When the Lord Delays

January 24, 2016 No Comments »
When the Lord Delays

By David Faust

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 3.26.19 PMI don’t like to wait. In stores, slow-moving checkout lines test my patience. At work, lengthy meetings make me fidget. On the highway, traffic jams stress me out and so do red lights that take too long to turn green.

Daily life is filled with delays and minor inconveniences, so I try not to complain; but frankly it’s a spiritual struggle when I have to wait on God. In my prayers I ask a question frequently found in Scripture: “How long, O Lord?” I am grateful when God says yes. I can accept it when he says no. But I find it especially hard when he says to wait.

Mary and Martha were worried. Their brother Lazarus had fallen ill, and they knew Jesus would want to know about it. “The sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick’” (John 11:3). Yet “when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (v. 6). Why did Jesus delay? Why didn’t he help his friends immediately in their time of need? 

While Jesus delayed, Mary and Martha labored unsuccessfully to keep their brother alive, but Lazarus succumbed to his disease and died. No wonder the sisters were upset. When Jesus finally arrived, each of them expressed the same complaint: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32).

When someone dear to us gets sick and dies, we voice the same kinds of questions and complaints. We pray, “God, why did you wait so long to show up?” We lament, “If you had been here, Lord, my loved one wouldn’t have died.” But although it’s understandable, that sentence contains two questionable assumptions: 1) It assumes that God isn’t here—present in the midst of our pain. 2) It assumes that the prevention of impending death is always God’s highest will.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind while we wait on the Lord.

God’s Timetable

Bob Russell observed, “The nick of time is God’s favorite hour of the day.” God has perfect timing. When Jesus finally showed up, Lazarus had been dead four days; but things were right on schedule. Those four days felt long and burdensome, but Mary and Martha’s joy at the final outcome far exceeded their frustration from the waiting. 

God’s Wisdom 

In this situation Jesus wisely refused to perform a lesser miracle (healing the sick) in order to perform a greater miracle (raising the dead). Lazarus’s resurrection pointed toward the fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises: “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).

God’s Love

We shouldn’t interpret the Lord’s delays as indifference. He cares more than we can comprehend. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept outside the tomb, deeply moved by death and loss. Today his sympathy still overflows for those who die and for those who grieve.

While we await the final resurrection, we need the faith expressed by the psalmist: “For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Psalm 56:13). Heaven will be worth the wait.

David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Daily Readings
Jan. 25 M. Psalm 56 Trust in Facing Death
Jan. 26 T. Isaiah 25:6-10 Life Eternal
Jan. 27 W. Matthew 4:12-17 Darkness Dispelled
Jan. 28 T. John 11:1-6 For God’s Glory
Jan. 29 F. John 11:17-27 I Am Life
Jan. 30 S. John 11:28-37 Jesus Wept
Jan. 31 S. John 11:38-44 Alive Again

Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © 2011, unless otherwise indicated.

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