December 1, 2003
 God's Timing
Trusting It --
And Keeping Pace
with It
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This article is adapted from Blaine's book Faith and Optimism: Positive Expectation in the Christian Life (formerly The Optimism Factor).

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From time to time we each have experiences that impress us indelibly with how uncanny God's timing is in our life. I had such an experience one autumn morning a few years ago.

Around 11:00 a.m., volunteers from a local shelter stopped by our home to pick up a bed we were donating to their mission. The driver backed his truck up our steep driveway and stopped at the top, where we had left the bed for them. I walked outside, spoke with the men briefly, then went back in the house. After quickly loading the bed in the truck, they climbed back in and began to drive away. By now I had walked to the bedroom in the rear of our home.

Suddenly I heard a crackling noise like a small thunderclap, and our house went dark. I instantly feared the worst.

I rushed to the living room window, from where my worst fears were confirmed. I could see the overhead power lines that feed into our one-story home draped over the truck, now stopped at the end of our driveway. Its trailer had snagged these low-hanging wires and pulled them loose from the side of our house.

Immediately I panicked and began to imagine a number of imminent disasters. The men in the truck were in danger of electrocution if they stepped out of the cab. If these live wires dropped to the ground, they would charge our front yard with high voltage, endangering anyone coming near our home. It could be hours--or days!--until the power company came to make repairs. Meanwhile I'd have to keep watch and warn children and other unsuspecting souls not to touch the exposed lines.

My heart sank, for I had much to do that day, and here I was stuck with this obstruction in the driveway, making it impossible for me to leave. I couldn't even phone for help, since the truck had ripped down the phone lines as well.

The men in the truck, however, could see things from a different perspective. The driver stepped out of his cab and walked up the street. Fortunately the exposed wires dangling near the truck were not actually touching its metal, so he wasn't harmed. I assumed he had gone to make a phone call and carefully walked out into the driveway to await the news. He returned very quickly and assured me that help was on the way--immediately.

He explained that service personnel from Potomac Edison, the power company in our area, were working just up the street, trimming tree limbs off of power lines. A minute later their cherry-picker pulled up in front of our house, and more men in yellow hard hats than I could count jumped out and descended on our yard. Within a short time the severed wires were reconnected, and the phone line as well. Lights came back on, the men from the power company drove away and the mission workers left. It was as though nothing had happened--like a scene out of Cat in the Hat.

I was left dumbfounded, wondering at the sheer unlikelihood of technicians from Potomac Edison being nearby at such a moment of crisis. What is the probability of that? Infinitesimal at best.

Time on Our Side

Yet God is not bound by probability. Or as Albert Einstein put it, "God doesn't play dice." He exercises providential oversight in our lives that vastly exceeds our awareness.

And his timing is never off. It's the exquisite timing of God that most intrigues me as I reflect on this incident. The power company squad was there at exactly the moment I needed them, in spite of the extreme odds against it. The incident was admittedly unusual. Yet I believe that from time to time God gives us experiences like this as a window on his broader and more mysterious work in our lives. He wants us to know that his timing is always perfect, in every aspect of our experience.

We instinctively mistrust the timing of God, and this lack of trust accounts for much of our anxiety. Yet a close look at our experience shows how flawless his timing actually is. With the benefit of hindsight, we often recognize how remarkably advantageous his timing has been in the events of our lives.

God's Timing and the First Christmas

Scripture constantly extols the timing of God. The Christmas story is a rich and enlightening example. No other portion of biblical history seems to better highlight the majesty and perfection of God's timing. Jesus was born in "fullness of the time," Paul declares (Gal 4:4 RSV). The convergence of human events was perfectly orchestrated for his entrance.

We now recognize a multitude of ways in which this was true. Christian historian Kenneth Scott Latourette notes, "Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus. After a long period of wars which had racked the Mediterranean and its shores, political unity had been achieved. . . . Never before had all the shores of the Mediterranean been under one rule and never had they enjoyed such prosperity."* The benefits of this time of cooperation included a unified language and an elaborate road system that provided unprecedented ease of travel. Yet the urbanization that resulted left many feeling disoriented, fostering a hunger for spiritual perspective that the Christian gospel answered.

It's clear now that God knew exactly what he was doing in bringing Christ to earth when he did. While this is interesting from the standpoint of history, it also has profound implications for us who follow Christ. We can take comfort in knowing that the same power of timing that affected the events of Christ's birth also operates in the circumstances of our individual lives. God's ways with Christ were meant, in part, to show his ways with us (Rom 8:11, 32).

Responding to God's Timing

While there is great encouragement in knowing this, there is a significant challenge as well. When I reflect on the first Christmas, I'm often stunned to think that very few people--only a handful--were at all aware that anything extraordinary was taking place. For the vast majority of the people of that time it was simply business as usual.

It takes spiritual alertness to appreciate the timing of God. And to respond to it. God graciously allows us to experience the benefits of his timing in countless ways, even when we're not consciously trying to cooperate with him. He works behind the scenes in untold ways to protect us and provide for us. Yet within certain boundaries he also gives us freedom to make decisions that do or do not conform with his timing. Here, though, the challenge comes in understanding his timing. There is no easy formula for doing this, and we should not be too quick to think we grasp his plans. He has radically different clocks for each of us. Consider examples from the Christmas story:

 A woman past the childbearing years, Elizabeth, gives birth to a son. How often we give up too early on a personal goal and let failure convince us God has said no, when in reality he has simply said "Wait."

A very young woman, Mary, conceives a child miraculously. Sometimes God is ready for us to move ahead before we think it is logical to do so.

 Mary gives birth to Jesus in the humble setting of a stable. We can think we're unprepared to do something because we lack certain material benefits. In fact, these may not be at all necessary to carry out what Christ wants us to do.

And with a number of those in the Christmas story we observe something intriguing: They were simply going about their routine responsibilities when God intervened and gave them a role in the events surrounding Christ's birth.

When we look closely at those privileged few who participated in the first Christmas, and why God may have chosen them, it seems that they not only had a heart for God but a unique bent for listening to him. There were Zechariah, Anna and Simeon, who prayed regularly in the temple. Mary and Elizabeth also gave earnest attention to prayer. There were the wise men, who undoubtedly spent much time seeking God. Then there were the shepherds, who were watching their flocks in the field when the angel confronted them; while we don't know whether they were praying at that time, their vocation allowed them considerable time for quiet reflection. God had the chance to get their attention.

The message, then, is clear: If I am to enjoy the benefits of God's timing in my life, I need to give to him something for which there is no other substitute: time. It is perhaps the greatest irony of the Christmas season that we become so busy at this time of year that we have less time than ever to be still before the Lord. With the Christmas holidays approaching, let me encourage you to set aside some generous time for being alone with Christ and gaining his perspective on your life. And resolve to make this your priority in the year ahead--to spend at least a few minutes daily listening to Christ and giving him the freedom to guide your decisions.

While God's timing in our lives will always remain a mystery, the secret to keeping in pace with it is not. Give him the time he needs to get your ear and to impress on you his direction for your life.

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This article is adapted from Blaine Smith's Faith and Optimism: Positive Expectation in the Christian Life (formerly The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds).

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