Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, while Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, ‘Master, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
John 11: 20, 21
“Jesus does not ask us to understand His ways and timing, He asks only for our trust.”
Thoughts for Consideration:
Is there anything in my life that brings the words “if only” to my mind?
Have I ever said to Jesus as Martha did, “if only You had been here”?
“God denies a Christian nothing, but with a design to give him something better.”
“The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer.”
F. B. Meyer
Finally! At last! The message began to get passed from person to person – Jesus is here. I really can’t comprehend what it must have been like for Martha and Mary, especially as they waited…and waited…and waited some more. Not only from their vantage point had Jesus not answered their prayer but from the place of their suffering, we can also conclude that Jesus appeared to ignore the message they sent. I’m sorry to say this but, “waiting stinks!” I’ve told you more than once that I don’t like to wait. Yet, during the past 10 years of my spiritual life, God has seemed to be trying to teach me something very important about waiting. He knows my weakness – that’s for certain! And for a girl who likes to control the happenings in her world, this has not been an easy lesson to learn. This is why I can relate so easily to Martha and Mary. If I’d lived in their home I know I would have asked “Why?” What was there for them to learn by Jesus’ seeming neglect of their critical need? Why did their brother have to be left to die?
And frankly, when the news arrived that Jesus had finally arrived in Bethany, it wouldn’t have done anything to make me feel better. I wonder if they thought: “Take a look, Jesus, your best friend is dead!” I’m certain I would have thought something close to this. What could Jesus do to fix things now that the worst had happened?
As J. R. Macduff pulls back the many layers of this story, he is quick to point out that, “earthly things may do well enough when the world is all bright and shining – when prosperity sheds its bewitching gleam around you, and no symptoms of the cloudy and dark day are at hand; but the hour is coming when your Bethany-home will be clouded with deepening shadows.” And this becomes the time when the stoutest hearts weaken!
It is because of the challenges that waiting brings that there are several lessons the Bethany experience can teach us today. While from all outward appearances it looked as though Jesus never got the message from the despondent sisters; in fact He heard every word and well knew the situation that afflicted their hearts. We need to recognize as well that just because Jesus hadn’t answered them didn’t mean He hadn’t heard them. Too frequently, while I’m impatiently waiting for an answer, I forget the promise recorded by the prophet Isaiah, “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you (Isaiah 30: 19, Amplified Bible). I simply could not pass over the words of Isaiah in chapter 30 without taking time to share the way The Message Bible paraphrases this particular passage and it is laid out under the following bold headline:
“God Takes The Time To Do Everything Right”
“God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right – everything. Those who wait around for Him are the lucky ones. Oh yes…your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment He hears, He’ll answer.”
Isaiah 30: 18-19
The Message Bible
However, there’s one more revelation to be uncovered and it has to do with the oft-repeated phrase, “If only!” Martha expressed these words and maybe you have as well. I know that I’ve spoken this exact phrase on more than one occasion. It almost became a “mini-mantra” in our home after our car accident. Believe me when I tell you that 4 months in the hospital is a long time. And unfortunately, your mind can play tricks on you when in the dark of night you lie awake going over all the “If-only” moments which brought you to the place you happen to be in – laid low without a MAP to navigate the future.
For Jim and me, the “if only’s” went something like this:
1. If only we had slept in and not gotten up to get on the road so early.
2. If only we hadn’t stopped at Taco Bell with that high school band crowded into the place. They delayed our trip!
3. If only we hadn’t stopped at that dumpy Chevron gas station in Blythe, California, and instead driven on to that nice road stop near Quartzite. It certainly would have changed our time-line.
You certainly get the point! Just a few seconds here and there and who knows, we would most likely have been able to avoid the wreck that nearly killed us. But here’s the deal: “If only” goes both ways. If we had steered clear of the accident, we would most likely never have moved from Phoenix to Sedona. That means I would never have met Betty Carr who does all the artwork at Transformation Garden. It also means I would not have had a sleep problem which led me to write my book in the middle of those long sleepless nights. And it was after writing my book when my agent encouraged me to pen a daily devotional. And that brings me to the reality that my “If only” has a big problem; for if the wreck had not taken place there would never be a Transformation Garden and we wouldn’t be praying everyday for individual needs of people we may never meet here on earth but will spend eternity with because they are part of our family now!
You see, “if only” doesn’t work for Martha any better than it works for me. Why? Because God had something so wonderful for my life – He wanted to grow a garden out of the mess of metal scattered all over Interstate 10. And I had absolutely no idea what He had in mind just as Martha could never have imagined that when her dearest brother died, Jesus would use that crushing event as a faith-foundation for His followers, not just at that time in history but right down through the ages – to this very day.
The tremendous lesson for us is that we must never underestimate how Jesus uses the worst in your life and mine to do the most magnificent and unbelievable miracles. All we need to do is open the door to His presence in our lives each day. In unparalleled words of hope and encouragement, J. R. Macduff writes:
“God often hides Himself from His (children), in order to elicit their confidence. He puts us in perplexing paths – only, however, that we may see more of Himself and that He may ‘speak comfortably unto us.’ He lets our need attain its extremity, that His intervention may appear the more signal. He suffers apparently even His own promises to fail, that He may test the faith of His waiting people – tutoring them to ‘hope against hope,’ and to find, in unanswered prayers and baffled expectations, only a fresh reason for clinging to His all-powerful arm, and frequenting His mercy-seat. He dashes first to the ground our human confidences and refuges, shewing us how utterly, ‘vain is the help of man,’ so that faith, with her own folded, dove-like wings may repose in quiet confidence in His faithfulness.”
Praise God – there truly aren’t any “if-only’s” in your path or mine when Jesus is our compassionate companion for as the Psalmist David penned when the Philistines had seized him in Gath: “What time I am afraid, I will have confidence in and put my trust and reliance in You” (Psalm 56: 3, Amplified Bible).
“Keep me quiet, Master,
Patient day by day,
When I would go faster,
Teach me Thy delay.
Restless, oft I borrow
From the future care.
Teach me that tomorrow
Shall its burdens bear.
From Thy full provision
Daily richly fed,
Be Thy clearer vision
Ever safely led.”
William Adams Brown
“I thank Thee, Lord, for mine unanswered prayers,
Unanswered, save Thy quiet, kindly, ’Nay’,
Yet it seemed hard among my heavy cares
That bitter day.
I wanted joy; but Thou didst know me
That sorrow was the lift I needed most,
And in its mystic depths I learned to see
Thy Holy Ghost.
I wanted health; but Thou didst bid me sound
The secret treasuries of pain,
And in the moans and groans my heart oft found
Thy Christ again.
I wanted wealth; ‘twas not the better part;
There is a wealth with poverty oft given,
And Thou didst teach me of the gold of heart
Best gift of Heaven.
I thank Thee, Lord, for these unanswered prayers,
And for Thy word, the quiet, kindly ‘Nay’.
‘Twas Thy withholding lightened all my cares
That blessed day.”
“O Thou by whom we come to God –
The life, the Truth, the Way!
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod;
Lord, teach us how to pray!”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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