I imagine we can all relate to the frustration of seemingly unanswered prayers. Prayers that we have been praying for a LONG time… Prayers we have gotten tired of praying… John spoke to us this weekend about these delays–the time between our prayers and God’s answers. John told us that in the delays, God desires to increase our faith, vision, testimony and compassion. He highlighted many accounts of Jesus responding to various requests in different ways in Matthew 8 & 9.
Have you ever thought about what life would be like without these delays? If we received what we asked for when we asked for it? This thought crossed my mind as I listened to the message:
Without delays, our requests become demands, our prayers become a formula and we never mature into all that God created us to be.
Not only would we miss out on the increase of our faith, vision, testimony and compassion that John spoke about–we would also miss out on the extravagant, intentional plans of “…Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20 Amplified Bible) I’m not an expert, but to me the words “infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes or dreams” tell me that I can’t possibly begin to fathom the answers God is preparing in response to my prayers.
But that’s hard to remember when life is crashing down on us, isn’t it? When we feel like the caterpillar in the cocoon–bound, squeezed, uncomfortable and in the dark–it’s hard to live into the tension between the promise of tomorrow and the delays of today. We know that there is a day coming when all will be set right. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” But we forget that the Kingdom of Heaven, eternity, exists in the reality of today. If we are willing to live into the tension–to stay put in the cocoon of today until our wings are ready for the tomorrow that God is preparing for us.
John began his message with the story of the leper in Matthew 8:2-3:
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
The word “willing” appears twice in these two verses and it caught my attention, as is always the case when it comes to this particular word. In these verses, it’s the willingness of Jesus we read about. But I believe there is an implied willingness on the part of the leper as well… He–an “unclean”, marginalized leper–came to Jesus, knelt at His feet and identified Him as “Lord”. He then proceeded to say “IF you are willing…”. He came to Jesus with faith that He could heal him. But he humbled himself before Him and placed his future in His hands. He did not demand. He was willing to receive whatever Jesus deemed appropriate, with a faith that believed and trusted regardless of the outcome.
Do we present our requests, our prayers to Jesus with a heart that is willing to receive whatever He deems appropriate? In His time?
Interestingly, one of my devotions this morning was titled “Willing to be Filled”. It highlighted the seasons of life when we feel like empty, unfilled vessels. The point was that during seasons of transition–seasons when we haven’t received the direction, the answers, the purpose we’ve been asking for–we can choose to be vessels that are empty but available. Willing. The author challenges readers to ask ourselves four questions:
Am I willing to be used in ways I’ve never thought of?
Am I willing to fulfill a destiny I don’t yet know?
Am I available to His plans and purposes?
Am I available for more of God, Himself?
She concludes with these words… “At the perfect moment, God will fill you with Himself yet more, making you complete in new ways.”
Without the delays, there is no completion. Without time in the cocoon, the wings don’t develop. And if we’re not willing to receive whatever God chooses to give, we are likely missing out on an answer that is exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we could ever ask Him for or even imagine. May we be willing to live in the tension between the promise of tomorrow and the delays of today.
May we be willing to live in the tension between the promise of tomorrow and the delays of today. The tension…
I was seeing a wonderful Christian counselor a few years ago, and all over her office were ampersands (&). She taught me that life is lived in the tension of the “and”. Our lives are not lived in black and white, but in gray. Two simultaneously opposing things can both be true, and both be happening at the same time. One does not invalidate the other.
I love God deeply and desire to live for Him, and I make selfish decisions that put me at the center of my life. Both are true. All of us have great capacity for good, and great capacity for evil. So the fact that Laura highlighted the tension between the promise of tomorrow and the delays of today struck me, because this is where life is lived–in the tension. The question then becomes, what do we do in that space, how do we live?
John highlighted the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat while the disciples assumed that He didn’t care about them and was going to let them drown. (Mt. 8:23-26). I’ve been there. I’ve been so disillusioned by God that I’ve tried to walk away. I’ve been so disillusioned by God that I chose the path of self-destruction for ten years of my life. The battle raging within over trying to reconcile my personal suffering and grief with a loving, good God was fierce. I was stuck in polarized thinking–God had to either be good and loving, or mean and evil, and I chose the latter during that season.
I was almost thirty before God and I had a wrestling match of colossal proportions, and I finally fully surrendered to the truth that God is good; He is not just loving, but His very essence is love AND suffering is a very real component of life on a fallen planet.
I don’t like the suffering piece of that statement. I don’t imagine any of us do. Yet, the truth that we never suffer alone, that God will not only minister to us in our seasons of suffering, but will transform us more into the likeness of Christ through our suffering, if we are willing, is huge. He is the God who makes beauty out of ashes. He is the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He is the God of the promise of never will I leave you or forsake you. AND He is the God who knows the beginning from the end, He is the God who is sovereign, and He is the God working in the delays for His glory and our good. He is the God who is ever present in the tension.
As much as I long to see Jesus face to face, I am very very grateful that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
I am deeply grateful for the people who were praying for me during my season of self-destruction. I was the subject of their divine delay. I have people now in my life who are the subjects of divine delays. I long to see them come into fellowship with Christ, to experience His embrace, His grace, His freedom, His forgiveness, and discover the purpose that He has for them in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth through their unique gifts and talents. Yet, for this season, I love, I pray, I wait, AND I hold on to His promises even though I can’t see what He’s doing behind the scenes.
John read a beautiful quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that spoke volumes to me. It begins with the phrase: Above all, trust in the slow work of God, and ends with: Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing. Give our Lord the benefit.
Benefit—an act of kindness. (Merriam Webster)
Are we willing to be kind and patient toward the Lord as He does His slow work? It all comes down to trust. To willingness. To surrender. May we live patiently in the tension of the “and”, as we walk with Him.