Like many smaller markets during the pandemic, the idyllic farming town where Mom and Dad lived ran short of toilet paper. I remember Mom complaining about it, but making do with facial tissues instead. Dad was never one to do the shopping, so this mini-crisis fell on Mom. And as his cancer progressed through the summer of 2020, they had more pressing items on their agenda. Namely, trying to figure out a way to see their faraway children and grandchildren during a lockdown, while the sand slipped out of the hourglass for Dad.
All my life, as much as I’ve adored this brave, resilient man, I’ve had a narrative in my head about my father always being late—for my choir concerts or basketball games, or for more everyday events like dinner or church.
I was hoping his earthly exit would prove to be late, too.
But I knew it wasn’t up to either of us.
GOD’S UNUSUAL TIMING
Maybe to counterbalance my dad, one of my missions in life has been to be on time, to avoid arriving late at any cost. So when my God seems late, I have a hard time forgiving it.
And yet, He does seem off in His timing so often. He sort of has a history of it.
He seemed to show up too late for His ailing friend Lazarus. And the centuries of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament must have been excruciating to live through and hold onto some semblance of trust in God’s good timing:
An impatient Israel was told by God through Malachi to wait for a messenger, and 400 years of “silence” passed, where no messenger of God spoke.
– Eric Gagnon
Other instances where God’s timing was weird in the lives of believers:
- The man who spent his whole life blind before finally being healed,
- Abraham and Sarah who lived so much of their lives without the promised child,
- Joseph spending the best years of his life in slavery and prison,
- Job’s repeated disasters occurring before God restored the elements of his life,
- God never coming to rescue the life of John the Baptist from prison.
Lately, God’s timing has seemed poor for my life, too. From my journal:
Seven years ago, I was in end-stage heart failure. I spent 16 months after my diagnosis with no measurable improvement. Then came a surprise restoration, and getting my life back, only to find myself in active heart failure again just as my first grandchild is born and my book comes into the world. Though at first He seemed so intent on finishing this story, with two meaningful dips over the last few months, God’s intervention seems fleeting, or at best, poorly timed.
GOD-TIME VS. HUMAN-TIME
Though I often find His timing suspect, one thing I do know about this lightning-and-light-year-producing God is that He’s not slow. He can create the world in a week where I can’t seem to unload the dishwasher. So maybe there’s another reason He doesn’t seem to act in my time.
Clearly, I am no tamer of time. I’ve spent my life obsessing over saving and preserving time. I saw most of my children’s memorable events through the lens of a camera. Just as I did the last glimpse of my mother’s smile. My husband kept telling me I wasn’t living in the moment. Instead, I was desperately trying to preserve the moments, so I could relive them.
God is not consumed or controlled by time as we are, (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17).
As Jon Bloom reminds us,
God is not in time; time is in God.
So it makes sense that God-time would be different than human-time.
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
2 Peter 3: 8-9 (MSG)
This idea of “time” that we fight so hard to control and manipulate for our own small life is, ultimately, a tool used by God to accomplish His purpose of saving mankind. In fact, since Day One, it’s always been His highest priority.This idea of “time” that we fight so hard to control and manipulate for our own small life is, ultimately, a tool used by God to accomplish His purpose of saving mankind. In fact, since Day One, it’s always been His highest priority.Click To Tweet
TIME IS GOD’S GIFT
As much as I’d like to hold God to my clock and my calendar, I can’t.
God structured time as a gift to man, not as a restraint on Himself.
The very fact that we have individual days is a generous blessing. God could have made our lives one continuous day, where we’d just grow older and more exhausted and more depressed. But in His wisdom, he made 24-hour days with nights built in so we could reset, recharge, and renew. He gave us the blessing of slowing life down each 24-hour period to gain a new perspective and another chance. Just like grace.
When God’s timing seems off, we can rest in this: The Spirit has told us that God has woven into the world a time for every matter (Ecc. 3: 1-8) And, according to His wise purposes, He makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecc. 3:11)—the time He purposefully chooses for it.
Best of all, we have the commitment that in the fullness of time, Jesus will return to set all this right—heart failure, heartbreak, and all. (Acts 3:20-21)
TRUST THE SPEED OF GOD
It’s already been two thousand years (2 God-Days) since Jesus left, promising that comeback. (Time flies!) Somehow, I understand the Father’s viewpoint more as our town’s First Friday celebration that actually happens only once a month is now popping up every other day. Or as the ages of the children I used to count in months seem to lately increase by years overnight.
Through ongoing illness and decades of living in fear of time passing, I’m finally starting to appreciate this God who operates on His own schedule.
Just as our God has a collection of timings we don’t understand, He also has a list of ones where His timing seems spot-on:
- For Daniel as he faced the open-mouthed lion,
- For baby Moses floating on the Nile toward Pharoah’s daughter,
- For the woman being in a position to touch Jesus’s hem.
- And for the Israelites walking right through the Red Sea and for Abraham receiving a sacrifice to replace Isaac, it seems God does some of His best work in the eleventh hour.
As for that 400-year lag from the Old Testament’s promise until Jesus? In fact, Jesus literally entered the temple (Luke 2:21–40) just as Malachi said He would in Malachi 3:1.
And we know from the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the life of Hannah and the one of Ruth, God answers even stale prayers we may have forgotten we prayed. Thankfully, there is no use-by date with God. And He doesn’t hold us to one, either.We know from the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the life of Hannah and the one of Ruth, God answers even stale prayers we may have forgotten we prayed. Thankfully, there is no use-by date with God. And He doesn’t hold us to one, either.Click To Tweet
TIMING IS THE PROBLEM…AND THE REMEDY
As it turns out, timing is the bur. Timing is the beef we have with God. Timing is the burden we’re carrying when we ask, Where are You, God? How long? Why not now? But if we can fully grasp that time itself, from beginning to end, is in His hands, the timing of it all somehow diminishes in importance.I can’t pretend to understand the timing of a God who transcends time itself. I can commit to trust the long-term, long-suffering, long-haul God who goes to any length over any amount of time to bring me Home. Click To Tweet
I can’t pretend to understand the timing of a God who transcends time itself. I can commit to trust the long-term, long-suffering, long-haul God who goes to any length over any amount of time to bring me Home. And to trust the delays as space to long for this Paradise, when time can’t hurt us any of us anymore.
To the person who has died, there will be no such thing as time.
– My dad, Gene Grabs
Dad’s time here on earth ran out in the summer of 2020, actually a bit earlier than expected. Mom lived another three and half months before she suddenly passed away. In those lonely, heartbreaking weeks between, time must have felt like an enemy to her.
But one day, a large box arrived at her small-town doorstep. Inside were dozens of individually-wrapped rolls of toilet paper Dad had managed to secretly locate online and order from China months before. That unexpected, tardy-seeming act of love sustained my mother before she joined her husband in Eternity.
Like my dad with his surprise delivery, my Father is always working behind the scenes, motivated by deep love.
And even more than the dad He gave me, God’s timing—that at first seems late or ill-planned—can prove to be perfect.
Listen to this post read by the author HERE.