As a small child I read a weekly comic which usually arrived early on Tuesday mornings. In those days long before computers, VCRs, DVDs, PlayStations and even coloured Lego the arrival of that comic was one of the highlights of my young life. Occasionally a comic would come with the promise of a free gift in the next edition. I still remember the photo of the strips of coloured plasticine!
Nowadays I suppose this seems, well let’s be honest, tame. But I can still feel the waves of tingling excitement that washed over me as a 5 year old in the 1960s. I simply couldn’t wait to have that gift, to be opening the wrapper, to be smelling the plasticine and of course to be moulding it into shapes. My desire to get my hands on that gift was unbearable.
But wait I had to and I remember how that week was one of the longest and slowest in my entire life; time really did seem to stand still. I found myself on more than one occasion in the hallway waiting for the post, even though I knew that the comic would not appear until the Tuesday morning. I sometimes felt that day would never arrive and if it did I was convinced that the postman would have stolen my plasticine for his kids and I would never be able to prove it.
Of course the day did eventually come. I can vividly remember being up extra early and seeing the post fall through the letter box onto the coarse mat by the front door. I greedily opened the gift, as though it was a meal and I hadn’t eaten all week. Those strips of plasticine certainly lived up to all my boyish expectation. I still enjoy experiencing the arrival of posted gifts or even letters. Call me Luddite, but the internet just cannot create anywhere near the same sense of excitement.
In the Old Testament, God makes many promise about future blessings. The books of the prophets are replete with promises of the dawn of a new Messianic era through which God will bring great blessing to his people and to the other nations of the world. The Jews who first heard these words must have tingled with excitement and anticipation, like me as I waited for the promise of my plasticine. But unlike me, they would have to wait centuries. It is estimated that they waited 430 years, the same amount of time that their ancestors who were slaves in Egypt waited for deliverance under the leadership of Moses.
And so for centuries many of these prophetic promises from God seemed to have been permanently suspended. At times the Jews must have felt duped, that the promises would never come. Perhaps they had been wrong all along. This must have seemed especially so after they eventually returned from exile under the Babylonians (and Persians) only to find themselves subjugated by the Roman Empire.
But those prophecies were eventually fulfilled and the new age dawned with the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians acknowledge as God’s Messiah or Anointed One. God hadn’t lied after all and the prophets hadn’t gotten it wrong, but in the words of Habakkuk: ‘…the revelation awaits an appointed time…’ (Habakkuk Chapter 2 verse 3). Or as St Paul wrote: ‘…when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…’ (Galatians Chapter 4 verse 4). It was all about patiently waiting for God’s perfect timing. As Habakkuk also writes when referring to God’s prophetic promise:
‘…it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.’ (Hab. 2:3).
There are many of us Christians today who are waiting for the fulfilment of prophetic promises we believe God has given us. These range from the personal level concerning family, friends, healings, reconciliation in relationships, gifting for ministry, the meeting of financial needs through to promises about churches, communities and the spiritual awakening of whole nations.
As time goes by and nothing appears to happen it is very easy for us to get despondent and to deny that the promises were ever genuine, or to get angry with God for forgetting our needs and his word. In our instant age when we’ve been programmed to expect everything yesterday, we need to develop the discipline of patience, also part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5: 22). Peter writes: ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some of you understand slowness’ (2 Peter 3: 9). If the promises are from God then they will come to fruition and fulfilment, but only in God’s time. That could mean that God patiently waits for our lives to be ready for the changes (sometimes dramatic and life changing) that will occur when his promises are fulfilled.
If you are currently experiencing a divine delay, you are in good company. Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha were kept waiting by Jesus. On receipt of their letter informing him that their brother Lazarus was sick, it is recorded that ‘…he [Jesus] stayed where he was two more days’ (John 11: 5). By the time Jesus eventually arrived Lazarus was sadly dead. So rather than curing sickness Jesus raised his friend from the dead and in so doing caused many to put their faith in God.
If your promises seem to have been suspended, whatever you do, don’t give up. Hold on to them. Put your trust in God who can be trusted and who never lies, even though you cannot see the end. As someone has said, ‘God’s delays are not his denials.’ One day the heavenly postman will call and the promised gift will come through the letterbox of your life. And I can tell you with confidence; it will have been worth the wait!