“Waiting time is not wasted time.” I read that phrase in a book once in one of those surreal moments when it feels as if the universe has set you up to read that line, in that book, at that moment.*
It’s difficult to trust God is still effectively directing the steps of your life when you don’t feel you’re taking any steps. Like you, my heart is filled with dreams for the future. I have a list of over 40 dreams for my life; my friends make fun of me for such a detailed list, but I didn’t want to leave the important things in my life to chance. I love the feeling of fresh dreams, those moments when I am sure God has breathed inspiration into my heart, but during the seasons of life when I don’t feel as if I’m making progress I’m tempted to assume my dreams are too big, too unrealistic for someone like me.
In 1981 Howard Shultz was trying to raise $3.8 million dollars to purchase the Starbucks franchise, which at the time consisted of 3 stores only selling coffee beans, not coffee drinks. Shultz had worked for Starbucks previously but left to try out his theories about the modern coffee shop; he jumped at the opportunity to own Starbucks. With no personal capital Shultz attempted to raise 100% of the investment, by pitching a business plan to investors changing the focus of Starbucks from coffee bean distribution to the coffee drink, and if everything went according to plan would eventually include 100 stores. After several weeks of meeting with investors, Schultz felt his dream was too big; he needed to lower his goals, so he took a pen and marked through “100 stores” on all of his business plan documents and wrote “75”. He feared his dream was too big. 26 years later Starbucks has 21,366 stores and counting, including locations in Asia, Europe, North and South America. When Schultz is asked if he ever imagined Starbucks would be as successful as it is, he just laughs because he remembers not having enough money to print new business plans when he believed he had dreamed excessively.
Dreams have a way of making all of us optimists. The rush of vision, scenes that play in our minds of what could be, causes us to all believe in something greater, something more than our current reality. Before we verbalize our dream or begin to think cautiously about risks or challenges, for a brief moment, our hearts are filled with unbridled belief in possibility. Our marriage can get better, our financial and physical challenges can be different. We can start that business; we can be free from addiction. The challenge of a dream is putting in the time and work, plus keeping the faith, to witness the dream become reality. To birth a dream, you need imagination, to realize a dream you need perspiration. But, honestly, in my life and the lives of countless numbers of people I’ve counseled over the years, the biggest struggle is not effort, it’s faith.
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The apostle Paul said “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see,” but keeping the faith is difficult when what you’ve dreamed or what God has spoken to you doesn’t look like much. Faith is believing in advance for things that will only make sense in reverse.*
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In the Old Testament, God appeared to Abraham on several occasions with a dream— Abraham would be the father of a great nation. In other words, millions of people would be able to trace their roots back to Abraham, but when God gave Abraham his dream, he had no children and was married to a woman unable to become pregnant. Can you imagine believing you heard God speak to you promising you would become the father of a great nation, while at the same time being married to a barren woman? I bet Abraham spent many nights lying in bed staring at his wife Sarah while she slept, wondering how God was going to deliver on his promise against what seemed like impossible odds. After all, no one would consider immaculate conception for another 2000 years.
I’m glad I serve a God who doesn’t limit His dreams for my life according to my current circumstances.
When Abraham celebrated his 100th birthday, the man who was supposed to be the father of a great nation had no children, but that year everything changed. God did what only God can do and allowed Sarah to conceive at the age of 99; she had a son named Isaac. I don’t mean to downplay the birth of a son to a 99-year-old woman; it’s nothing short of miraculous, but if Abraham is like most men I’ve met, I can almost guarantee when he held his son he was half filled with joy and half filled with disappointment. Not the kind of disappointment that is let down in what he has; the kind of disappointment a man feels when everyone is celebrating, but he knows he’s not even close to reaching his potential.
By the time Abraham died, the total head count for his great nation was two sons; that’s it! I want you to put yourself in Abraham’s deathbed, lying there remembering the promises God had made you, all while knowing you were dying the father of the average American household, not a great nation.
His son Isaac took over, and God gave him the same dream he had given his father, but when Isaac died the total number of decedents was two. Two generations into a God-given dream and the “great nation” promised to Abraham could fit in a sedan. Isaac’s son Jacob was more fruitful than his father and grandfather, he had 12 sons, granted 12 is better than two, but it more resembles a softball roster than a nation.
