Delay. The word itself doesn’t have a positive connotation. The word means things like late, slow, defer, or postpone. I am not sure any of us are born with a genetic makeup that tends to respond well to delay. That is especially true when the delay relates to something we are eager for or need, but in truth we don’t like the word for most anything. Life gives us many opportunities to experience delay and often we chalk the delay up to the dailyness of living.
Flights are delayed and so are trains. It happens so often that anyone using these modes of transportation plan for them routinely. Traffic on the highway or in the city can be delayed as well by construction, accidents, malfunctioning traffic signals, and sometimes by things we cannot see at all while we tap our fingers on the steering wheel waiting for the vehicle in front of us to move.
Results of tests and interviews can be delayed. Hoped for pay raises or bonuses can be delayed as well. A longed-for relationship is delayed. The list can extend farther and farther in most areas of our lives.
I recall so well waiting for my husband to return from a deployment with his battalion. They had been away for five months and every wife on base was waiting expectantly. On that day I watched as other men arrived home, but my husband did not arrive until later that evening. He was delayed because his responsibility of overseeing the offloading of vehicles from the ship required him to stay longer at the port where they arrived. I counted every hour as all other husbands had arrived.
I am in the midst of a Bible study on the Gospel of John with some other women. Chapter 11 includes the story of the death of Lazarus. Anyone who knows the story recalls how Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent for their friend, Jesus, as soon as their brother became ill. They already believed in Him and knew that if He were there that He could heal Lazarus. The problem is that Jesus wasn’t there and the story goes on to point out that He delayed two days after receiving their message. I’m sure if I had been one of his sisters, I would have been disappointed Jesus was not there and my brother died.
There in my Bible in the commentary on the chapter are those words: the discipline of delay. I had not put those two words together previously. Discipline means training. Was the commentator suggesting that we experience delay as part of our training? If so, was that only related to this scripture passage or is it true for all the other times that we experience it in our lives?
I knew the story of Lazarus well enough to know that the delay related in part so that God could be glorified through the miracle of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life. But I had not looked at the delay as discipline (i.e. training).
The commentary says this about the discipline of delay:
“The discipline of delay is one of the hardest lessons we must learn, as followers of Jesus, especially when it is God who does the delaying. Only grace can enable us to accept God’s rich vocabulary of answers to our earnest prayers – ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘not yet,’ or even ‘yes, but it’s going to feel like no’- because we trust that He ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.’
The more deeply we know and walk with Jesus, the more readily we accept God’s glory as our greatest good, even when it feels like such a momentary bad. ‘As the resurrection and the life,’ Jesus is always writing better stories than we could ever pen.”
Wow! He’s still writing stories today in my life and in yours.
The truth is that scripture points to other stories where a petition was made and a delay, a discipline of delay, occurred. One that comes to mind easily is in Daniel 10:12-13. Daniel sought the Lord, but the response was delayed 21 days. David experienced delays and so did Paul and other heroes of the faith.
I don’t believe every delay I experience is ordained of the Lord such as those examples I shared, but I think He still uses them in my life.
How do delays discipline or train us?
Delays train us to trust the Lord more fully. It means I/we set aside the agenda I/we have. It means we need to rise above our situation or circumstances and lean into Him to accomplish what we need or thought we had to do.
Delays train us to submit to Christ’s lordship more. We need to accept that He is God and we are not and do so without grumbling about His timing. That sort of grumbling didn’t work very well for the Israelites after they left Egypt and headed into the wilderness. I don’t think it will work any better in 2018.
We also need to recognize that the delay doesn’t necessarily mean we are just to be passive during that time. There may be a reason for the delay because there is something He wants us to see or do, something He wants to use us for.
A careful study of the passage in John about Jesus’s delay to come to the aid of Lazarus shows us He wasn’t just hanging out having coffee with folks. During that delay is when He healed the blind man of Jericho and had the conversation with Zachaeus.
Maybe in the midst of the delay we should be asking the Lord what He wants us to see or hear or know.