A Hope FULFILLED ...
Hopes and dreams are a fine thing, even more so when the Lord is at the centre of our plans. Chris Hill explains
The call of the Lord on the life of John the Baptist came early. In fact, according to Luke 1:15, it came in the womb! But it seems John did not give voice to his ministry until he emerged from the Judean wilderness at the age of thirty (Luke 3:2ff). Some gap – but clearly a godly gap. That lengthy period was essential preparation for what followed.
When there is a gap between promise and fulfilment it can test us sorely.
A moving experience?
For a considerable time, Lindy and I have had a desire to move from Suffolk to South Oxfordshire. Suffolk is a gorgeous county, but South Oxfordshire is home to our three children and their families. That's a draw! We want to be closer for their sakes as well as ours. We long to be available to them and to have the reassurance that in our advancing years (I'm now 74!) they are available to us! We also have the sense that Father wants to take us to 'pastures new' to be available to the Lord's people there.
We can start looking in earnest for a house across in Oxfordshire once we find a buyer for the house where we live now. Easier said than done! The couples viewing our lovely home make the right noises and say it's perfect for them, but once they leave the premises a curious change of mind takes over and they tell the Estate Agent that there is one kind of problem or another! “It's overlooked from the back” (it isn't really!); “It has two artexed ceilings” (So what? Plaster them over!). Quite clearly these are excuses made because the people are embarrassed to reject the house to our face.
This has been going on for twenty months! Some Christian friends have counselled that it cannot be the Lord's will for us to move: so, we should forget the whole thing. It's tempting to do that, but deep inside we believe the Lord will open the way in His own good time.
Mind you, I haven't taken that view for much of the waiting period: I've been very stressed about it: at times moaning at the Lord and suggesting to Him that His mind is not fully on the case! Can you imagine such arrogance?
Coping with hoping
In His grace, the Lord has led me to a remarkable verse in Proverbs. It is part of a rich vein in Solomon's wisdom:
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That catches it nicely, but it is only half the verse. Solomon goes on, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Funnily enough I had the first part firmly lodged in my memory, but not the second! How critically important it is to hold complete Scripture truth in our minds. I had failed to do this and so was guilty of ignoring context. Never a clever idea.
Solomon connects the two things: hope and fulfilment, but his honesty warns that sometimes there is a gap between the two. For godly people, it is vital that our hopes match the Lord's promises.
When we know that the Holy Spirit indwells us, we can expect that our hopes and dreams match those of our Saviour. We can expect them to be sanctified and therefore accurate. It is not fool-proof because we are not yet made perfect: but it must surely be generally true.
Lindy and I have discovered that between promise and fulfilment there may well be a gap. This not only applies to a mundane thing like a house move, but to far more important matters relating to our walk with God. We find them described in the Bible.
The Lord in the gap
To go to the beginning, take Noah and the Ark. Genesis 6 makes it clear that the Flood was the consequence of man's rebellion against his Creator. After extreme provocation, the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal; his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” This was not to say that life expectancy was one hundred and twenty years, but that this was the period the Lord gave man to repent. It was a sign of amazing grace.
God prepared Noah for the devastation and gave His servant precise instructions for the launch of His rescue operation. He reassured Noah that deliverance would come (Genesis 6:18) but before that happened he and his family would have to endure the unspeakable horrors of the Great Flood. So, we have the promise of deliverance, followed by the occupation of the renewed earth, but between the two is a gap – the period of the earth's obliteration. The faithful family went through it, preserved through its horrors by being inside the Ark. Noah obeyed God to the letter (Genesis 6:22).
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the Ark, you and your whole family.” At any rate that is the translation most versions offer. The Hebrew has something different … and wonderful! The Lord said to Noah, “COME TO ME in the Ark.”
So, for the entire period of the Great Flood the Lord was with Noah in the Ark! He was not standing aside, watching Noah's family (together with the animals) huddling together in blind terror as the Ark plunged and reared through the volcanic upheaval, tempestuous waters and violent currents scouring the surface of the earth beneath: The Lord was in the Ark with them! He was outside the Ark as they prepared to board, He was with them for the entire gap-period and He was waiting for them as they disembarked! Hallelujah! What glorious revelation!
GOD IS WITH US … all the time! I find this pattern throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. Is not the experience of the Children of Israel a great example? The promise of redemption from Egypt and into the Promised Land was followed by a forty-year gap before entry was granted. Those were forty frustrating years of preparation by Moses and Joshua to equip the Israelites to conquer the Land when they got there. During the strategic 'gap' the Lord was applying the heat of affliction in order to forge a great nation from the disorganised rabble that left Egypt.
