In our highly motivated, achievement-oriented society, we often hear the phrase ‘window of opportunity’. We are exhorted by marketing gurus and peak-performance coaches to ‘seize the moment’, because ‘it is now or never’. It’s as though you are sitting in a car at an intersection, waiting for the traffic lights to change. Once they turn green, you had better go because it won’t be long before they turn red again and you will have missed a ‘once in a lifetime, never to be repeated’ opportunity.
The funny thing is, if you wait long enough at the intersection, the lights will go through their full cycle and eventually turn green again! Sitting through a cycle of red–green–red-green certainly won’t make you popular with the motorists behind you, but it will prove a point. Namely, that so-called ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ have a habit of coming along quite regularly!
I used to live on the far north coast of New South Wales in a lovely valley near the Richmond River. Notwithstanding its loveliness, the area was prone to ‘once in a generation floods’, when the rain would cause the river to swell and inundate the low-lying townships. The only problem was, we seemed to have a ‘once in a generation flood’ every ten years. It was either a long flood or a short generation!
The point I’m trying to make is, we are too easily seduced by the urgency of the world in which we live. We seem to think that if we don’t do something now, the opportunity will be gone forever. But I’m here to tell you that even if, for some reason, you do miss an opportunity in life, our God is the God of the second, third, fourth and twenty-ninth chance!
He is not the God of ‘one strike and you’re out’. The Bible says “all we like sheep have gone astray, everyone has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). God knows that we have a tendency to make wrong decisions, deviate from the right path, and miss divinely-inspired opportunities. But he is the God of grace and redemption – the God whose word comes a second time to a recalcitrant Jonah, the God whose hand reaches out a second time to regather the lost sheep of Israel, the God whose call issues a second time to a broken and contrite Peter. Truly, the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
I would like to grab you by the shoulders, look into your eyes and the deepest recesses of your soul, and tell you in a voice that rings with prophetic authority, “It’s never too late for God to fulfil his promises in your life!” Experts may have written you off. You may be thinking, “I’m too old and too tired.” But as far as God is concerned, it’s never too late and it’s never too hard to bring to pass his purposes in your life, even if he has to set his hand upon you “a second time” (Isa. 11:12).
God is not running out of time to do what he said he would do in your life. After all, he is the Sovereign Lord, and if necessary he can command the sun to stand still and cause the sun dial to go backwards (Josh. 10:12; Isa. 38:8). One day of the Lord’s time is like a thousand years of our time (2 Peter 3:8). Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all the same to him (Heb. 13:8). In that sense, the purpose of God for your life is timeless.
Zacharias and Elizabeth
A case in point is the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Despite the fact that they were both “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”, they had no child. Now in their sixties, it appeared that the opportunity of parenthood had well and truly passed them by.
But as Zacharias was serving as priest before God and burning incense in the Holy Place, an angel appeared to him, saying, “Do not be afraid Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). How long do you think he had been praying for a child? I would suggest at least 40 years. That’s a long time to be praying for the same thing without seeing any sign of fulfilment!
I wonder how many times Zacharias was tempted to give up, to resign himself to the fact that it was never going to happen. But one day an angel stepped out of eternity with a message concerning the timelessness of God’s purpose in Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s life. “Zacharias, it doesn’t matter if you are 60 years old and your wife has been barren all her life. It doesn’t matter if people say it can’t be done, that it’s scientifically impossible, that it’s not the will of God, that you don’t deserve it. It is God’s purpose, and every word of God contains within itself the capacity for self-fulfilment” (Luke 1:37).
Think about the emotions that must have been brewing in this man’s heart. Forty years of unanswered prayer … forty years of disappointment and deferred hope … forty years of shame and recrimination. You can almost hear people whispering, “Surely if Zacharias was really righteous, he would have had a child by now. Surely if he was really a man of faith, God would have answered his prayer. There must be something wrong with him…” In much the same vein as people who pass judgement on others in the church today: “If they had more faith, they would have been healed; if they prayed more, they wouldn’t be going through these trials…” As if we, experts that we are, could possibly know what is going on in someone else’s life!
I’m sure that Zacharias wasn’t going into the temple on that particular day expecting to encounter an angel and to hear that God had answered his prayer. It’s important to understand that God is bigger than our faith. Unfortunately, we’ve reduced God to a formula that says he can only do what we believe he will do. But at the end of the day, God will do whatever he wants to do whether we believe or not. For example, Saul wasn’t exactly ‘believing’ or ‘expecting’ that Jesus would appear to him on the road to Damascus. In fact, he believed that Jesus was an impostor! But years later, he put it in perspective when he wrote, “God revealed His Son in me when it pleased Him!” (Galatians 1:15).
The message of the angel to Zacharias was, “This is bigger than you Zacharias, and it’s bigger than your faith, and your prayer, and your desire for a child. This is part of God’s eternal purpose which he is bringing to pass on the earth. And it’s all happening in perfect order, in due time.”
The fullness of time
The apostle Paul uses a unique phrase, “the fullness of time”, to describe divine order and perfection, both in creation and redemption. The Greek word ‘pleroma’ denotes completeness in every aspect. Writing to the Galatians, Paul said,
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
When God does something, he always does it “in the fullness of time” – that is, in perfect order, at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way. The writer to the Hebrews reinforces this concept, urging believers to come boldly to the throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help “in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The American Bible Union Version describes it as “well-timed help”.
The message of the angel Gabriel is that “God’s timing is perfect”, even if it appears to us to be a little late! If you look at the life of John the Baptist, he spent 29 years preparing for 6 months ministry. These days we spend 6 months preparing for 29 years ministry! But God knew what he was doing then, and he knows what he is doing now. If God has given you a promise for your life or your family, I want to encourage you to hold on because the word of the Lord will come to pass. Even though it may appear that opportunities have been missed and possibilities have long gone, God’s word will not return to him unfulfilled (Isa. 55:11).
Elizabeth, the seasoned veteran of God’s dealings, exhorted her young, pregnant relative, Mary, with these immortal words – words that speak to the heart of God’s purposes in our generation. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
There will be a fulfilment. Whether it is next month, or next year, or in 50 years, there will be a fulfilment of those things that have been told us by the Lord. And the Lord is not even limited to our life-span, as we know it.
Do you remember the story of Elisha? After all the miracles, and all the signs and wonders, and all the supernatural exploits, and Elisha had passed on to be with the Lord, God said, “I’ve just got to use this boy one more time, I’ve just got to do one more miracle.” Even though Elisha had died of some kind of terminal illness, there was still so much residual power of God in his bones that a deceased Israelite miraculously revived when his body was placed against the skeleton of the man of God! (2 Kings 13:20-21). Now that’s what I call a spiritual legacy!
Amen. There will be a fulfilment. It’s not dependent on you; it’s dependent on God. For it is “by My Spirit” says the Lord.