When God Delays

When we pray to God, sometimes we expect God to answer us immediately. We are used to instant results from texting, overnight shipping, fast food, etc. Sometimes we may feel that God is not listening or doesn’t care when we cry out to Him. However, as we mature in our faith we discover lessons that can only be learned by God’s delay in answering our prayers.

Despite the empty promises of some health-and-wealth preachers, believers are never promised a life free of suffering. In fact, suffering believers are main characters in the Bible story. The story of Job and the words of Jesus in John 9:1-2 and Luke 13:1-5 clearly separate suffering and disaster from one’s righteousness or lack of it. We may suffer consequences of sinful actions but we can also suffer from time and chance. If obedience to Christ guaranteed a prosperous and pain-free life, few would reject the gospel’s call. Sometimes we must suffer as Christians.

Believers sometimes feel that God is not helping them during trials. We can feel abandoned and cry out “Why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps we might wonder if we have cleansed our hands in vain (Psalm 73). In agony or frustration we might cry out to God, “Where are you?!?” Consider these heartfelt cries from the Psalms:

  • Psalm 43:1-2 – “Why have you cast me off?”
  • Psalm 44:23 – “Why do you sleep, O’ Lord?”
  • Psalm 88:13-14 – “Why do you cast off my soul?”

Our cries are more bitter when we hear the scoffer and enemy say, “Where is your God?” Depression can lead to doubt. Frustration with God can lead to anger. How can God’s delay in answering our cry benefit us?

Delay Challenges Us To Use Our Faith

Jim happened to meet the minister on the street one day, and during the conversation told him of all the troubles he had had during the past year. He wound up with: “I tell you right now, preacher, it’s enough to make a man lose his religion.”  “Seems to me, Jim,” the minister told him quietly, “it’s enough to make a man use his religion.” Tan, P. L. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

Jesus told a parable to teach believers not to give up. The Persistent Widow and the Judge (Luke 18:1-8) teaches that God is a just and loving Father but sometes He “bears with us” before answering. It takes faith to continue to pray and hope when it appears that any reason to hope is gone. Jesus asked a soul searching question at the end of the parable: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will He find people who still trust Him even when it appears that He is not responding to their prayers? He told a parable to teach believers not to give up and wonders if anyone will not give up!

Delay Teaches Total Dependence On God

Some consider themselves dependent on God but when things turn against them, they feel God has forsaken them and they reject Him. Dependence on God must not depend on external factors: possessions, health, employment status. It is easy to feel dependent on God when your enemies are lying at your feet, the battles are won, and the treasures gained. The challenge is to be faithful when you remain faithful in the face of defeat. Revelation 20:8-9 portrays a small city of saints surrounded by a army reaching to the horizon all around. Only when the enemy closed in and was ready to smash the small company of believers did God unleash His fury and destroy the opposition. Though He could have destroyed them before they came near the city, He challenged the faith of the believers to maintain their hope and dedication in the face of what appeared to be certain defeat. How many will lose faith and give up before the victory? Who will still rely on God when it appears that God is unreliable?

We often rely too much on our own power. We must understand that control is an illusion and that most things are out of our control. God’s delay reinforces this and encourages us to rely on God’s power (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Delay Teaches The Believer Hope

According to Romans 5:3-4, it is tribulation that yields hope, not ease. Perseverance is not succeeding but trying and failing, without giving up. Character is not a sterling reputation but the excellence that comes from enduring trial when it would be easy to give up or, through deception, trying to escape a trial that one must face. When we have forged strong character through patient endurance, we emerge with a hope for better days and eternal rest from all trials.

What Christians sometimes fail to realize is that suffering on earth sweetens the taste of heaven! The more we must endure suffering, the less hold the world can have on us. Why should we desire rest for our labor when the work is not hard? Why would we hope for a home in heaven if our home on earth is comfortable enough? Can the promise of “no more sorrows or tears” in heaven mean anything if our hearts are not broken and we suffer no loss on earth? Suffering allows us to see earthly things in their fragility and the greater value of eternal things.

