When I call my boys and they don’t respond, I get frustrated. When I ask them to do something and they drag their heels, look out.
I can feel the same way about Jesus.
When I ask him to do something, I want a response. And I can get rammy when he’s slow to come through.
In my mind, a delay translates into a lack of care or attentiveness. And when I pray for God to change something, respond in some way, help me, and I don’t get the response I want? I get frustrated with God.
But more than that, I begin to question how much he even cares about me.
Why aren’t you answering me, God? Aren’t you seeing this? Do something! Don’t you love me?
I wonder if that’s how Mary and Martha felt after sending word to Jesus that their brother and Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus, was terminally ill (John 11:3). They expected him to come to their aid, pronto. They looked for Jesus to show up and save the day. They paced and prayed, maintaining their vigil in the sure knowledge that, as soon as Jesus came, everything would be alright.
And then Jesus didn’t show up. And as the hours passed and Lazarus waned, they became more and more anxious.
Where is Jesus? He should be here by now. What is taking him so long?
But Jesus, miles away, isn’t moving. News comes, and he tells his disciples to chill. “Don’t worry about Lazarus,” Jesus says. “His sickness will turn out right, not in death but for God’s glory and for mine.”
But Mary and Martha didn’t know that. They didn’t know anything. All they knew was that Jesus was failing to respond to the most desperate plea they’d ever sent him.
John writes that “although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days.”
Did you get that? Jesus loved them, so he stayed.
Jesus knew how sick his friend was, and yet he did nothing.
Jesus could feel the urgency from these women he loved, and yet he sat on his hands for two more days.
Jesus LOVED them, and he DELAYED. What??
Well, if you don’t know the rest of the story, go ahead and read it here. Jesus does eventually show up, and sure enough, he’s too late. Lazarus has been dead four days, with no possibility of misdiagnosis or resuscitation. Stone cold dead.
But wait. Jesus blows through all that and raises Lazarus from the dead, doing what no one could ever have expected, revealing an entirely new dimension to his power and identity.
So why? Why all the delay if Jesus knew all along he was going to come and reverse the situation? Why put Mary and Martha through all that pain and heartache?
For one reason: to grow their faith in him. You see, God doesn’t delay so we lose faith in him. He delays so our faith in him can grow bigger than it’s ever been. If Jesus had shown up exactly when they wanted him to, their understanding and faith in Jesus would not have changed one bit.
Everyone already knew Jesus was an amazing healer. Oh, Lazarus is sick? Send word to Jesus–he’ll make it all right! Another miracle? Yawn. Been there, done that. Jesus had become old hat.
And so Jesus deems it the right time to take everything up a notch–several notches actually. It’s like he says, “You already know I can deal with sickness–that no longer surprises you. Let me show you what I can do with death.”
And why? Because beating death was his ultimate mission, the mission toward which all the healing and miracles pointed.
When Jesus waits, and then shows up, it’s like he says, “I’m not just a healer. I’m the very antithesis of death. I’m life itself.”
“I’m not just a wonder-worker. I’m the guy who digs the grave for the grave itself. I’m resurrection personified.”
And on that day, Jesus revealed himself more fully than he ever had: He really is the resurrection and the life. And they put their trust in him, no longer as just the Master over disease (which he is), but as the very Master of Life and the Very Power of the Resurrection. And that, my friends, was worth the wait, however painful it might have been.
You might be experiencing God’s delay in your life right now, a delay that is painful and long and harrowing. Know this: God’s delay is not a sign he doesn’t love you or isn’t concerned for you.
God’s delay, as difficult as it may seem, is for your good, just as it was for theirs. God’s got something bigger in mind than you and I can imagine, and it’s only through waiting that we’ll be able receive it. May you experience God’s grace, love and patience in the waiting.