God’s intriguing timeframes
[The following article is a slightly edited version of a guest editorial for the Banner of Truth magazine, March 2021]
God’s intriguing timeframes
How much of your life has passed? Sixty years in my case. In Moses’ case, eighty. That’s how old he is when the LORD appears to him in the burning bush and sends him to Pharaoh to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt. It doesn’t mean that we are to think of him as elderly. Moses is going to live till the age of a hundred and twenty and when he dies it will be with an eye as yet undimmed and vigour unabated (Deut.34:7). But it is the case that a significant portion of his life has passed. Fully two-thirds in fact. Yet here he is and God is calling him to what is far and away the most important work of his life.
In the case of our Lord Jesus the proportions are even more striking. When he enters on the climactic years of public ministry he is thirty years old. Just a young man. How long is his ministry going to last? A mere three years. Thirty years preparations for a three year ministry. To put it in fractions, ten-elevenths of his life are over before he embarks on what, for him too, is by far the most important part of his work.
So it may be with us. God may have planned that the last part of our lives, in terms of Christian service, will be by far the most fruitful part. Or to put it another way, though a significant portion of our lives has already passed, our most important work for Christ may yet be ahead.
We do not know, of course, what the future holds; how many days the Lord has ordained for us. Nor do we know what he has planned in terms of physical and mental health. But it is an inspiring thought. Take those of you, for example, like myself, who in terms of average life-span have far fewer years ahead than lie behind. Perhaps the Lord has a work for you that will far surpass in fruitfulness anything done for him till now; something for which all the years preceding have been a long preparation.
This much we can say for certain. It ought to be our determined and unwavering resolve that whatever remains of this all-too-brief life will not be wasted. At the time of his conversion Paul asked the Lord what the Lord wanted him to do. Let it be a question that we keep on asking – at every stage of life. Who knows but that the Lord may answer by giving us more to do for the kingdom than at any time in the past.
Back now to Moses at the burning bush. Another fascinating thing to note is how long it was since he left Egypt. No fewer than forty years. In order to appreciate the significance of that we need to revisit the events that precipitated his departure. Moses was forty years of age – this is from Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 – and it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. ‘Seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian’ (v.24). What was in his mind? Stephen tells us: ‘He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand’ (v.25). Moses had a sense of call. He was the one whom God was going to use to deliver the people from captivity. And he was right! But it was only now, forty years on, that it was actually going to happen.
This, we are told, was Moses’ fault. Moses was rash. Moses shouldn’t have killed the Egyptian. Moses wasn’t ready for leadership. That’s why he ended up having to flee the country. The Bible itself, however, passes over his act in silence and condemns the Israelites instead. According to Stephen, the wheel falls off and Moses ends up in Midian because the people both rejected him and resisted the Holy Spirit – behaviour that would characterise them throughout their long and chequered history (Acts 7:35, 51-52).
Here, however, is the point. There was a gap – a long gap – between the desire to do the work and God making it happen. Fully forty years. And that has its parallels too. There is a work you want to do for the Lord – a sense indeed of call to that work – and you are not mistaken. The Lord has put that desire in your heart and he intends to fulfil it. But what a long, long time it may be before the door swings open! Years perhaps.
It is natural to ask, ‘Why does God act in this way?’ It is in looking back that we get our fullest answer. The things that we learned as we waited. The experiences through which we passed. The lessons God taught us from his word. We see how much better prepared we are now for the work than we would have been had the door opened earlier. How wisely God was ordering our ways!
But what about those in the gap just now? You believe the Lord has laid this work upon your heart but time is passing and the door remains closed. What should you do? How should you think?
Remember, to begin with, that this is one of God’s ways. As in the case of Moses, the heart’s desire and the open door do not always coincide. At times there is a gap. A long one. Again, be confident of the result. If God intends you to do this work for him the way will open up. It did so for Moses. So too for you. And finally, be patient – and diligent. God’s timeframes may be intriguing – indeed perplexing! – but they are never arbitrary. He always has reasons for his delays; important things for you to experience and to learn. So be patient. Wait. And as you do so give yourself diligently to the work he has for you in the meantime.