I came across an interesting book, recently.
Written by Shauna Letellier, it’s called “Remarkable Hope — When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People.”
I was intrigued when I read that Shauna graduated from Grace University in Omaha and her writing has been featured in “Girlfriends from God,” so I read the book.
One chapter, called “Delayed Hope,” especially intrigued me.
In this chapter, Shauna talks about the story of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.
These three are good friends of Jesus, who is out of town when the sisters send word that their sibling is sick.
Christ tells his disciples this illness won’t lead to death and that it’s happening for the glory of God.
Then the Scriptures say:
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
He loved them — so he stayed away?
Time passes and Jesus tells his followers that Lazarus has fallen asleep, but he’s going to awaken him.
Sounds like Lazarus will be OK and the ever-practical disciples can’t seem to figure out why Christ would wake the sick guy.
“Lord, if he’s fallen asleep, he will recover,” they say.
Not realizing Jesus means Lazarus has died, the disciples think he’s just resting.
But Christ sets the record straight.
“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him,” Jesus says.
When they reach the area, Jesus learns Lazarus has been dead and in a tomb for four days.
The man’s heartbroken sisters contend that if Jesus had been there earlier, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.
Jesus sees all the weeping over the death of Lazarus and is deeply moved.
“Where have you laid him?” Jesus asks.
And Jesus weeps.
Now, the tomb holding Lazarus is a cave with a stone rolled in front of it.
“Take away the stone,” Christ says.
Jesus prays, then cries out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.”
Out comes Lazarus with his hands and feet still bound in linen strips and a cloth wrapped around his face.
“Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus says.
It’s an astounding miracle.
In her book, Shauna tells how we’d expect to read that Jesus hurried to help after learning that Lazarus was sick.
We’re shocked to learn that Jesus delays his trip for two days.
The delay was intentional.
Yet look what happened.
Nobody at the tomb could have known that Christ’s too-late arrival was for the “unforgettable benefit of the beloved,” she says.
Shauna says our God is prone to “delay” because he loves us.
A loving delay?
The idea captures me.
Why would God wait to give us something we want so much?
Shauna notes that — throughout the years — Christians have sent word to Jesus through prayer, knowing he loves, cares and can help.
But years pass. Chronic pain erodes hope.
Just as an iceberg shears from a glacier, God can cut away our suffering in an instant.
“More often, though, he employs a lengthy process more like erosion to accomplish his work,” she says.
Shauna provides an example from nature of how extreme temperatures and battering by wind and rain created the beautiful landscape of the Badlands of South Dakota.
But in our own situations of extreme wind and temperatures, we fear he’s somehow messed up.
We can’t see the final masterpiece, because we’re in the middle of his careful “delay,” she says.
Don’t you hate being in the middle?
Yet Shauna points out the benefits of a delay.
“His loving delays are the process by which he forms us into the image of his Son and shapes us for the praise of his glory,” she writes. “The challenge is for us to trust his perpetual work when we think he is too slow.”
When things don’t seem to have changed, she encourages us to wait in hope for the Lord — our help and shield.
“Christ’s unhurried work is always the result of his love,” she says. “When the wait is over and his glory is magnified, we will find our hope has not been denied, only divinely delayed.”
I like that — and something Shauna wrote to me in an email:
“Hoping in Christ doesn’t make us immune to severe disappointment, but Christ strengthens us in the midst of it,” she wrote. “Eventually and ultimately he gives more than we could have asked, but rarely what we expected.”
I can relate. I was still in my 20s when I’d prayed for years — asking God to answer a particular prayer.
Summers passed. So did Christmases and New Years and birthdays.
I kept praying. I’d asked other people to pray. As more time passed, I wondered if anybody else besides me was praying.
Then it happened. My dream was fulfilled. Not in the way or the time I’d anticipated.
But God answered my prayer in a wonderful way.
Looking back, I can see how God prepared me — and other people — for what was ahead. He deepened my faith and taught me that we all go through different seasons in life.
And those seasons can change.
I’m on another journey now, waiting for another answer to a prayer. Years have passed, but God has been taking me to deeper levels of trust.
I really believe my prayer will be answered in time, but I’m coming to the point where I know I’d love and serve God — even if this prayer were never answered — and I’d need to rely on him to bring me contentment and even happiness.
It’s taken awhile to reach this point. I’ve been in the middle for a long time, but I’ve found a strange sort of comfort in another Biblical analogy.
In the Old Testament, we read that the Israelites wandered in the desert for years before they finally entered the land God promised he would give them.
They still faced some mighty battles in their new land, but it was a good place.
Centuries later, we may feel like we’ve been trudging through a desert for years — not because of a sin we committed — but just because we live in a fallen world where tough stuff happens.
Yet like the Israelites, God uses these deserts to prepare us for that time we reach our Promised Land.
Because we’ll always have some battles in any Promised Land here on earth.
There’s only one true Promised Land where our battles will be over and that’s in eternity.
Looking ahead, I think it might be fun to meet Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
More than that, I want to feel the tender embrace of Jesus, knowing any delays on earth were worth what I have in heaven.