December 1, 2004
 When Waiting
Is Worth It

God's Delays Don't
Necessarily Mean He Is
Nixing Our Dreams
    
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When George Muller was a young man, he had a dream--an earnest hope for his life and legacy. He would become an evangelist, who would take the message of Christ to the world. But after several unsuccessful attempts in his twenties to follow this career, he concluded it wasn’t in God’s will for him. He gave up.

Until age 67. At this unlikely point in life, his dream finally materialized. For the next twenty years--until he was 87--Muller traveled thousands of miles, carrying out numerous speaking missions, and becoming one of the nineteenth century’s foremost Christian statesmen.

Muller’s path to becoming an evangelist illustrates one of the most fascinating and encouraging aspects of God’s providence that we experience. It’s the fact that certain dreams we have, which we assume have failed and forever been denied by God, do eventually succeed--but at a later point than we expected. For some of us, a dream is realized much later in life than we thought possible.

The corollary is that waiting often proves to be well worth it. By taking a circuitous route to a dream, we are better prepared to enjoy its benefits--and really do enjoy them more than if we had achieved our goal quickly and easily.

Often, too, we’re more effective in carrying out the responsibilities the dream entails. This was clearly true in Muller’s case. En route to realizing his speaking ministry, he spent several decades building orphanages for the urchins (street children) of England. He achieved broad recognition for this work and for his remarkable faith-based approach to life and ministry. Through it all, he gained a “platform” from which to speak that wasn’t there when he was young.

The Benefits of Delayed Dreams

Muller’s example, of course, is unusual, dramatic and noteworthy enough to make the history books. I’m not suggesting most of us will experience a late success with such notoriety. Yet if we remain open to God’s leading, and optimistic about his possibilities for us, most of us will enjoy delayed accomplishments that to us are dramatic--in light of the expectations we have for our life.

Many, for instance, accomplish important vocational or educational goals later in life than they had hoped--but they do achieve them. The best openings for friendships and relationships may also occur when we are well into our adult years. Some find an excellent opportunity for marriage late in life, even for the first time. Creative, artistic and recreational accomplishments can occur at improbable points as well. And efforts we make to influence someone that seem to fizzle sometimes do bear fruit over time, long after we’ve given up

It may seem simple enough to say that God brings certain dreams to pass at unlikely times in our lives. Yet most of us do not begin to appreciate this aspect of God’s work nearly as greatly as we should. The result is that our hope for the future often falls short of what it could be.

It helps us greatly to appreciate reasons that God may delay the fulfillment of a dream, and advantages we may enjoy by waiting. Some of these potential benefits include--

Saving something for act three. When we’re young, we wish we had all of life’s treasures at our feet at once. As we grow older, we’re grateful that some of life’s best adventures have been delayed. God graciously proportions his blessings throughout our life.

Putting success in the right perspective. We may think of certain blessings of life--such as marriage or a golden job opportunity--as a panacea, solving all our problems and bringing endless happiness. In reality, these steps typically bring incremental improvement to our life but not radical. Putting our expectations in right perspective takes time.

God also wishes to help us learn to enjoy daily life in the face of many unfulfilled desires. The fuller our life is apart from a dream’s being realized, the more likely we are to benefit from its coming to pass. Because we aren’t banking on the dream’s being the solution to our happiness, we are less likely to suffer a letdown when it doesn’t deliver perfection, and are better able to enjoy the benefits it truly provides.

Handling the responsibilities of success. Any dream we realize brings new responsibilities into our life. While we might imagine we’re fully capable of taking on these burdens now, God often does us a favor by giving us more time to get ready. One of the best ways we can invest our energy during a dream’s delay is in preparing more fully for the responsibilities it will require if it comes about.

Fitting our piece into the larger puzzle. The most unfathomable aspect of God’s providence is that he fits the details of our life into an infinitely bigger picture. He not only has our own needs in mind in the timing of events, but those of countless others. And he integrates our own life situation into an endless variety of other circumstances.

The most encouraging part is that, when a dream delays, we often find circumstances are more favorable to it when it finally comes about than they would have been earlier. We simply cannot predict the direction all the external factors will take in any matter related to our life. When a dream delays, we should remind ourselves often that circumstances may fit it better at some point in the future. We do well to stay hopeful.

The growth of anticipation. A friend once took me boat shopping with him. After we had looked at different models, I asked if he was ready to purchase one. “I don’t actually intend to buy a boat,” he confessed, “for then I wouldn’t have this dream to look forward to.”

