The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Waiting on Purpose’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 5/24/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1RqAiOX
Sowing and Sleeping
God is always working. Even if we don’t see change taking place above ground, something is moving beneath the surface. All things work together for our good when we love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
In Mark 4, Jesus told a parable to illustrate the principle of sowing seed to His disciples:
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” – Mark 4:26-29
This text gives us several responsibilities. First, it is our responsibility to sow good seed. That means we must share the Gospel wherever we go: we plant the seed by sharing the Good News, and the Holy Spirit cultivates what we’ve planted by ministering to the people to whom we speak.
We also sow seed when we pray. Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:27). We‘ve been talking about this theme consistently for the past several weeks. Even if you don’t see fruit from your prayers right away: just keep praying. The answer to your prayers might take years; it might even take decades. But the lack of an answer does not mean God fails to hear us.
To pray well, we must know the word of God. If we know our Biblical rights, the enemy cannot deprive us of them. If we see any situation that does not line up with how we know God wants things on earth to look, we pray for His will to come to pass.
Our second responsibility is to take up the harvest when it comes. In Jesus’ parable, the farmer put in the seed and took up the harvest immediately when he saw the grain ripen.
As we witness to others, we must recognize when the Holy Spirit is giving us an opportunity to lead our brothers and sisters to Christ. No one comes to Jesus unless God draws him (Jn 6:44). But when the opportunity is ripe, we must take it. Any variation of the sinner’s prayer will work (see Rom 10:9). When we welcome people into God’s kingdom with open arms, we build an eternal reward: for us, and for them!
When it comes to prayer, “immediately putting in the sickle” means partnering with God when He invites us to co-labor with Him: to participate in His plans at the opportune moment. There will come a point in time when God asks us to co-labor with Him, and step out in faith to receive our breakthrough. There is a time to sow, and a time to reap: a time to wait in faith, and a time to move by faith. We must recognize when God is calling us to action, and seize the opportunity to partner with Him like our life depends on it!
Perhaps more important than the responsibilities this text proposes, is the responsibility this text does not propose. Forcing the seed to grow is very clearly not the farmer’s responsibility. Verse 27 notes that the farmer sleeps by night and rises by day, “…and the seed [sprouts and grows], he himself does not know how.”
The farmer is wholly ignorant as to the cause of the growth. That means he didn’t cause the growth! Similarly, we are completely ignorant as to how God provides answers to our prayers. He heals our bodies, makes resources available to us, and blesses us beyond measure: and we have no idea how He does it. We are not responsible for answered prayers; God is. It is our job to deposit seed through prayer, and then get out of God’s way.
As we pray to God, He provides the increase. In Jesus’ parable, it would have done no good for the farmer to stay up all night, worrying about whether or not his seed had taken root. This would be a complete waste of time! Yet how many times have you prayed according to His word, and then wondered if it was a Biblical prayer? How many times have you prayed a prayer you were sure is Biblical, and then wondered if God ever even heard you? How many times have you forgotten that, “…if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 Jn 5:14-15).
The farmer’s prerogative was simply to deposit seed, and then go about his daily business. He didn’t have to stay up all night, or change his schedule: he simply had to trust that, even if he didn’t see anything above ground, it didn’t mean growth was not taking place beneath the surface. And just as a farmer is not surprised when his seed becomes a plant, we should not be surprised when our prayers are answered! We should expect that when we sow, we will reap!
With Your Eyes
Prayer involves trust. We must know that God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). But it’s hard to trust that work is happening when we can’t see the labor. It’s difficult to have faith that growth is taking place when we can’t see it with our own eyes.
Human nature is to want to understand what’s going on: to see results as they take shape. When my wife, Rachael, was pregnant with our first son, Clive, I was nervous. I shouldn’t have been nervous: but I was. I couldn’t see what was going on! I knew something was growing in her belly, but I had no idea whether it was a boy or girl. I had no idea how big he, or she, was going to be. I had no idea how to prepare for a new addition to our family if I didn’t know exactly when he or she was going to arrive!
I still remember going to our first ultrasound appointment. We saw Clive for the very first time. He had ten fingers, and ten toes: all was well! We heard his little, lightning-fast heart beating at a steady rhythm. We had no control over what was going on in Rachael’s belly; but God was hard at work.
Pregnancy is a necessary period of incubation and protection for any baby. If we try to rush the process, it can turn into a disaster. Pregnancy is 40 weeks for a reason: because God designed it that way. He is protecting our babies from obstacles and environments they’re not yet ready to meet. We must pray hard, and trust that He knows what He’s doing: even if we can’t see what’s going on!
When I was little, I used to help my mom plant flower bulbs in the fall. We would dig a hole in the ground before the first frost, and deposit a bulb. Then, we would wait for winter. We didn’t have to go outside in the middle of the winter and dig up the bulb to make sure it was still there. We knew that when spring came around, the flower would sprout up from the ground. No ounce of worry would have made the plant grow any better; we simply waited, and trusted that what we planted would grow.
Sometimes, God’s answers to our prayers just take time. Several weeks ago, we examined Daniel’s prayer to God in Daniel 10. Daniel prayed and fasted for twenty-one days, but he saw absolutely nothing. Finally, the angel of God came to him:
Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.” – Dan 10:12
Daniel didn’t stop to worry and wonder if God had even heard his prayers. He kept praying, knowing that God had dispatched resources from heaven. God heard him from day one, but Satan made every attempt to keep Daniel from receiving resources from heaven.
