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.
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.
Life is full of moments that expose our doubts. In spite of all the Scripture we’ve learned and all the past victories the Lord has given us, occasionally something will happen that causes serious doubt.
Maybe it’s a financial situation that undercuts future security. It might be a miserable marriage. Perhaps it’s a pastor or a leader who has failed. Maybe it’s our own failure.
Whatever the reason, seasons of doubts and confusion can come even to the most committed followers of Jesus:
- John the Baptist struggled with doubts about his own beliefs about Jesus (Matt. 11:2-3).
- The apostle Thomas found the resurrection of Christ something he had to see before he’d believe (John 20:25).
- Some of the disciples had doubts about Jesus’ appearing to them, even at the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17).
I confess, I’ve had my doubts as well. Sometimes circumstances literally demanded I doubt God.
I will never forget one evening during my first few days in Jerusalem. A simple walk gave me an essential reminder that helped relieve my doubts.
Most days it seems we never have enough. Between the bills, the home upkeep, and the car repairs, it’s tough just to stay afloat. Often, amazingly, God rigs it this way.
This tension is nothing new for a people who believe God will provide. In fact, an unusual custom gives insight into why we are means seem so meager.
After settling in the Promised Land, God allowed His people to work the land. But every seventh year, God said, “the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord” (Lev. 25:4) and lie fallow.
- This Sabbatical Year allowed for the forgiveness of all debts, and any food that grew went to the poor and to the wild animals.
- Then every 50 years, on the year of Jubilee, the land not only rested but also returned to its ancestral owners. And all slaves walked free.
- However, in 586 B.C., after God’s people failed to observe the Sabbatical Year for 490 years, God exiled them for the 70 special years they failed to give the land (2 Chron. 36:20-21).
All this was to show that the land belonged to God, not to those who lived on it (Lev. 25:23). Although they worked the land, they believed God will provide, and He made them stop working to prove He would. For even when they rested, God supplied (Ps. 127:2).
Here’s why the same is true for us.
Before I had a family, I had a different car—a black Firebird with T-tops. Sitting behind those eight cylinders, I could go from zero to too-fast in about five seconds (oh, but, of course, I never did).
After Cathy and I had our first daughter, I decided I needed a family vehicle. Car seats don’t fit in Firebirds.
So I sold the car.
A few months later, I found a spare set of keys to the Firebird, and I thought: I need to get these to the new owner. Even though I could have kept the keys (as insignificant as it seemed), they really weren’t mine to keep. I had sold them, in a sense, when I sold the car.
Living for God is like finding a spare set of keys to a car you no longer own.
In fact, you have a whole lot of keys that aren’t yours.
Imagine with me you have a child—and only one.
The delivery had complications, but the child lived. So you name him Nathaniel—“given of God.”
While recovering at home, you begin the ritual every three hours of feeding little Nathaniel and rocking him while he screams through fits of colic. Without missing one feeding, or letting one diaper go unchanged, or any needs unmet, you never give up because you know your child would literally die without your care.
And as Nathaniel grows, you teach him to walk, change the soiled sheets, and work hard to buy new clothes he’ll outgrow. He starts to drive and you bite your nails until he comes home. Every new stage presents a new set of sacrifices, but you never give up because you love Nathaniel.
The day he drives off to college represents a milestone in your parenting, and you stand proud of what God has made of Nathaniel.
You have no idea that things are about to change.
I’ll never forget the day when one of my daughters learned to ride her bike without training wheels. (The “fall” was an appropriate season for this event.)
As she sped down a hill toward a huge ravine, I saw written all over her face the message: “I’m not in control!”
(Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Vivozoom)
As she raced by me, I reached out and lifted her off the bike—saving her from the ravine but causing her to fall. As the bike launched into the abyss, my rescued daughter hopped up hotter than a hornet!
“Why did you do that, Daddy?!” To answer, I simply pointed to the bottomless gorge I saved her from. But that didn’t matter. All she could see was that I caused her to fall.
Years later, I pondered how we can carry this same attitude into our relationship with God.
Everything was going so well. A good job. Promising future. Nice place to live. Health in good shape. Peace among peers. Then God got involved, and it all changed.
(Photo: David Gallaher, via Vivozoom)
Ever had that happen? Me too. So did Israel of old.
The Hebrews sought opulent furniture, the finest food, first-class entertainment, the best wine and perfumes. But they did not seek the Lord.
Sometimes God invades our comfortable lives. He has His reasons.
If Jesus told us He had a criticism for us, we’d pull out our checklist and start down it.
- “Should I go on a mission trip, Lord?”
- “Should I pray more?”
- “Maybe memorize the book of Romans?”
“You just name it, Lord, and I’ll do it!”
I have discovered that slips in our relationship with God never start with the big things. They begin with the basics.
We would never consider waffling in our morality or our theology.
And yet, how often we betray a more basic element.
Our guide pointed from the road to a rocky outcropping on one of the distant hills. “This hike is definitely optional,” he warned. “But it’s worth it.”
A few of us brave souls followed, and for the first time in my life, I wished I had four legs.
Our guide scurried over the rocks like a lizard and stopped ahead, halfway up the hill, near the fissure in the rocks to which he had pointed. He turned and stood, arms crossed, one leg over the other, and waited for us. Finally I arrived.
“This is it,” he beamed.