When you must face trials that seem unending and unrelenting, let it draw you closer to God and teach you lessons you could learn no other way.

Visiting the Sick

“Miserable comforters are you all,” said Job to his friends, and sometimes we are too. When visiting the sick we must guard our tongues. Many patients have had to endure well meaning visitors describing horrible tragedies of people who have had the same procedure as the patient, died after undergoing the same treatment, or died through neglect of the hospital. We should not compare medical war stories. We may make a patient fearful and even impede their recovery by our “comforting words.”

When we visit the sick we should make our visits brief and speak softly.  We should not overwhelm the patient with many visitors at once, but wait if there are several others already in the room.  If there are other sick people in the room, we should be considerate of them.  We should listen to the patient and offer words of comfort. We must not depress them.

One doctor noted that we “should not reveal negative emotional reactions through voice, countenance or manner.  The patient may want to show his wound or a bottle of gallstones.  Sometimes the patient may be in a pitiful condition, or the odor in the room may be so disagreeable as to make the visit an unpleasant task.  Remember that the patient, if conscious, is humiliated about his own condition and aware of the burden he is placing on others” (from Wayne Emmons).

Comforting the Grieving

Most of us have great difficulty when visiting the bereaved at their home or the funeral home.  After all, so great a tragedy has taken place, what can we do?  We feel helpless when trying to comfort the bereaved.

We must first remember to help the living.  We should show our brethren that we are concerned about them.  We can show our concern by visiting them, but also taking food to the family, washing clothes, preparing the clothes for the family to wear to the funeral, assisting with children, and other needful things.

We must also be mindful of our words.  We must remember that no word or phrase that will completely calm the mourner.  Note some phrases intended for comfort that can sometimes hurt:

  • “Time heals all wounds.”  Who wants to forget their loved one who has died?  Of course, things will get easier in time, but now it is not comforting.
  • “After a while you will forget.”  Again, who wants to forget their loved ones?
  • “He/She would have wanted you to…”  No one knows what a person would have truly wanted at such a time.  It is an empty and speculative phrase.
  • “What a great loss you have suffered.”  Pretty obvious statement.
  • (Unborn child) “At least it happened before the baby was born.”  (Someone really said to a friend of mine.)  The parents build a bond with a child even before the child is born.  It is no easier to lose a child in the first few months than it is after the child is born.

Perhaps the best thing that we can do during the time of grief is to say nothing.  A warm hug and a sympathetic ear are often the best comfort we can provide.  It is good to recall the deeds and the personal memories of the deceased.  It can comfort the living to know that their loved one meant so much to others.

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:44-46

Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).

Encouraging Words

The Christian’s language must be godly and reflect a heart consecrated for God.  Paul commanded the Ephesians to let no corrupt communication proceed from their mouths but rather words of edification and grace, Ephesians 4:29.  He wrote the Colossians to walk wisely around worldly people and to speak gracefully and thoughtfully, Colossians 4:6.  He told Titus to encourage the young men to have sound speech that could not be condemned, Titus 2:8.

Our words must encourage and edify all men, especially our brethren.  Our speech must be graceful, or beautiful.  We must speak words of kindness.  When we must speak tough words, such as words of rebuke, we must still speak with grace and love, Ephesians 4:15.

Our words can comfort the downhearted, 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Too many brethren suffer without a word of exhortation from loving brethren. We pray for these individuals but we should also call or send a card to show our concern. Since we have been comforted by God, we should comfort others, 2 Corinthians 1:4. 

Christians must always be ready always to give a defense of our faith, with a meek and fearful spirit, 1 Peter 3:15.  Proverbs 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.”  Christians must study the word to prepare a scriptural defense of his belief.  A foolish person, on the other hand, will answer “my church believes…,” or “my preacher says…,” or “I think…” We cannot answer the world in its folly.  We must know why we believe what we believe and be able to defend it with scripture.  When we do this, we will take our tongue, that unruly evil, and use it for good.

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