Sunday, February 22, 2015

NBA #22: Long Waits

New Believer Advice #22:  As I just said, if God is making you wait, there is a reason.
            As I reflect back on my spiritual journey so far, I have to say that the most growth seemed to happen during the times of God’s deafening silence, the long waits.  These usually started with me praying about some request.  And then, when the answer wasn’t coming and I couldn’t even feel His presence anymore, I would end up desperate, pleading to just have any sense that He was even there, that He cared and was listening, and that He hadn’t abandoned me.  What started out as a request for something I wanted or “needed” became a search for knowing that God really cared about me.  God’s silence forced me to move from wanting my request to just wanting Him. 
            It’s ironic to me that the greatest levels of spiritual growth come out of the times when I struggle the most with doubts and fears about Him and myself and my faith.  And the greatest growth I experience in my understanding of prayer comes when I feel like I am totally failing at it.  But it takes time.  It takes commitment to walk through the pain and silence and doubt with God, instead of bailing on Him because He is “too slow” or too silent. 
            I think that there are at least five reasons why God remains silent for stretches of time: 
            1.  It’s a time of discipline - a time when He has “withdrawn” to give us a little jolt that helps us open our eyes to our sins and the effect that they have caused.  This is to help us adjust our course as we walk with Him, and we should be deliberate about righting any wrongs and asking forgiveness as soon as we can.   
            2.  It’s a time of being turned over to the hardness of our hearts - because we have resisted Him and have neglected to listen to and obey the convictions and nudges of the Holy Spirit.  Or maybe we have outright rebelled or turned our back on Him.  First, He tries to get our attention and help us get back on track.  But if we persist, He has no other choice than to let us walk down the path of rebellion.  This kind of silence is to be feared and taken very seriously.  It is dangerous territory and can reap severe consequences. 
            3.  It’s a time of pruning and growth - when He knows that we are ready and willing to pursue Him and His righteousness more deliberately, when we have reached out for Him more earnestly than ever before.  And yet, somehow, it seems like He has withdrawn.  But this silence should not be feared.  He is there with you, encouraging you toward godly growth and character, like a parent who keeps taking steps back when their child is learning to walk to them.  Allow this time to draw you closer to Him, in prayer and through His Word. 
            4.  It’s a time to teach us to be content with God’s right to say “no” or “wait.” 
            5.  And sometimes it’s just because He’s working on the answer to our prayers and it’s not ready yet.  And so He has nothing more to say than “Find your comfort and strength in Me, and hang in there.  I’m working on it.”  
            When you find yourself in an extended time of waiting, of God’s silence and you are getting confused and don’t know what to do, consider what the time of waiting may be about.  Is it for discipline?  Is it because you are in rebellion?  Is it that He is working on the answer or challenging you to give Him the right to say “no”?  Or is it because God is asking you to climb higher and dig deeper in your walk with Him?
            Quite honestly, our tendency is to fear this time, to feel abandoned, and to feel like it will never end.  And so we desperately try to fight our way out of His silence, or to fill it with busyness and “God-pleasing” activities in hopes that we can earn His answer or attention. 
            Resist the urge to lead the way out.  And follow instead!  Our job is not to concern ourselves with His job, with how He is leading or what in the world He is doing.  Our job is to obey, to praise, and to glorify Him today – whether He gives or takes away, whether we have a big job or small one, whether He is silent or active.  Our job is to be responsible for the tasks that He puts into our path today, and to let Him have the rest.  To let Him have tomorrow, let Him have the right to guide our path.  Ultimately, it’s about letting Him be God.  And this is crucial in learning to be content! 

(New stuff for this post)
From the post, “Abraham:  It’s All About the Journey”
            I love Genesis 12.  Notice in the first verse that God says “Leave your country . . . and go to the land I will show you.”  He basically tells Abram to step out in blind faith.  First he is to leave his home and then, eventually, God will show him the land he is to go to.  But for me, so often in my life, I want to see the map ahead of time, the exact route I am supposed to take and the place I’ll end up, the rewards that I’ll get for the effort, before I decide if I want to go or not.  But that’s not how God works.
