It’s the sad refrain of a broken world: “If only”. “If only he’d entered the freeway five minutes sooner…”, “If only I would have kept my mouth shut…”, “If only the lab results had shown it…”, ….. “If only God had heard my prayers…”.
We live in a world that is painful and confusing so often, and for people who want to seek after God, adding to that pain and confusion is the regular complaint that one prayer or another has gone unanswered. It’s very tempting to assume that God has forgotten, doesn’t care, or has no plan at all for us in the vast scheme of things. If you’ve ever felt that way, please know that you’re not alone. Every honest seeker of God will wrestle with this at some point in the journey.
We’re going to be reading a large portion of text this Sunday, John 11:1-44, which sheds a remarkable light on the subject of delayed answers in prayer.
The text plainly says that Jesus loved this family, yet it also says because Lazarus was sick, Jesus waited two more days to head to Bethany. Does that seem like the behavior of someone who loves someone else? His reasons for delay are somewhat disclosed in v15 – does this give us any clue as to why God sometimes allows our prayers to seem unanswered? How can we view an apparent silence from heaven differently in light of this?
When Jesus arrives both women confront him with “If only you’d have been here”. In answering Martha, Jesus makes his 5th statement of “I am”, calling himself the resurrection and the life. He was revealing that in some mysterious way, the future hope of God’s plan of redemption was reaching back to the present and infusing life with abundant possibilities, beyond what we can see (HT N.T. Wright). But this wasn’t just a theological exercise for Jesus – he isn’t portrayed as a dispassionate observer of human plight. V33, 35 and 38 make that abundantly clear. If Jesus is the fullest revelation of God and God’s heart toward the human race – what do these verses tell us about him? Even in what looks like an unanswered prayer, even in the midst of broken dreams, what can we discern about God?
When Jesus wants the stone rolled away, pragmatic Martha resists. The whole thing stinks too much. She seems to want to forget and move on. Jesus does not. The stone over the tomb is the ultimate emblem of resignation. It’s too far gone, there is no more hope. Jesus says, “Take that away, I’m not done here.”
What happens next is one of those too good to be true moments. It forecasts what Jesus himself will soon experience and the hope of Easter morning. But it serves also as a parable for us. What are the bleak situations or dreams that have died which we’ve rolled a stone of resignation over? Even though Jesus didn’t respond when we wanted him to, and things don’t look the way we expected them to…can we allow for the possibilities of him bringing new life in ways we never thought of? Have you experienced this already? Have you faced some pain and seeming disinterest from heaven, only to find that God has revealed some new and unexpected life in ways you hadn’t anticipated? What lessons about God, his patterns and his heart toward us can we learn from this text?
Hope to see you on Sunday!
4 thoughts on “When Dreams Die”
I love the post, and I love the artwork!! That speaks volumes!!
I’d like to “steal” it and hang it in my house!!
I agree with Barb! This is a most thought provoking piece of scripture …From verses 33, 35 and 38 we see that when we are in pain so is our savior. Just as we as parents hurt when our child is suffering in some way, He too shares our sorrows…Even though He knew that He would ultimately raise Lazarus, He entered into the moment, shared the pain of those who were grieving, allowing himself to identify with their anguish and bear their burdens. He is ever present with us truly “feeling our pain”. When Martha was talking with Jesus and said I know whatever you ask of God, God will give you, she seemed to have a hint of hope that Jesus will do what He does but Jesus does not tell her plainly. Why?? He directs her toward affirming her belief in Him and life eternal with Him. She does not press Him, indicating she is content with His plan no matter what. (which is a good place to be..content in Him alone regardless of the pain/circumstances.)Maybe that is the conclusion He wanted her to arrive at…not to put too much weight on the way things go here, knowing ultimately there will be a happy ending. Maybe there is more here though, a balance between contentment and resignation. She seems so content that at His suggestion to roll away the stone that she’s baffled He would do such a thing and is semi- questioning Him….Maybe this would be too good to be true for her.. Afterward she must have been beside herself thinking Wow…I can have my cake and eat it too….I will see my brother again in the resurrection and now… This story is so amazing, so good, so GOD!!! Personally there are things I have at Jesus’ suggestion “put on the shelf”..not really understanding His plan for, but rather relinquishing them, focusing on and trusting in HIm. And truly, He has brought purpose, peace and Life to me in Himself alone when indeed I had been searching for them in lesser lovers. But, could it be that there’s even more, that while He brings new life during the delays in answering our prayers, He still means to roll away All the stones of resignation in our lives? I believe He is giving us hope right here, reminding us that He has not forgotten our prayer, that it is never too late, that nothing is too far gone. We have seen that He cares about our pain, our sorrow, that He is in them relating and comforting us, so, would He expect us to stuff our issues away and move on (like Martha) pretending they weren’t there, giving up hope? I believe we are absolutely called to contentment in our God alone but let’s not allow that contentment to confine our view of His potential in our lives.. It seems His plan is to roll away our stones, shed His light on those places, and bring healing out of our heartbreaks.. It seems that in those places we have lost or put aside hope, in the bleakest of situations, in the most seemingly in-reconcilable of relationships, in the deepest of despairs we can still anticipate our boundary busting God to bring His resurrection life!!
I like the phrase we use a lot, here, that God is working to “put the world right.” Or something like that. And with Lazarus, we have a “sign” that even death has started to be put right. Obviously this work is not complete yet, But I’m taken aback by the implications here that even the final enemy (death) will be put right.
A little late (it’s 8 oclock in the morning on Sunday) but there it is.
There is so much to learn from this incident. Our perception of God’s love is often too romantic or too immature to accept the purpose of pain and suffering. Here Jesus seems to be intentionally delaying his travel to save his friend, Lazarus. He even says “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” Why? “So that you might believe”. Never, ever diminish God’s ability to break all the rules and natural laws…to do the impossible…to deliver us. But even more importantly, believe He is present in pain and suffering, more so, than in the good times. CS Lewis said: pain is “God’s megaphone for a deaf world.” Pain and suffering is not an interruption in God’s plan for the abundant life…it is an essential part of it. Pain and suffering can do a work in your heart that a thousand sermons could not.
Expect Jesus to be with you in a special way during those times. Draw near to Him…and if He tarries, accept it. Be thankful…God prunes those that are producing fruit for greater production. He is not going to prune those than are completely fruitless.
Sympathy, support, and compassion are an important part of our community but there is no magic pill (spiritual or earthy) that can wipe away pain. We each must face our own humanity and final destiny on our own. Why did Jesus seem so moved at the tomb? It may be conjecture, but during the sermon last week, I thought: maybe God gave Jesus a quick glimpse of his tomb and family, mourning his crucifiction. He saw what was ahead for his family and “Jesus wept.” Sometimes we forget Jesus was human too. He had his own garden of Gethsemane.