How many of us hoped for a disease-healing miracle on Easter Sunday … not unlike the disciples hoped for a kingdom-miracle on Palm Sunday?
Are we now waiting for normal to return on April 30? Waiting for the curve to flatten and the numbers to return to zero? It’s become our national focus, and it is good … needed.
It’s one thing to follow social distancing rules for a couple weeks … then four more … but what if we’re still following “stay at home” rules in June … or later? What happens when families start getting cabin fever on a level we’ve not yet seen? How long can we as individuals and as a nation survive an economy that is practically shut down; unemployment soaring … the employed working harder than ever?
Four plus weeks into our national virus-imposed “shelter-in-place” living, I’m starting to chafe at the restraints. I miss community.
This new-to-our-experience pandemic has precedence. During the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak (which took the life of my grandmother’s 19-year-old aunt, Eliza) state governments closed churches, schools, movie theaters and other public places. As Queen Elizabeth said knowingly, reassuringly in her recent public address, “we will be together again.”
But today we are still waiting. “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (Psalm 35:17). How long do we have to wait? Repeated sad news takes a toll.
God is invisibly leading. He is at work. Will we continue to trust Him by faith no matter how long He delays?
In early March Dennis read me a sermon by J. Sidlow Baxter, a renowned pastor, author, and theologian. Printed in his biography, “The Divine Delays of Jesus” encouraged me that day and was a loving preparation for this unexpected season of waiting in seclusion.
Baxter wrote of three occasions when Jesus delayed in responding when people cried to Him for help. The first intentional divine delay is found in the story about Jesus walking on the water. Most of us know it well: Jesus had just fed the 5000 … then He slipped away to the mountain alone. The disciples got into a boat and began sailing across the sea to Capernaum (John 6:16). Without Jesus. No reason to worry. They’d done it a thousand times.
Verse 17 says, “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” The familiar story describes how the sea became rough from a storm. Sea travel for them was like air travel for us, so these winds and waves must have been more violent than any they had ever endured or they wouldn’t have been terrified, fearing for their lives.
It was then—when hope was lost—that the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them.
Why did He make them wait so long? Pastor Baxter writes, “All of us who have had any mentionable experience of the Christian life have had times when we, too, have been perplexed by the delays, or seeming delays, of our heavenly Master. He has sometimes kept us waiting (though with gracious purpose which we did not know at the time) until we were at the point of soul-agony, and we groaned, like those long-ago disciples, ‘It is now dark, and Jesus has not come.’”
The second divine delay occurred when Christ started on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus, but then inexplicably stopped … turned … a detour (Mark 5:21-42). Jesus, seemingly distracted by the touch of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, turned and asked who touched Him. Then He spoke healing words to her … not to the child. I imagine the father of that precious child thinking, “Are you kidding me? You have to hurry, Jesus. She can’t last much longer.”
But the One who said plainly, “I do nothing on my own initiative … I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:28-29) trusted His Father’s timing and attended to the unnamed woman. In the delay Jairus’s little girl died.
The third delay is also well known; “when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two days longer in the place where he was,” (John 11:6). By the time Jesus decided to walk to Bethany Lazarus was already dead and when He arrived Lazarus had been in the tomb four days.
Each of these delays, Baxter says, “demonstrate God’s divine power in a never-to-be-forgotten way.”
- Jesus allows the men in the boat to be buffeted by a storm so powerful they expected to die. When He finally does appear, they are amazed at His power over the worst nature can throw at us.
- For Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue who demonstrated faith in going to Jesus to ask for help, he and the gathered crowds saw Jesus had power over death. He cured her disease and helped her stand again.
- Mary and Martha, their relatives and friends, all experienced the supernatural power of Jesus over a decomposed body and a soul departed. In calling Lazarus to come forth from the tomb He commanded Lazarus’ soul to return to his body and his body to return to its form. Who but God could work such miracles?
Nothing is unintentional with God. These delays were intended to reveal to each person present then and to each of us today who God is. In seeing Him they, and we, respond with greater faith. And we have hope again.
The Bible is a living book. For us in the days of this pandemic these divine encounters with Jesus remind us that, in Baxter’s words, “no situation is ‘too far gone’ for our all-controlling Lord to overrule and transform.” It’s not about figuring out what God is doing, but humbly seeing who God is and waiting with faith and worship no matter the outcome.
Baxter concludes his sermon with these summaries:
- God can transform the most hopeless circumstances. “Beware of thinking that God is harsh as you drag along amid permitted sorrow or tribulation. He knows better than you.”
- Our greatest discoveries and blessings often come through our sorest trials. “… it is His permitting and overruling of calamities which leads to our most exalting and refining discoveries!”
- In divine delays there is always a gracious purpose. “Delay does not mean that God is neglecting you, much less that He has forsaken you. … no sincere prayer in the name of Jesus is ever left unanswered; and delay is always with a view to an answer bigger and better than that for which we asked.”
In my newly published book of prayers I wrote one titled, “This Present Detour.” Eighteen months ago I had no way of knowing about this present detour labeled Covid-19.
Stopped by the flu,
set aside by bronchitis, slowed by a nameless virus,
this present detour labeled
Hours for writing,
now consumed by research on diets
deciphering unreadable words on labels
adding uticaria, doxepin, Xolair to my vocabulary
achieving frequent flier status
at the pharmacy.
How many hours have we collectively logged listening to news conferences, reading endless Coronavirus articles online, storing up supplies from the grocery store and the pharmacy?
Hope of all things working for good,
faith in His promises to never leave or forsake
became very real in this detour.
Sufferings prepare me for eternity.
I comprehend that more clearly now.
Your unchanging love …
undeterred by my present condition or productivity.
You love me, want my attention.
And now You have it.
As we move further and further into the unknown during these unprecedented days of the COVID-19 pandemic, may you secure your hope more firmly to Christ and Him alone.
May you seek Jesus, hear Him, see Him
in these days no matter how long they last.
May you love Him more and more each day.
*J.Sidlow Baxter, A Heart Awake, by E.A.Johnston
*Prayer quotations taken from My Heart, Ever His