My friend’s surprising--and almost serious--remark points to one of the most important keys to patience and contentment we can learn. Anticipation has value as an end in itself. Great joy is possible in the mood of anticipation; it’s an extraordinary stimulant and motivator for us. If we can learn to enjoy anticipation, we have the most effective possible antidote to rushing a dream prematurely and losing heart if it delays. Patience is natural for us in this case.

If we can become comfortable with anticipation, then it can grow over time. The result is that we will enjoy the fulfillment of a dream that delays than one which comes about quickly.

Divine compensation. There is also a more mysterious, spiritual dynamic to the postponement of dreams that’s hinted at occasionally in Scripture. God, in compensation for the waiting process we endure, may increase our elation in a dream’s finally being realized. Isaiah 61:1 and Zechariah 9:12, for instance, speak of joy being doubled in return for a long-delayed blessing. These passages don’t guarantee such an outcome in every case. Yet they do give us a basis for hope, and remind us that the delaying of a dream may mean that God will increase the fulfillment we eventually experience.

A Dream Fulfilled--And Then Another

Scripture also gives numerous examples of those who enjoyed the fulfillment of a dream well beyond the point when most would have lost hope. My favorite is that of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-25).

They were the parents of John the Baptist. The general story of their conceiving John in old age is well-known, and a staple of the Christmas story. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple and announces to him, “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John” (v 13). Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth are both “well along in years” (v 7), Elizabeth soon becomes pregnant, and when her term is finished, gives birth to John.

While the fact that this miraculous birth took place is inspiring enough, there is more to this story than meets the eye. Zechariah was a priest, whose division of Abijah was on duty at the time of his encounter with the angel. Like other priestly divisions, Abijah served the temple only two weeks each year. Many of the priests lived away from Jerusalem, had secular jobs, and traveled to the holy city only by choice when their division was on duty.

Each day one priest was chosen by lottery to enter the holy of holies and offer sacrifice. What’s most significant is that a priest was allowed this honor only once in his lifetime, and many never realized it at all. When Zechariah was chosen for temple service that morning, it was the prize of a lifetime. Here on this one day, late in life, he not only experienced the angel’s promise of a child, but enjoyed the fulfillment of a major vocational dream as well.

Zechariah’s experience reminds us of how remarkably our life can change in the space of a single day. Harvest experiences do occur for each of us from time to time, and sometimes--as in Zechariah’s case--we are completely surprised by them. We do best to begin each day with high expectations for it. While we shouldn’t base our well-being on whether serendipities occur that day, a certain hope for them is healthy, for it makes us more alert to the special openings God may present us.

Hope for the Future

Zechariah’s experience, of course, not only inspires hope for the day, but hope for the future. His being chosen for temple service brings out how long-term persistence toward a goal--and availability--often do pay off. Zechariah undoubtedly had been making the sojourn to Jerusalem for decades before this cherished opportunity finally opened up.

Then there is the revelation from the angel. Most interesting is that Gabriel says that God’s promise of a child is in response to Zechariah’s prayer: “your prayer has been heard.” Most likely Gabriel is referring to prayers Zechariah and Elizabeth had made for a child long before this, when she was in her childbearing years. This is one of Scripture’s most graphic examples of how past prayers are not forgotten by God. Time and energy we expend in praying do bring results--sometimes quickly, sometimes over time.

Zechariah’s experience shows that prayer can make a radical difference in our destiny. Unless we have clear reason to know that God has shut a particular door, we have reason to stay hopeful that, when we have prayed earnestly, God will bring about a certain dream. And if the dream doesn’t work out, we can still be confident that the prayers we have made will bring benefit to our life in many other ways.

Keeping Our Own Hope Strong

Have you lost heart over a personal dream that hasn’t been fulfilled? Yet to the best of your knowledge, does it fit your gifts and interests well? Is it a good match for your life as God has designed it? It may seem that pessimism about the future is your best defense against further disappointment. But keep in mind the benefits of hope. Be careful not to write your personal history with a gloomy conclusion before it happens. Stay open to opportunities to move toward your dream that God may make possible for you.

Ask him to give you the divine ability to live in two worlds at once--to stay hopeful about your future, yet happy right now even with certain desires unfulfilled. Through his grace, you can achieve this balance in your outlook, and it’s a vital part of the attitude of faith.

Most of all, remember that whatever happens, Christ desires the best for you and is working out an ideal plan for your life. That alone is an incomparable reason for hope. Take confidence from knowing it. And may it give you the courage to take steps of faith.
     

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