HURRY UP AND WAITE
††††††††††† God is eternal.
††††††††††† The Scripture tells us that over and over: I am the Lord; I change not.† Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Bible says† he is the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega. The Ancient of Days. The Everlasting Father. The Great I Am.
††††††††††† God never changes.
††††††††††† If God were to change, he would either get better than he already is, or (I don't know how else to say this) he would get worse than he already is.
††††††††††† God does not change for the better; he is already perfect. Neither does he change for the worse; he is holy.
††††††††††† We and the world around us are neither perfect nor holy. We change. Our circumstances change. The people around us change.
††††††††††† And change is measured by time.
††††††††††† To change the position of your finger from here to there, no matter how quick you do it, takes a certain amount of time. The blink of an eye -- the eyelid flicking from open to shut to open again -- takes a certain amount of time. The speed of light, the fastest thing we know, is a measurement of distance in terms of time.
††††††††††† We view time as change, a sequence of events. We see time either as a fast change of things, like a week's vacation, or as a slow change, like payday finally getting here.
††††††††††† Because we view time as movement in a sequence, one event following another, we see any event as being caused by ones preceding it; and we see that this event will in turn cause others still to come. The thing that is happening to me now was caused by something that happened before and this thing that's going on now is sure to have consequences.
††††††††††† We pray in order to affect the future consequences of past or present actions and events. "Dear Lord, Joe is still sick; please heal him... Betty is lost, please save her... Our marriage is breaking up, please don't let George leave me!... The rent is coming due and I don't have money to pay it, please help me find a job soon... The letter from the lawyer came today, I need to know what to do quick!"
††††††††††† I often find the crisis situations which I pray about paralyzing. When I see no immediate answer to my prayer, anxiety consumes me. I feel that all my resources are exhausted. You know the feeling: If we had some bacon, we could cook bacon and eggs for breakfast, if we had some eggs. I feel tied down hand and foot, helpless.
††††††††††† When I feel this way, it's some comfort to realize that Jesus knows what it feels like; he also was nailed down hand and foot.
Urgent prayers to a slow God
††††††††††† Because we regard time the way we do, naturally we see some things as urgent.
††††††††††† And we pray urgent prayers. We sometimes panic in the sense of urgency we feel. To us the event that needs changing must be changed right now because if it isn't a disaster already, it will be by Thursday!
††††††††††† Hurry, God. Hurry! Rush! Rush! Things are getting out of control! Really out of hand!
††††††††††† But God sees time differently from the way we do.
††††††††††† Nothing panics God.
††††††††††† Nothing dismays him.
††††††††††† Nothing is out of his control. Nothing gets out of his hand. Nothing rushes him.
††††††††††† He sees the beginning and end of all things not as a sequence of surprising events, sudden changes and urgent situations; but he sees all time as a single unit. He is stable and in him we live our lives and move through time and exist in eternity.
††††††††††† Nothing is urgent to God. And God's cool, controlled lack of urgency makes it† appear that he is callous when we feel panicked by the crisis of the moment. When we pray and God's sense of timing overrules our sense of timing, it appears to us that he may never answer our prayer.
††††††††††† There's an old joke that goes:
††††††††††† Man: "Lord, I know that you made the earth and stars and that a thousand years in thy sight are but a minute,† and that you have all power and all† riches, and all the cattle on a thousand hills are thine; will you please give me a million dollars?"
††††††††††† Lord: "Certainly, I'll be glad to. Just wait a minute."
††††††††††† God's patience, his sense of the proper time to do things,† often looks to me as though it's neglect. God does not jump when I snap so I get impatient and frustrated. He has hurt my feelings.
But prayer is supposed to work!
††††††††††† So I'm tempted to begin a campaign of prayer designed to force God into action, to pray longer and harder and louder about the situation that so obviously needs urgent attention. I give him numerous instant replays of my prayer in case he missed it the first 18 times.
