“Your plane’s delayed,” the airline employee said. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard those words. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
When I was younger, delayed flights would annoy me. I would find myself complaining. Why me? There’s an important meeting I’m required to attend. Or, I’ve been gone long enough, and I “really” want to get home.
Her announcement—this time—was less troubling. Thanking her for the information, I decided to relax and have a meal at one of the airport’s restaurants.
No amount of stewing is going to change the situation, I thought. If I believe God is actively present in every area of my life, then God “certainly” knows what’s best for me—even with this delayed flight, I mused.
But delayed flights are not the same as delayed answers to prayer.
Just ask Mary and Martha.
Their brother, Lazarus, was ill. They were distressed about his condition. They sent a message to Jesus: “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3). But Jesus doesn’t appear to be as alarmed as Martha and Mary.
The urgency the sisters felt doesn’t appear to hold the same weight to Jesus. Although he loved this family, he does not respond immediately. Instead, Jesus chose to delay coming to their home for two days.
When Jesus finally arrives, Martha says: “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died (vs.21).” It’s obvious she believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death—if only He had not delayed his coming.
Some of us are also familiar with what it’s like to have our dreams delayed. We long for a brighter future. We plan for a better life. We anticipate the day when our current situation (financial, relational, vocational, etc.) will turn-for-the-better. But the longer the delay, the more difficult it is to be hopeful. We resonate with the words from the book of Proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12a).
God had inspired a dream in the heart of the Israelites. They envisioned a day when they would enter the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey. They longed for a place free of bondage.
I find it interesting that scholars remind us that the distance from Egypt to the Promised Land was approximately a two-week journey. But God’s delays required the Israelites to journey for 40-years! Can you imagine? So close, but so far! Almost there, but not yet! As their two-week journey extended—year-after-year—dreaming became more painful.
“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Perhaps you can identify with how the Israelites must have felt. But what if we could see “delay” as a gift?
The LORD’s delays are not without purpose. Here are five lessons I’ve learned—and am learning—concerning God’s delays.
God’s delays prepare us. My desire and my “readiness” do not always match. The Israelites had spent over 400 years as slaves in Egypt. Their passion for freedom was great. However, God understood that it would take time for them to be prepared to enter the Promised Land. There was much training necessary for the Israelites.
Freedom is never free. It costs us. Serving the Egyptian masters was familiar. Serving God would require preparation to learn and obey His covenant. What I envision as a better way may also require training and development.
God’s delays teach us patience. Waiting does not come easy for me. Each delay shows me how to wait with patience for God to act. Habakkuk 2:3 encourages us to wait: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time, it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it[emphasis mine]; it will surely come; it will not delay” (ESV).
God’s delays can bless us in our waiting. Waiting on God develops courageous hearts (Ps. 27:14). Our insistence to repay evil dissipates as we wait on the Lord (Pr. 20:22). We learn to keep God’s ways as we wait on the Lord (Ps. 37:34).
God’s delays remind us His ways are not our ways. I’m still not God. His plans for me are better than my plans for me. Delay encourages my submission to His purpose.
God’s delays fortify our faith. Jesus could have spoken a word from a distance (like he did with the Royal officer’s son), and Lazarus would have been healed [see John 4:46-53).
But Jesus’ delay provided the occasion to bring clarity and instruction to his disciples. They needed to understand Lazarus wasn’t just asleep; he was dead. They could not understand why Jesus would be willing to return to where the Jews had just earlier tried to stone him. They needed to learn that returning to dangerous territory is not to be feared if we are following God’s plan (vs. 7-9).
The LORD’s delay also affords Mary and Martha (and us) the invitation to trust when it seems hopeless.
God’s delay is not to annoy us, but His gift to help us see His glory.
1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ex 16:3.