The Divine Ministry of Delay
One of the great dangers of life is that of losing sight of God's great design in the details by which that design is worked out; and it has been well said that we entirely lose the value of any experience if we isolate it. That is, if you take your sorrow and regard it apart from the great designing love of God, if you take your losses, your temporary setbacks, your momentary depressions, and dwell upon these things as if they were the only experiences of God's providence, and as if they were not related to the great central control of His love - you will entirely miss their value. It is that we may be saved from such peril that we are meditating together thus on some of God's unlikely but never unkindly ministries.
With this brief recapitulation let me ask you to turn to the word which is the occasion of our thought this morning in regard to the Divine ministry of delay by which God oftentimes tests His people. I will ask you to turn to the words of Jeremiah the Prophet, in the Book of Lamentations, in the third chapter, at the twenty-fourth verse:
"The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord (verses 24-26).
It is especially on those last words that I want our meditation to be based: "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
Let us frankly admit at the outset that one of the great difficulties of life with many of us is concerned with the fact that God sometimes seems to delay His answers to our prayers. The most perplexing problem of many a Christian life is just this: that God apparently does not answer, and apparently does not even heed much of our crying. By His grace our faith in Him has not been finally disturbed. By His grace this conflict has been carried on courageously in secret.
Outside our own heart no one even suspects that there is such a conflict. But you know that there is, and I know that there is, and sometimes the only word that rises from our hearts when we come into God's presence is almost the last word which came from the Saviour's lips: "My God, why?" This is not the first question of the Christian life. Faith's first question is usually "How?" There is a stage in Christian experience when we are constantly saying "How?" - "How can a man be born when he is old?" "How can these things be?" (John 3:4, 9). "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" (John 6:52). "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" (1 Corinthians 15:35). These are some of the first questions of the Christian life. But as we go on with God, as life deepens, as its necessities become heavier, its sorrows more acute, and our perceptions more alert also, the question which rises from the heart of many a disturbed and distressed believer is: "My God," not "how?" but "why?"
I have already suggested that what many of us are seeking at this time is not comfort, nor sympathy, nor even the lightening of our loads. We are seeking some explanation, some interpretation from God Himself as to what He is doing in these our lives. Some of us are distressed almost to the point of desertion - desertion of our own allegiance, and desertion of His colors, because He seems to delay, indeed almost to deny the things we ask Him.
Yet, I would remind you that there is nothing which the Word of God so amply encourages men to do as to pray. There are promises attached to prayer which do not attach to any other condition. There are riches which are covenanted to men as the result of prayer and waiting upon God, which they can obtain in no other way. And it is just because the promises with regard to prayer are so great, so high, so wide, that these delays of God perplex us, and we cry out this morning, "My God, why?" There are times in life when nothing but sheer belief in God's goodness saves us from despair; when nothing but simple reliance upon God's love, without any present evidence of it, can save us from hopelessness; when nothing but almost reckless faith in His omnipotent wisdom, will prevent us from sinking into positive moral apathy and spiritual lethargy.
Therefore, it is my present endeavor to help some here to a recreation of that sheer belief, that simple reliance, and that reckless faith in God which trusts Him when His face is veiled, and they do not even feel the grip of His hand. Faber well sang:
"Thrice blest is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field, when He
Is most invisible."
That is the instinct which may God grant every one of us to have in these days.
Now these words were spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah in a day when the nation's desire, its best desire, was perhaps never so evident. The people had begun to see the fulfillment of God's promises and the working of His providence. Their foes were being pushed from their land, the beginnings of re-cultivation were taking place, and the broken-down altars of God were being rebuilt. But all was being done so slowly that they could not reconcile the slowness of God with the implicit assurances upon which their faith in Him rested. They were impatient and restive under His apparent inactivity. Faith saw God's beginnings and, like the disciples of later days, "thought the kingdom must immediately appear!"
There is a great deal to be said for the faith of a little child which cannot understand the reason of delay. But you will not misunderstand me when I say that there is a great deal more to be said for the faith of a grown man who has come to know that God has an entirely different scale for the measurement of time from those we commonly use. There is still more to be said for the faith of the man who is perfectly content to rest in the fact that a thousand years are as one day with Him, and one day as a thousand years. This was the faith of Jeremiah. He had looked into the depths of the Infinite God, and had seen that He was unhurried, and that His ways were the more certain because they were not the more obvious. So he waited calmly, and sought to renew courage and patience and hope in the people, just because these things were the expression of his own soul. Hence he says: "it is good for men that they are kept waiting, that they have to quietly hope for the salvation of God."
(continued with # 36)