25 November 2017

Timing-- it is everything

Before mobile phones, we used to agree with another for a time to meet, at a location, and caught up with each other. We had to listen, to write things down in a diary, and remember to be there. At that time. If we were late, or forgot the appointment altogether, the other person was frustrated, and ever checking his watch. I remember having an appointment in Wollongong and traveled there to meet a man who stood me up. No response; no apology; you can bet there is no continuing relationship!

Nowadays, that would be all sorted with a call to another, for each of us would have a phone, and it would be turned on, and we could notify each other of any train delays or other situations which would prevent our keeping the appointment.

Waiting for another can be frustrating nonetheless. A husband and wife who are in the same house trying to get to the movies on time, or the grandmother who has to check the kettle one more time before she leaves home, all the while the family is in the car, and the patient father not honking the horn to hurry her up, describe similar frustration possibilities.

On the airplane I'm always fascinated when we are delayed from departure due to whatever reason they tell us, and then the pilot tells us in his opening in-flight remarks that "we will make up some time" by doing something. Wait, if he could have taken a shortcut anyway, why don't they build that into the flight plan? I mean, we aren't on a scenic tour of a 2-lane highway; we are flying at 500 miles per hour for goodness' sake. So if they could have gone faster, why didn't they do that without the delay?

Delays and timing. Tough to be out of control with these realities.

Back in Bible days, Abraham the father of faith, was told he was going to have a son, actually an entire line of family that would be as plenteous as the stars of the heaven or as many as the sands on the seashore. Not bad, he might have thought at the time, but he was in his early 70s when he heard those words. I'm in my late 60s now and think this would be remarkable. I only have three adult children. How could they produce so many?

But wait, Abraham was father of 0 adult children at the time. He waited a while, but by the time he was in his 80s, the clock was ticking, and he took matters into his own hands. At the suggestion of his wife Sarah, he took her handmaid Hagar and had a baby with her. That boy, Ishmael, became what we call today many of the Arab nations. Abraham was 86 and still the promise of God to him was not fulfilled.

This part of the story finishes with the birth of Isaac, the son of Promise (Genesis 21). Fourteen years after Abraham took matters into his own hands, God answered. The timetable of man is not the timetable of God. Look at the results of Abraham's inability to wait. The Middle East is filled with people from one side of Abraham's lineage waging battle with those on the other side. They really are cousins, but often dreaded enemies. Shortcuts don't always help.

What about King Saul, the first king of the nation of Israel (about 1,100 BCE)? He was told to wait until something happened and to wait 7 days specifically. This is recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 10. From a message given by David Wilkerson we read this, "The kind of pride I'm talking about is an impatience to wait for God to act in his own time and way. It rushes to take matters into its own hands. After decades in ministry, I'm convinced this is one of the greatest temptations facing any true Christian: to act hurriedly on our own when it appears God isn't working fast enough.

Saul committed this very sin at Gilgal, early in his kingship over Israel. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul as king, and now the two men discussed the great war that Israel faced against the Philistines. Samuel made it clear to Saul that he was the man divinely called to break the bondage that the Philistines held over Israel.

As the time for war grew near, Samuel commanded Saul to wait for him before moving into battle. All the people were to gather at Gilgal to seek the Lord for direction, and Samuel would return with a specific word of direction from the Lord. He told Saul, "Seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do" (1 Samuel 10:8).

Simply put, God alone was to remain in total control. The war plan against the Philistines was to be all his doing. Samuel represented the voice of the Lord, and through him Israel would receive supernatural, sovereign guidance. God himself was going to form all of Israel's plans and show them how to wage war.

So Saul was to wait at Gilgal for word to come from Samuel. But the war commenced sooner than expected, when Saul's son Jonathan smote a Philistine garrison at Geba. When this happened, Saul blew the trumpet to gather all the people together at Gilgal.

Yet as he waited there, Saul grew impatient for Samuel to arrive. The Philistines were on the move, but according to God's command Saul himself couldn't stir until Samuel brought forth the word to direct Israel in battle.

Meanwhile, the Israelite army was in a panic. They were a small, motley militia with not a single sword among them. All they had were axes and farm tools, while their enemy was made up of 6,000 horsemen, thousands of chariots, and soldiers who appeared to them as numerous as the sand on the seashore. As that massive, well-armed Philistine military drew near, Saul's men got scared. Soon they were deserting on all sides.

