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The Word and Prayer & The Wait for the Promise

One morning this past summer, with journal and pen in hand and a specific burden—a deep desire I've been praying about for more than half my adult life—so weighted on my heart, I put pen to paper. On a previous Sunday morning I had heard a powerful statement at church, made by a visiting pastor. I had no pen to record his words, so that particular morning, I re-listened to that portion of the sermon because I wanted to write out his statement for more consideration.


The man of God said,

"Sometimes, the promises of God are occupied with opposition.

And we've got to overthrow the opposition to possess the promise."


I get—get from experience—this statement. It's spot-on truth that seasoned disciples of Christ can attest to. And as I stared at the preacher's words on the journal page before me, I found myself responding to its reality with dispirited frankness:


But what if the fight within you is genuinely fatigued?

What if overthrow action has already been taken, time and time again, and hasn't produced a full-fledged, lasting possession?

What if there have been victories here, victories there, yet just as many setbacks, so that after so many years it feels like the promised territory has not been fully possessed?

What if the Promise Possession Project has been going on for way too long?

What if the soldier within, the overthrower without, is just utterly weary?

Down and discouraged?

So very tired of the battle?


I have no way of knowing if this is your present-day mindset, as I've just shared was mine that particular morning. But right here, right now, as I type these words in the quiet of the morning—dog plopped on the sofa next to me and another plopped at my feet—God's most precious Word lays open to a chapter that is so marked up in a Bible I've been using since 2016 (and just as equally marked up in the previous two Bibles I used during my earlier adult years), and once again, I'm looking to him, the "giver of all good things," to make good his Word to me. Once again, I'm actively engaging myself in the Promise Possession Project, which he, in his perfect love and sovereignty, is allowing me to continue in for way longer than desired. Once again, I'm taking my promissory note to my all-wise, all-knowing, good Father, placing it in front of him and, with child-like expectation, emphasizing, "But you said. You promised."


You see, many years ago, late one night in my den, still up after everyone was sound asleep in bed, God declared this chapter of Scripture over me and my household. I had been crying to him about deep matters of the heart, and as I looked dependently toward The Only One With The Answers, he sweetly led me to this particular chapter. As soon as I began reading it, I knew he was saying to my spirit, "This. This right here. This is yours, my child. This is my response to the cries of your heart right now." It was as if his holy highlighter marked up that entire chapter.

 

Any authentic disciple of Christ knows from experience that we're in a war this side of Heaven. And the Enemy doesn't give up territory easily, especially when attached to a specific promise given, because he—the ultimate liar, "the father of lies"—always

fights in opposition to God's declared truth. And sometimes, as much as we don't like it and would definitely do things differently could we choose, the fight for the promise's possession is long and arduous and anything but easily taken. As a result, we can become weary—so very worn out, actually—from the mission.


This is why it's essential, no matter the feelings of discouragement or legitimacy of fatigue, that we daily rejuvenate ourselves by staying in the Word and staying in prayer. I cannot emphasize enough how these two Christian disciplines—routine Bible study, partnered with ongoing conversation with God—keep us spiritually marching and spiritually fighting, through long seasons of expectant waiting.


The reason is simple: This dynamic duo provides the right kind of fuel, the right kind of Spirit-activated empowerment, for lasting faith. And maintaining faith—keeping our eyes fixed on the unseen, through the visible realities of life—is crucially foundational for a disciple, never more so than in long seasons of delay. However, if we shelve the Word and quiet our conversation and communion because God hasn't come through in the way and time we think he already should have, or because we allow earth's temporary distractions and idols to take preeminence over these disciplines, we place ourselves in the vulnerable, even dangerous, territory of weakened faith.


This is exactly where Satan wants us to be.

 

In Hebrews 11, the Bible's hall of faith, the writer identifies those who operated in the territory of authentic faith because they had confidence in God's declared words, even when circumstances and time lapse tempted otherwise. Though all of them never experienced the full realization of the promise fulfilled, they believed God's words would prove true. They had genuine "confidence in what [they] hoped for and assurance about what [they did] not see" (1:1).


Perfect were they as they waited? No. They were human and they were flawed. Some even tried to help God by foolishly taking matters into their own hands, and these choices had lasting negative consequences; but ultimately, we are told they received God's commendation for their faith" (39), a faith that "considered him faithful who had made the promise" (11).


Undoubtedly, foundational to their faith were God's established, declared words.

 

Early on in this hallmark chapter, the writer states that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (8; emphasis mine). Deep within, I have a sincere desire to please God, and I'm sure you do too. I know of no other in tandem disciplines that root and grow our faith than meditating on the truths of God's Word and engaging in dialogue with him about his truth.


When we read the pages of the Old and New Testaments and see the clear pattern of God's faithfulness to his Word—even when man's sin and Satan interfered—we develop a deeper trust in God's absolutely sovereign oversight to bring his Word to fruition in our own life. And when this discipline is partnered with intimate conversation with our Creator about our personal situations and the words—the promises—he's declared over our life, our heart somehow musters the resolve to keep hoping and keep waiting on God, even through moments of legitimate discouragement and fatigue. This is Hebrews 11 faith. The kind of faith that's childlike, trusting, expectant. The kind of faith that still hungers, still hopes, though time progresses forward, year after year. The kind of faith that worships and obeys, even when hard circumstances tempt otherwise.