When we ignore Satan’s role in trying to keep the answer to our prayers from us, we become frustrated. We lose sight of why answered prayer takes time. Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), and he hates losing ground to God. But the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross means that we already have an answer to our prayers, the moment we pray them!
Christ on the Cross
The Crucifixion provides all the confidence we could ever need that God is always working on our behalf. In John 12, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem. The people revere and worship Him as their future King, laying down palm branches and shouting out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel” (Jn 12:13).
But Jesus followed His triumphal entry with some sobering words as He spoke to the masses at Jerusalem:
“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” – Jn 12:23-24
Jesus was telling everyone to be prepared. He was going to deposit Himself into death: to sow Himself for every single man and woman who would ever live. He was going to give up His life so that we can all truly find our lives in Him! He was going to give up His right to live as royalty, so that every man and woman who calls on His name could be welcomed into God’s Kingdom with open arms!
The disciples heard His words, but didn’t heed the message. As Jesus died on the Cross, they wept. He had told them not to fear, but how could they keep their heads up? On the surface, it appeared that all was lost. The disciples had given their lives to follow this Man Jesus Christ, assuming He would establish a literal Jewish kingdom to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. But now He was dead!
But change was taking place beneath the surface. Jesus died on a Friday, and rose on a Sunday. In between, the Sabbath took place. I don’t think it was an accident that the Sabbath happened the day after Jesus died. Instead of running around in a frenzied panic, the disciples were forced to rest; and while they rested, Jesus conquered the grave!
The disciples couldn’t see what was happening, but Jesus was handing them the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t have the answers to everything that was going on, and quite frankly they didn’t need them. They simply needed to trust in God’s word: Jesus would rise again, because He had said He would rise again!
The Pharisees wanted the Jewish people to believe that Jesus was dead and gone. But behind the sealed door of the tomb, the greatest victory the world had ever seen was taking place! With the death of Jesus Christ, the door to Heaven was opened for every man and woman who calls on His name!
Lazarus, Come Forth
Certain stories in Scripture allow us to get comfortable with waiting. Lazarus being raised from the dead is one of those stories:
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. – John 11:1-6
Jesus loved Mary and Martha. He loved Lazarus. But we see Him demonstrate His love in very unusual fashion: He waited.
If Jesus loved Lazarus so much, shouldn’t He have run to him as soon as He head He was sick? John 11:18 says that He was only two miles away. If He ran fast, He could have been there in 15 minutes! If He had trotted slowly, it would have only taken half an hour. Surely if Jesus had hurried, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!
But God was up to something. He waited on purpose:
Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” – Jn 11:14-15
Jesus knew that if He came and immediately raised Lazarus from the dead, it would do nothing to strengthen the faith of His disciples.
The people of Israel already knew that Jesus could heal. They had seen Him heal a man’s son at Capernaum (Jn 4), and command a paralytic to walk at the Pool of Bethesda (Jn 5). They had seen Him turn water into wine, walk on water, and feed 5,000 men, plus women and children. But nobody had ever seen Him raise someone from the dead! Now they would see Him do a brand new thing! This would be the most miraculous thing any of the disciples had ever witnessed.
Because Jesus waited, God would be glorified all the more. The faith of His disciples would increase as they learned that even death had to bow the knee to Jesus Christ! Mary and Martha thought that all was lost; but God was taking His time for our benefit. The more dead Lazarus became, the more glory God deserved for raising Him from the grave! And the more dead whatever breakthrough you’re praying for seems, the more glory God will receive when your prayer is answered and your dreams come to life!
Waiting On Purpose
God waits on purpose. He delays the receipt of His promises until we’re ready to carry them. He waits to deliver our blessing until we’re mature enough to carry it well. He waits to show Himself until we’re truly willing to give Him all the glory!
Sometimes our tendency is to try and rush God. The world’s way is top-down: we want the evidence before we build the infrastructure. We want our prayers answered as soon as we pray. We want the stalk to sprout up before anything even takes root. The result can be a faulty foundation. Quality growth takes time, and any promises worth waiting for require some resistance.
In 1991, scientists built a structure called the Biosphere in Arizona. They chose a team of scientists to live in a completely artificial environment, in an effort to mimic what it might be like to establish a colony in space.
The team learned a valuable lesson by accident. The scientists in the Biosphere noticed that trees inside the artificial environment grew rapidly – more rapidly, in fact, than they did outside of the dome. But as they matured, the trees simply fell over.
The scientists realized that the absence of wind in the Biosphere prevented the trees from growing deep roots, and strong wood that would respond well to stress. The trees grew quickly, but they had no foundation. After a time, they couldn’t support themselves, and they tottered and fell over. 
Quality growth takes time. If we don’t take time to properly let our prayers take root, we won’t be ready when God’s answer comes. If we don’t encounter an appropriate amount of resistance as we wait for an answer, then any growth will be short-lived and immature. If we only focus on what we want to see above ground, we miss out on everything God is doing beneath the surface.
The world’s measure of success is top-down; but Heaven’s is bottom-up. God takes His time on purpose: so that we will know that He deserves all the glory, because He is God.
Jesus cautioned His disciples to take their time, and build a proper spiritual foundation:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” – Matt 27:24-25
Faith is built in times of waiting. If we didn’t have to wait, faith wouldn’t be required. True faith is cultivated as we wait on – and trust in – the promises of God.
Trust in God. Know that He is answering your prayers, even if you can’t see the result yet. Growth starts beneath the surface, and God has every right to take His time.
– by Pastor Mike White
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