††††††††††† Jesus said: "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
-- Matthew 6: 5-8 KJV
††††††††††† Jesus labels vain repetition as heathen, pagan; he says that such babbling is useless because the Living God is not ignorant, he knows what you need and he's ready to respond before we know ourselves.
††††††††††† Let's give God credit for some intelligence. When we pray, we are talking to Someone who knows and cares about us. Do we really think that the broken record tactic of assertiveness training is likely to bully him into giving in to our demands?
††††††††††† Now persistence in prayer is an altogether different thing. Persistence in prayers means that we continue to hope, that we do not give up in discouragement. In the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge, Jesus commends persistence: "Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly."
††††††††††† Remember, Christians pray at the invitation of God. He initiates prayer. He encourages us to pray for certain things and he actually commands us to pray for others.
††††††††††† Barbara White, religion editor of the Florida Times-Union, says, "Perseverance in prayer is simply continued obedience even through repeated failures."
††††††††††† That makes sense to me.
††††††††††† Even when I have no idea why my prayers are not answered as quick I expect them to be, I still have the obligation to continue praying; God knows my needs. He understands what's going on.
††††††††††† As Mother Theresa often said, "God has not called us to succeed, he has called us to be faithful".
††††††††††† And being faithful takes time.
††††††††††† We need to persevere. "You have need of patience so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise."†††† -- Hebrews 10:36 KJV
Are delayed answers to prayer unanswered prayers?
††††††††††† When God's people were enslaved in Egypt, they prayed to be delivered.
††††††††††† After 400 years of their crying and groaning under cruel taskmasters, God eventually got around to it. He exercised his power and came on strong with plagues of flies and fleas, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He parted the sea and zapped the Egyptians.
††††††††††† He demonstrated power to answer prayer in an undeniable way.
††††††††††† All well and good for the folks who saw it, but what about those first guys, the ones who had prayed 400 years earlier. Their prayers were eventually answered in God's own sweet time but were they around to appreciate it?
††††††††††† No. They were sand-dried mummies by the time their prayers for deliverance were answered.
††††††††††† Here's another case of a long delayed answer to a prayer:
††††††††††† In the annals of prayer, few people stand out more than George Mueller who established an orphanage in Bristol, England, during the 1850s and over many years fed thousands of children without any income other than what Mueller prayed for daily.
††††††††††† His diary contains dozens of instances of prayer answered immediately for each day's immediate needs. For instance one morning when there was no milk for the children's breakfast. Mueller went to prayer and as he prayed a milk wagon broke an axle right at the corner. The driver, unable to finish his deliveries and afraid the milk might spoil, donated his load to the orphanage.
††††††††††† Once when 28 new orphans arrived and there were no plates to feed them from, Mueller prayed and a woman who was moving to a new home arrived at the door with a donation of used kitchen supplies including 28 spoons, 28 forks, 28 table knives, 28 cups, 28 plates and 28 bowls.
††††††††††† However, not every answer came to Mueller immediately.
††††††††††† Toward the end of his life Mueller† wrote, "I have been praying for sixty-three years and eight months for one man's conversion. He has not converted yet, but he will be! How can it be otherwise? There is the unchanging promise of Jehovah, and on that I rest".
††††††††††† Mueller died.
††††††††††† But† before he could be buried, the man he'd prayed for all those years† made a profession of Christian faith!
††††††††††† Mueller had once said of prayer, "The great point is never to give up until the answer comes."
A more recent example of waiting for an answer:
††††††††††† Some people think that the time during a long delay between when we pray and when we see an answer is God's time for teaching us something:
††††††††††† As he negotiated to free hostages they already had captured, Moslem terrorists kidnapped Anglican envoy Terry Waite on January 20, 1987.
††††††††††† They chained him to the wall in a sealed room for almost four years of solitary confinement.
††††††††††† Waite questioned why God had allowed this trouble; he was a Christian trying to do good.
