God Hears

When you told me of your unanswered prayers, I felt the tears spring to my eyes. The tears fell for you and those for whom you pray, but they also fell for me and every saint who prays without answer. The space between promise and fulfillment is sometimes a dry valley.

I meant to tell you that we walk the valley in good company. I thought of Abraham, promised a son and a land and infinite blessing. He waited 25 years to see the son. He never owned the land, and the blessing was mixed at best. I thought of generation after generation of Abraham’s descendants, born and raised in slavery, only to die in slavery, promised a home that they never occupied. I remembered the prophets, who looked ahead and saw their nation’s Savior, but never lived to meet Him. And I remembered that Savior, crying and praying and sweating drops of blood, asking for some way around the Cross, but finding none.

I thought of John, who closed the last book of the Bible with a prayer that remains unanswered: Come, Lord Jesus.

For two thousand years now, we’ve waited for the answer to that prayer. Oh, Lord Jesus, please come.

I did tell you that the story isn’t over yet. There is more to be written, not only for you but for every saint made heartsick from waiting. I encouraged you to keep praying, because God isn’t finished yet.

Dear friend, God hears you. That hope sustained Abraham, as he counted the innumerable stars and felt those stars silently mock his prayers. That hope sustained the prophets and the believers and the martyrs, who prayed without answer for so many years.

God hears you, and the story isn’t over. Jesus will come and wipe away our tears. In the meanwhile, what can we do but keep praying and hoping and crying?

I also meant to tell you that He weeps with you. We remember how Jesus wept, but we often forget why. He wept for his friend Lazarus, but also because sin and death are intruders. They are always violators and defilers of all He made. Jesus felt what it’s like to wait, to live between promise and fulfillment. So He wept with us and He wept for us. Even now, He sees your pain, He weeps for it, and He promises to return and make everything right.

Oh Lord Jesus, please come.

When I see you, friend, I see a warrior. Your callouses are harder than my own, and your knees are softer. You’ve prayed and suffered in ways I don’t understand. I see how you radiate hope despite the waiting, and joy despite the pain. You know that God hears you, and that’s why you keep praying.

Please keep praying, please keep hoping, and please don’t give up. You’ve already reminded me in so many ways that He hears what we pray. You give hope to me and to every saint who waits for an answer.

The valley between promise and fulfillment can be a dark one, so let’s walk it together and look toward that day of fulfillment. God hears you, and His own Son walked this valley before us to show us just how well He hears.

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Singleness and Contentment

This is a guest post by my coworker Sarah Malone, who is the College Women’s Director at Grace Bible Church. These thoughts are distilled from a talk she gave to a Christian sorority on the subject of singleness. I’ve preserved as much of it as possible (so this is a longer post today), because it impacted me deeply when I read it. Her thoughts on singleness can be applied effectively to anybody who is waiting for something, which is most of us most of the time.

I wish I could give you the five steps to walking well through singleness and being content in life. If you get a speaker who does that, can you call me? I’ll sit quietly in the back when she comes. My motivation is actually to help you walk through singleness (or whatever God has allowed in your life to help you learn contentment) better than I have at times.

I have learned and am re-learning many lessons of contentment and who God is through being single in a world of marrieds. I realize that many of you are dating somebody. Even if you end up marrying the guy you’re dating, this will hopefully help you to be a source of encouragement to your single friends.  I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning friend has told me, “I know you’ll get married someday” (Do you?) or, “I’m sure God is just waiting until that one guy is ready for you” (But aren’t there plenty of godly, single men now?), or my personal favorite, “One day someone will notice how wonderful you are” (NOT ENCOURAGING!)  I’d rather be encouraged by the truth of God’s Word and His promises.

If we are honest, many of us are in some kind of holding pattern, just waiting for the day when the man of our dreams will swoop in with his strong hands and good heart to take care of us forever and ever. I think most of us have been duped by characters in movies who promise something that real men can never give us.  I remember realizing this one day when I happened to be watching Pride and Prejudice.  There’s a scene where Mr. Darcy says something to Elizabeth Bennett like, “You have enchanted me body and soul, and I love, I love you.  I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  Bitterness got the better of me that day and I actually threw the remote control at the TV and started crying.  I didn’t have anyone saying these kinds of things to me! But this kind of man is a counterfeit.  He’s not real. He was made up by another woman who wants what no man can possibly offer.  Satan uses counterfeits to breed discontentment in our lives.

Our longing to be loved can sometimes be a little emotionally painful. Heart wrenching is more like it.  There is a verse in the Bible that captures this idea: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).  I think The Message better explains how I feel when my hopes are dashed: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick.”  It’s more like it yanks out my female heart, throws it to the ground, stomps all over it, sticks it back in my chest and tells it to keep on beating.  How can we deal with that disappointment?

I think the answer lies in learning contentment.  Yes, LEARNING. It doesn’t come naturally to us.  That’s why it’s hard.  It’s hard to live for what we don’t see.  But the Holy Spirit gives Christians the ability to choose to trust in Him and in His promises.

