When God Doesn’t Move

What should we do when there is a gap between our expectations and God’s timing?

The more quickly our society moves, the more we expect immediate results. Why should we have to wait when information is instantly available on our phones or computers, food is only a few clicks away, movies stream directly to our homes, and we can purchase whatever we want now and pay later? We love the convenience of a world geared toward our busy schedules and desires. However, God doesn’t work this way.

When we bring our needs to the Lord in prayer or read a promise in His Word, we often expect Him to answer right away.

When we bring our needs to the Lord in prayer or read a promise in His Word, we often expect Him to answer right away. And if a situation remains unchanged or a promise unfulfilled, we become confused and wonder why God isn’t doing anything. However, the real issue isn’t whether He is active, but whether we’re willing to trust Him when He’s not responding as we anticipate.

We’ve all experienced this—when there is a gap between our expectation and God’s timing. It may seem as if He has left us to figure out life on our own, but that is not the case at all. He never abandons His children and is always working for our good—even if we can’t understand exactly what He’s up to. From our perspective, it seems He’s doing nothing, but we misunderstand the Lord’s ultimate purpose and fail to see all He’s accomplishing in the meantime.

 

How we respond is vitally important. I’m sure we’ve all felt the temptation to help God out by manipulating the circumstances. This was certainly the case with Abram and Sarai in Genesis 16. When Abram was 75, the Lord promised to make him into a great nation (Gen. 12:1-4). Even though he and Sarai had been unable to have children, God promised him a son and descendants as innumerable as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:1-6).

However, 10 years after the promise was given, the couple still had no child. To make matters worse, they were getting older. The situation looked dire, so Sarai stepped in with a solution. Her attempt to help God out sheds light on some common mistakes we ourselves make when our confidence in God’s promises begins to wane.

 

Sarai became impatient with God. A sense of urgency grew with the passing of the years. “So Sarai sad to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children’” (Gen. 16:2). She had probably expected God to remove her barren condition immediately after giving them the promise of a child, but He didn’t. And now it was too late for her to have a baby. Surely, she assumed, God was expecting them to do something about the situation.

From our perspective, it seems God’s doing nothing, but we misunderstand His ultimate purpose and fail to see all He’s accomplishing in the meantime.

Isn’t that the way we often think? But if we seriously consider who God is, we’ll see how ludicrous our assumption is. The Lord who created time is the One who controls and uses it to achieve His purposes. Our perfectly faithful God formed these plans long ago, and no one can frustrate them (Isa. 25:1; Isa. 14:27). He needed no help from Sarai, and He needs no help from us. What our Father desires of us is submission to His ways and patient perseverance as we wait for His perfect timing.

 

Sarai let the culture influence her thinking. As she thought about the dilemma, Sarai followed the cultural norms of her day instead of waiting for the Lord. Infertility was a shame and reproach in the ancient Middle East, and one of the ways a woman overcame this dishonor was by giving her husband a slave girl to bear his child. Once the baby was born, the wife became the legal mother, and the disgrace was removed.

Although our situations may be different, we too can be guilty of trying to achieve God’s will through worldly means. This often comes about when we let other people influence us with their opinions. However, we cannot walk in the ways of God and take our cues from what everyone else is doing—and that includes even well-meaning Christians who lack discernment and follow cultural norms. We must be careful not to let our desire for an immediate solution overpower our confidence in God’s faithfulness and His wisdom to move at the proper time.

 

That’s why it’s important to become knowledgeable about the Bible—then we can spot ideas contrary to God’s Word. Romans 12:2 puts it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

Sarai suggested a logical, pragmatic solution. Since she had an Egyptian maid named Hagar, Sarai told Abram, “Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her” (Gen. 16:2). It must have seemed like the most reasonable way to approach the problem of their childlessness. Furthermore, it worked. Abram did what Sarai suggested, and Hagar conceived (Gen. 16:4).

However, not everything that works is necessarily right; success doesn’t guarantee that God is in it. He ordains not only the outcome but also the means by which He achieves it. The time for the birth of the promised son had not yet arrived, and the mother God had chosen for this baby was Sarai, not Hagar (Gen. 18:10). So, though Abram and Sarai jumped ahead of the Lord and got the son they wanted, he wasn’t the son who was promised.

