Therefore the Lord will wait.
By M. Blankenburgh - translated by Ursula Moestapa
This article is about answering the question: “Why does God make me wait so long for an answer to my prayer?” The answer to this question may be related to many different matters.
We may pray for the conversion of someone who is very dear to us and the years go by without God seeming to do anything. We might pray for relief from sickness or distress and despite persistent and urgent prayer, it seems that there is no relief, yes, that the situation seems to get even worse. We may seek to know God in a deeper way and as far as we are aware of it, our motives are pure and we do not search anything that God’s Word doesn’t promise. Nevertheless, we see a greater corruptness in our own hearts than we ever thought possible and it seems like we are falling back rather than moving forward. Or it may possibly be related to our depression. For months or even years, we don't seem to have been at the top.
It all seem very disappointing and alienating. We long to feel really good again and are able to empathize with David who in Psalm 13:1-3 says: “How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long am I to feel anxious in my soul, with grief in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
That may exactly be the question that you have asked yourself: ‘How long do I have to carry this on?’
Now the thing is that I discovered in my Bible that God did not answer prayers directly and in each of those cases there was a good reason for delay. We shall take a closer look to some of these cases.
STANDING ON THE PROMISES
The first reason I discovered why God delays an answer to our prayers, is that God wants to test us in His promises. Are we willing to stand on the promises of His Word when there is no clue that these promises will be fulfilled? The evident example is Abraham to whom a son was promised. But the years went by until it humanly was impossible that Sarah would deliver a child. When a child would have been born shortly after the original promise, no great exercise of faith would have been needed for this promise. But when the years went by, God’s promise was the only thing that Abraham could rest on. We may believe that we can trust in God, even if He doesn’t answer directly. He has the ultimate thing and therefore His delay does not only put our faith in His promises to the test, it also puts our faith in His schedule to the test. On His time table, God marked the day that Isaac would be born. He said to Abraham in Genesis 17: 21 that Sarah would bear Isaac: “At this season next year.”
There was no mistake. God knew what was best. He said to Abraham in Genesis 18: 14: “At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” And everything happened as God had promised. This is once more emphasized in Genesis 21: 2: “So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”
I find this a great help. The moment that the original promise was made, Abraham had to wait for at least fifteen years. But God knew the right day on which Isaac was to be born. That long delay gave Abraham the opportunity to exercise in faith in God’s promise and God’s effort. Even though he did not succeed, as we know from the birth history of Ismael.
Let us take a look at Joseph in the Egyptian prison. We know that he was imprisoned because he refused to compromise with righteousness and purity. Months and years slowly went by. We don’t know exactly how long Joseph was kept in this prison, but Genesis 41: 1 gives us some light in this. In the preceding chapter, Joseph gave the right interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and the chief baker. When he said to the chief cupbearer that he would be restored in his former office, Joseph asked him: “Only keep me in mind when it goes well for you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison.”
I think that the first few weeks thereafter, Joseph’s hope for deliverance was great, but yet two full years went by before the chief cupbearer paid off his debt to Joseph. What a postponement! Joseph had nothing great in prospect anymore. His dreams from his childhood, in which he saw himself in an extraordinary position, seemed to fade away, but it appeared that Joseph considered them to be God’s promise to him. In Psalm 105: 17-21 there is some light shed on this history. We read there that: “The word of the Lord tested him. The king sent and released him.” You may understand Joseph’s feelings. God had given him a clear promise, but instead of help and relief, this promise almost drove him to despair. Joseph must often have felt that this promise could never be fulfilled. Such thoughts, however, do not consider the fact that God had already clearly indicated the day on His calendar that Joseph would be delivered. God’s promises are fulfilled, even if it sometimes takes a long time before we see the fulfilment. Psalm 105 also tells us further: “They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass.” The test took as long as God intended to. God has clearly determined the day of your deliverance. The deliverance will not be postponed any longer than it is necessary.
GOD’S PLAN IS THE BEST.
Can you imagine the plan that God has with your life? He knows every detail of everything that has happened every day during every year of your earthly pilgrim’s journey. You have your own plans and cannot appreciate any delay. But just take a moment and think about the following question: which plan do you really want to follow? Yours or God’s plan? I find it very remarkable that we cannot read anywhere that Joseph complained about his fate or seriously doubted God. It seems that he was satisfied in following God’s plan, because he knew that it was the best thing to do. These feelings are manifested clearly in certain verses. Just look at Genesis 45: 5, 8. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he said to them: “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to save lives.” “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And when Jacob died, his brothers wondered whether Joseph would change. Would Joseph, now his father was no longer present as a witness, take revenge? We read this in Genesis 50: 15-20. But we see that Joseph was utterly sincere. He said to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
Joseph saw God’s hand in everything that had happened to him. There is a great truth which we should keep well in mind. We will not always be able to understand God’s delay, because He says: “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 (Isa. 55: 8-9).”
Let us therefore, when we become impatient, seek mercy to stand on God’s promises and trust on His schedule.
