I've always been intrigued with the passages in the Bible where it seems like God shows up late. One of the most obvious is when Lazarus was sick and his sisters sent a messenger to notify Jesus. They expected him to leave immediately and come to their home in Bethany, but Scripture tells us that Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. In the meantime, Lazarus died.
What do we do when God's late? There are some good lessons in the story of Lazarus.
1. We grow our faith. Faith doesn't usually get stronger when everything makes sense; it grows the most when nothing makes sense. Better to embrace the senselessness of it all. If Lazarus hadn't died, Jesus couldn't have raised him from the grave. Sometimes God allows difficult circumstances to enter our lives because He knows they’ll result in growth. Prosperity teaches us little. Adversity teaches us volumes. A.W. Tozer said, “Sometimes, before God can use a man greatly, He has to hurt him deeply.” I've found that to be very true. Don't wiggle off the operating table. Submit to the knife of the Divine Surgeon. The pain has a purpose.
2. Allow God to minister to you in your pain. When Jesus saw Mary and Martha mourning the death of their brother, the Bible says that “Jesus wept.” That may be the shortest verse in the Bible, but it’s also the deepest. The crown of thorns, the agonies of the Cross, the trip to Golgotha did not make Jesus weep...but standing next to the grave of a friend, He buried His face in His hands and cried. Aren’t you glad that’s in the Bible? Only Christians worship a God who is vulnerable enough to cry. The next time you’re hurting (and waiting), remember that God understands your pain. Isaiah 53:3 describes him as … “a man of sorrows, acquainted with our deepest grief.” I'm grateful for that.
3. Sometimes we're just not READY for God to intervene. I have a friend who thought he'd hit rock bottom, but later he told me, "I learned that I had a lot further to fall. I'm glad for that." We want God to change the circumstances, but His greater desire is to change us. Like any good parent, He knows what we're capable of receiving, so sometimes He delays his response. The worst thing that can happen to any of us is to succeed before we're ready. God loves us enough to put things on hold until we're mature enough to move on.
4. Finally, in all suffering and waiting on God, there's opportunity to inspire others as we walk by faith through the trials. Regarding Lazarus' illness, Jesus told his disciples, “This sickness is for the glory of God.” They only understood what that meant AFTER Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. A lot of things in life only make sense in retrospect. John 11:45 tells us that many of the Jews put their faith in Jesus when they saw what He had done. Waiting is worth it when a powerful testimony results.
A couple of parting thoughts:
Don’t expect God to operate on your schedule. He doesn’t wear a watch. David wrote, “My times are in your hands...” (Psalm 31:15 NIV) That is enough.
Look for ways to turn your trials into testimonies. Sometimes it’s as simple as a shift in the way we think; an adjustment in our perspective. Ask God to give you fresh perspective. You may be surprised at how your story, painful though it might be, can inspire and impact others for years to come.
What I've learned is this: The primary reason God is sometimes late...is so He can always be on time.