There’s a line of an old Southern Gospel song I’ve been repeating in my head recently: “When He’s four days late, He’s still on tiiiiiiime!”
I probably heard the song at church 25 years ago when somebody sang it as a “special.” Although I have no memory of the rest of the song, that last line has haunted me many times.
The song is based on the story of Lazarus, whose sisters, Mary and Martha, sent an urgent message to Jesus: “Lazarus is dying. Get here quickly before he’s gone.” And what does Jesus do? He gets there four days after Lazarus has died.
When Jesus arrives, Lazarus’ sister Martha confronts Him and lodges an accusation: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). Then Mary shows up in tears and brings the same accusation: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:32).
When Jesus saw Mary weeping and all of the Jews who were weeping with her, “He was deeply disturbed and troubled” (John 11:33). Then Jesus starts crying too.
I’ve heard that Jesus cried because He was sad that his friend Lazarus had died. That doesn’t make sense: He knew He was about to bring Lazarus back. I think Jesus was crying about something else.
God only knows how many times I’ve been waiting for some Big Thing and the clock is running down. Then those twangy voices come whining into my ears: “When He’s four days late, He’s still on tiiiiiiime!”
I don’t want Him to be “on time” if that means He arrives “too late.” I want results — my preferred results. I want Him to show up on time — and by “on time,” I mean my time. I want my Big Thing and I want it now. I don’t want God to have to resurrect my desires from the ashes.
If He doesn’t show up “on time,” my heart’s response is the same as Mary’s and Martha’s: “If You had been here, I would’ve gotten the Big Thing that I need so badly right now. I thought You were good.”
Recently, my wife and I were waiting on a Big Thing that we legitimately needed. Time was of the essence, we didn’t have much of it, and Jesus didn’t seem to be in a hurry, even though it was something He could’ve resolved with a blink of His eye.
Every day, Raquel and I talked about it, obsessed over it, and fervently prayed about it. One minute we’d be at rest and full of faith; the next minute we’d be anxious and agitated (more often than not, it was the latter).
Deadlines came and went, and with each one, the losses piled up. I could feel the accusation simmering closer and closer to the surface: “Lord, if You really cared about this situation, You would come through for us and we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Raquel and I had a revelation in the midst of all of this: In those times that we demanded to know why Jesus had seemingly abandoned us, we made Him cry. He wasn’t grieving because we were in a major pinch — He knew everything would turn out all right. What must have grieved Him was the simmering accusation that He had failed us, that He wasn’t as good as we thought.
So often our prayers are based on an assumption that we know what God’s will is; and we figure He wants us to be perpetually prosperous and pain free. You don’t hear a lot of believers going around claiming Scriptures like 1 Peter 4:13: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” Like Jesus said when He heard that Lazarus was dying: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
The wait for our Big Thing was actually bigger than us. God was working on behalf of other people too — answering someone else’s prayers, diverting us away from a path that we needed to avoid. Maybe He was allowing us to live through a cliffhanger so that our story would be an encouragement to other people who are waiting on their own Big Thing. As John Piper said: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
Now that our situation has finally resolved, I look back and all of the worrying seems like such a waste of time. We knew that God was going to come through somehow. Why didn’t we just throw ourselves into His arms and stay there, feeling the pain but trusting that He cared?
There’s going to be an end to your cliffhanger one day. I don’t know if it will be in this life or the next, but from the other side of a major breakthrough in my own life, let me encourage you with this: Just go ahead and trust. Don’t wait until you’ve finally got the Big Thing before you “[c]ast your anxieties on Him” (1 Peter 5:7).
Pray your heart out as you rest in His arms and resist the temptation to blame Him for what your perceive to be a delay. You can trust Him. He’s being glorified through your suffering somehow. Be one of the few who can look back on the wait and say, “I just knew He was going to come through.”
Check out my book, “Confessions of a Happily Married Man,” which tells the story of how God has worked in the ordinary (and extraordinary) of my marriage — and how you can see the ways He’s working in yours too.