Between the promise and the fulfillment comes the desert. This is the way it always has been and the way it is today. Why?
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2
Painful as it is there is a connection between the production of Jesus’ Character in us and enduring suffering during a period of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise. The Greek word here translates as “perseverance”, “steadfastness”, “patient endurance”, and it means “the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances”.
The simple fact is that in order to receive the fulfillment of the promises God has made to us we need to persevere in believing those promises and continue in doing those things which he has called us to do “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Gal.6:9
Paul has to tell us this because it is in our nature to give up. The problem is we are stuck in time. God gives us a promise and our present circumstances, our present moment, denies the promise because it hasn’t happened yet. We then experience the “test of time”. We start to believe, “It hasn’t happened yet, so it’s not going to happen”. This is the lie of the enemy which he uses to dismantle our faith. It is his principle weapon – delay. Now, here is God’s truth that we must take hold of; it hasn’t happened yet because God has something for us that is more important than the fulfillment of the promise. And that something is the production of Jesus’ character in us. Why does that matter so much? Because every gift of God to us is opposed by our enemy and we must fight the good fight of faith to receive it. We are in a war of faith vs. unbelief. We need the perseverance of Jesus to endure the delay. I think most of us know this by virtue of our experience with doubt. The question is; what can we do about it? How can we survive the delay? How can we wait well?
Delay always brings difficult questions and a terrible temptation. The questions it brings are;
“where is God in this delay and why doesn’t He do something about it?”
The temptation it brings is to cease believing one of these two truths:
1] that God is all loving &
2] that God is all powerful.
Any time we experience real delay and the suffering it brings, we are tempted by the enemy to believe either God is all loving but not very powerful, or He is all powerful but not very loving. We reason; if He were both, this unfulfilled promise would not be happening, so I should quit believing. This is a lie. The Bible tells us that God is both all loving and all powerful.
What is the answer to this dilemma? We see the answer most clearly in the story of Job. Satan comes to God and says, “the only reason people worship you is because you bless them.” What Satan is really saying is, “God you are not worth loving just for who you are. The only reason anyone would marry you is for your money.”
All of the angels hear this allegation and 1/3rd of them have already rebelled against God. Much is at stake. So, God allows what is completely unjust – the torture of an innocent and righteous man. Job suffers unimaginably and he is tempted by his own wife and friends to either believe that God is not just or that he has sinned – and he knows neither of these is true. The problem is he has no answer to the question, “why is this happening to me?”
The only answer Job has is to find the presence of God. He knows that if he can just come into God’s presence his questions will be answered and he will be vindicated.
“If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me and consider what he would say.” Job 23:3-5
Asaph comes to the same conclusion in Psalm 73 where he is overcome by the success of the evil all around him.
“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” Vs 2-5
“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.” Vs 16-18
Finally, he comes to one of the most profound truths in the Bible and the place of true peace:
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth” Vs.25
Job and Asaph are saying the same thing: the answer to our deepest questions and doubts is not a propositional truth but a presence. In the presence of God, the question is no longer of concern; the doubt is no longer relevant. And this has been my experience. When I seek His presence, not for an answered prayer but just to find Him and be with Him, I find that I can survive the waiting. I find the peace I desperately need.
We all married Him for His money – for what He could do to change our circumstances. This is a good reason to come to Him, but our peace and joy depend on going far beyond “what have you done for me lately?”
Our greatest peace and joy will come when we begin to value Him for who He is and not just for what He gives. Unanswered prayers and promises prompt us to examine our relationship with Him and to change our hearts motive for pursuing Him.
Knowing Him really is the reward.