Friday, May 6, 2011

Late Bloomers

I've always been what many would call a "late bloomer." I didn't get to be a flower girl until I was almost almost old enough to be a bridesmaid. My dream of spending hot summers playing games with throngs of neighbor kids didn't come true until I was well into my teenage years. I've always looked upon these kinds of experiences with a hint of amusement. It wasn't until I read the story of Elizabeth in the book of Luke that I came to see that God has a special place in his heart for late bloomers like me.

We hear the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth every time Christmas rolls around. He was a priest; she was his wife. They had no children for many many years...and then along came John. I don't know about you, but sometimes after hearing a certain story told the same way at the same time each year, I find myself skimming over it in my own private reading. Thankfully, God kept me from doing that this time around.

Luke 1:5 sets the scene, "In the time of Herod King of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years."

You get the picture. One couple. Too old. No children. Oh how God loves to do the impossible!

"Once when Zecharaiah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense...There an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar...the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord." (Luke 1:8-9, 11, 13-14)

I'd like to point out a few things here. First, you may already know that having lots of children was a huge component of Elizabeth's culture at the time. It was part of a woman's identity, and to not have kids was a terrible terrible that many people thought it could be some kind of punishment for sin. The affect that this had on Elizabeth would be significantly greater than if she were living at the present time. Having children would have been one of her greatest desires. It seems almost unfair that God would deny of her of that wish. It is hard to reconcile the pain she felt with the love of a God who could grant her children in an instant. After all, her desire doesn't appear to be outright sinful.

Let us not forget that God loves saving the day. He had events perfectly orchestrated before Elizabeth was even born. She got her baby...just several years and miracle later. This resulted in God getting more glory--not anybody else.

Now I would like to shift gears to what appears to be a totally unrelated story. John 11 tells of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. A couple of lines in this passage just kill me because I think they are so powerful.

In John 11:32, it says, "When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said,' Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'" How many times have we said the same thing? If you erase a few of the words in that statement and replace them with your own, you get something to the affect of, "Lord, if you had been here--if you had acted--this death/loss/pain wouldn't have happened." Jesus hears Mary's statement and is "deeply moved in spirit and troubled." (vs. 33.) Make no mistake, Jesus does feel our pain in these circumstances! He felt Elizabeth's pain when she suffered for not having any children, and he feels yours too.

The amazing thing is that this pain is not without purpose. A few verses later, right before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he says, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" and turning to the Father, he continues later on, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." Right after that, he proves that God has indeed heard him by raising Lazarus from the dead.

The whole point I want to make here is that it was for God's greater glory that Lazarus had died. To be sure, Jesus could have healed him while he was still living, but he didn't. God could have given Elizabeth children while she was still young, but he didn't. Instead, he orchestrated events so that when everything was said and done, the only explanation could be the work of himself.

Oftentimes, this involves waiting and great faith on our part. Did you notice that in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the angel spoke the words, "Your prayer has been heard"? We don't know if that prayer was spoken years before Zechariah entered the temple that day or if he was still praying it up until that moment. Whatever the case, Zechariah's faith in God prompted him to pray for a child. Likewise, Martha was the one who declared, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." (John 11:27) In both of these examples, faith was present. Then came the waiting.

You may be experience a time of waiting right now. Maybe you are feeling a little bit like Elizabeth, with a whole list of desires that haven't been fulfilled. Maybe you are drowning in the aftermath of a tragedy like Mary and Martha. You think, "If only God would have acted, this wouldn't have happened." The thing to remember is that it is not an issue of why, but when.

Psalm 34:18 says, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." God is not slow in keeping his promises. When he says he'll save us, he will. It just becomes a matter of his perfect, impeccable timing and how he--not you, not anybody else--will get the greater glory in the end. You may appear to be a "late bloomer", but in God's eyes, you'll be right where you should be.

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