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The Blessing of Delay

Woman crying

by Dennis Pollock

If you are much like the rest of us humans, waiting is one of the most distasteful things you ever do. Hard work we can endure, obnoxious co-workers we learn to put up with, and we can sit through a lousy movie for two hours without too much difficulty, but things like long lines, traffic jams, or being forced to sit at a table in a restaurant for half an hour before our food arrives are almost unbearable.

Worse still are those times when the great yearnings of our hearts are put on hold. We love to fix problems and satisfy desires quickly. If we get hungry we can stop by the fast food restaurant and be eating in ten minutes. If our television goes out we can run to the electronics store and be watching a brand new TV twice the size of our previous one within an hour’s time. If the money’s not in the bank – no problem. We can always put it on our credit card and pay the debt off later.

Yet in spite of our ability to quench our various thirsts quickly, we all suffer those times when the great desires of our heart stubbornly resist our every effort and scheme. We discover a huge chasm between our longings and the fulfillment of those desires. No measure of talent, cleverness, money, or ambition is sufficient to bridge the gap. Weeks elapse, then months, and sometimes years. Annoyance becomes frustration, frustration turns to misery, and misery yields to despair. If we are Christians we often wonder why our Heavenly Father seems so unconcerned with our desires and so resistant to our petitions.

Hannah

There was a lady in the Old Testament that found herself in such a situation. Her name was Hannah and after her marriage it became evident that she was unable to conceive a child. To the ancient Israelis motherhood was the highest glory of any woman, and the woman who could not bear children was considered cursed and pretty much worthless. Hannah’s pain became so intense she lost her appetite and would frequently break into tears. Her husband, Elkanah, tried to cheer her up by saying, “Why do you weep? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (Elkanah was the quintessential insensitive husband!)

It is interesting that the Scriptures tell us that “the Lord had closed her womb.” Those who know the story know that Hannah would go on to give birth to Samuel, one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel. One could wonder, “Why would God close her womb when He was just going to turn around and open her womb and give her Samuel?” The answer to this question reveals the mystery of how God makes excellent use of delay and waiting, not only in the lives of Bible characters, but in yours and mine as well.

Hannah prayingThe Bible tells us that in “bitterness of soul” Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. She told God that if He would grant her a male child, she would dedicate the boy to the Lord, and give Him to God for His service all the days of his life. This was precisely what God was waiting for. After years of simply praying for a child, she was finally ready to give the child to the service of the Lord. God now had a vessel that He could use.

After a talk with the High Priest, Eli, Hannah returned home. We read, “And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her.” Hannah soon conceived and gave birth to a son (and went on to have other children as well).

The Process

This story beautifully illustrates the use God makes of the delay / waiting process. Though most of us despise delays of any sort and look upon them as distractions and annoyances, God sees them in a completely different fashion. In the eyes of the Father, the time we spend in waiting for the fulfillment of our desires is the most valuable time we will ever experience all the days of our life on this earth.

It is astonishing to consider just how many of the mothers of the great men of the Bible started out as barren. Starting with Abraham we can go right down the line and find barren women. Sarah was barren, Isaac’s wife Rebekah started out barren and Isaac had to seek the Lord for her. Jacob’s wife, Rachel, was also barren, and so miserable she cried out to Jacob, “Give me children or I will die!” Samson’s mother was barren as was the mother of John the Baptist who had her famous son when she was “well advanced in years.”

We see the results of long delay in Hannah’s inspired prayer, which she prayed once her son had been born. She prays, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord… Those who were hungry have ceased to hunger…”

You sense euphoria here, a tremendous emotional high that is the result of answered prayer after lengthy delay. Notice that she says her heart rejoices in the Lord, not just in the blessing of her baby boy. When God’s people receive the answer to their prayers after long waiting, there is a drawing of the heart towards the gracious God who has responded to their prayers and longings. In Proverbs we read, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Hannah is experiencing that tree of life, and her delight in God is spilling out in praise and adoration of her generous Creator.

