The Bible is clear about this: God often does his best work over long periods of time. In fact, the Bible portrays God as one who often does his best work over a few generations, not a few hours. That’s probably why throughout the first part of the Bible, as if to drive home this point early, God is often referred to as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
The book of Acts, for example, tells us the history of the birth and growth of the early church. It covers a span of more than thirty years. You would think that what was going on in those days was so important that God would be passing out miracles like a politician handing out campaign flyers. But he didn’t. What strikes me as I peruse Acts is not how many miracle stories I read, but how few.
Waiting on God’s timing can be frustrating, especially when we’re in the hospital lobby wondering about a loved one in surgery or we’re thumbing through the want ads. But God can see the big picture; therefore, he isn’t as concerned as we are with the short-term fix. Once we learn to accept this, we can develop a mystical kind of patience that asserts, “I can’t understand why this is happening, but I’m sure there’s a reason for it. I may find out tomorrow. I may find out twenty-five years from now. Or I may not find out until I die. But one day this will all make sense. Until it does, I’m going to relax and give this problem to God.”
This lesson became clear one day during my senior year of college when two friends went with their parents on a trip to the Middle East. I was a little jealous. Lisa and I were married and finishing school full-time. We couldn’t afford a trip to the gas station, let alone travel abroad. I’ll never forget the day our friends got back. We lived on the same floor, so as I heard them coming up the stairs, I went out and welcomed them home.
“Hey,” they asked, “could you help us carry something we bought while we were over there?” I agreed, secretly hoping it was a gift for me. It wasn’t. It was a large, heavy, foul-smelling rug.
I helped carry it into the apartment and set it down. “Man, we stole this carpet for only a few hundred dollars.”
Stole? I thought. That’s the ugliest carpet I’ve ever seen! I wouldn’t have paid ten dollars for that thing! It looked worn and discolored, with strings hanging out the back.
“It’s upside down,” our friend said. “Let’s turn it over.” As he flipped the rug over, I was amazed. It was a genuine Persian rug. The rich colors, patterns, and texture were beyond anything I had ever seen before. I had to take back what I thought earlier—this was a true treasure.
I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but may I remind you of something? If you’re a follower of Jesus, one day your life will end, and God will welcome you into his presence forever. When that happens, I think God will take each of us to the side and say, “Let me show you something. Do you see the back side of this carpet? That was your life on earth. Do you remember when you lost your child? Do you remember when your parents divorced? Do you remember those feelings of depression? Do you remember how awful it was to have your leg amputated?”
Then I think he’ll look at you, smile as wide as the sunrise, flip that carpet over, and say, “This is what I was doing through you. Look at the big picture. Look at all the people who were changed because of what you went through. Thank you for being patient. Thank you for enduring the pain. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for not giving up when you had every reason to do so. This is what I was doing upstream in your life.”
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