the tragic loss of life—both human and animal—the devastating inferno destroyed 5 million trees.
(Photo: Fires on Mount Carmel in 2010, by יחידה אווירית משטרת ישראל CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
While reading about the fire in the news, I thought about the scenic overlook on Mount Carmel I have visited many times. The name of the place is Muhraqa, which means, ironically, “burning.”
Fortunately, most of Mount Carmel’s beautiful historic sites (including Muhraqa) escaped the 2010 forest fire. Beauty untouched beside utter devastation.
In a land where water is life, the lushness of Mount Carmel came to represent nothing less than the blessing of God.
We all need people to influence us. God made us that way. From the languages we speak to the character we develop—it all begins with those who surround us in our formative years.
It starts with our environment, but it shouldn’t end there. It cannot.
When it does, it’s tragic. That was the case with King Joash.
But it doesn’t have to be that way with us.
Len Bailey’s book, Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye, portrays Holmes and Watson traveling to biblical days to solve biblical “mysteries.”
The time travel is a fascinating aspect to the book, but the mysteries are “solved” simply by Holmes’ keen observation of Scripture. It’s the same premise I learned in Howard Hendricks’ class on Bible Study Methods. In that class, we even read a portion of Conan Doyle’s books where Holmes employs his powers of observation.
Once in this book, Watson asked how Holmes, a critic, could have such faith in the Bible. Holmes replied:
Faith has nothing to do with it, old boy. I’m just a better reader than you are.
The book is creative and entertaining, though sometimes it stretches the bounds of tolerance when Holmes offers Watson long paragraphs of historical background, sounding more like a Bible Dictionary than a detective.
Although each mystery rests on the keen observation of often-obscure passages, most of the conclusions offered are still debatable—answers that have been provided by scholars for centuries.
For example . . .