Paul in the gap
When we turn to the New Testament we have startling examples in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. A clear instance is described by Luke in Acts 16, surely one of the Bible's most revealing glimpses into the chequered life of faith that Paul lived.
He is on his Second Apostolic Adventure with Silas and Timothy and attempts to go into the Roman Province of Asia (Acts 16:6). He is prevented by the Holy Spirit. Turning his aspirations further north, he and his friends try to enter the Province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit blocks the way.
It is necessary to draw breath at this point because we are on holy ground! Can you imagine Paul attempting to embark on a strategic mission without being certain the Lord had called him? Given his level of faith and sensitivity to the Lord, it is unthinkable. So, did he get his guidance hopelessly wrong? Had he and his friends not prayed sufficiently about it? Had Paul's desire to expand the work been motivated by fleshly ambition? Two discouraging episodes in such quick succession must have left Paul thoroughly frustrated if not deeply troubled. What was going on?
I believe it is clear. Paul definitely sensed the mind of the Lord as well as His heart for the people in the Province of Asia. Paul got his guidance right as to direction: he would preach the gospel in the Province of Asia just two chapters later and have a profound impact on Ephesus (see Acts 18:19-41): but his timing was wrong. The Holy Spirit was saying, “No, Paul, not yet!”
As regards Bithynia, Paul was right to have a burden for the Bithynians, but the Lord would not call Paul to evangelise that area: He called Peter (1 Peter 1:1-2). The Holy Spirit was saying, “No, Paul, Bithynia is not for you!”
Following Paul's sense of call to the Roman Province of Asia, there was a gap of about five years before the call was fulfilled. The promise was separated from the fulfilment by half a decade.
If ever there was a situation for Paul to feel his hope was deferred, making him thoroughly heart-sick as a consequence, it was now! But here's the thing: the years that constituted the 'gap' were years of amazing fruitfulness for Paul in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth! How's that for God's strategy?
This should encourage us a great deal. When we find ourselves in a 'guidancegap' we can feel that the Lord has abandoned us. We can interpret it as His displeasure and in doing so lose our peace and sense of being in His will, thereby missing the God-given opportunity to have Him lead us into unexpected paths. The truth is that the Lord is as much with us in the 'gap' as He is at either end of it! Between the promise and its fulfilment is a period that God intends to be fruitful. The 'gap' is not accidental: it is strategic.
In Psalm 23:3-4, David includes a famous comment on the 'gap'. He is inspired to write about the clear guidance of the Lord: “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.” A path of righteousness must at the very least be the right path that the Shepherd has put before the sheep!
But David then says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of deep darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
There is no disconnection here. The right path for the sheep in this instance takes it right through the heart of a deep, dark, dangerous gully! Why would a self-respecting shepherd take his sheep through such a place? Surely to take them from one pasture to a better one. But in order to get there they have to traverse a 'gap': in this instance, the Valley of the Shadow!
The marvellous comfort is that the shepherd leads in the 'gap': he does not stand aside, above the abyss, trusting that the sheep will somehow muddle through: he is with them … all the way.
Get shot of Deism!
There is a philosophy – a way of looking at the world – that is popular with many. It is called Deism. The idea is that once He had created the world, the Lord God set it going and then stepped aside to leave it ticking away while He Himself got on with other more important matters. This makes Him an absentee Owner! He is not really interested in us or in our affairs. There is no point in praying to Him, He is simply far above our puny affairs! Such a view has no connection with the God of the Bible who is intimately caught up in all the affairs of men and this is especially true concerning His dearly loved children. Consider 1 John 3:1,
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
The fact is that on His own admission, He will never leave us or forsake us, whatever the circumstances. So at the moment of His Promise, He is there. At the moment of its fulfilment, He is there. At all the in-between moments in the 'gap', He is most certainly there!
Let us suppose that you, dear reader, are experiencing a 'guidance-gap'. You have a sense that the Lord has called you to a particular place or to a particular ministry but you have yet to see the fulfilment. Perhaps you have been praying about a healing for yourself or a loved one. Have you received the goal of your hopes, or are your hopes deferred? If so, you may well be sick of heart. But how do you respond?
Your Father in Heaven longs to see you set free from that anxiety. Trust Him in the 'gap'. He will never leave you or forsake you. The 'gap' is strategic for your growth as a disciple of Jesus. A great Christian once wrote, “My Father, I do not always understand You, but I trust in Your love.” That is divine wisdom.
Trust Him to have everything in hand. Wait for Him: wait on Him: wait with Him. He will not leave you unfulfilled. He knows the plans He has for you and they are quite wonderful. Do not allow the enemy to sow doubt into your mind and heart.
John the Baptist's call came to him in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth. It was incubated in the Wilderness. It burst forth in God's good time. God's call always will! Don't give up on it.