            God’s way is to call us to go before we have any idea where we are going, to give us trials before we have any idea what He wants us to learn through them.  And we learn as we go, as we rely on Him and draw closer to Him during the journey.  He does not tell us His plans ahead of time.  But our faith deepens and grows as we walk the twist and turns, the hills and valleys, the dead-ends and turn-arounds with Him.  We may not know where He is taking us, but He does.  Our job is not to know ahead of time, it’s just to walk with Him.  And eventually, we’ll find ourselves in the place that He wants us to be.  If we are obedient and listen to Him.
            I am one who likes control and knowledge up front.  I like to see the plan ahead of time.  And so “blind walking” scares and frustrates me.  But I am trying to remember that I don’t need to know the end or the path through the dark journey ahead of time.  I just need to keep following the Light, and then I’ll get there.  Wherever “there” is - which God doesn’t tell me ahead of time. 
            It’s not easy, learning to walk by faith.  In fact, it’s a life-long journey and one that I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand or do perfectly.  But I keep trying, learning through each failure and trial and stumble and victory.
            One thing that we need to remember on this journey of faith is that God has His own timetable.  And things usually take a lot longer than we want them to.  Look at the blessing that God promises Abram in verses 2-3.  Very early on (well, when Abram was seventy-five years old) God gave the promise of a son to Abram, but Isaac wasn’t born for 25 years, not until Abram was about a hundred.  Twenty-five years of waiting for what God said He was going to do.  I don’t know if I’d be able to hang in there for more than a few months.  I can begin to lose faith pretty quickly if things don’t happen as I thought they were going to.  But to wait 25 years, hearing over and over that the blessing was going to come?  I don’t know . . . I think I’d begin to wonder.  To doubt.
            But waiting, I think, is one of the greatest testers and refiners of our faith.  It’s during these times that all sorts of things come to the surface: sins, fears, doubts, walls, self-sufficient ways, less-than-godly characteristics. Long waits are when we exhaust our own wisdom and our own attempts to make things work.  Long waits purify our desires and priorities.  Long waits cause us to fall down at the Lord’s feet in humility and say, “I need You, Lord.  I can’t do this on my own anymore.  No matter what happens, I just need You and I want to glorify You.  Not my will, but Yours be done.”  And I think this is why God lets us wait sometimes, way longer than we are comfortable with.
            When we panic during the long waits – when we fear and doubt and try to take matters into our own hands - we create consequences for ourselves and others that God never intended.  And when we are tempted to do this, we should seek comfort from godly friends, hit our knees in prayer, and open the Word, seeking the wisdom and comfort and strength that God is so willing to provide.  He may expect us to wait a long time for His promise to be fulfilled, but He doesn’t expect us to wait alone.  We can wait with Him in faith and learn the painful, wonderful lessons that we can only learn on the journey. 
            If there is one thing that I am learning as I get older, it’s that “It’s all about the journey.  It’s not about the destination.”  Now, of course, ultimately it really is all about the destination – our eternal destination.  But the journey that we take in this life is what builds up our eternal destination, our eternal home.  God’s kingdom.  Everything we do should be with the purpose of glorifying God and building His kingdom. 
            And to do this, we don’t need to always know the “next step” or “the outcome” or where God is leading us or why He wants us to do something.  We just need to walk with Him, follow Him as He leads, grow as we go, and glorify Him along the way.  And the longer we walk with Him in faith, the easier it gets to step out when He calls us to do something, even when we don’t know why or where He’s leading us.  That is where the true “living” happens, where our faith matures.  And I think God is more about maturing our faith on the journey than He is about getting us quickly to the destination. 
            As God says to Abram, “I will show you.”  Not “I am showing you first so you can decide” or “Here’s the path, all written up so you know all the steps.”  It’s “I will show you, as you go forward on your journey.  But you have to step out in trust.  I will reveal the next turn when it is time.  Just keep walking with Me, one step at a time.”
            God basically asked Abram, “Will you trust Me enough to go forward into the unknown?”  And this is what He asks us, too.  Regularly.  Not knowing is part of the journey.  Not knowing is what builds our godly character, humility, and faith.  Whether God says “Go” or “Stop,” we need to decide if we trust Him enough to do it, if we are willing to leave the unknown up to Him.  And we shouldn’t wait until our faith grows before we do this . . . because it’s by doing this that our faith grows. 

