When God Doesn’t Operate on Your Timetable

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Whenever I read familiar stories like this one about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, I’m tempted to skim over them because I already know what’s going to happen. However, even though I already “knew the story” today, I read it anyway.

In this story, Mary and Martha, Jesus’s good friends and Lazarus’s sisters, send word to Jesus that Lazarus is very ill. The story goes on to say, “So when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”

Wait a minute. What?! I didn’t remember that part of the story. Jesus heard that Lazarus was really sick and he decided to stay where he was for two days? Honestly, I’m pretty bothered by that part of this story. If he really cared about Lazarus, wouldn’t he have acted immediately? If he really loved Lazarus, wouldn’t he have packed up his stuff right then and hit the road? Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? What was he thinking?!?!

Apparently, Martha and Mary both have similar reactions. By the time Jesus finally gets around to showing up, Lazarus has died. He’s in the tomb and has already been dead for four days. Neither Mary or Martha are very happy with Jesus, and both of them say to him, “If you had been here our brother would not have died!”

But then Jesus does something incredibly unexpected. He goes to the tomb and asks the people there to roll away the stone. Martha thinks this is a ridiculous idea. The King James Version recounts her response best, “Lord, he stinketh!” Unconcerned that Lazarus might “stinketh,” Jesus calls out to him in a loud voice to come out of the tomb. To everyone’s surprise, he hops to the entrance of the tomb. (I can’t help but think that had to be a funny sight, Lazarus with his hands and feet tied and his face covered, hopping to the entrance of the tomb wondering what the heck is going on.)

Here, as in so many other places, Jesus doesn’t do what people want, he does something they never could have expected.

So often in my own life, God doesn’t operate according to my timetable. Things don’t go the way I think they should. I get frustrated, even angry with God for not listening to me, because I obviously have it all figured out. Then, in the midst of my frustration, something unexpected happens. Some ray of hope appears out of nowhere. Things turn a completely different direction than what I wanted, and somehow it’s better than what I expected.

So maybe, just maybe, when things don’t operate according to my timetable, I should put more trust in the one who constantly does the unexpected. When God doesn’t work according to my timetable, when things don’t go the way I want them to go, this story reminds me that Jesus has the power to do the unexpected: to turn death into life, to create light out of darkness, to bring hope and joy out of mourning and despair.

God, thank you that even though you don’t operate under my timetable, the unexpected things you do are much better than the things I could have imagined.

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