Waiting for Christmas
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”Galatians 4:4-5
This passage appears in many Christmas sermons and Scripture readings as we celebrate “the fullness of time,” that night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.
But what about before this fullness of time? What about the thousands of years between God’s promise of a Messiah to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the birth of that Messiah to Mary in Bethlehem?
God’s people had to wait.
They prayed. They hoped. They searched the Scriptures. They begged God for deliverance.
And still they waited.
Many reasons exist, but the strongest and most obvious is that the time wasn’t right. God promised a Messiah, a Savior, but this Messiah wouldn’t come until the time–according to God’s plan–was right.
Waiting in Chronic Illness
Anyone walking through a valley of chronic illness can identify with God’s people, Israel, as they waited for their promised Deliverer.
Chronic illness is, after all, often synonymous with waiting.
Waiting for that diagnosis. Waiting for that appointment. Waiting for that surgery. Waiting for that medicine. Waiting for that improvement. Waiting for [you fill in the blank].
Of course we pray. We pray for healing, for answers, for provision, for strength, for [you fill in the blank].
Yet our condition doesn’t go away.
God doesn’t seem to answer.
Waiting in Unanswered Prayer
Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? Surely He hears our words, sees our tears, knows our pain?
He does. Scripture promises us He does all three of these things.
But Scripture also tells us why God may not answer our prayers right away:
1. The time isn’t right
Just like the birth of the Messiah, God’s answer will come “in the fullness of time.” When the time is right. Never before, never after.
As Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Isaiah 55:8 adds, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than our ways, and [His] thoughts than our thoughts.”
It’s possible that now is not the right time for God to answer your prayer.
2. The answer will be sweeter
Over two years ago, my church and I started praying for God’s provision in an area we believed we had a desperate need.
An answer seemed to come, then disappeared.
The disappointment stabbed deep.
“God, don’t you see our need? Won’t you provide for us–soon?”
God led me to Isaiah 30:18, a verse that eased my disappointment and gave me hope for the eventual provision:
“For this reason, the LORD will wait to have pity on you, and for this reason, He will be exalted having mercy on you; because the LORD is a just God; blessed are all those who trust in Him.”Isaiah 30:18, my translation of the RV1960 Spanish
In this verse, God reminded me He would wait to provide because the answer would be that much greater and sweeter when it came, when the time was right and His provision was so perfect and unmistakable we could only exalt Him for His mercy.
Maybe God is waiting until His answer will have the most impact or be received with the most gratitude.
3. We’re not ready
“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.”James 5:7
Andrew Murray develops this illustration in his discussion of waiting for answer to prayer in his book With Christ in the School of Prayer:
“The husbandman does indeed long for his harvest, but knows that it must have its full time of sunshine and rain, and has long patience. A child so often wants to pick the half-ripe fruit; the husbandman knows to wait till the proper time. Man, in his spiritual nature too, is under the law of gradual growth that reigns in all created life. It is only in the path of development that he can reach his divine destiny. And it is the Father, in whose hands are the times and seasons, who alone knows the moment when the soul or the Church is ripened to that fulness of faith in which it can really take and keep the blessing.”With Christ in the School of Prayer, pp. 145-46, emphasis added1
Maybe God hasn’t answered you because you’re not ready to receive His answer yet.
4. We’re being refined
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”I Peter 1:6-7
God may be waiting to answer your prayer, to deliver you from your valley, because He’s using your valley to refine you, to teach you more about Himself and make you more like Christ.
No doubt He’s using this time to equip you, educate you, prepare you for something in the future.
Maybe to remove you from this valley would frustrate His perfect plan instead of fulfilling it.
5. It isn’t God’s will
Looking at the example of Christ and His prayers, Andrew Murray points out that all prayer should seek God’s glory.
“That the Father may be glorified in the Son: it is to this end that Jesus on His throne in glory will do all we ask in His Name. Every answer to prayer He gives will have this as its object: when there is no prospect of this object being obtained, He will not answer.”With Christ in the School of Prayer, pg. 167
Sometimes we think we’re praying with the right motives, but really we’re not.
Maybe God isn’t answering because your prayers are focused more on yourself than on God.
I don’t want to frighten you or cast you into doubt, but this is a very real reason for unanswered prayer that has been revealed to me as I read Muray’s writings.
Set some time aside to examine your prayer life and the valley you’re in right now.
- Are you praying for God’s glory?
- Are you asking according to the principles and promises laid out in His Word?
- Are you living in such a way that He will hear your prayers?
- What are you learning your valley?
- How are you being refined?
- In what areas do you need to continue to grow?
- Could God have more uses for your valley, for you and for others?
- What else could He have for you right now?
1Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer: Thoughts on Our Training for the Ministry of Intercession in The Deeper Christian Life and Other Writings. Nelson, 2000.
2Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. P&R Publications, 2002.