When God’s delays are not about you
I was in college, driving to my best friend’s house to hang out with her and a guy showing interest in her. There was no logical reason why I should have had trouble finding the road I needed to turn on, but I couldn’t locate it. Cell phone service was spotty, resulting in a lot of dropped calls in my efforts to have her talk me through the way over the phone. I didn’t have a GPS, so I kept driving around until I finally managed to make it. I lost time, and although it was probably only minutes, it felt like ages.
I found out later that this guy took full advantage of my delayed arrival and asked my friend about dating in between those spotty phone calls. Their dating led to their engagement, with me being the maid of honor at their wedding.
Delays are universal, whether they are missed turns or intentional hold-offs. Either way, they can prove frustrating or baffling when we don’t understand the reason behind them. God’s word has many stories of delays. In John 11, Jesus purposefully delayed going to visit Lazarus when he heard his friend was sick. We read that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, and “when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6, ESV). In the delay, Lazarus died. Jesus and his disciples arrived at Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany to two bereaved sisters. When Jesus came to Mary and Martha, both responded with the statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32, ESV). They knew Jesus’s power and character. What Mary and Martha couldn’t see was the purpose behind Jesus’s delayed arrival.
It is easy to take a passage like this and turn it into a character lesson where the focus is on us. We often ask questions like, “What does God want to teach me in my delay?” and, “How should I respond when I face delays?” Although there is room for that, if we only teach about or address delays this way, we risk using Scripture to be a book about us and not about God. That’s easy to do with texts like John 11.
In John 11, the glory of God was forefront and center. Jesus knew from the beginning that Lazarus’ sickness and death would bring glory to him and the Father (John 11:4). When Jesus hears Martha’s hesitation at opening the tomb, he answers by asking, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, ESV). It’s not that Jesus’s performance of miracles is dependent upon our faith (See William Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary, “John”). But God does call us to keep his glory at the front and center.
I have to believe Martha and Mary wanted to see God’s glory. However, if they had limited that to only wanting to see God’s glory in Lazarus’s healing (when they had asked Jesus to come), they would have diminished God’s majestic glory. We often do the same, wanting to box God’s glory into our personalized circumstances and “me” shaped boxes.
God’s glory goes beyond our personal story. I saw the delay of getting to my friend’s house as being about me. Where did I go wrong in the directions? Why was I having trouble finding the road I needed? How come I couldn’t hurry up and get there faster? But this wasn’t a lesson about patience or a cliché “Eventually you’ll get there” kind of learning moment. At the time, God was working a bigger, better story behind the scenes, and I couldn’t see it. Nor was I the main character.
Sometimes the vehicle God uses to thrust the greater story of his glory is a delay. It’s uncomfortable being in the seat of waiting and unknown. But God calls us to keep our eyes on him and his glory. In the middle of delays, how can we live as the people of God?
In Isaiah 42:8, God says, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (ESV). God takes his glory seriously, and he will not yield it to the idols of our preferences, timelines, and idealized circumstances. As I walk through delays, God’s word guides my eyes to stay fixed on his glory. There may be pain, confusion, or temporary disappointment, but trust me. The view of his glory is much better than we could imagine.
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