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.
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.
Jesus said, “I am the gate.” In using this metaphor, the Lord drew upon a practice shepherds did that they still do today.
Using either a rock wall or a cave, the shepherd leads his sheep into the pen with a narrow opening of rocks for passage. The pen offers shelter and security for his flock. By staying in the narrow gap, the shepherd serves as the “gate”—the only way in or out of pen.
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. —John 10:9–10
Jesus also drew upon the occasion to show that once a person is saved, he or she can never lose that salvation:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. —John 10:27–30
What a comforting promise from one who is no less than God!
In moments of honesty, it’s easy to see our lives as, well—insignificant. What we do often seems to matter very, very little. Whether it’s pushing papers or changing diapers, it can seem pretty pointless.
We often can fall for the thinking that because what we do seems small, or behind-the-scenes, or insignificant, or unequal with our abilities or qualifications, that what we do matters little.
After all, if we foul up, no big deal. The world still turns. Nobody notices. Few seem to care.
Have you noticed how often we tend to interpret our faith as we want it to be, rather than as God reveals it to be? We have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist who only wants to see the highlights of the city.
(Photo: courtesy of Oomph)
Forget all the back alleys of New York. Show me Times Square. Let’s just jump to the Empire State Building. We focus on how the Christian life “ought” to be. (As if the tough parts are electives.)
A broad chasm stretches between the God we want and the God who is. Between the life we want and the life God wants for us.
As tough as it sounds, the only way to bridge this gap is the cross.
Some places evoke bad memories. Maybe it was your hometown. Or perhaps the house where you grew up or the school you attended. The place itself is neutral. But the events associated with it have forever changed it in your memory.
The Valley of Achor was such a site. After Joshua’s victory at Jericho, the Israelites suffered defeat at Ai because a man named Achan had buried banned spoils of war under his tent (Joshua 7:1, 21).
After this event, the valley served as a reminder of failure, of setback, and of defeat. But God would change the place from a site of trouble to a place of triumph.
He can do the same for you.
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.
God’s leading is often strange. That’s because He doesn’t share the plan. He keeps it a secret. We want God’s plan so we can trust the plan. God hides the plan so we will trust Him.
(Photo by Tom Butler, courtesy of oomf.com)
Genesis began with God blessing all He created. But the fall of man, Abel’s murder, the rebellion at Babel, and the global flood gave cause to doubt that there would be any recovery of that blessing. Genesis 3–11 sketches more than 4,000 years of suffering that people experienced under the curse of sin.
But God’s plan chose one man through whom He would resurrect His blessing for all mankind.
Your life may seem in chaos as well. But God has a plan He is hiding.
You’re ready for a change. You’ve asked God to open a new door in your life, and He has taken years to prepare you for it. Finally, you’re ready. There’s just one problem. Nothing happens.
The plan of God includes preparation and waiting. But why do you have to keep waiting once God has prepared you? What else must you do for God to open the door?
The Apostle Peter experienced something that may explain why your progress is delayed.
And what you can do in the mean time.
The Bible is full of wonderful promises and words of encouragement. Who of us hasn’t been refreshed by its verses and inspired by its truths? At the same time, the Word of God also has parts that seem, well—bad.
After reading these unnerving passages, we come away with questions:
- How do we deal with the genocide God commands in Joshua?
- Why doesn’t Bible specifically condemn polygamy?
- What does Paul mean by speaking of the submission of wives?
The list goes on.
As people of integrity, how do we deal with those uncomfortable “bad” parts of the Bible that seem, well, wrong?