The Discipline of Delay
''For ye have need of patience'' (Heb. 10:36).
We have been told that God's disappointments are His appointments, that God's delays are not His denials; but do we believe what we hear? Delay, with its apparent destruction of all hope, can be a deep discipline to the soul that would serve the Lord Jesus. We live in restless, impatient days. We have little time for preparation, and less for meditation or worship. We feel we must be active, energetic, enthusiastic, and humanly effective; and we cannot understand why inactivity, weakness, weariness, and seeming uselessness should become our lot. It all appears to be so futile and foolish, without plan or purpose.
The discipline of delay is written large in the life of God's people, as we could observe in Abraham's long waiting for the son of promise, in Joseph's years in Egypt as victim of cruel circumstances, in Moses' long obscurity in the desert, in Hanna's empty home and aching heart, even in the silent years spent by our Lord Jesus in the narrow streets of Nazareth. We trace that discipline in a few lives
whose experience we can compare with our own, for our learning and encouragement.
David knew this discipline. As a lad, caring for his father's sheep, he was anointed of Samuel to be king over Israel; but thereafter stretched years of delay, on the stony hillsides of Bethlehem, in the cave of Adullam whither he had been driven by the insane and unnecessary envy of Saul, until he fled to the fierce Philistines, more friendly than his own people. There he could say truly, ''I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel'' (Ps. 31:11,12). The delay seemed to be interminable and intolerable, but was indispensable in preparing David for his long career as king of his people, to which office he had been appointed many years before. Delay never thwarts God's purpose; rather, it polishes His instrument.
Elijah endured the exercise of patience. Called to prophetic office in a day of moral and spiritual declension among his people, he announced the judgment of famine with all the vigor of pyrotechnic personality. At the moment when it seemed he was most needed by his people, he experienced an inexplicable, inscrutable delay, with ''Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith'' (I Kings 17:3). Israel's famine for bread and the Word of God burned deeply into his soul; their lack of repentance grieved him; his
solitary position of obedience toward God and the solitude of his lonely post seemed overwhelming. Even the brook, with its friendly murmuring and its supply of needed water, dried up. The discipline was not yet complete, for there remained silent years in a humble home in Zarepath, among strangers and aliens. When God's hour came, however, the discipline of Cherith and Zarepath was distilled into intercession on Mount Carmel that brought heavenly fire upon the altar and rain upon the thirsty fields. Delay does not forget God's servants nor cause His faithfulness to fail; rather, it fortifies their souls and vindicates His name.
Paul came to know the patience of hindered purpose. Stopped at the gate of Damascus, penitent in the street called Straight, seeing under the touch of Ananias and filled with the Spirit, he was a chosen vessel to bear the gospel to great and small. ''Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God'' (Acts 9:20). Then came the discipline of delay in the desert of Arabia, where he learned by revelation of God, not by precept of man, the glorious gospel of the grace of God. From Arabia he could go to Antioch and its world-wide missionary program, to Athens and its proud Areopagus, to Achaia and its wicked Corinth, to the arena of Ephesus, and if necessary, to Rome. The delay that instructs and prepares saves time, never loses it. From it one can walk with a step of assurance and a heart of flame.
Hudson Taylor knew the testing that tempers the
steel of the soul. Invalided, home at twenty-nine after six years of intensive service in China, he settled with his little family in the east end of London. Outside interests lessened; friends began to forget; and five long hidden years were spent in the dreary street of a poor part of London, where the Taylors were ''shut up to prayer and patience.'' From the record of those years it has been written, ''Yet, without those hidden years, with all their growth and testing, how could the vision and enthusiasm of youth have been matured for the leadership that was to be?'' Faith, faithfulness, devotion, self-sacrifice, unremitting labor, patient, perservering prayer became their portion and power, but more, there is ''the deep, prolonged exercise of a soul that is following hard after God . . . the gradual strengthening here, of a man called to walk by faith not by sight; the unutterable confidence of a heart cleaving to God and God alone, which pleases Him as nothing else can.''¹ As the years of obscurity progressed, ''prayer was the only way by which the burdened heart could obtain any relief''; and when the discipline was complete, there emerged the China Inland Mission, at first only a tiny root, but destined of God to fill the land of China with gospel fruit.
Have you come to the discipline of delay? Inactivity you have for activity, weakness for strength, silence for speaking, sickness for health, forgetfulness for friendship, obscurity for opportunity. Let
¹ Dr., and Mrs. Howard Taylor Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret. China Inland Mission. (London, Philadelphia and Toronto: 1935), pp. 75, 76.
the darkness of delay discipline your soul in the patience of the saints, in the promises of God, who will not suffer His faithfulness to fail, in the presence of the Saviour by His Spirit, in the provision of needed grace from nail-scarred Hands. In God's time and way there will be position for you as for David, prevailing prayer as for Elijah, and place of service as for Paul, and Hudson Taylor. Delay will strengthen and hasten your steps of true service.
In every life
There's a pause that is better than onward rush,
Better than hewing or mightiest doing;
'Tis the standing still at Sovereign will.
There's a hush that is better than ardent speech,
Better than sighing or wilderness crying;
'Tis the being still at Sovereign will.
The pause and the hush sing a double song
In unison low and for all time long.
O human soul, God's working plan
Goes on, nor needs the aid of man!
Stand still, and see!
Be still, and know!
My God, I thank Thee who hast made
The Earth so bright;
So full of splendour and of joy,
Beauty and light;
So many glorious things are here,
Noble and right!
I thank Thee, too, that Thou hast made
Joy to abound;
So many gentle thoughts and deeds
Circling us around,
That in the darkest spot of Earth
Some love is found.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I thank thee, Lord, that Thou hast kept
The best in store;
We have enough, yet not too much
To long for more:
A yearning for a deeper peace,
Not known before.
I thank Thee, Lord, that here our souls,
Though amply blest,
Can never find, although they seek,
A perfect rest
Nor ever shall, until they lean
On Jesus breast!
Adelaide A. Procter. *
* From POEMS by Adelaide A. Procter. Used by permission of the publishers, Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, Edinburgh.
Chapter Eleven || Table of Contents