When God Delays
Have you ever felt like God has left you? I have! Like the experience of Mary and Martha described in John 11:17-36, I have watched a precious loved one dying. Not a physical death like the Biblical sisters observed, but a spiritual death that has left him in great physical danger. I often describe it as watching him walk straight into shark-infested waters, but he can’t see them. And I feel helpless on the shore.
For years, no matter what I said or did, my loved one kept spiraling out of control, deaf and blind to the warnings his family and I were shouting. And no matter how hard I prayed, the circumstances just didn’t seem to improve. He kept marching toward physical and spiritual demise, and I could not stop it. The experience has caused Mary’s and Martha’s words to echo powerfully in my own heart: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (21, 32).
Much has been said about the unique personalities of Mary and Martha. Martha seems bent to “do,” while Mary is more comfortable being still. You can see these characteristics shine through in John 11, as well as Luke 10. I tend to be more like Martha, observing a situation, determining what needs to happen, and jumping in to get ‘er done!
But some situations elude that approach. Some require supernatural power. And that power can seem far, far away at times. Maybe even void of existence.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
John 11 proves to us, however, that situations are not always as they seem. I love Jesus’s reaction when He is told that the sisters’ brother, Lazarus, “he whom You love is ill.” The Bible tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” What?! Is this how a Savior shows love? He stays put?! Yes! For reasons we can’t always understand but must trust, our Savior sometimes stays put – even when death seems imminent. Why? Jesus tells us in verse 4: “It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified.”
In this particular account, I believe one reason Jesus tarried was to deepen the faith of the sisters. And their experiences can teach us some important lessons, as well:
- Whether by conviction or invitation, even when all hope seems lost, go to Jesus – By the time Jesus made his way to the sisters’ home, their brother Lazarus already had died. But as soon as she heard Jesus was near, Martha went and met Him (20). Later, when Mary heard that the Teacher was calling for her, she rose and quickly went to Him (29). Friends, we must do the same. No matter how dire our circumstances, we must remember that our Lord tells us He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
- Feel free to confess our feelings – As each sister approached her Lord, their hearts echoed the same hurt and confusion: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Our Savior’s shoulders are big enough to bear the weight of our laments. Confessing our confusion is the first step to allowing God’s truth to clarify our circumstances.
- Don’t allow what we feel to rob us of our faith – Right after Martha shared her hurt with Jesus, she uttered these important words: “But even now…” Martha reminded herself that God is bigger than our circumstances and that He can cause all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28).
- Do allow God’s tests of faith to solidify our belief in His sovereignty – When Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again, Martha assumed He was talking of the future resurrection on the last day. But Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And Martha answered, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (25-27). Friends, we must remember the same!
John 11 goes on to tell us that Martha and Mary were able to see their brother’s resurrection and restoration right before their eyes. Their and their friends’ first-hand witness of this event was essential to the building of the church, as this account would be etched deeply in their hearts days later when they watched the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
For reasons known only to God, my loved one’s restoration is still in the works. In fact, I may or may not see it resolved this side of heaven. But just because I can’t see the whole picture, just because our circumstances seem to be veiled in darkness, I will not allow them to rob me of my faith. I will continue to go to Jesus. I will keep sharing my feelings. And I will allow this test to remind me of my Sovereign Savior, whom His own brother describes as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17b).
May I implore you to do likewise, friend? For no matter how shadowy or shifting our circumstances are, we serve a steadfast God whose love endures forever and whose plans are to prosper, not to harm, to give us hope and a future.