And it's the kind of faith the Speaker of the Promise desires.

The kind he's so worthy of.

 

The other day, as I was once again contemplating the hard reality of waiting on God, the Spirit brought to mind Peter's response to our Lord in John 6: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (68). So, the following morning during my quiet time, I read chapter six in its entirety, feeling the need to dig in deeper than just the previous day's brief thought.


Prior to the personal exchange between Peter and Jesus, chapter 6 chronologically recounts three main events: the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on water, and Jesus teaching the crowd that he is the Bread of Life. Two miracles, followed by words of life—"hard teaching" (60)—which required a different way of thinking and a deeper level of faith from those who desired intimacy with him and transformation from him.


When I read this chapter in its entirety, I saw a connection between these three occurring events and waiting for a declared promise to be fulfilled over an extended period of time.


Here's my thinking. . .


By the end of chapter six, when Jesus initiated his direct question to his closest followers—"Will you also go away?" (67), prompting Peter's response—Peter and the other disciples had witnessed two provisional miracles, each an incredible sight, in a short span of time. With both miracles, Jesus' power had been physically experienced: In the first, done for the multitudes, he had fed thousands with a boy's small lunch; and in the subsequent, observed only by the Twelve, he had walked on rough waters to his disciples' boat, providing calm and a safe arrival.


When the crowds finally caught up to Jesus and his disciples after they had reached the shores of Capernaum, Jesus confronted the crowds' true motives for seeking him: it was "because [they] ate the loaves and had [their] fill" (26). In other words, they searched for Jesus only because he had previously satisfied an earthly need: physical hunger. It was what Jesus could physically give, not who Jesus really was, that they were ultimately seeking, similar to when the Israelites received manna from Heaven yet truly did not hunger after God himself.


All throughout the Israelites' history, relayed in the pages of the Old Testament, it's evident that they were most often more desirous of the provision than a relationship with the Provider.


When we succumb to this immature, fleshly thinking, we're unable to withstand a long wait and simultaneously maintain authentically grounded faith. We might be able to bear through the wait, because we have no other choice, but doing so while maintaining a faith that's hopeful, joyful, obedient, and sure—a more Spirit-filled, mature faith—in spite of the wait, requires a growing desire for the Giver that surpasses our desire for the gifts he gives. As we grow in our desire for him—just him, realizing like Abraham did that he is our "exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1)—our love for him naturally deepens, This desire, this love, keeps compelling us toward the counsel, correction, and comfort of the Word, where we come to more fully understand the Almighty's character and heart; as a result, we develop more of an understanding and acceptance that our perfect Father doesn't operate as man does and that this is a good thing. We come to accept that the fulfillment of the promise never quite happens when and how we think it should.

 

Nestled within the thousands of promises throughout God's Word is the truth that the Creator's thoughts are not ours, nor are his ways. And nestled within the narratives communicated in the Word is the deduction that waiting on a promise is essential to spiritual growth, essential to a more rooted, flourishing faith. While we would instantly bring about the provision of the promise in a more timely manner, God, way more often than not, permissively allows—even brings about—delay in his promises coming to pass. His thoughts and purposes are exceedingly higher and holier than ours. and these realities are directly connected to his timing.


All for our personal spiritual good, just as he is good.


So, following the two provisional miracles, when Jesus spoke the words that are recorded in John 6:25-59, such "hard teaching" required more than just knowing that Jesus was powerful, and that being close to him brought about desirous, needed outcomes. It required a willingness to see earthly realities with a heavenly perspective, to see things the way God sees things. It required a Spirit-enabled shift in perspective, of not thinking in an earthly way that made sense to them. This is exactly what "many disciples" who had followed Jesus up to that point just couldn't bring themselves to do, and they turned away from up-close, intimate fellowship with the Savior of the world.


Which brings me back to Jesus' question to Peter and whether he and the Twelve would abandon him, too, to which Peter replied: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (68). Of course, Jesus didn't ask Peter this question because Jesus didn't know the answer, for he knows all things. I think Jesus asked Peter so that Peter could speak aloud—in his own hearing as well as the hearing of the other Twelve—what he had already settled in his heart: that he could never live apart from Jesus, "the Holy One of God," or his life-giving words.


Like those mentioned in Hebrews 11, clearly foundational to Peter's faith—a faith that would later momentarily weaken, but ultimately, be restored and renewed—were the established, decreed words of Heaven.

 

Peter's response didn't address Jesus' power or his provisional miracles. It didn't exclaim, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You are the One with all power. You are the One who can do all things." No, it addressed Jesus' words, words that "are full of the Spirit and life" (63). Peter had made the shift from an earthly perspective that made sense to him, to a heavenly one that required abandoned trust.


Though Peter didn't understand everything he had just heard Jesus teach, and though he didn't understand how Jesus' words would come to fruition, and though time would prove that Peter wouldn't be as faithful as he would later boast that he'd be, still, Peter's response essentially communicated, "There's no other way for me to live but in intimate fellowship with you, Lord, and your words that give me life."


And this, my fellow sojourner, is how you and I must daily live as we wait for God to make good his personal promises to us, and as we wait for the preeminent promise of his Son's return.
















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