Sometimes God takes His time in answering our prayers, and that isn’t always easy for us to understand.
That was the situation for Zechariah, a priest whom the angel Gabriel appeared to one day near an altar in the temple in Jerusalem. Gabriel told him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13, italics added).
But Zechariah had probably asked God for a child years before, and he struggled with Gabriel’s message because Elizabeth was now well beyond the expected age for childbirth. Still, God answered his prayer.
God’s memory is perfect. He is able to remember our prayers not only for years but also for generations beyond our lifetime. He never forgets them, and may move in response long after we have forgotten what we asked for. Sometimes his answer is “no,” other times it is “wait”—but His response is always measured with love. God’s ways are beyond us, but we can trust that they are good.
Zechariah learned this. He asked for a son, but God gave him even more. His son John would grow up to be the very prophet who would announce the arrival of the Messiah.
Zechariah’s experience demonstrates a vital truth that should also encourage us as we pray: God’s timing is rarely our own, but it is always worth waiting for.
When I married, I thought I would have children immediately. That did not happen, and the pain of infertility brought me to my knees. I often cried out to God, “How long?” I knew God could change my circumstance. Why wasn’t He?
Are you waiting on God? Are you asking, “How long … ?” Before justice prevails in our world? Before there is a cure for cancer? Before I am no longer in debt?
The prophet Habakkuk was well acquainted with that feeling. In the seventh century bc, he cried out to the Lord: “How long, O
There are days when we, too, feel as if God is doing nothing. Like Habakkuk, we have continuously asked God, “How long?”
Yet, we are not alone. As with Habakkuk, God hears our burdens. We must continue to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us. God hears us and, in His time, will give an answer.
My wife makes an amazing pot roast dinner. She takes raw meat, along with raw sliced white and sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and throws them into the slow cooker. Six or seven hours later the aroma fills the house, and the first taste is a delight. It is always to my advantage to wait until the ingredients in the slow cooker work together to achieve something they could not achieve individually.
When Paul used the phrase work together in the context of suffering, he used the word from which we get our word synergy. He wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He wanted the Romans to know that God, who didn’t cause their suffering, would cause all their circumstances to cooperate with His divine plan—for their ultimate good. The good to which Paul referred was not the temporal blessings of health, wealth, admiration, or success, but being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (v. 29).
May we wait patiently and confidently because our heavenly Father is taking all the suffering, all the distress, all the evil, and causing them to work together for His glory and our spiritual good. He wants to make us like Jesus.
Sometimes I joke that I'm going to write a book titled On Time. Those who know me smile because they know I am often late. I rationalize that my lateness is due to optimism, not to lack of trying. I optimistically cling to the faulty belief that “this time” I will be able to get more done in less time than ever before. But I can't, and I don't, so I end up having to apologize yet again for my failure to show up on time.
In contrast, God is always on time. We may think He's late, but He's not. Throughout Scripture we read about people becoming impatient with God’s timing. The Israelites waited and waited for the promised Messiah. Some gave up hope. But Simeon and Anna did not. They were in the temple daily praying and waiting (Luke 2:25-26, 37). And their faith was rewarded. They got to see the infant Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him to be dedicated (vv, 27-32, 38).
When we become discouraged because God doesn't respond according to our timetable, Christmas reminds us that “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son . . . that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4-5). God’s timing is always perfect, and it is worth the wait.
“I’m hungry,” said my eight-year-old daughter. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t have anything for you. Let’s play tic-tac-toe.” We had been waiting over an hour for the bride to arrive at the church for what was supposed to be a noon wedding. As I wondered how much longer it would be, I hoped I could occupy my daughter until the wedding started.
As we waited, I felt like we were enacting a parable. Although the vicarage where we live is a stone’s throw from the church, I knew if I went to fetch some crackers, the bride could come at any moment and I would miss her entrance. As I employed many distraction techniques with my hungry daughter, I also thought about Jesus’s parable about the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13). Five came prepared with enough oil for their lamps to stay lit as they waited for the bridegroom, but five did not. Just as it was too late for me to dash back to the vicarage, so it was too late for the young women to go and buy more oil for their lamps.
Jesus told this parable to emphasize that we need to be prepared, for when He comes again we will give an account over the state of our hearts. Are we waiting and ready?
The military command, “Mark Time, March” means to march in place without moving forward. It is an active pause in forward motion while remaining mentally prepared and expectantly waiting the next command
In everyday language, the term marking time has come to mean “motion without progress, not getting anywhere, not doing anything important while you wait.” It conveys a feeling of idle, meaningless waiting.
In contrast, the word wait in the Bible often means “to look eagerly for, to hope, and to expect.” The psalmist, when facing great difficulties, wrote: “O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed” (Ps. 25:2-3
We often have no choice about the things we must wait for—a medical diagnosis, a job interview result, the return of a loved one—but we can decide how we wait. Rather than giving in to fear or apathy, we can continue to “march in place,” actively seeking God’s strength and direction each day.
“Show me Your ways, O
On January 28, 1986, after five weather-related delays, the space shuttle Challenger lumbered heavenward amid a thunderous overture of noise and flame. A mere 73 seconds later, system failure tore the shuttle apart, and all seven crewmembers perished.
The disaster was attributed to an O-ring seal known to have vulnerabilities. Insiders referred to the fatal mistake as “go fever”—the tendency to ignore vital precautions in the rush to a grand goal.
Our ambitious human nature relentlessly tempts us to make ill-advised choices. Yet we are also prone to a fear that can make us overly cautious. The ancient Israelites demonstrated both traits. When the 12 scouts returned from spying out the Promised Land, 10 of the 12 saw only the obstacles (Num. 13:26-33). “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are,” they said (v. 31). After a fearful rebellion against the Lord that led to the death of the 10 spies, the people suddenly developed a case of “go fever.” They said, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised” (14:40). Without God, the ill-timed invasion failed miserably (vv. 41-45).
When we take our eyes off the Lord, we’ll slide into one of two extremes. We’ll impatiently rush ahead without Him, or we’ll cower and complain in fear. Focusing on Him brings courage tempered with His wisdom.
An army officer may have an overall plan, but before each battle he has to receive and give out new instructions. Joshua, a leader of the Israelites, had to learn this lesson. After God’s people spent 40 years in the wilderness, God chose Joshua to lead them into the land He had promised to them.
The first stronghold they faced was the city of Jericho. Before the battle, Joshua saw the “commander of the Lord’s army” (probably the Lord Himself) standing opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. Joshua fell on his face and worshiped. In other words, he recognized God’s greatness and his own smallness. Then he asked, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” (Josh. 5:14). Joshua experienced victory at Jericho because he followed the Lord’s instructions.
On another occasion, however, Joshua and his people “did not inquire of the Lord” (9:14). As a result, they were deceived into making a peace treaty with the people of Gibeon, enemies in the land of Canaan. This displeased the Lord (vv. 3-26).
We too are dependent on the Lord as we face life’s struggles. He longs for us to come near to Him today in humility. And He’ll be there again for us tomorrow.