Friday, December 18, 2015

When Jesus Lingers

The following are excerpts from the chapter “The Lingering Jesus,” based on John 11, in Stephen W. Smith's The Lazarus Life (I'd highly recommend reading the whole book!):

Imagine the scene: Mary and Martha realizing that their brother is so ill that he might not live. How wonderful that their dear friend Jesus is in the region! The two sisters send word to Jesus that His dear friend is sick. They assume Jesus will come. Hadn't he healed others He'd never even talked to before? But Jesus doesn't show up. He does not heed the pleas of the sisters who beg for Him to come. He stayed where He was...


Where is God? Why doesn't He do something? Questions such as these must have been swirling in the hearts of Jesus' three friends from Bethany. Jesus, their friend, the One they believed in, didn't show up in their moment of greatest need. It must have seemed that He was not only “beyond” their physical surroundings, but also “beyond” caring about His dying friend. Can't God see we need Him? Doesn't He care?

When I enter the story of Lazarus and realize that Jesus did not immediately arise and go to Bethany, I have to admit I'm bothered. I'm bothered because a rapid response seems like the Christlike thing to do when someone is in need. But Jesus didn't drop what He was doing and ride to the rescue. He left the worsening Lazarus, the anxious Martha, and the worried Mary to themselves and to the reality of death. He lingered. Jesus stayed right where He was for two more days (v. 6).

Why did He stay away for so long when He was needed so desperately? Needed so desperately, in fact, that because of His absence, Lazarus died. The hearts of those who waited and waited and waited for Jesus to show up must have been chaotic with questions, anger, and confusion. When Jesus doesn't show up today, we struggle to navigate that same chaos in our own hearts. Does He not care for us?...

Maybe Jesus did want to hightail it back to Bethany, but this was one of those moments when He had to submit His own will to that of the Father's. We have some evidence that Jesus was in the wilderness region where Satan tempted Him for forty days. Possibly this moment held the same kind of weight for Jesus: If You are the Son of God, rush back and save Your friend. Maybe Jesus was ready to go help His dying friend but the Father told Him, “No, My Son, You can't do what You want to do here. A greater plan is at work. It's not time yet.”

Mary and Martha were left in the spiritual quandary of if only. If only Jesus had come. If only they had been more persuasive in their wording of the message intended for Jesus. If only Jesus really understood. If only He knew how sick Lazarus really was...

Where is He when we need him to help us the most? The God who lingers. The Jesus who makes other plans. The Spirit who hovers but never comes down to where we are. Isn't He Emmanuel—God with us?...

The invitation is to trust a God who makes us wait...

Experiencing the Jesus who lingers means having no clue as to what is happening in you or around you. In the full wake of winter's fury, you don't even know if spring will come. The winter is all you know. It's all that is real. The rest may be nothing more than a dream...

We are like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in so many ways. We cling to the belief that new life will come, but in the meantime we struggle to believe anything is happening. In this waiting—in the in-between time—something deep happens to us. Something happens within us. That's the way it has to be, because if transformation is anything at all, it is change from the inside out, not the outside in...

As we wait, we relinquish control, surrender our wills, give up our false hopes, and realize that if anything is going to happen at all, it will have to be God's doing...

Through waiting we become more aware of God and ourselves. As we grow in God-awareness and self-awareness, we sense something happening to us. This is the slow work of transformation that cannot be sped up by Jesus showing up any earlier than what has been orchestrated...

While Mary and Martha were agonizing because of Jesus' absence, Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus's illness was “for God's glory so that God's son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Mary and Martha were tied to an earthly view of death. Jesus knew that the greater good would come. Jesus might have thought, Maybe in My lingering they will come to want God's glory more than they want Lazarus to live. Perhaps My lingering will change the posture of their hearts to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.” This is only conjecture, but it touches on a mystery in the spiritual life that surpasses our own reasoning. When Jesus lingers, we have much to consider.

Glory talk goes beyond our horizontal perspective and allows the transcendent God to break through at the most unusual times. Glory talk is when God does something big and gets the credit, which is a hard thing to understand when we're in a crisis and just need God to show up. But seasons when God seems distant and quiet become the fodder for the fire in which glory begins to burn brightly...

The Jesus who lingers gives us the opportunity to face our fantasies and illusions and embrace something greater...


Embracing the truth offers us freedom and true life. Here lies the invitation for each of us to live the Lazarus life: Embracing what is true is core of the transformed life. The Jesus who lingers helps us work through our disillusionments and discover more of the character of God.

It's ironic that the times when God sees most absent can be the times when we get to know Him better. We read in Romans 5:5 that “hope does not disappoint us.” As our desperate hearts cry out to the lingering Jesus, we wonder what kind of hope that could be. It's in these moments that God is birthing a new hope in us, a hope in who He is and not a hope in who we want Him to be.”

  
May our hope be in the God who is, in this season of Advent. 
And may our hearts be transformed when Jesus lingers.

6 comments:

  1. wow this seems like a really good book. Thank you for helping me think about my expectations of God and who he really is.

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    1. So glad to know that, Davis family. I actually bought this book last week as s possible Christmas present for someone, but decided to read it first. I couldn't put it down and decided to keep it for myself :) Its one I want to keep coming back to because there's so much there.

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  2. Jodie, what a helpful Advent passage ... as we wait for Christmas with such anticipation, thinking of Mary and Martha and how AGONIZING the waiting was. And how as the moments passed, hope faded. Until . . . . :)

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    1. Yes, Amy. I like how he describes it as waiting and waiting and waiting and not knowing if winter will turn into spring or not.

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  3. "When Jesus Walks Away" and then "When Jesus Lingers"...I like it. In both He doesn't meet or fulfill my expectations...at least, not at first, and/or not where/when/how I want Him to...

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  4. That really struck me too, Michele. When Jesus acts in ways that we don't understand or appreciate. Both authors comment that maybe Jesus really wanted to heal but listened to what His Father said. Just like He would later say, "Not my will, but Yours be done." May we learn to say that too.

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