The truth is that God had planned for Hannah to have children all along. But He had far more in mind than she ever imagined. She wanted a child; God wanted a prophet. She wanted a little baby that she could love and would love her. God wanted a man whose life and ministry would touch the nations and leave an impact upon history that would never be forgotten. But such men are not easily come by. They need to be prayed into existence with passionate, fervent prayer. The travail for such a child would have to be more than physical birth pains; there would be a need of soul-travail.

Thus the delay. Had Hannah conceived in the first year of her marriage there would have been no bitterness of soul or weeping in anguish. There would have been no lengthy praying, and there would definitely never have been a vow to dedicate the boy to God for all his days. In such a case it was not that Hannah wanted something that God did not want her to have; rather God wanted to give Hannah far more than she could imagine. The delay was not a sign of God’s unconcern but rather of God’s pleasure with His Hebrew daughter.

Blessings for the Hungry

Throughout the Scriptures God continually speaks of blessings for the hungry. Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” In another place He says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled.” In Psalms we read that God “satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Notice that it does not say that God satisfies casual souls and fills indifferent souls with goodness. God loves to bless hungry people. The casual and unconcerned need not apply!

The reason for this is pretty basic. When God’s children experience strong desires for blessings, and when those blessings are long delayed in coming, their natural response is prayer. The hunger of their hearts is aimed directly at God. We are told that the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” There is no way prayer is going to be fervent when the desire has just surfaced. If every time you had the least twinge of hunger, there was someone following you around who would stuff a hamburger into your mouth, you would never know real hunger. Your desire for food would never come close to reaching the “fervent” stage.

God seems to like to “pile up” prayers over periods of time. As we pray and pray, God says nothing, and we can sometimes take this for His unwillingness to answer. But His silence is no evidence of His displeasure. On the contrary it is often the indicator that He wants to answer our prayers in a far greater fashion than we could hope or imagine. He does want to give us less than we want; He wants to lavish upon us far more!

The Eyes of Servants

There is a Scripture from the Psalms that seems to sum up the proper attitude of the heart during this waiting process. We read:

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until He has mercy on us (Psalms 123:2).

When we read in the Bible about servants the reference is almost always to slaves. Servants sounds a lot nicer, but the servants of the Bible are what we would call slaves today. Servants were totally dependent upon their masters for everything. Any good thing they had was totally at the discretion of their masters. They had no right to demand anything, but they could make requests, and if their masters were kind they might just receive those requests.

The Psalmist declares that this attitude of slave to master is the precise manner in which the children of God are to wait upon their Creator as they look to Him for His blessings. The key is focus. While the non-Christians complain and whine and work and sweat, and eventually become bitter and disillusioned, the believer focuses his gaze steadily toward His Heavenly Father, in praise and prayer, in petition and the pleading of the promises of His Word, with thanksgiving.

When waiting is done right, faith grows stronger as the days go by. We are told that as Abraham waited on God to fulfill His promise to give him a son, Abraham was “strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” But it is more than our faith that is strengthened. Character is developed as well, during the pain of delay. Paul tells us that it is perseverance that produces character, and out of character, hope springs forth – a hope that will not be disappointed.

When Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick, his sisters sent an urgent message to the Savior. Jesus did something that must have seemed very strange to His disciples – He stayed put. His refusal to immediately come and help His friend would appear to be the ultimate demonstration of unconcern. While Jesus seemed to ignore the request, Lazarus lay dying. Finally Jesus showed up at Lazarus’ house, but it would seem He was too late. Lazarus was dead. When He meets with the sisters both of them say exactly the same thing – a gentle but obvious rebuke for His seeming unconcern: “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.”

What they failed to realize was that with God, timing is all important. What He wanted – a healthy Lazarus – and what they wanted were exactly the same. But while they were thinking in terms of healing, Jesus desired to take the miracle several notches higher. He was thinking about resurrection. As He stood at the tomb, it took but three words to bring Lazarus from death and decay to life and perfect health: “Lazarus, come forth.”

God may not show up when we want Him to, but He is never late. And He loves to fill the hungry with good things. “Blessed are all those who wait for Him.”

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