So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ~ Isaiah 55:11

Friday, December 27, 2013

Waiting, Worship & Wonder--Chapter Two--Waiting: Designed For God's Glory

Chapter Two

Waiting: Designed For God's Glory

I will thank You forever, because You have done it.
I will wait for Your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
Psalm 52:9

      So how do all these aforementioned qualities developed in the waiting believer become catalysts for giving God glory? After all, wouldn't a timely, on-the-spot, showy display of power on our behalf be more conducive to bringing attention to the Almighty to the unbelieving world around us? Don't God's perplexing delays cause mankind to question his strength, justice, and benevolence? It is true that the fact that God delays in answering our prayers has caused the human race to question His love and even His character. This is why our understanding of God's sovereignty is so important to living life in light of the wisdom set forth in scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we learn that God hears the cries of His children and is always working behind the scenes on their behalf. And as He works out the details of our requests, intermingled with His sovereign plan, we learn what it means to worship.
      For a stunning example of some believers looking anxiously to Jesus for help in a life and death situation, we need to look no further than John 11:1-44. Here we find Jesus being approached with the message that one of His closest friends, Lazarus, lay at the door of death. Knowing He was the Messiah, Lazarus's sisters sent word to Jesus, hoping He would come quickly and that their brother would be healed. They had justification for this assumption, as their message contained these words, “Lord, he whom You love is ill.” Jesus responded to the message by saying, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” But rather than leaving immediately to attend to the crisis, Jesus instead chose to delay in leaving for yet another two days, at which time the disciples who were with Him thought surely Lazarus would recover from his illness. But Jesus, in a straightforward manner, told them that Lazarus was already dead. And not only was he dead, but Jesus stated, “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”
      Upon arriving in Bethany a whole four days after he had died, Lazarus's sisters each met Jesus declaring these words: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus reassured them that their brother would rise again. Approaching the tomb containing the disintegrating body, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out.” And wrapped head to toe in linen cloth, Lazarus indeed came forth!
      The actual point of this story isn't that “good things come to those who wait.” Rather, Jesus put his closest friends through this incredible trial to display many magnificent truths that believers all down through the coming centuries would need to comprehend. By raising a decomposing corpse from the tomb, the Lord knew that the disciples' faith in the living Son of God would receive a tremendous amount of strength. This would be necessary with the upcoming crucifixion that they would witness and despair over; not only that, but they would call this miracle to remembrance when they encountered their very own persecution that would surely test their endurance. This miraculous event would also help the disciples to realize that if Christ had the power to raise the dead, that God, too, would be true to His promise to raise His own Son from the dead after His crucifixion; and He would also fulfill His promise to one day raise those of us who believe! And finally, we learn here one of the most profound and mysterious truths in all of scripture that demonstrate the nature of salvation: that because we are dead in our sin, completely unable to save ourselves, only by the power of the Son of God can spiritually dead men come to spiritual life! The fact that Jesus has the power to bring about physical resurrection was not the only point being made here. Jesus needed His disciples to understand that man cannot contribute anything to his being born again from on high, and that the spiritual rebirth of any sinner is truly at the mercy of the sovereign decree and command of the Most High God. Without this vital spiritual truth, the disciples would lose the meaning behind the gospel message that their Lord would soon send them out to declare once He ascended to heaven.
      But at the onset of this very personal trial, all that Mary and Martha knew was that their brother was dying, and that they were delayed an answer by the One they most counted on to intervene. In their anguish, they could not have known how important their waiting was, nor the spiritual truths that would be unveiled and recorded in scripture when hope for their loved one seemed all but gone. It is so often true that during the times of an agonizing wait, God is not only tending to the needs of our personal situation (Jesus did answer the sisters' prayer), but He is also working the situation out for the greater good of those who witness our affliction. There is tremendous testimony to those around us who need to see a life lived in total and complete submission and dependence on the one true God.
      It is when we learn to trust in the absolute sovereignty of God that we begin to apprehend what it means to worship Him. One can only imagine the heartfelt worship displayed by the disciples the moment that Lazarus walked out of his grave! And their minds had to spin in awesome wonder for a long time afterward as they reflected on the sight of a dead man responding to the sound of the Master's voice after four days in the ground! Surely Martha often replayed in her mind the very words her Master spoke to her as He prepared to call Lazarus forth, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”15 And how overwhelming that glory must have been! In spite of the perplexing difficulties we face, we can draw great strength from knowing that God works all things according to His will,16 and that all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.17 How often we hear that one is “waiting in vain,” but for those who love God, their waiting has purpose, and is part of His sovereign plan and decree. We can then affirm the psalmist's words that our focus is not to be on the evil happening around us, but instead is to remain on the Lord, waiting patiently for Him to act.18
      Not only does the resolution to our waiting inspire genuine praise and exaltation, but generates worshipful reflection long after the time of answered prayer. It stirs and inspires the believer's soul as one meditates on God's gracious and benevolent acts of days gone past. A beautiful example of such praise and adoration can be found in the first chapter of the first book of Samuel, named after the prophet and judge of Israel.
      Samuel's mother, Hannah, had a very stressful home life. Married to a man she dearly loved, and although he loved Hannah deeply, he also had room in his heart for another, for he had married Penninah as well. Hannah remained childless while God in His sovereignty had given Penninah several sons and daughters. As though the barrenness itself wasn't distressing enough, it was surely made worse by the taunting and discouragement brought on by the more fruitful wife. This continued for many years, often leaving Hannah in such a state of anguish that she would not eat.
      One year, upon visiting the temple in Shiloh, Hannah's heartbreak could not be borne any longer. While at the temple, she stopped to lift her voice to God. In chapter one, verse ten, it says, “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” She cried out, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your servant and remember me and not forget Your servant, but will give to Your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” The scriptures then tell us that Hannah went home with her husband, and “the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.””
      Hannah could not have known that the birth of Samuel was an act of divine providence for the entire nation of Israel. As with Lazarus, the urgent request was fulfilled by our compassionate God, but a far greater plan for the good of God's chosen people was being enacted. Samuel grew up in the temple as a result of the fulfilling of Hannah's vow to the Lord, and he would be instrumental in helping Israel make the transition from a divine Sovereign to the human monarch that Israel persisted in having so that they might be like the nations around them.19 Samuel's godly wisdom and solid commitment to the Lord God would enable him to lead, judge, and prophesy to the people during the end of the time of the judges. He would not only usher in and train the newly appointed King Saul, but would encourage, correct, and rebuke this wayward monarch as Saul clumsily and rebelliously ruled the Hebrew nation. Samuel would then be used by God to discern the Lord's choice in bringing forth the godly man to rule in Saul's stead once Saul's disobedience could be tolerated no more.20 In essence, Samuel's devotion to follow God's call on his life as a prophet and judge saved the nation of Israel from self-destruction.
      As the situation played itself out, the only thing Hannah understood was that she had asked the Lord for a son that she may give him back in service to the Lord Himself. After spending God's appointed time in the pain of waiting, He answered her prayer, and with that sole piece of knowledge, she was content. It was all she needed to sound forth one of the most glorious songs of praise in scripture. As Hannah reflected on the joy of answered prayer and the beauty of the gift of her son, her thoughts are revealed in the following verses from First Samuel:

My Heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord;
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides You;
there is no rock like our God.21

      Her thanksgiving is then followed by praise for God's power over the proud and the exaltation of the humble:
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord
is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those
who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and
brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes
poor and makes rich; He brings low and He exalts. He raises up the
poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them
sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.22

      Hannah's song of praise is echoed by Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the first chapter of Luke. All of Israel awaited the birth of the Messiah, as His coming was foretold throughout the Old Testament, bridging the gap between the first prophetic announcement in Genesis 3:15 to the reality of it's fulfillment approximately 4,000 years later!23 Following the pattern of praise for the Most High God in answering waiting prayer and God's exaltation of the humble over the proud makes these two glorious songs of praise remarkably similar:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked
upon the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on
all generations shall call me blessed; for He who is mighty has
done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy
is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from
their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry
with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”24

      Hannah and Mary are yet two more examples of waiting resulting in the fulfillment of God's provisions and promises. It is through waiting that hope is born, and through the births of these precious babies we see God's plan of leadership, protection, and ultimately salvation provided for the people that God has called to be His very own possession. What beautiful examples these godly women have been for the generations succeeding them. Their faithfulness was rewarded by God, and their thankful response to His overwhelming goodness has been recorded in God's word for all eternity. Hannah's humble dependence and trust in her God exemplifies Proverbs 20:22, which says, “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you.” Mary's life was given a unique place in the solemn decree of God to send a Savior who would save His people from their sins. Her place in the divine timeline that culminated in a 4000-year wait would have a part in answering the prayer of the Jewish nation, reverberated in the words of the prophet Micah that declare, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”25 May such a grateful and God-glorifying heart be cultivated in us as well as we take a privileged part in awaiting the faithful answers of a faithful God.

      Father God, how humbling it is to be given the grace and the privilege of being in Your presence. It fills us with awe and wonder to know that through the life, death, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, a way has been made for Your children to come boldly before Your throne of grace, fully realizing that in and of ourselves we are completely unworthy. We delight that You are willing to use sinful humanity to bring about Your perfect plan of redemption, and with that incredible knowledge, we joyfully and willingly submit to the length and breadth of the time You have appointed to bring about the fulfillment of every decree, every promise, and every judgment that You have sovereignly ordained. It is with overwhelming gratitude for this exceptional gift of salvation that we continue to proclaim Your word, Your gospel, and Your glory, for we are not our own; we have been bought with a great price. Above all, may we be willing to give ourselves as a living sacrifice that exalts the name above all names, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Scripture quotations are taken from the ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION.

Any emphasis (bold or italics) added to scripture quotations or another author's quotations are my own.

Next time--Waiting: The Biblical Narrative

Previous posts in the Waiting Series:

Introduction and Chapter One, Part One--Waiting: Designed For Our Sanctification
Chapter One, Part Two--Waiting: Designed For Our Sanctification
Chapter Two--Waiting: Designed For God's Glory
Chapter Three--Waiting: The Biblical Narrative
Chapter Four--Waiting: The Believer's Attitude
Chapter Five--Waiting: The Promises and Conclusion

    15John 11:40
    16Ephesians 1:11
    17Romans 8:28
    18Psalm 37:7
    191 Samuel 9
    201 Samuel 16
    211 Samuel 2:1-2
    221 Samuel 2:3-8
    23Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1996, 1993) 5, 312
    24Luke 1:46-55
    25Micah 7:7

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