Tears filled my eyes as we prayed over the first few verses of Psalm 13:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?”
I’m not sure that I have ever felt the pain of waiting on the Lord quite like I did in 2020.
Backing up a little bit, my last year of college was one of the sweetest seasons I have ever known. It was full of adventure, sweet friendships, redemption, and an abundance of laughter and joy. But as the leaves began to change and spring turned into summer, the Lord led me into a new and different kind of season- one that would deepen my dependence on Him and challenge me in many ways.
This new season felt dry and empty. I spent more time by myself than I probably ever have. I spent a lot of my time wrestling with the Lord and waiting on Him- asking Him to heal wounds, asking Him to take away the loneliness, asking Him why He wasn’t moving in the seemingly desolate areas of my life, and I began asking Him to heal the world of the pandemic and the injustices that had become increasingly more evident and more heartbreaking. I wanted to be angry because I wasn’t hearing anything back and because I felt like I didn’t have the strength to wait any longer. But the Lord remained patient and gentle with me, giving me an even clearer picture of His goodness as I saw my rebellious heart up against His mercy and steadfastness. I began to seek the Lord with more fervency, and as I felt Him meet me there, I knew that He was doing something good in me, even if I didn’t like how it felt in the moment.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. My favorite part though, is not actually the resurrection but what happened before it, when Jesus arrives late and Mary falls at His feet weeping because she had just lost her brother. John writes, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “see how he loved him!” (John 11:32-36).
“When Jesus saw her weeping…he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”
This Mary who had “chosen what was better” (Luke 10:42), the Mary who had poured out her love and adoration at Jesus’ feet- this Mary now moved His heart once again. Jesus wept because she wept.
I can’t even imagine though, what this must have been like for her. The frustration and anger that she must have felt towards Jesus for not getting there sooner… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her brother would not have died…that’s huge! I do not even want to pretend like I understand the depth of what she must have been feeling here, but in a smaller way I do resonate with her response. There have been times when I too, have felt frustrated or impatient with Jesus because He’s not answering my prayers as fast as I would like Him to, or because the pain is lingering even while I’m asking Him to take it away. The silence, lack of movement in areas where I’m asking Him to move, and seemingly lack of urgency from the Lord can sometimes feel hurtful.
But can you imagine what it must have done for Mary’s faith and for her relationship with Jesus as He began to weep with her? I think about times in my own life when someone has tangibly met me with this kind of compassion. The way that my trust, love and gratefulness for this person deepens as I see the way they care for me in a vulnerable moment.
As much as we despise the waiting, it was Jesus’ delayed response that allowed her to see and experience how deeply He cared for her. In the in-between, she saw His kind and compassionate eyes- these eyes that began to fill with tears at the sight of her pain.
I know this to be true for me, too. It’s in these long stretches of waiting- when the wound is not yet healed, when the prayer is not yet answered, when I’m asking the Lord for deliverance but it has not yet come- it’s here when I really get to know the person of Jesus. It’s here where I have learned of His eyes that see me and where I have known Him as a safe place and a refuge. It’s here where I first discovered His compassionate, tender and gracious heart towards me, and His strong shoulders that are always available to lean on. It’s the hurt that causes me to run to Him whole-heartedly and it’s the empty spaces that lead me into begging Him to draw near.
Jesus put on skin so that He could enter into these spaces with me, and with you too. This is Emmanuel, God-incarnate, God with us. Jesus left the comforts and beauty of heaven to dwell here with us, to be here with us, to know what it’s like to be us. There is no kind of pain that we can experience that Jesus does not understand and has not already felt. Not only has He already experienced it Himself, but He knows each of us so incredibly intricately, that with Him we never have to worry about explaining ourselves, or trying to describe our feelings in all of their complexity. We simply sit with Him and He already knows. We are free to pour out our hearts to Him. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. THIS is where the deep heart transformation happens. Sunday gatherings and Bible studies are great and important, but I believe Jesus does His deepest and most profound work in us in the hidden and unseen places. This is where intimacy and communion with Him is grown and where our love for Him deepens.
As we read on in this passage, Jesus then approaches the tomb where Lazarus lay, and says, “Take away the stone.” Martha (Lazarus’ other sister) responds and says, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus says to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:38-40).
Jesus’ response here holds a beautiful promise for us as believers. God may delay His response towards us for the purpose of deepening our intimacy and relationship with Him, and to fortify our hearts, but this same God has always promised deliverance, restoration and redemption for those who believe in Him.
“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
In the book of Revelation when John records Jesus’ proclamations to the seven churches, Jesus’ consistent words of encouragement for each of the churches is to “remain steadfast,” to “endure patiently,” and to “hold fast to His name.” He knows it’s hard to be human. He knows we were not created to live world with so much pain and heartache. But it will not always be this way, so let’s take Jesus at His word and hold fast to His name. If we remain steadfast and continue to seek His face in the midst of hardship and suffering, we will surely find Him, we will know and experience Him deeper, and we will see His glory. And isn’t this why we were created in the first place? To know Him and be known by Him? To love Him and be loved by Him?
And for the aches that may not cease this side of heaven, this story can still apply here too, because of the work that Jesus did on the cross, because it’s already finished.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
In Tim Keller’s words, “every sad thing will come untrue.” Heaven will be so sweet, so restorative and redemptive, so full of praise and joy and complete awe of our Creator, that everything sad or unjust that has ever happened to you, will become untrue. It will be as though it never existed in the first place. So as followers of Jesus, our waiting will involve two different aspects: waiting for the Lord to move in specific areas of our lives while on earth- for deliverance, healing, etc., and then waiting for the day when Jesus comes back and restores this broken and weary world, and all of the pain, suffering and injustice is no longer. Praise God!
I know that this past year has not been easy for anyone. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you’ve gotten sick, or have lost your job. Maybe you have felt the pains of isolation and loneliness, or maybe it’s just felt like disappointment after disappointment. In many ways, 2020 left us feeling discouraged and weary. But I promise you, Jesus wants nothing more than to meet us in these spaces. He has not gone anywhere. He is still near. He still loves you with a deep and outrageous love. He sees you, and He weeps with you. So let’s hold fast to His name, cling to His promises, and trust that He is doing a good work in us in these in between days.
To close I want to pray this prayer over you from author and missionary Katie Davis Majors:
“I pray today that you feel His gaze upon you, a love so enduring that it doesn’t fade no matter what comes. I pray that He will grow you in these in between days, and that you will recognize Him by the way He calls your name. I pray that as we wait, Jesus will indeed give you all that you need, and I believe that He will.”