A dear friend of mine is about to plunge herself into a spiritual challenge of heroic proportions.
The problem is, she doesn’t realize it.
Right now, she’s just doing what’s in front of her and planning her next step of obedience. When I visited with her about increased responsibility, exponential stress, and a zillion “what ifs,” I found myself wishing she had someone to help her. For various reasons, the kind of help I can offer her is limited. She needs more, and I cannot provide it.
She’s remarkably capable. She has the constant presence of the Holy Spirit guiding her. But sometimes, life requires the help of a person with skin on.
We finished our conversation and discarded a pile of snotty tissues. Hard days are ahead, and I asked God, once again, “God, what are you waiting for? Hurry and send someone to help her!”
A few days later, I read this line from AW Tozer.
God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.
God has no deadlines.
For him, nothing takes too long. The ticking clock does not unnerve him. He’s s not wringing his hands worrying about fulfilling his plan before the timer goes off. Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure,” (Isaiah 46:10, NASB).
But from my perspective, my friend needs someone in a hurry. I charge God with tardiness. I wag my finger and ask again, “What are you waiting for?”
When I am waiting, I tend to wonder if God is working.
In first-century Jerusalem, just outside of the Temple grounds on the northeast side of the city, a pool of water was supposed to have healing power. Some claimed the sheep used for sacrifice were washed there and lent a healing property to the water. Some said an angel came to stir the waters on feast days, and the first to step in would be healed.
Whatever the mystery, disabled citizens congregated around the edges of a stone pool, staring into the water, waiting for God to work.
A blind man’s nephew led him to the edge and situated him on steps that descended into the water. A husband carried his frail and disabled wife through the streets. At the pool, he propped her against a pillar under the shade of the portico. A mother hummed a tune and rocked the child, lying limp in her lap, waiting and wondering.
One man has suffered from his disability for 38 years. How many times has he come to this pool? Do the waters only heal during the feast? Which days? Who makes the schedule? Has anyone witnessed the healing power of the water? Has a cripple ever dragged himself down those stairs, fallen into the water, and climbed back out with two strong legs?
No one knows. Infirmity surrounds the placid waters. They come and wait for God to work, but they do not see him.
Someone stoops to visit with the crippled man who says he hasn’t walked since childhood because no one stops to help him into that water. He hopes his story might convince an empathetic feast-goer to hoist him off the thin mat and drag him down the stairs. Maybe he could finally be the first one in.
Instead of lifting and supporting and enlisting help, the feast-goer told the man to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Then he slipped away into the crowd.
A man who hasn’t walked for 38 years rolls up his mat and skips toward the Temple. (John 5:1-18).
No one is staring at the water.
Maybe you want to accuse Jesus of being 38 years late, but we don’t hear that complaint from the man with a mat tucked under his arm. The religious leaders accuse Jesus of working on the wrong day, and as proof, they point to the man tapping his foot to the beat of the worship music.
Whether we see God’s hand at work or not, whether we think he should hurry up or slow down, Jesus tells us, “My Father is always working, and so am I” (John 5:19, NLT).
His work is not restricted to certain days, and he’s not constrained by what we can conceive.
When you suppose he has misunderstood because he hasn’t helped a crippled man into the water, he’s at work in an unexpected way.
When you believe he’s inactive, Jesus is working to accomplish his purpose for you.
When you accuse him of being out of sync with your schedule, he works even when you rest.
What is he waiting for? He’s not waiting.
He’s working. But he’s never in a hurry.
A woman in her 70s recently told me that she and a group of friends had been praying for their church. In their estimation, there was a large group of pew-sitters who would not take spiritual responsibility in their families or church community. These women asked God to enliven the inactive, revive the spiritually dead, and provide godly leaders for their church and community.
But for 25 years, the inactive group sat in the pews picking hangnails and nodding off. It would have been a fine opportunity to ask, “God, what are you waiting for?” But the women kept praying.
They couldn’t see what God was doing, but they believed he was working because he had promised.
Some would call it a heartbreak and doubt God’s promise. Some would roll their eyes and say it was a futile waste of time. Because those people never did liven up.
But God was working just as he said he would.
And the children in the nursery and Sunday school classrooms, who left animal crackers in the pews and soapy hand prints on the bathroom mirrors, grew up to be the spiritual leaders for the next generation of that church.
What is God waiting for? He’s not waiting. He’s working.
Our job is to trust his unhurried timeline and remember that his purposes may include something we can’t imagine.
Such truth does “relax my nerves,” as Tozer says. It also makes me eager and watchful.
Instead of crying with my friend over the challenges before her and worrying that God is behind schedule in providing help, I can lean forward and say, “Let’s keep praying and watch for God to work.”