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Monday, March 21, 2011

Spiritual Lamp Oil for The Long Wait: God's Promises Fulfilled in Due Time

In the first part of Matthew chapter 25, we read Jesus' parable concerning ten young women who went out to join the wedding feast.  Five of them planned ahead, and brought extra oil for their lamps, but the other five did not (and got left out).  Obviously, five of them fully expected a long wait in the dark, while the others thought that it would not be an endurance test.  From what Christ indicated in His concluding remarks, this story was a warning that endurance despite a lack of visible change is a certainty when it comes to being a Christian.

We read that in other prophetic passages and stories in the Bible, as well.  Prophecies and promises from God came long before their fulfillment.  Abraham and Sarah waited until the winters of their lives to have Isaac.  Caleb waited until he was very old to see Israel entering the Promised Land.  David was anointed king in his youth, but before he could take the throne, he had to be hunted and threatened by King Saul for many years.  Thinking beyond them, it took thousands of years for the prophecies concerning Jesus to be fulfilled, and so far it has taken thousands of years to see the prophecies concerning the end of the world beginning to take shape.

In the mean time, from the least to the greatest of these, there was a long, tedious, even unpleasant wait.  They waited in camps in the desert, they waited in exile, they waited through mockery and violence, and they waited through the discouragement and hopelessness I'm sure they all felt from time to time.  Today, in my personal devotions, I read Psalm 89, which was written during the long wait between God's promise to establish his throne forever, and God's fulfillment of that promise through Christ's resurrection and ascension.

How did believers in the Bible survive the wait?  How can we learn from them during the long waits in our own lives?
  • They remembered the day they began.  To cite one example, David frequently recalled the days in his childhood, when he first came to know God, when he first saw God's power acting on his behalf, and when God anointed him king and promised to establish his throne forever.  He also wrote in the Psalms about the early days of the nation of Israel, and all the things that had started their covenant with God.  If the virgins waiting for the wedding party had forgotten what they were waiting for, they might have given up.  It is clear that the ones who didn't bring enough oil did forget why they came.  They forgot how important it was, to them, to see the bridegroom, so they planned as if it wasn't important, or as if they could take or leave him and the party.  How important is it, to us, to see the fulfillment of God's prophecy and promises in our lives?  That is demonstrated in how determinedly we look forward to that day.
  • They took God at His Word.  Frequently, in the lives of David, Abraham, and others, we see them speaking to God and reminding Him of the promises He had made to them.  This demonstrated to God that they hadn't forgotten what He said (in fact, that they were constantly thinking about it), and that they still believed He had told the truth when He made the promise.  Of course they were struggling and feeling impatient with the hardships of the wait, but that didn't mean that they were unwilling to wait.  They believed, unshakably, that it was all going to be worth it in the end.  We, too, are subject to long waits between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise in our lives.  Are we willing, even in the darkest, hardest times, to just believe that God keeps His promises?  This is a testing of the genuineness of our faith.
  • They trusted in God's timing.  as Paul wrote, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance," (2 Peter 3:9 NIV 2010).  Steadfast Christians recognize that God is not lazy or irresponsible, but rather, that He keeps Himself to a timeline that He designed.  Everything that has happened was orchestrated to bring about the salvation of as many souls as possible.  While we may feel at times that the wait for our own needs is unbearable, we must understand that God planned it to deepen our faith, to allow for time to minister to others, and to give resistors a chance to change their minds before all opportunity is lost.  Maybe the reason why the bridegroom came so late to the party was to allow some people to change their minds at the last minute and show up. Certainly, all the other guests had to wait, but the party was that much better when it did start.  During the waiting periods of our lives, can we trust that God is watching the clock just as closely as we are?  Can we trust Him enough to accept His plan?
  • They encouraged each other by talking about the promise as if it had already come.  Caleb and Joshua, as two leaders and survivors of their generation, most likely hung out and talked about the day when they were going to go back to the promised land.  The fighting men around David, and even Jonathan, often said "when you come into your kingdom..." when talking to David.  The prophets, when speaking about Christ, wrote in positive, precise detail about what it would be like when their salvation came.  No doubt the virgins were talking about the wedding they were about to attend while they sat there in the night with their lamps.  Likewise, we should make the wait easier by anticipating what is coming, rather than dwelling on the present troubles or feeling afraid to dream about the future.  If we truly believe in the promises and prophecies we have heard, we should encourage each other to boldly cling to those things.  Any other talk produces doubt that erodes our faith, and the faith of others.
So, friends, I encourage you to follow the same example as you wait for God's promises to be fulfilled in your lives.  We all need to remember the promises God has made to all of us, as well--promises of salvation, eternal rest, and Heaven.  Are we still watching for Jesus to come back?  Are we ready for Him, and have we judged the reward worthy of the wait?  Finally, are we excited about what is coming?