IN WEAKNESS WE ARE STRONG
In the stories of the Bible, I yet discover another reason for God’s delay.
From time to time God lets us wait to bring us to the end of our strength. Most of us have great reserves of natural energy and power and this could be a hindrance for God to work through us. We are full of plans and schedules.
We have been in this life for a long time and know the tricks of the trade. Nothing fazes us. Then God draws back His hand and lets us wait for months. In such a time we start to learn how weak we are. We sink deeper and deeper and we ultimately arrive on the rock and start to learn that God’s power is perfected in weakness. We begin to understand what Paul means when he says: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).
Let us return to the disciples in the storm on the lake of Galilee, as is described in Matthew 14: 22-23. The disciples set sail in the evening so ordered by their Master in Verse 22. They got into a huge storm and were longing for rescue. The first words of verse 25 are very telling. “And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them.” For what reason did He let them wait so long? The fourth watch of the night is just the time before the day dawns! They had already fought against the storm for hours! Why did the Lord not come in the first, second or third watch of the night? Why did He let them wait until the fourth watch of the night?
Let us say directly that we can never fully answer this question, because God’s ways are always higher than ours. One thing is very clear. The disciples learned to know their own weakness and limitations. Because some of them were seasoned fishermen, they probably didn’t worry that much when the storm started. They knew what to do! They had already faced many storms! But facing buckets of gushing rain in the dark for several hours, into a headwind and the boat being tossed back and forth, would drive even the strongest men to the point of exhaustion. By this delay the Lord taught them a lesson somehow. At the point where they couldn’t do anything, the Lord stepped in and came to their rescue.
We encounter the same thing in the history of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus fell sick and his two sisters Martha and Mary were so worried that they sent Jesus a message. Look carefully at verse 5 and 6. It is said there that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus and that He deliberately stayed two days longer in the same place. What a strange way to express His love! We would think on the contrary, that if He really loved them He would go right away to help them. But consider that God’s ways are higher than ours.
When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was, due to the delay and the long journey, already dead for four days. In the time that Lazarus was still alive, his sisters were hopeful. I am quite sure that Martha had been very busy nursing her brother. She tried to use all the remedies that were available. She longed for Jesus to come, but her hope was totally shattered when Lazarus took his last breath and died. There was nothing left that Mary and Martha could do. They came at the end of their own rope and had no idea that Lazarus would be reunited with them on earth. They unshakably believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus; after all, He had already healed hundreds of people. But they did not realize that He had a much greater miracle in mind. They couldn’t comprehend this delay at all.
Well then, we know how the story goes and how very touching it is! The Lord stood at the opened tomb and called Lazarus to come out. And a man that had been dead four days came out from the tomb, still totally wrapped in grave clothes. This miracle would not have happened if the Lord had come on time. It caused a great excitement! In verse 45 it is said for example that many believed in Jesus because of this miracle. And in chapter 12 we read that such a large crowd came to see Lazarus and that the chief priests even considered to kill Lazarus, in order to make the excitement come to an end. The Lord was in this way much more glorified than it would have been the case if He would have healed Lazarus from his illness.
WAIT FOR CHRIST
Let us apply these points to our own circumstances. The Lord delays because He loves us. He waits until the situation exceeds human help. In this case He had a much greater miracle in mind than Martha and Mary could have foreseen, and this could perhaps be the case for your current situation. This is not always the case, but it is surely a possibility. At least you know that you can trust Him to work things out for your own good and for His glory.
A final point with regard to this divine delay. Often the Lord waits with an answer to prayer, simply to test our commitment. It is His way to make a distinction between what we really desire and what we long for on an impulse. He has to teach us how to make our desires to come into agreement with His will, for I am sure that we behave ourselves like self-centered children when we come to the Lord. Even if we pray according to His will, He sometimes waits to see whether we really mean it. Just think of Hannah, who had prayed for years before her son Samuel was born. She displayed a true firmness and in the end God met with her request. In 1 Sam. 1: 6 there’s a verse about Hannah that might be recognizable. “Her rival, moreover, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her”, because she had to wait for such a long time for giving birth to a child. Our rivals also do that at times. They provoke us continually to irritate us. However, let the history of Hannah cheer you up. She may have had to wait a long time, but her son was Samuel, a powerful man of God. It was a very worthwhile wait.
The lessons that we have to learn from time to time like this waiting for God, are therefore similar to the lessons we discussed in previous articles. God’s ways are higher than ours. If He delays something, He always does that with a purpose and He waits not a single day longer than is necessary. Consider waiting to be a possibility to exercise faith in the promises and schedule of God. Watch everything that God teaches you about your own weakness. You should look up to Him for the patience you need, but He will surely give what you need.
In the Psalms we read that the authors often speak about waiting on God. You can verify that for yourself, but you will undoubtedly remember the result of David’s waiting as it is described in Psalm 40:1 “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry.” I do not doubt that this will also be your testimony in the years ahead of you.