††††††††††† In an interview with Knight-Ridder Newspapers writer Peggy Landers after his release, Waite said that while he never lost his faith during captivity,† he did ask perplexing questions. He said that when serious trouble comes, doubt lingers in the shadows of the staunchest belief.
††††††††††† The Shiite fundamentalists did allow him a few books: Hemingway, Virgil, The Koran and a Bible.
††††††††††† For a time, he found Hemingway more comforting than the Bible! In fact, some Bible stories of captives being set free discouraged him -- Why them, and not me?
††††††††††† In reading the New Testament, Waite said, "One could get a bit irritated; you read about people in prison and how the bars of their prison are broken open and they are put free, and you think, 'Goodness me, here am I year after year."
††††††††††† Waite had plenty of time to think and pray in his cell. When Waite read the story in John's Gospel about Jesus changing water into wine, he gained a new prospective on his situation:
††††††††††† "The real inner meaning of that story came clear to me, which is that a conversion of your circumstances has to take place deep within your self.
††††††††††† "Like water into wine, the most miserable situation and most miserable surroundings can be transformed -- if you allow the transformation process to take place inside you. Although that's not easy, it is possible. Slowly. Slowly," he said.
††††††††††† In the next room, a generator throbbed away venting fumes into his cell. Waite developed lung problems which would not allow him to lie down and breath at the same time. He could not sleep for days on end.
††††††††††† His prayers changed; because of his own misery, he began to pray more for other people in tormenting circumstances.
††††††††††† "I'd say, 'Well, there are all those other people suffering around the world and here's a chance, somehow, to link my suffering with their's -- mentally and spiritually. And one would pray and almost go off in a trance-like state, and not feel alone... That says something about the reality of the spiritual life, and the reality of being linked through prayer with other people.
††††††††††† "Prayer is not, to me, so much asking something for yourself, but somehow trying to be linked with God and hopefully with other people in a way that has some meaning and substance to it. And I think that is something I learned from this experience."
††††††††††† After 1,763 days in captivity, Waite was released in November, 1991.
††††††††††† "A lot of people look to Christian faith almost, one might say, to ease suffering. Well, in some ways it doesn't ease suffering. Suffering has to be faced and experienced. What it does do is give you the strength to go through it, to endure it, to proceed. And that seems to me to be the whole message of the cross, of the crucifixion," he said.
††††††††††† It appears to me that when God delays a specific answer to one of our specific prayer for a long time that he sends us a sort of secondary answer -- from his power he sends us the strength to endure.
††††††††††† To deliver us from our particular cruel taskmaster, to convert the person we despair of ever seeing converted, to set us free requires no more effort from God than dropping a brick.
††††††††††† He is the Help of the Helpless.
††††††††††† We have need of patience so that after we have done the will of God we may still receive the promise.
Sometimes "wait" may be the answer to our prayer.
††††††††††† BUT LORD, I HATE TO WAIT!
††††††††††† I hate it! I hate it. I hate it. I want my cut of the pie. I want a large slice and I want it now!
††††††††††† Now. Now. Now...
††††††††††† There, having said what I really feel about the subject, let's consider the problem of waiting and prayer practically, rationally and theological:
††††††††††† There are a lot of different kinds of waiting.
††††††††††† Ruth may lose one of her breasts. She's waiting for some test results before she'll know. She waits in apprehension.
††††††††††† The judge found William guilty, then announced, "Appear in this court Friday morning two weeks from today's date for sentencing." William faced anything from probation to a year in jail, but he told me, "I wish she'd gone ahead and passed sentence. This waiting is the worst part."
††††††††††† The following day, another of my friends joyfully proclaimed, "I've won an award! The review committee just called to make sure I'll be at the banquet Saturday night. I don't know if I've won first, second or third, and I won't know till the banquet -- I can hardly wait."
††††††††††† When she was five, my daughter, Eve, often rocked in her little chair with the Sears toy catalogue open in her lap, starry-eyed over a Christmas which was still months away. She waited in anticipation.
