Life is in a holding pattern right now. We’re quarantined, staying home. No longer are we going out to concerts or sporting events or arts festivals. No longer are we getting with friends, or getting a pedicure or our hair done, or going out to dinner. I could go on and on,
It’s hard for me to be in a holding pattern. I want to do things. I want to take action. I want to live large.
Today’s red -letter passage tells me that Jesus knew how to deal with holding patterns. Meditating on this has opened my mind in encouraging and comforting ways. I’m including the paragraph preceding the red-letter words for context.
After this, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He did not want to travel in Judea, because the Jews there were trying to kill Him. However, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near. So Jesus’ brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that Your disciples there may see the works You are doing. For no one who wants to be known publicly acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.
Therefore Jesus told them, ‘Although your time is always at hand, My time has not yet come. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me, because I testify that its works are evil. Go up to the feast on your own. I am not going up to this feast, because My time has not yet come.’” (John 7:1-8)
Jesus made this very insightful observation: “Your time is always at hand.” It’s so true that for most of us, we don’t even think on waiting for the timing for God. Right now, there are things in my life that I want to fix and address. The only thing is, that the other pieces in the process don’t cooperate. It can be so frustrating for me. But I never thought to take it to God and say, “God, is it time for this thing to be addressed right now?”
Because God is big on timing. Look at what God said to Abraham: “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess . . . Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Gen 15:7,13, 15)
What’s cool about this passage is that we can see that God has a very specific sense of when things need to happen. He planned for Abraham to have numerous descendants, and for them to inherit the Promise Land. But it would be many, many years before this would actually happen. How patient Abraham had to be. He pretty much lived his life in a holding pattern. He was a vagrant, moving from place to place. Yet he also saw God work in amazingly powerful ways. He saw his dreams come true as he bore and raised a son, Isaac.
The idea of being in a holding pattern has special significance for today’s red-letter passage, because the festival that is referred to is the Feast of Tabernacles. In this, the Jews remembered the time when they were in a holding pattern, and God took care of them. The Israelites would take tree branches and construct temporary shelters and live in them for 7 days. They did this so they recalled how God had taken care of them for 40 years in the wilderness.
Isn’t it crazy, in a sense, that God had them celebrate the time of being in the wilderness? I mean, why not celebrate the time when they actually took the Promise Land? Of course, that hadn’t happened when the laws regarding the festivals were written. But still, it’s wild to think that the thing they celebrated would be the time when they were just waiting around in the desert.
But the thing they celebrated was that God took care of them in a completely amazing way. There was always manna on the ground for them to eat. Their clothes never wore out. Moses described it with these words: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” ( Deut 8:3-4)
This was truly miraculous. Yesterday, I did laundry, and I saw some of my clothes that were getting ratty and need to be thrown away. I also went to the grocery store, and had to pay for the groceries I had carefully planned, ordered, and paid for with money from my husband’s paycheck. But the Israelites’ clothes didn’t get ratty, and they didn’t have to pay for their food.
The Feast of Tabernacles was also called the Feast of Ingathering. It celebrated the final harvest for the year. It was the time of the year when the Jewish people had the most. Their storehouses were full. Yet God wanted them to live in booths, to remember the time when they didn’t have anything, but had to completely rely on God. He wanted them to have the deep impression that everything they had came from him.
This is a long digression, but such a rich one. Because in today’s red-letter passage, we see Jesus reflecting the same kind of thinking that God had through the Old Testament. His brothers were like, “If you’re the Messiah, go down to Jerusalem and do your thing” But Jesus basically said that he had to wait to be sure that it was God’s timing, and not his own.
Did you ever think how hard that might have been for Jesus? He knew what would help the world. He saw everyone suffering, and so badly needing what he had to offer. His heart went out to them. Yet he waited, and didn’t go down to the Feast. And he said something at the end of this passage that shows what his thinking was, literally, “My time has not yet been fulfilled.”
The Greek word used there does mean fulfillment. It’s not just that Jesus’s time hadn’t come. It’s that there was a plan that needed to be fulfilled. The same word was used many times in Matthew to describe how the events surrounding Jesus fulfilled prophesies. For instance, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matt 1:22-23)
Jesus had a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan. He knew that God had taken years to work his will, from the time of Abraham, through Moses and the kings and prophets to the present day. He knew, as Solomon wrote in his wisdom, that “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
How can all of this inspire us? First, we can decide to surrender to God’s timing. As badly as we want things to change immediately, and as badly as we want to fix things, it may not be the right time. Let’s pray about it. It many be that God is simply waiting for us to do that. It didn’t take long for Jesus to decide that it was time for him to go to the feast, after all. In the next verse we see that he went, and started preaching half way through the festival.
Second, we can believe that God will provide for us during the holding pattern. Jesus wasn’t worried about the delay in his ministry, in spite of the impoverished state of the souls around him. He wasn’t focused on the lack, and it being up to him to do something about it. He knew that God is the only real provider, just as the Jews knew this when they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles. More than that, he knew that God is an amazing, miraculous provider.
I hope that you are as refreshed as I am by this study. Speaking of Ecclesiastes, sometimes lately I can feel like Solomon when he wrote, “Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecc 1:2b-3) It can seem like I have day after day of inconsequential pursuits. Of course, I know that I’m doing much that is worthwhile, and there are many moments that are deeply fulfilling. But there are also times when I get a going-nowhere kind of malaise.
There is purpose in the holding pattern. I must believe in it, and let my soul be at peace.
May we all have a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan, and know that he is an amazing, miraculous provider.