He Works in the Wait

“But for you, O LORD, do I wait;
   it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.”

Psalm 38:15

 
Isn’t waiting the worst? Whether the issue is something big, like marriage, or something small, like getting through a line to reach the checkout, the experience of a desire delayed certainly tests one’s character. On several occasions of late, the Lord has employed slow-moving traffic to reveal that my heart and holiness are not quite such close companions as I might prefer to believe. Trapped behind drivers apparently free of both deadlines and desirable destinations recently, I began fantasizing about having a huge ramp on the road ahead, which when crossed at high speed would send me skyrocketing through the air over the motorized obstacles blocking my pathway. It was then I detected a bit of sin that needed to be addressed.

Perhaps you don’t struggle with my inclination for road rage, but you probably do know what it’s like to dream of a ramp that could launch you right past the unpleasantries of waiting and into the life for which you’ve been longing. In her book, Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot addresses the universal temptation to spiral downward into impatience, bitterness, or despair when an object of desire remains out of reach. She describes two letters she received–one from a single woman desperate for marriage and one from a couple longing for a child. Mrs. Elliot says:

Will the young woman find a mate? Will the couple have a child? Maybe this year will be the year of desire fulfilled. Perhaps, on the other hand, it will be the year of desire radically transformed, the year of finding, as we have perhaps not yet truly found, Christ to be the All-Sufficient One, Christ the “deep, sweet well of Love.”

Why won’t God let someone into my life? I feel left out, abandoned. When will it be my turn?” The petulant letter [from the single woman] goes on. “I feel deprived! Will He deny me the one small desire of my heart? Is it too big a treasure to ask? I sit in torture and dismay.”

Life is likely to continue to hold many forms of torture and dismay for that unhappy person and for all who refuse to receive with thanksgiving instead of complaint the place in life God has chosen for them. The torture is self-inflicted, for God has not rejected their prayers. He knows better than any of us do what furthers our salvation. Our true happiness is to be realized precisely through his refusals, which are always mercies. His choice is flawlessly contrived to give the deepest kind of joy as soon as it is embraced…

Here is the opportunity offered. Be patient. Wait on the lord for whatever He appoints, wait quietly, wait trustingly. He holds every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year in His hands. Thank Him in advance for what the future holds, for He is already there.

(pp. 49-51)

Although our waiting is never easy, it is a comfort to know that with God it will always be worthwhile.

Photo: miamiamia

 
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Trusting His Timing

No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!
Psalm 84:11-12

Even though I know that God is incredibly good to His people all of the time, I have found that there are times in life when that truth seems much clearer to me than at others. Every once in a while, I have seen God act through such marvelous and unexpected means that I think I feel in a very tiny way how Moses must have felt in Exodus 33 as he stood hidden in the cleft of the rock, being allowed to see more of God’s glory than he ever had before. This past weekend was one of those wonderful experiences for me. Last Saturday, my older brother, Joshua, was married to his beautiful bride, Marta. As I took part in this joyous wedding celebration, I realized that the major theme of Josh and Marta’s love story was not the romantic love of a man for a woman or of a woman for a man. No, the theme that I saw over and over again this weekend was the everlasting love of an infinitely good and sovereign God Who had written this day down in His book before Josh and Marta’s lives ever began. (Ps. 139:16) I believe that many of us in attendance would agree with the thought expressed in Psalm 118:23, “This is the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes!”

People get married all of the time, so you may be wondering what made this wedding different from any other wedding. Besides the fact that it was my brother’s wedding, which of course makes it seem special to me, was the clear evidence that God’s hand was at work in bringing these two people together at just the right place and at just the right time. When a close family friend asked me how I felt about this wedding, I said that there were far too many “coincidences” involved for this not to be the Lord’s work. You see, I had prayed for years that God would provide a Godly wife for my brother, but I doubt I was the only one who was beginning to wonder if marriage would ever be part of His will for Josh’s life. Although both my younger sister and I had already married, it seemed that the wait for a perfect partner for Josh was growing increasingly long.

I don’t know how you feel about waiting for things in life, but for the most part, I am not a fan. Waiting can be so frustrating. From our human perspective, it can feel like such a waste of time. But from God’s eternal perspective, the years that He keeps us waiting are always a vital part of His plan to accomplish His perfect will for our lives. At his rehearsal dinner, my brother gave a heartfelt testimony regarding the lessons that God had taught him during his own years of waiting on the Lord. He expressed how he used to feel that since He had tried to be obedient to God’s will and follow His “formula,” that he expected God would give him the things that he desired. As time went on though, Josh said he finally realized that “He is God, and I am not.” He arrived at a place of contentment where he decided to focus more on the good things that God had given Him, instead of on the things that he did not yet have. Just shortly after that, through something of a “chance” meeting, Josh and Marta’s paths came together in a life changing intersection. Their relationship developed as an unexpected yet welcome surprise. As they sought God’s will for their future together, they eventually saw that He had been leading them to this place where the separate paths of their lives merged into just one road which they were to continue traveling together.

