Another year is drawing to a close, and, as it does, committing another decade to the past.
You may have spent recent days reminiscing fondly over the past ten years, counting bountiful blessings and memorable milestones. Your last decade, marked by a few difficulties though it may be, is characterized by growth, plenty and things you couldn’t have even dreamed would come into existence 10 years ago. These realizations lead you to reflect on God’s evident goodness and faithfulness in your life and you pause to whisper your thanks – He was at work during those years and you clearly see it. As you muse over all this your shoulders relax and you smile in gratitude. The approach of a new year and new decade is exciting and appealing – you can’t wait to keep going and discover what else is in store.
That might be you, or this scenario might ring more true: the last year was hard, capping off a decade that has felt more crummy and barren than good and fruitful. You’ve white-knuckled your way through one struggle after another (and sometimes through seemingly every possible challenge at once) and possibly feel like you’ve lost more battles than you’ve won. You’ve prayed fervently and continually for good, new things to come and your people have done the same for you. You’ve sought God’s direction, acted in obedience and caught glimpses of what “better” and “good” could look like … but every time that good thing or wanted change slips away. “God, why?” is the question on your mind. Summoning enough courage and faith to hope “better” is coming in a new year feels overwhelming and impossible because you don’t think you can handle any more disappointment. You’re approaching a new year and new decade feeling battered, tired and confused.
It can be easy when you’re in this second scenario to look at the jubilance and success of others – perhaps the epitome of what you’ve wanted, worked for and prayed for – or zero-in on your own life and feel defeat. To feel shame for not being where you think you should be or where (you think) others expect you to be. To feel God forgot you – or that you must matter less for Him to answer so many prayers for others before answering any of yours. To feel scared you’re wasting years of your life in limbo and/or scared that somewhere you made some accidental misstep that makes where you are your fault.
Here’s what you must know and remember:
It is never an act of defeat to show up in the places God has asked you to walk (1 Cor. 15:58).
There is no shame in trusting God is in control of our circumstances and hoping His promises are true (Rom. 10:11).
God never forsakes us; He is present and at work even when we don’t see or feel it (Deut. 31:6b, Is. 43:13).
God is never “slow” to respond to us – He always answers and acts at the exact right time (Eccl. 3:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
Time spent in seasons of trial and waiting is never wasted time when we are growing in faith (James 1:3-4).
A life lived in fellowship and obedience to God doesn’t leave His joy on the table (John 15:10-11).
These truths may sink into your heart and offer rest to your soul, but there’s one question we’ve asked that remains unanswered: “God, why?”
Why the waiting? Why continual hurt and disappointment? Why for so long? Why me? Why?
The Bible is brimming with stories of people waiting for deliverance and blessing to appear – people who I imagine asked these same questions. I’m sure several examples popped into your mind right away. Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel … the list could go on and on.
The Israelites certainly had some experience with waiting – and throughout Exodus and Numbers in particular we see them ask a lot of questions about their waiting.
Exodus opens with the Israelites hundreds of years into life as slaves in Egypt. Hundreds of years as slaves – can you imagine? Of course they were tired of waiting and desperate for deliverance. Then one day God sends Moses to speak to their governing elders and Moses tells these elders God has promised the Israelites’ deliverance from Pharaoh’s control. Moses and his brother Aaron are actually going to Pharaoh themselves on God’s behalf to request the Israelites’ release. The Israelite elders and people rejoice – their waiting is over!
… except not quite.
Moses goes before Pharaoh and makes his request … and Pharaoh says “Absolutely not.” Not only does he refuse Moses’ ask in no uncertain terms, but he takes pointed action to make the Israelites lives exponentially harder. In the several months that follow, we see Moses and Pharaoh banter back and forth, devastating plagues come and go, and the Israelites remain in slavery.
God could have softened Pharaoh’s heart the day Moses first approached him. Or He could have supernaturally allowed the Israelites to march out of Egypt without Pharaoh’s consent. Or He could have leveled the most severe of the plagues – death of the firstborn son – right out of the gate and perhaps avoided the time needed to execute the first nine.
God could have opened the door to that new job you need. He could have helped that relationship work out. He could have healed that sickness. He could have … He could have, He could have, He could have. But He didn’t. Or He hasn’t.
For the Israelites enslaved in Egypt all those years ago, God graciously explained His reason: He wanted all the inhabitants of Egypt to know who He was (Ex. 7::4-5; 11:9). Through the Israelites holding in a hard place and one ruler’s stubborn disobedience, God was orchestrating an entire pagan nation’s encounter with the one true God. How merciful for the lost people of Egypt.
If we look a little closer, we discover it wasn’t just the Egyptians who were getting to know Him in those grueling months of waiting: the Israelites themselves were getting to know God in new and deeper ways. They were learning His voice, learning to trust Him when all visual evidence seemed to discredit Him, learning to obey before they understood how everything worked out. How merciful for the spiritually immature people of Israel.
And perhaps it’s there we find His mercy in our stories and in our waiting. Perhaps it’s there we find our “why.”
Because the truth is that there is mercy in the slow prying open of my clenched fists to teach me I’m not in control, that trying to seize control is foolish, and that my ideas aren’t always best because I can’t see the full picture. There is mercy in exhaustion and tears of frustration because it’s then I learn to communicate with Him and to depend on His strength and grace to carry me through the day. There is mercy in the slowly coming to pass to teach me compassion, patience and contentment. There is mercy in turning my eyes away from myself and the things that seem to matter in this world and re-focusing them on God and what matters in His eternal kingdom. There is mercy for me – reluctant as I am to accept it – in every moment of waiting.
We sometimes question where God is when we don’t see Him moving insurmountable mountains and showering us with the good things we want, but perhaps, the work God does that we can’t see with our eyes is the mightiest, most important of all His work.
So as another year draws to a close, instead of focusing on the inventory of temporal accomplishments and earthly milestones (or the lack thereof), why don’t you challenge yourself to take inventory of your spiritual growth? How might doing so affect the way you see the past decade?
What do you know about God today that you didn’t know 10 years ago? What have the waiting, sorrows, struggles, joys, triumphs, labors, doubts and steps taken shakily in faith revealed to you about His character? How have these experiences impacted your compassion, generosity, humility, obedience, patience, etc.? How have they shaped your ministry? What are specific examples of God’s faithfulness to you? What do you have more confidence about in the future because of God’s faithfulness to you in the past?
In the years of waiting for deliverance out of Egypt, the Israelites had the mercy of God’s spoken promises (to Abraham about making them a great and mighty nation in the land God gave Abraham and to them through Moses about deliverance from slavery to Pharaoh) to fan their faith and reasonable hope for better, easier, more prosperous days. Just like the Israelites, we carry with us an abundance of God’s spoken promises assuring our futures – including that He works all things for good for those who love Him and that He will finish every good work He’s begun in us (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6). Also just like the Israelites, in our months of waiting we have God mercifully strengthening, sustaining and refining us.
May this new year and this new decade bring you to know God and trust God deeper than you have any year or decade before and may you filled with gratitude for His mercy in all waiting.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Is. 43:19
Build Community in a 2020 Bible Study
Looking for a place to learn about God or add community to your life? Sign up for a winter Bible study! Band of Brothers, our men’s group, is jumping into the book of Judges and a collection of wild but true stories of what happens when we take God for granted and stop letting Him rule. Women in the Word, our women’s group, will be talking about Jesus and His victorious return in “The Big Reveal: A Study of Revelation.” Follow the links below to sign up today.
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