We must be careful not to let our desire for an immediate solution overpower our confidence in God’s wisdom to move at the proper time.

Too often this is exactly what happens to us when we try to help God answer our prayers or fulfill His promises. We may come up with our desired outcome, but it’s not from the Lord. All we’ve done is settle for less than His best, and like Abram and Sarai, we will eventually have to deal with the consequences of our choice.

Whenever we fill the space between our expectations and God’s perfect timing, trouble follows. Abram and Sarai’s technique for building their family resulted in conflict. After Hagar conceived, she despised her mistress. Sarai responded by blaming her husband and treating Hagar harshly (Gen. 16:4-6). Eventually, more conflict arose between Hagar’s son Ishmael and the promised son Isaac, whom Sarah miraculously bore 14 years later (Gen. 21:1-10). And, sadly, this animosity continues to the present day.

 

We must recognize the root problem. Whenever we are impatient with the Lord, we are displaying a lack of trust. Yet such doubts are unfounded when we consider His character. The Lord is infinitely beyond us in knowledge, wisdom, and power. He is also sovereign over every circumstance in our life and is never wrong in His dealings for us—neither in what He chooses nor in how and when He brings it to pass. In other words, the Lord is worthy of our trust, patience, and obedience. So let’s wait for Him when He delays, knowing that He always keeps His Word and has promised to provide all our needs.

 

Reflect

It’s easy to see the folly of Abram and Sarai’s action, but when you’re in the midst of an urgent situation, you may not recognize that you are doing the same thing—getting ahead of God. Have you ever become impatient with the Lord when He didn’t answer your prayer request as soon as you wanted? If a need is pressing, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the situation and focus on what you know to be true about God, but this is the only way to have peace in the midst of trouble, pain, or hardship.

Let’s wait for God when He delays, knowing that He always keeps His Word and has promised to provide all our needs.

Think about a situation in the past when God didn’t respond as quickly as you expected. Did you try to help Him out in some way? This can be hard to determine because waiting on God doesn’t always mean doing nothing. For instance, if you are praying for a job, God expects you to look for one instead of simply sitting back and waiting for it to fall into your lap. In issues not addressed in Scripture, we must trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance as He opens and closes doors. However, we don’t want to move ahead without Him.

Another problem you might face involves relying on guidance from sources other than God. Are you more accepting of cultural expectations or people’s advice than you are of God’s will as revealed in His Word? Although learning to think biblically takes time, it’s worth every sacrifice you may have to make.

 

Pray

Heavenly Father, You alone are wise and faithful. Make me know Your ways, teach me Your paths, and lead me in Your truth. For You are the God of my salvation, and for You I wait all the day (Psalm 25:4-5). Give me the grace to trust You more. I thank and praise You for answering prayer and keeping Your promises. Amen.

 

Meditate

  • Psalm 33:18-22
  • Psalm 62:5-8
  • Proverbs 16:9
  • Isaiah 46:9-10
  • Isaiah 55:8-11
 

Practice

Although you can’t go back and correct the consequences of not waiting upon the Lord, you can begin today to make changes that will protect you from making similar mistakes.

  • When you are tempted to become impatient with the Lord, try reading in the book of Psalms to remind yourself who He is. Focus on His attributes, and then ask yourself, Who is more capable of determining the right time and manner of handling my situation—me or God?

  • Ask the Lord to show you any ways that your thinking, instead of being shaped by God’s Word, has begun to align more with the world’s pragmatic logic. Remember, just because it works does not necessarily mean it’s from the Lord.

 

Photograph by Grant Legassick

Related Topics:  Patience

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What happens to my notes

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you;

2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;

3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

4 So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great."

2 Abram said, O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

3 And Abram said, Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."

4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir."

5 And He took him outside and said, Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, So shall your descendants be."

6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

2 So Sarai said to Abram, Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

1 O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.

27 For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?"

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

10 He said, I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

5 And Sarai said to Abram, May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me."

6 But Abram said to Sarai, Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight." So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

1 Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.

2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.

3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.

4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6 Sarah said, God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me."

7 And she said, Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.

10 Therefore she said to Abraham, Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac."

4 Make me know Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.

5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,

19 To deliver their soul from death And to keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.

21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.

22 Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in You.

5 My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.

6 He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.

7 On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.

9 The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

9 Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,

10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, `My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';

8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

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