Everyone must wait.
††††††††††† You make an important phone call, and a secretary puts you on hold; so you hold and hold and hold. The train chugs across the crossing until you finally see the caboose; then it clatters to a halt and begins to creep backward. You need your car, but the dealer has to order the part and apparently there's a dock strike in Yokohama.
††††††††††† Waiting is part of life -- an aggravating part. Whether we wait in apprehension, apathy or anticipation, waiting bothers us. We are an impatient race.
††††††††††† But when we pray, we want an immediate answer. We see the urgency of our request and have a hard time understanding when God's answer seems to be "wait". We all hate to wait.
††††††††††† Waiting means the delay of our personal plans. It means our forced submission to another's will or to the dictates of circumstance. Above all, waiting means that something is out of our control.
††††††††††† When we pray and then have to wait we can feel frustrated and may be tempted to "speed things up". However, if we are looking forward to some future good, anticipation actually sharpens the pleasure, and the pleasure of the event can be diminished by not waiting -- as in the case of the engaged couple who jump the gun before their marriage or the prowling child who discovers all the toys in the closet and is therefore left without a single surprise on Christmas morning.
The Bible tells us no less than 54 times to wait for God.
††††††††††† Everybody in the Bible seems to associate some waiting with prayer:
††††††††††† King Solomon said, "Wait for the Lord, and he will help you". The Prophet Micah said, "I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me". King David said, "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him". Saint Paul said, "For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness".
††††††††††† Since God is not the author of confusion, it's obvious that these holy instructions should not involve the annoyance, frustration, and mental turmoil we commonly associate with waiting.
††††††††††† When we pray and nothing seems to happen and then we have to wait and wait for an answer, it may help if we understand what the Bible means by waiting.
††††††††††† One of the most commonly used Hebrew words translated "wait" means to bind together by twisting. This word is used in Psalm 25:3, "Let none who wait on You be ashamed". Picture the intertwined strands of a rope. Our interests are to be so interwoven with God's that one strand does not move without the other. "
††††††††††† The Psalmist David sometimes uses a Hebrew word that indicates waiting in the midst of pain and anguish. "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:7). This same Hebrew word is used to refer to a woman writhing with birth pangs; she endures intense pain but anticipates the joyful delivery of her baby.
††††††††††† Paul uses a Greek word for wait which conveys the idea of dwelling, abiding or staying in a given place or relationship. "You turned to from idols to God in order , to serve the living and true God -- and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead" (I Thess. 1: 9-10).
††††††††††† Paul sometimes also uses "wait" as a Greek† which means to sit near, to attend as a servant, to stay alert to see when and where service is needed.
††††††††††† Other Hebrew and Greek words translated wait convey the following meanings: to scrutinize with expectant hope (like a cat at a mouse-hole); to expect fully, to accept from some source (like a drowning swimmer with his eye on the approaching lifeguard); to be stopped short with astonishment (as when your name is announced as sweepstakes winner).
Annoyance has no place in scriptural waiting.
††††††††††† To the contrary, the Bible indicates joy connected with waiting for God's answers to our prayers.† "Lo, this is our God. We have waited for Him and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isaiah. 25:9)
††††††††††† Waiting on the Lord anticipates unimaginable happiness, not aggravation. "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor understood by the ear, nor has the eye seen... what He has prepared for those who wait for him" (Isa. 64:4).
††††††††††† When Scripture tells us to wait on the Lord, it is instructing us to be a certain kind of person -- a person who endures troubles with the hope of Christ; a person who is determined to hang on for God; a person who abides in his given place, staying alert to serve; a person who intertwines his own will with God's will in the warp and woof of everyday life, not just in panic situations; in short, a crucified person, like our Lord. Thus we are to pray --- and wait for God's answer to come in God's time.
You have been reading Chapter Fourteen of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Fifteen