From the “Iron Sharpens Iron” Bible study post on prayer
Waiting for Answers to Prayer:
            As I grow through the times of unanswered prayers and longs waits, I’m learning to not let my faith in Him hinge on how He chooses to answer.  I’m learning to let Him be God!  In the name of transparency and dependence on Him, I do pray for specifics and I pour out my desires.  I believe that He can do what I am asking . . . if He chooses to.  I have no doubt that He is capable.  But in the name of humility, I have to allow Him to answer as He wants.
            Unanswered prayers and long waits are very teachable moments in our lives.  And they can either be times to get bitter and angry, or times to draw near to God and experience enormous growth in our Christian character and our faith. 
            So how long do we continue to hang in there and pray for something that doesn’t seem to be happening?  When it seems like God is not listening and it hurts us to have to plead again about a certain request?  I’ve pleaded with God for things that haven’t happened or that were a long time in coming.  And this is the best advice I can offer right now.  If you have considered and applied all the “Effective Prayer” lessons (from previous post) and yet God is still not answering, hang in there and keep praying about your concern until one of five things happens.  Until . . .
            1)  God says “Yes.”   
            2)  God says, “No, My grace is sufficient for you.” (And sometimes a “no” is actually a blessing in disguise.) 
            3)  God has strengthened your conviction that this is indeed the way you are to continue praying, and you need to persist in prayer until it happens.
            4)  God has purified your desires through the trial and the waiting, and He has shown you how to change your request to be more in line with His Will.  Or . . .
            5)  You realize that you have made an idol out of the request and the answer that you want. 
            And if that has happened (#5), let go of the prayer request.  When we have been so focused on a request that we have lost our focus on God, lost our confidence in God, or have caused ourselves emotional distress, then we need to confess it and to fully hand the request over to Him to do with as He pleases.  We need to let it go. 
            And while we are in the long waits and facing unanswered prayer, we need to praise Him.  And to keep praising Him - until we have Him so clearly in focus and at the forefront of our minds that our desire to get what we want pales in comparison to His glory and His love and His presence.
            Also, if it seems as though God is not answering your prayer, ask yourself if there is anything that you should be doing or not doing.  Sometimes, we pray “lazy prayers.”  We ask God to do something for us while we ignore the resources and wisdom He gave us to do it ourselves, such as praying that God gives us a healthy body when we won’t exercise or eat right, or praying for a job when we won’t go looking for one.  Or we pray prayers from the wrong angle and we need to slightly shift what we are asking for.  Instead of praying, “Lord, change my spouse,” it would be far more effective to pray, “Lord, help me see what I can do/think/change to make this marriage better.”  Sometimes, to get our prayers answered, it takes tweaking them a little or praying that God opens our eyes to the answer that is already there.
            And I firmly believe that God allows us to make our own choices.  He does not force us to do what He wants.  So if you are praying for God to make someone else do something or not do something – such as to become a better spouse, to become a Christian, to stop using drugs, etc. – remember that God does not force people to do things His way. 
            Yes, it is His Will and desire that people come to Jesus and that they become better spouses, keep their vows, kick a drug habit, stop living in sin, etc.  But even He won’t force them to do it.  They have to choose to.  So if you prayed that God would make someone do such-and-such and it didn’t happen, it’s not that God failed you.  I’m sure He knocked on the door of their hearts, but they chose not to open it.  He tried to show them the truth, but they kept their eyes closed.
            But while “Lord, save so-and-so” may not necessarily be an effective prayer, I believe that we can and should pray that God places the Truth in their paths and that their eyes and ears are open to it, that their minds understand it, that their hearts are soft and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s calls, and that God surrounds and protects them with His angels to keep them from the diversions, lies, and blinders of the Evil One.  The person ultimately has the responsibility and option of choosing to believe or not, but we can pray for the best possible conditions to help someone see the Truth. 
            I did this once for a friend.  I prayed over and over that God would put the Truth clearly in her path and protect her from the diversions of Satan.  And one day, she called to tell me that while she was in the stall in a public restroom, she looked down on the floor and there was a pamphlet explaining the way to salvation.  She came to Christ not long after.  God works in mysterious – and amusing – ways!