Consider for a moment you were taking over your grandfather’s business from your father. Your whole life you heard that God had promised Grandpa’s business was going to be the largest, most successful business in the world, but the business you’re taking over has the same two employees it’s had for the last 150 years. How much faith would you have that Grandpa really heard from God? How cynical would you be about the future of the business? That’s the challenge of faith and dreams. Just because your current reality doesn’t look like your dream doesn’t mean the dream is dead. Remember, waiting time is not wasted time.
Jacob ends up with 70 descendants by the time he moves his family to Egypt. For those keeping score at home, that’s 2, 2, 12, and 70. Something is beginning to happen.
I bring all of this up because I hate the disappointment of premature “dream expectancy disorder”, ok, I just made up that name, but it’s a real thing. DED sounds something like this in our head, “God has given me a dream. I’m excited about it, so if God is as excited about it as I am this will probably become a reality by the end of the year.” Ask Joseph about his DED. 20 years later after having his dream, he was sitting in prison. David was anointed King and then waited and hid for 15 years. Even Jesus waited 30 years before living up to his potential.
The Bible doesn’t talk much more about Jacob’s family until the night the children of Israel are marching out Egypt, and that’s when we get the updated headcount of Abraham’s family.
That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children.
Several generations and 400 years later, Abraham’s lineage looks less like a family and more like a nation, just like God said it would because God always comes through. Every time.
Sometimes, I feel like when I say “God always comes through,” it sounds like He pulled a rabbit out of his hat. At times, it feels like I’m saying, “God almost didn’t come through but since he’s God and he always comes through, he figured out a way to do it.” It’s more dramatic that way. We used to sing songs like that in church when I was growing up. “He’s an on time God, yes he is.” When I would sing that song it felt like I was celebrating the fact that God was running late but figured out a way, just in the nick of time, to show up on my behalf.
But that’s not the way God comes through, and that’s not the way he’s on time. For Him, there is never suspense. He’s on time because he never left. He was standing in your future the first time you thought about it. He never left your dream; he’s just been waiting for the right time for you to join him.
The more time I spend following Jesus, the more I’m convinced I dream too small. One day my wife Andrea and I were in the car, and she asked me, “Jason, one day when we’ve really made it, I mean like when we have a lot of money and success, what is the one thing you will purchase that will let you know we did it?” We had been married less than a year and were living mainly on love in the absence of actual dollars in our bank account, so it didn’t take me long to answer. “That’s easy, A big screen TV.” It makes me laugh thinking about it now because I bought a big screen TV two years later for $400.
There’s a direct correlation between how long you’re willing to wait for something and how big your dream is. I pray prayers hoping they will come together like “boil in a bag” rice, but God has more of an appetite for a slow roast. He puts dreams in our hearts with no intention of microwaving them, because the lessons learned along the journey end up being more valuable than the final destination. If you let Him, God will put a dream in your heart that will outlive you, and if your willing to zoom out of the immediate needs of your life, you may find that what you’re hoping for is bigger than just you. Maybe your prayer for your spouse to be saved is about more than your frustration with their life but has something to do with God’s plans for your grandchildren’s children. Maybe you haven’t found the freedom from your addiction yet because God doesn’t just want to heal you, he wants to heal your family tree. God may not have brought your children back home to you yet because he’s teaching them something on their journey more valuable than your peace of mind.
I can always tell when I’m being a spiritual baby, because I start talking to God like my kids talk to me every time we get in the car, “Dad, are we there yet?” We can be 20 minutes into a 6-hour road trip, and they want to know if we’re getting close. No matter how many times I try to explain distance divided by speed, their little minds can’t understand how long it takes for time to pass. I know the feeling, so did Abraham, Sarah, and all the great saints of the Old Testament.
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.
Maybe faith is more about waiting well and remembering that waiting time is not wasted time.
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*”Waiting time is not wasted time” is a line taken from Andy Stanley’s book Visioneering.
* Faith is believing in advance what only makes sense in reverse is from Phillip Yancey’s book, “Prayer.”
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