God’s divine timing

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 

In 1972, Walter Mischel, a Stanford professor and psychologist, did an investigation into delayed gratification in children. In his study, the “Stanford Marshmallow experiment,” the children were each given the opportunity to choose either a single marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows after waiting for a set period of time.[1] It is likely that most children strived to choose the latter option.

In several videoed duplicates of the experiment, you can see the determined faces of the children, showing their efforts to resist the delicious temptation before them in order to get the bigger and better reward that would come only after waiting.

People generally have a natural tendency towards immediate satisfaction. As such—like the children who were trying to wait for the better reward—there will often be the need to consciously fight the urge to do or not do something when you are waiting. But it pays to wait for the delayed reward—and I am sure that the children who finally had a double portion of marshmallows can likely attest to the truth of this. 

As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Sometimes, you may be in the middle of some version of the “marshmallow experiment,” and thus be in a season of waiting. Fortunately, there will also be a time to enjoy your “marshmallow!”

Marshmallows aside, Solomon talks about how there is also “a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), “a time to keep, and a time to cast away” (Ecclesiastes 3:6), “a time to embrace,” and even “a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5)—kind of like in the middle of a disturbing global pandemic.

The bottom line here is, timing is extremely important. This is the reason why students try to be punctual when submitting assignments, and why investors strive to put their money into the stock market in a timely manner. In a lot of similar cases, we can attempt to be smart about timing on our own, but we are limited in our ability to do this. For example, one of the things that this pandemic has taught us is that we are not always capable of predicting what could happen in the future that might drastically change people’s plans. 

Fortunately, there is someone who is not surprised or taken aback by any “sudden” events: God. Being “the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13), He is certainly an expert on time, so we can have more confidence of always being in the right timing if we are following Him and striving to live in His divine timing.

First off, it’s important to note that Christians have been called to put God’s will and thus His timing before even our own (Luke 22:42). However, to live in such obedience is a choice we must make; God will not force us to go His way. But it should be easier to follow God’s will knowing that He is not simply an aimless entity in your life who is going after His own interests; He cares deeply about you and wants the best for you. He knew you before you were even conceived (Jeremiah 1:5), and He has specific thoughts and plans of hope and life regarding you (Jeremiah 29:11). God is the one who starts a work in your life and finishes it beautifully (Philemon 1:6, Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Time is literally in His hands: He knows the future, and nothing occurs outside of His knowledge. I could go on and on about His reliability, but hopefully you get the point—you can trust God with your time, and you can be at peace if you are doing things on His timeline, because His timing is the right timing.

But let’s be real: even with this understanding, Christians sometimes end up trying to do things in their own time. This tendency is not new: it began in the days of old. Abraham and Sarah, for example, found themselves in an awfully long season of waiting. They were having issues with childbearing, but in the midst of this waiting, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 26:4). Even so, the promise was taking a long time to materialize, and Abraham did not even have one child yet, not to mention many descendants. 

So, Sarah took matters into her own hands and tried to provide a son for her husband on her own timeline. She thus allowed her husband to sleep with their maidservant, Hagar (Genesis 30:4). Although Abraham then had a child, the child introduced unforeseen issues; for example, Hagar started to disrespect Sarah. These could have been avoided if Sarah had waited in faith for God to fulfill His promise at the time He deemed right.

But even when we err, God is still faithful! Although Sarah made a mistake, God was merciful, and He still remained faithful to His word to Abraham. When they were both old and well past the age of childbearing (Genesis 18:11)—Abraham was 100!—Sarah finally got the child that God had promised years in advance.

And indeed, Abraham’s descendants were many; the twelve tribes of Israel and the groups that originated from those tribes all originated from Abraham. Even those who believe in God are actually counted as Abraham’s adopted descendants, by virtue of our faith in the Lord.[2] This story shows that, even if we veer off God’s timeline, once we genuinely repent, He can lift us back up and put us back on track, and back along His divine timeline.

Abraham and Sarah’s story can also teach us that trusting God’s timing requires that we have persistent faith in Him. Sarah’s faith in God’s faithfulness seems to have wavered, and as a result, she decided to take things into her own hands. 

Frankly, though, it can be difficult to have faith in a world that is so rationalistic. It demands to see clear evidence and proof before something can officially be accepted. As such, God’s timing may sometimes not make any logical sense, because there may not be any physical proof of success ahead. That is why it is necessary to stay grounded in His Word—that is the only way we can keep the faith, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

We trust in God’s timing for certain blessings and rewards right here on this earth, but we have even greater things to look forward to beyond the things of this earth. God has promised that Jesus will come back again, with rewards according to what each person has done (Revelation 22:12) and in full restoration of His people and the earth. We do not know the day or the hour of His return (Mark 13:32), all we know is that He is coming back soon, and we must be ready.

So, in this respect, we are all in a waiting season. The fascinating thing is, 2000 years ago Jesus said that He was coming soon, so if “soon” was back then, then today must be so much nearer to the day of His return! Unfortunately, some believers are losing faith in this promise, saying things like: “Jesus has been coming soon for almost 2000 years now” and “I don’t know if He is really coming.”

But Habakkuk gives a beautiful response to such worries: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3, emphasis supplied).

We live in a culture that encourages you to “do you,” and although this phrase seems to have a lot of positive connotations, it is also a term that encourages you to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however best it suits you. But as Christians, we must know that being in God’s will and in His time must supersede even our own desires (1 John 2:17). 

If, then, God wants us to wait for what is ultimately the better reward at His set time, or take a certain step at a particular moment, we must do so in faith, knowing that He holds the times and seasons in His hands, and knowing that He has the best intentions towards us. He has a purpose for every minute of your life.

So, if at any point in time, you find yourself in the middle of some version of the “marshmallow experiment,” remember the reliability of the God you serve, and trust in His ability to accomplish what He has set out to do in your life.

Notes:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Stanford marshmallow experiment,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stanford_marshmallow_experiment&oldid=1015641168 

[2] Piper, John. “Those Who Have Faith Are the Sons of Abraham,” Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/those-who-have-faith-are-the-sons-of-abraham 

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