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God Makes Us Wait

We are impatient and selfish.  We are shortsighted and refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in pain, hardship, and waiting.

My advice to all of you this new year was to ponder the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord. Drawing from Philippians and Romans, I encouraged you to see that God works things out for our good, but not the good we think we deserve.  Ultimately, the best “good” we could have has already been given to us in Jesus Christ.

Our good probably doesn’t include material wealth, health, happiness, or any other temporal circumstance, but occasionally we may be graciously given good circumstances and other times we wait for a reprieve.

God’s will is knowable when we don’t treat him like a magic 8-ball because His will is revealed in scripture. We are to love God and love neighbor. Every possible instruction for how Christians ought to behave flows from those two principles.  Yet sometimes we complicate them and sometimes we see our circumstances or those we love complicating them and we don’t understand why.  We feel like we aren’t growing.  We feel like we aren’t of use.  We see the obvious become unclear. And we wonder when God will relent.

That is a bad way to view God.  God owes us nothing.  Not only should God not relent, but He should drive all of us into the ground, and He doesn’t.   So when we look at our circumstances and fail to see how this could be God’s will, we understand that we have no place to question the King of the universe, but also that His nature allows us to take heart in that our circumstances are ultimately for our benefit.

The Old Testament gives us such a great picture of the character of our God and how He uses circumstances to mold us even when a given moment seems contrary to His will.

I want to discuss the account of Jacob and his family leaving Laban.  God is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was no stranger to God.  When he left his family, he encountered God.  He spent fourteen years in service to Laban. Yet when his new family left Laban, they brought idols along with them.  And it wasn’t until Jacob moved to Bethel that his family gave up idolatry.  It is estimated that it had been eight to ten years between the time that Jacob and his family had been in Canaan and when they finally gave up idolatry.  So we have at the very least, twenty-four years where God tolerated idolatry from a man who knew Him.  Why would God permit sin to continue?

Abraham continued to grow old between the time that God promised a son and when Sarah gave birth of Isaac.  Why would God promise something and leave them in the unknown?

Paul spent three years away not preaching and it took fourteen years for him to go to Jerusalem again.  Why would God give Paul such a weighty task and then tarry?

And the epitome of Christian waiting, we are told that our blessed hope is coming soon.  Yet the church has been waiting for 2000 years!

We demand immediacy.  We can’t see that God works things out for His glory and our good, not according to what we want and when we want it.

I recall my Freshmen Christian Formation professor telling us about how our sense of time is warped by our selfishness.  He told us how students of his would tell him they had been praying about something for a long time and were wondering why God hadn’t moved them or their circumstances in a certain direction.  He would then ask them how long a “long time” was.  They’d usually reply with a few weeks or maybe a few months.  His response was “try praying for years.” 

That’s why the Old Testament is worthy of our attention.  We see the entire plan and God’s use of time.

Consider this hypothetical with Melchizedek, and a heavy dose of artistic license.

Imagine that Melchizedek had been praying for Abraham and his family to honor God in everything that they do.  He had been praying that they would flee from idolatry. Yet he sees their continued failure. And if he got to see all that Israel became, how discouraging to see their apostasy and rejection of the Messiah? Why would God let Israel continue in sin?

I think the answer is simple.  God didn’t have to save us, whatever He does is done to glorify Himself and while each glance at a specific point in Israel’s history makes us wonder why they had to wait, we now get to see the whole picture, namely, salvation being extended to the Gentiles.

But that’s the big picture, we still see smaller pictures of God’s purposes that seem like unbearable periods of time spent outside of the will of God.  When we look back at Jacob’s family, there is the clear indication that God began His work with Abraham, not revealing the entirety of His purpose.  It’s been noted that God progressively brought Abraham and his descendants out of idolatry.  First God showed that He is better than other gods.  Then it goes to forsaking those other gods.  Then it turns into debunking the power and existence of other gods.  And finally it culminates with Jesus being THE only way to the Father. God did not start out telling Abraham that no one comes to the Father except through the Son who hadn’t been sent yet.

We may not like our circumstances and what we see others going through, but God knows better than we do.  While sin is not God’s will, His will might use it for His purposes.  While we don’t understand why certain things happen, God’s going to work it out.  And if it’s not worked out in this life, for those who are in Christ, everything will be restored, reconciled, and healed when Christ returns or calls us home. 

Until that happens, be content with Jesus Christ.

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