Because of the waiting, the gift that God gave to Josh and Marta seemed that much sweeter than it would have if He had given it to them earlier. Because of the waiting, we were able to praise God for His goodness in much deeper ways than we would have if He had worked on our timetable instead of His own. Because of the waiting, we have seen yet again that God really is good … All of the time!

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:9

Waiting for Rain

“…The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

James 5:16

For the past few weeks during my Bible reading, I’ve been enjoying again the stories of God’s mighty working among His people in the books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. This morning, I was especially enthusiastic about what I was reading, because I had finally reached the stories of Elijah, my favorite Bible character. There are several reasons for my favoritism, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve always felt I could identify with him in some ways. Even though I’ve never seen God work through me quite so dramatically as He did through Elijah, there have been many times in my life when I felt God empowering me to follow the prophet’s example in boldly speaking truth. Unfortunately though, there have probably been many more times when I’ve been so overwhelmed by fear that I more closely resembled Elijah when he ran away, begging God to take his life after hearing of Jezebel’s vow to murder him. The Bible confirms that Elijah wasn’t all that different from you or me when it tells us that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). Although we as Christians often see these Bible characters as being an entirely different breed from ourselves, this verse reminds us that Elijah was just an ordinary human being who was set apart by God to show His extraordinary strength.

After James reminds us that Elijah was much like us, he goes on to say that “[Elijah] prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” Today as I read about this event in 1 Kings 17-18, I was impressed anew with the weight of the thought that God uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His sovereign will. 

You remember the story: Elijah goes before Ahab, the godless king of Israel, to deliver the news that it would not rain in Israel until he gave the word that the drought was over. Just like Elijah said, God prevented both dew and rain for the next 3 ½ years, showing rather clearly the utter uselessness of Baal, the supposed god of rain and fertility. Near the end of the drought, Elijah called the people to gather at Mount Carmel where the impotence of Baal was further illustrated by his failure to consume a sacrifice with fire though his prophets called for him from morning until midafternoon. After drenching the altar with water so the superiority of his God would be obvious to all, Elijah asked God to answer his prayer for the specific reason “that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” God’s response to Elijah’s prayer stood in stark contrast to the lengthy and fruitless wailing of the false prophets before him as He instantly sent His fire to consume the water-logged sacrifice. Elijah’s prayer was then answered in its entirety as the people fell on their faces proclaiming, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.”

Every time I get to this point in the story, I feel radically inspired, but today I was even more encouraged as I read the end of the story. After commanding the people to put the false prophets of Baal to death, Elijah told King Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.” Then Elijah crouched down on the ground there at Mount Carmel and told his servant to go look for the rain cloud—the answer to his prayer. The first time the servant looked, he saw nothing, but Elijah told him to keep looking. Each time the servant looked, he repeatedly saw nothing until the 7th time when he reported back to Elijah, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” I can’t imagine that too many people saw that tiny cloud and thought much about it, but Elijah knew what was coming and sent word to Ahab, “Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.” The Bible continues, “In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.” And just like that, the drought was over.

I wonder what that servant was thinking when he gazed out on the cloudless sky for the sixth time in a row. After all, the drought had been going on for 3 ½ years. I suppose that he had been looking at many cloudless skies for the past few years feeling as though the drought would never end. I imagine there were many, many Israelites who loved the Lord and wondered if they would ever again feel the welcome relief of rain upon their faces. Even though they may never have turned away from God to worship idols, they still suffered under the judgment that the Baal worshippers had brought upon their land. After offering countless prayers for rain, there were probably many who wondered if God had abandoned them forever. I can imagine what they might have been feeling, because I’ve felt that way at times in my life. After praying for what seems like far too long, I’ve wondered if God would ever bring an end to the suffering I was experiencing as a result of another’s sin. I, too, have been tempted to give up and stop watching for God’s answer to my prayers.

I’ve always thought it was kind of funny that when Elijah’s servant looked out for the seventh time, that he compared the little rain cloud that he finally saw to the size of a man’s hand. I mean, that was one tiny cloud! There probably weren’t too many people who woke up that morning with any inkling that God would very soon bring their long years of suffering to an end. I wonder if there were any people who gazed out at the sky that day still believing God had not forsaken them and knowing that when He had accomplished His purposes for the drought in their lives God would send the answer to their prayers in the form of a little rain cloud. Maybe Elijah wasn’t the only one that day asking God to answer his prayer and enable the unbelievers around to see His hand at work and cry out, “The LORD, He is God!”

Oh, how I want to be a person like Elijah with an unrelenting faith that God will use my prayers to accomplish His sovereign will. When others are staring at the parched and thirsty ground under their feet, I want to be the person who encourages them for the seventh or the seventieth time to lift their eyes to the Heavens. I want to remind them to listen for the roar of a heavy shower even if they can’t see one cloud in the sky. Because no matter how dry the soil, how empty the well, how hopeless the situation, we must continue to pray, believing that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Keep watching for that tiny cloud!