Sometimes it seems God waits until the last possible minute to act. Im sure thats not true. Im sure if I could see the situation from His perspective I would realize He is acting at exactly the right moment, not a minute too soon, nor a minute too late. But since I cant see things with His perfect perspective, there are times I can feel myself growing frustrated with Him, wondering what Hes waiting for. And its at those moments that a real spiritual danger arises: I can become impatient with God. If I let my imagination run wild, I become filled with fear and can grow angry at God. I start questioning whether or not He cares that Im suffering.
Its hard living in a society that doesnt acknowledge God. Speaking of the last days, Jesus said, Because lawlessness is increased, love will grow cold (Mt 24:12). Lawlessness is ignoring Gods moral standards, and it has a chilling effect on love. We injure each other and withdraw into isolation. We quickly learn not to trust anyone, so at least emotionally, we end up living alone. And just because someone is a believer in Jesus Christ doesnt mean that they can escape living in that harsh environment. Yes, as individuals or families or churches we can enjoy the blessing of Gods presence, but day after day we still have to live in this world, and as the pressure grows heavier, we long for relief. We want God to intervene. We start watching for signs that Jesus will come soon to deliver the righteous and give the wicked their due
and if were not careful, we can become angry at Him if that justice is delayed. We wonder, What is God waiting for?
Johns revelation (Jn 1:29)
There was a point in time when John the Baptist understood this. Standing by the Jordan River he looked up and saw Jesus coming toward him, and in that moment he spoke one of the most powerful prophetic statements in all of human history. He said, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Those words are full of meaningradical, shockingly unexpected meaning. He pointed to Jesus and in effect said, This One is going to die for us. Now those words dont imply that Jesus would soon set up Gods glorious kingdom on earth. They actually warn that there would be a path of suffering ahead for Him. But as time passed, and as his own circumstances grew difficult, John began to question those words. He began to grow impatient. Listen:
John at Machaerus (Mt 11:2-3)
In a dungeon beneath Herod Agrippas mountain palace, John grew impatient. He had been so sure that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He could still remember watching the Holy Spirit descend from heaven and rest on Him like a dove. Yet as he sat there, day after day, in the darkness of that horrid place, he grew frustrated. What was Jesus waiting for? Yes, he had explained that He was going to die like a lamb, but what about all those other promises in Scripture that describe a Messiah coming down in power to deliver Israel from its enemies? There was no denying that Jesus was doing amazing miracles, but they were not the kind of miracles John had been hoping for, they were not the kind of miracles he needed if he were going to be set free from that dungeon. So he politely sent some disciples to ask Jesus a simple question: Did I make a mistake in thinking that you were the Messiah, because if You keep doing what Youre doing, Ill probably die in here?
We need to be very careful not to sit in judgment of John, as if were not subject to the same struggle. This great prophet had already exhibited an amazing level of integrity and courage. But we do need to recognize that there was a struggle taking place inside him. He was growing discouraged because Gods deliverance was so slow in coming. Why didnt Jesus exercise His divine power to bring justice to that troubled land?
Jesus response (Mt 11:4-6)
Its very interesting to watch how Jesus reacted to Johns question. He simply reminded John that people were being saved; that Gods power was restoring people. And then He warned him, gently. He said, in effect, Blessed are those who dont become offended when I dont do things according to their time table, when I delay the justice they deserve, so that more people can be rescued. John was looking at the injustice of the society, the blatant violations of Gods holy standards by the government, at the decay of the religious system itself. Jesus, on the other hand, was looking at individuals. It seems there is always a tension between justice and love.
Peters response (2Pe 3:1-18)
When a society turns away from God its so easy to grow self-righteous and angry. I think anyone who walks closely with God grows exhausted watching the foolish choices people make. Like Peters description of righteous Lot we are oppressed by the sensual conduct of unrighteous men. We feel our righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds (2Pe 2:7-8). And some people never seem to learn from their mistakes. They never seem to come to the realization that things are going badly for them because they have ignored God. They invent one explanation after another as to why things werent working, and then launch out on a new wrong path, which predictably ends up in disaster. How long are we supposed to wait? How long do we keep praying and hoping? At what point do we give up? Thankfully, the apostle Peter addressed this type of frustration because believers were feeling the same way in AD 66, one year before Peter was martyred. Listen: 2 Peter 3:1-18
1) Noah and the flood prove that God will judge evil (vs5-6).
2) The next judgment, the final judgment, will cause the entire universe to disintegrate (v7).
3) So, God is not in a hurry (v8).
4) Hes waiting for every soul who will come to Him (v9).
5) At some point in time this harvest of souls will end (v10).
6) When that happens Jesus will return and this universe will be destroyed (v10).
7) Until that day comes, our assignment is to live obediently to God, not to follow the culture around us (v11).
8) We need to keep longing and praying for Gods eternal kingdom to come (Mt 6:10) (v12-13).
9) But until it does, we should not grow frustrated with Him. During this season of history He will allow us to be persecuted. But theres a reason. Hes not being slow in keeping His promise to bring justice; Hes being patient toward these who arent saved yet (v15).
Peter was a great disciple of his Rabbi. Youll notice hes explaining the same truth we heard Jesus explain to John the Baptist. This is the basic message: Dont grow frustrated when God withholds His justice. He knows what Hes doing. Hes pursuing every last soul who will come to Him and not until the very end of the age will He shorten His timetable for us (Mt 24:22; Rev 6:9-11; 8:3-5). We need to calm down and focus on keeping our own life pleasing to Him, and in doing what we can do to help those who are looking for God, to find Him.
As our own society declines into lawlessness, were very vulnerable to this same kind of impatience. We too can find ourselves focusing on last days prophecies and growing frustrated with God. We too can start asking, Whats He waiting for? But if weve listened deeply to what Jesus and Peter have explained to us, instead of growing angry well become glad that because of His love, God is delaying His justice. Jesus taught us to pray that Gods kingdom will come (Mt 6:10), in fact, He taught us to stay alert and watch for it (Mt 24:42), but I think He wants us to focus our prayers on seeing His kingdom arrive in the hearts of people, one person after another. Like a farmer who prays for the daylight to last just a little longer so he can finish harvesting the last portion of a field, I think God wants us to pray, Lord, give us time to reach more. We know Youre coming soon, we know there will be perfect justice someday, and though its hard on us, we would rather You waited for that last person whos going to repent. All we ask is that You would give us the grace we need and draw close to us. Instead of becoming impatient, were going to roll up our sleeves and be ready to help You reach people.
A Fourth of July prayer
Each year on the Fourth of July, our nation celebrates our freedom. I think this year we would be wise to thank God especially for our religious freedom to worship and serve Him as our conscience guides us. And lets ask Him to preserve that freedom, not so we can escape persecution, but so we can finish our assignment to reach every person whos willing to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
1) Has God allowed you to endure hardship because you are a Christian? Did it make you better or bitter? Why?
2) God wants each of us to help Him bring people into His kingdom. Who are you praying for? How has He asked you to participate in helping others to find Him?