God knew all along that Israel would be in this situation. Indeed, this was the very war crisis that Samuel had discussed with Saul to prepare him. No matter the size or might of their enemy, the Israelites were to gather in faith to wait on God for his clear word of direction. This wasn't just to be a matter of waiting, but of "waiting until" — until the word came, until direction from heaven was given. Samuel had told Saul clearly, "Wait till I come to thee and show thee."

Instead, Saul gave God a deadline to act. He didn't declare it, but it was a deadline he determined in his heart. Saul decided that if a word from above didn't come by a certain time, he would do whatever was needed to save the situation.

"And (Saul) tarried [waited] seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering" (1 Samuel 13:8-9).

Impatiently, Saul moved ahead, sinfully acting as a priest to make the sacrifice. Little did he know that Samuel was just around the bend. Soon the prophet would arrive, smelling the sacrifice Saul had offered and becoming incensed at the king's sinful impatience.

Samuel was just a few hours late because Saul was being tested.

I'm convinced Samuel was delayed because God spoke to him clearly, telling him exactly when to arrive. You see, this was a test to see whether Saul would believe that God could be trusted. It would tell whether Saul would patiently wait in faith even if things were not right on schedule.

The fact is God had orchestrated it all. He had wanted to give Saul a testimony of humble dependence on him in all things, especially in a dark crisis. But Saul failed the test. He looked at the worsening conditions and it all appeared hopeless. Logic told him the hour had gotten too late, that something had to be done.

Can you picture yourself in Saul's situation? I hear him reasoning to himself, "I can't take this indecision any longer. God sent me to do his work and I'm willing to die for his cause. So, do I really have to sit here doing nothing? I have to make something happen or this will be the end. If I don't act, everything will spin out of control."

Saul felt a gripping need to act immediately in the situation. And finally his impatience overwhelmed him.

I have to admit, this is where I have failed at times in my walk with the Lord. At certain times I have not waited for direction and taken matters into my own hands. I simply don't like feeling helpless and anxious. I have never felt more so than when we moved back to New York in the 1980s to start Times Square Church.

After years on property we owned in Texas, I was once again subject to the mercy of landlords and building superintendents' schedules. When things didn't work I had to wait, and it made me impatient. For a while we rented space from theater owners on Broadway, and I grew anxious to have a building of our own. I cried, "Lord, there's so much to be done in New York and so little time. How long do we have to wait? We need you to act."

Yet time after time God patiently answered me, "David, do you trust me? Then wait. Having done all you can, stand still and see my salvation."

You have heard the expression, "The hardest part of faith is the last half hour." I can testify to this over and over from my years in ministry. The most trying period is always right before the answer comes, just before God works his deliverance. That's when we begin to wilt and faint. Suddenly, we're tempted fiercely to make something happen on our own. This can lead us into confusion and plans that are not of God."

That long message was delivered by David Wilkerson Ipictured) in 1988 and published on the World Challenge website on June 28, 2010

Brad Bigney in his book Gospel Treason writes about this sin, and he calls it part of idolatry, "God is not always on our timetable. That was the problem with the Israelites." He references a situation with the Golden Calf. The scene took place just a few weeks after the Exodus, when God delivered the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery.  Moses had gone up on Mt Sinai a few weeks earlier to receive what we would later learn to be the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone. Bigney writes, "They thought Moses had been gone too long. "he's not coming back," they said. "We have to take care of this ourselves." It's the same thing we struggle with now-- timing. God's timing is not our timing. So we turn to something we can control, even though it serves us poorly. Our idols serve us so poorly; they hurt us, they cost us-- but we think they're more predictable than God is, and they keep us in the driver's seat." (page 29)

This is a long blog, and usually I would apologize for this. But the subject is so important, I don't want to diminish it by being cute or understating. Let's be honest about our own idolatry and failures. Let's be repentant and acknowledge God's role in our lives. Let's turn to Yeshua, our Saviour and Timekeeper...He is our life, and the one who both informs us of God's will, and gives us patience by His Spirit until that will is accomplished.

Shabbat shalom-- rest well.


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