Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not This Time, Not Right Now

As a child I remember hearing my mom tell me, "Not this time" or, "Not right now" more times than I wanted to hear. It's not her fault and she was right to say it to me. These phrases usually followed a selfish request at the check-out line at Safeway, the local grocery store. "Mom, can I have gum? Mom, can I have a Heath bar? Mom, can I have Fruit Stripes gum? Mom, can I get a drink?" Don't get me wrong, sometimes mom would get something for me. Unfortuantely I wasn't as grateful in those moments as I was frustrated in the moments when she said, "Not this time."

As a parent of three request-laden sons, I understand why she told me "not right now." Sometimes I say "not right now" for health reasons (i.e. I don't want to have to take you to the Dentist 5 times a year for cavities from all the candy). Sometimes I say "not this time" because we can't afford it. Sometimes I say "not right now" because I want them to learn the value of earning what they get.

As many times as I heard, "Not right now" in my life, I never remember hearing my mom say it when I really needed her. If I was hurt my mom never said to me, "Not right now." If I had a rough day at school and needed a hug she never said, "Not this time." When my grandmother passed away and I cried she didn't push me away and say, "Not right now." My mom loved me- and I knew it because she was always there for me when I really needed her.

In John 11 the Bible tells the story of a family who really needed Jesus. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was deathly ill. This was not just any family to Jesus: "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus" (John 11:5). Because they knew Jesus could heal Lazarus they sent word asking Him to come.

This was not a request for a Heath bar: this was a request for healing. It was a deep and profound request- if Jesus comes, Lazarus lives. If He doesn't, Lazarus won't make it. So how did Jesus respond? "When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was" (John 11:6). He said, "Not this time. Not right now."

That's a tough answer to swallow, and what they feared would happen without Jesus did happen. Lazarus died. And to make matters worse, Jesus could have done something about it, but He didn't. Without a doubt the questions started circulating, "Why? Why didn't Jesus come? Doesn't he care? Is there something wrong with me? He got the word, didn't he? Where was Jesus when I needed Him the most?"

That's what Martha and Mary said to Jesus when he finally came- four days late, as it turned out. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21, 32). "Lord, where were you when I needed you the most?"

I have heard people say, "God is rarely early, but He is never late." Not for Mary and Martha. It was too late. Lazarus was dead. Jesus himself said it to His disciples- "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:14). Dead is dead, or so we thought.

To Martha's respectful complaint Jesus spoke words of hope- "Your brother will rise again" (John 11:23). Martha reasoned, "Oh yes, Lord. I know. I've been to funerals before. I know that we will see our loved ones again one day. But what about right now? Why didn't you come when I needed you?"

He had a reason- in fact, 3 reasons for coming four days too late:
  1. Jesus knew this death was going to put the glory of God on display- When he received the first message about Lazarus' sickness Jesus replied, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby" (John 11:4).
  2. Jesus knew this death was going to deepen the faith of His disciples- "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that you may believe" (John 11:14-15)
  3. Jesus knew this death was going to bring life. Jesus came to Lazarus' grave and said, "Take ye away the stone. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus come forth.' And he that was dead came forth...Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him" (John 11:39, 43-45)
Lazarus wasn't the only one raised from the dead that day. The faith of the disciples rose to new heights as they watched a dead man raised to life, the glory of God rose out the ashes of death, and unbelievers were raised from death to life when they believed, with full assurance, that Jesus was "the resurrection and the life." (John 11:25).

Sometimes God allows a death to bring glory to Himself. Sometimes God allows a death to deepen your faith. Sometimes God allows a death to bring life. Remember that truth the next time you pray and God answers, "Not this time. Not right now." Just because Jesus doesn't come doesn't mean He doesn't care. Where is God when you need Him the most? Where is God when you need a breakthrough that doesn't seem to come? Where is God when your circumstances are consuming you? He's right where you need Him to be, even if you think He should have been somewhere else.

"Not right now" and "not this time" doesn't mean never. It means that you will be amazed on the other side. You will see God's glory. You're going to grow. Others will be brought to life. Sorrow lasted for a night...or four. But joy came in the morning. It always does.