I’ve seen God stretch and grow me in huge ways as I’ve been forced to wait. Waiting.  The word alone makes my skin crawl.  “Lord, I’d rather just learn to wait another time.” The truth is that often I don’t want to wait because I have a completely false sense of God’s character.  I think most of us swing to one extreme or the other.  Either God is powerful and can do whatever He wants, in which case He must not be good, since He’s allowing this pain into my life.  Or God is good (like Santa Clause), but He just isn’t big enough to change these circumstances for me.  But, when we read the Bible we see that He’s capable of doing anything He wants and completely good and faithful.  So, if I believe what the Scripture says about Him, then I’ll believe that this tough circumstance is part of His good plan. He could change it if He wanted.  He would change it if he desired.  So He must have some good reason for allowing it. That means I have to remind myself to trust in His greater purpose, even though I don’t know what it is.

Waiting can paralyze us. It can cause us to do nothing until our hopes are realized, or until it’s clear that it won’t be. But I want to be like Abraham, who was actually strengthened as he waited, because he chose to believe God’s promises.  He and Sarah waited 100 years for a son. But they trusted God’s plan, because His plan is trustworthy.

So we have the choice of what we will do while we wait, because waiting is inevitable. I remember having a huge crush on a guy throughout most of my first two years of college.  I spent so much of my mental and emotional energy thinking about him and focusing on him and all the “what ifs”.  What a huge investment in something that turned out to be nothing.  I could have spent that time living in reality. I could have developed better relationships with God and others around me.  He’s taught me that waiting is an opportunity to grow.  Remembering who God is and who I am. Worshiping God for his presence, power, goodness, love and grace. Serving with the abilities God has given me. Praying for the grace of God, who has allowed this circumstance into my life.

It’s during the waiting period that our character is changed, and we are shaped into the image of Christ. If we immediately got everything we wanted, we’d know God’s goodness, but we wouldn’t know Him as well as we do when we’re forced to trust Him through hardship.  Our faith would be quite weak.  So, as we wait, we have an opportunity to get to know God and get to know ourselves. So don’t fight against waiting. It’s a tool God uses to grow our character.

I love the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus tells her that her spiritual thirst will only be satisfied in Him. We so easily believe the lie that we’ll be satisfied once we’re in a great romantic relationship.  But romance or not, you’ll only be fully satisfied in Jesus.  Psalm 90:14 “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”  That sounds dreamy, right?  That is until things happen that we don’t like or don’t understand and it’s really hard to be satisfied by God’s love and we don’t have much to rejoice in or be glad about.  But the Psalm goes on to say, “Make us glad for the many days you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. “  This Psalmist’s life hadn’t been easy, but he knew that God could satisfy him even amidst the hardship and evil that was happening to him.  That is learning contentment.

Philippians 4:6-8 says,  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  It perpetuates anxiety. Train yourself to think of and pray about the blessings God’s given you.  Remember the things that are excellent and THANK him for everything!

What does God have you waiting for right now?  Where do you struggle to be content? Start by confessing to Him your discontent and struggle.  But then thank him for at least one blessing he’s given you today.  Then, write out a list of the things that are true of you because of your relationship with Christ.  Train your mind to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.  Christ will take care of the details and you will learn to trust Him deeply as you go.

John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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Waiting Without Wasting Time

One of the most common questions single students ask is, “How can I make the most of the time between now and marriage? How can I use the waiting time well without wasting it?”

Waiting is tough. No matter what stage of life you’re in, the odds are good that you’re waiting for something.

Waiting to graduate…waiting for a date…waiting to get married.

Waiting for kids…waiting for the kids to grow up…waiting for grandkids.

Waiting for a job…waiting for a promotion…waiting for retirement.

Sometimes it feels like our lives are spent waiting, and waiting is difficult. But patience is a critical skill for spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:22; James 5:8; Col 3:12). It reflects the character of Jesus, who waits so patiently for us (2 Peter 3:9).

So how can you use your waiting time well? Here are a few ideas:

  • Deepen your walk with God. Focus on learning His Word and growing in prayer. Ask for patience and faith as you wait for Him to provide for your needs. Remind yourself that you’re ultimately waiting for Christ’s return, so your short waiting period right now is just building your endurance muscles. Remember that God knows you perfectly and has promised to provide what you need if you seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). That doesn’t mean He’ll always give you what you want, but He will provide everything you need in order to do His will.
  • Practice intentional gratitude. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have. Make a list of God’s blessings. Start with the fact that your heart is beating and expand from there. You’ll almost certainly run out of paper before you finish the list. Each morning read your list and thank God for what He’s given you.
  • Develop friendships. Investing in other people is critical for our spiritual growth (John 13:34-35), but it’s also a great way to divert our attention from the things we don’t  have. When I’m genuinely concerned for others, it’s harder to feel sorry for myself. Organize a game, set up a coffee date, or help a friend with a project. Find ways to engage in the lives of others and learn about their struggles and joys. Ask what they’re waiting for, and pray together for God’s patience.
  • Serve other people. Service reminds me that I’m not the only one with unmet needs and desires. Service also reminds me of Jesus, who commanded His disciples to serve others (Matthew 20:26-28) and modeled it in dramatic ways (John 13:1-17). So visit the local nursing home, go on a mission trip, mow a neighbor’s lawn, or set up the chairs at your church. There are thousands of opportunities, so it shouldn’t be hard to find avenues of service.
  • Learn something new. Take a graduate course or pursue a degree. Read a good book (or two or three). Pick up a hobby. Acquire a new skill. Why spend your days sitting at home pining away for the day when your waiting is over? Follow the example of Jesus, who kept learning and growing in every area of His life while He waited for His public ministry to begin (Luke 2:52).

Are you in life’s waiting room right now? What are you waiting for? What is God teaching you through the waiting process?

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