Some years ago I had a powerful dream in which, wearied after a long climb, I arrived at a hilltop house. Entering through the front door I found, to my amazement, Jesus was waiting for me inside. On seeing one another we started running toward the other until we met in a spontaneous embrace, somewhat like very close friends who have been unwillingly separated for many years might do. (This was not an indication of our actual relationship at the time which was close and intimate).
In the dream we held one another closely for a very long time, sharing the deepest joy I have ever known, after which I politely went to release my hold and pull back slightly in order that we could talk. To my great surprise, I found the Lord swiftly pulled me back into the tight, reassuring grip of His arms and would not let me go even slightly.
In the years since then I have thought often about that dream and even more so in recent times. It has been a source of deep comfort during difficult seasons. One of the most beautiful aspects of the dream, for me, is the realization that the Lord had chosen to wait patiently for me to arrive when I wasn’t even aware He was doing so. I would compare this revelation to something like being presented with a multi-course gourmet meal when you’ve expected nothing more than a piece of toast. I can’t count the number of sermons I‘ve heard, or the many scriptures I’ve read, about the importance of waiting on God. I don’t ever remember anyone telling me how long, how patiently and how longingly He may have been waiting for me however!
The longsuffering, or patient endurance, of the Lord is not exactly a hot topic at the moment. I can’t recall seeing it included on a conference flyer, or highlighted on a church billboard as next Sunday’s sermon topic. Call me cynical, but if the choice is between “Forty Ways to Grow Your Church” or “How Long Will God Bear With Us?” I think I have a pretty good idea which one’s going to pull the crowds.
The idea that the Lord actually suffers want in His relationship with us, and suffers it willingly, is often beyond the range of our spiritual radars.
And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you…” wrote Isaiah (Is. 30:18a). Why should the Creator and Lord of the entire universe wait for anything or anyone? Yet, of His own will, He does often wait for those He calls His own. The old fashioned Bible word for this is ‘longsuffering’, which pretty much means what it sounds like: suffering long. Longsuffering is even included, along with goodness, truth, mercy and grace, in the revelation of Himself God gave to Moses (Ex. 34:6 KJV).
On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus told the twelve “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you…..” (Luke 22:15 NKJV). We tend to “pass over” (pun intended) those particular words expressing Jesus’ heart as if they are of little importance. Jesus was using a typical Hebrew form of expression here: “with desire I have desired.” It means ‘earnestly have I longed for”, or ‘with the greatest desire have I desired this”. In other words, Jesus was extraordinarily passionate about sharing these final few hours with His intended Bride and had waited with great eagerness for this occasion.
Jesus had shared other Passovers with His apostles, but this one was to be different. With greatest desire He had wanted to share THIS Passover with them. Why this Passover in particular? We understand that it was to be His last meal with them. but there is more here. This Passover was not about the end of something, it was about the beginning of something even better.
This intimate meal together in an upper room away from the crowds and the controversies had been so eagerly anticipated by Jesus because it was this occasion He had chosen as His betrothal ceremony. (For a fuller discussion on this please read my article: The Bride: Her Betrothal.)
With much longsuffering and patient endurance He had watched and waited while His disciples strove to understand His parables, jostled with one another for importance, and struggled to comprehend a coming Kingdom that was completely foreign to their natural understanding. He would wait even longer for them as one would soon deny Him and others would flee in fear.
Jesus knew their weaknesses and the failures that were to come, yet still He had earnestly longed for and anticipated this special time with them. He knew they did not understand they were the first fruits of the Bride His Father had promised Him; He knew they would not initially perceive the reasons for His impending death; He knew in the days immediately to follow they would suffer confusion and despair and wonder why He had abandoned them; He knew also that centuries in human time would pass before He would eat and drink again with His Betrothed at the great Marriage Feast. And knowing all these things, He was prepared to wait, and still waits.
Such is the longsuffering of the Lamb.
There is an Old Testament passage that paints a poignant prophetic picture of Christ earnestly anticipating the first glimpse of His long awaited Bride in Genesis 24:63-67. Isaac, an Old Testament type of Christ, is found out in a field, surrounded by his vast inherited domain, meditating (sometimes translated as praying, or lamenting). On what is he meditating? Could it be the bride he knows his father’s trusted steward has been sent to find for him? It is evening, the end of a long day, and looking up from his meditation he sees a caravan approaching, carrying the bride he has so long pictured, planned for and desired. How will she respond? Will she willingly leave behind every trace of the life she has known to embrace the new life he longs to give her? Or does she come to him halfheartedly, looking back over her shoulder, wondering if he will be worth the long and difficult journey she has endured?
As a young Christian in my mid-teens I remember becoming deeply aware the Lord was placing a call to ministry on my life, but I was reluctant. I wanted desperately to be a wife and mother, to build a life centred around a secure and warm family environment that was lacking in my own life at that time. I pleaded to be allowed to do those things first, and the Lord allowed me what I asked for.
Many years later, in middle age with children grown and any thought of ministry long forgotten, to my great shock, He suddenly asked me to go on a teaching trip to Africa. At that time I had never even travelled outside my own country of Australia. His very clear message to me was: “I granted you the things you asked of Me, and I have waited for you all these years. Now it’s My turn.”
Do I regret marriage and children? Of course not. Does the Lord regret His choice to give them to me? Again, of course not. He did not waste those years, teaching me many precious lessons and granting me four greatly treasured children through the path He allowed me to take. The Lord often has more than one route to the same destination. But He chose to wait for me because He somehow considered me worth waiting for, and I did not even know it until the day He told me He had done so.
On that day I learned something about Christ I had not previously understood: that He is longsuffering and His longsuffering is intrinsically linked to His grace.
“And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted…”
When such immense grace has been revealed to us, the last thing we will ever want to do is take advantage of it by giving Christ anything less than His rightful place of pre-eminence in all things.
And yes, He is more than worth the journey, no matter what course it takes.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.