This is hard. The waiting. The uncertainty. The disappointments. The varying opinions. The isolation. The anxiety. The disheartening restrictions. This is not how we are used to living. In a place like China, they can shut you down and nobody grumbles (at least not publicly). In an authoritarian society you are accustomed to the government lording over you and if you don’t like it there is a nice stay at an “internment camp” that can be arranged for you. But we are not used to that. We are a free people and at times we take that freedom principle to extremes. It makes it difficult to have our views molded more by scripture than by our intense love of personal liberty. And when we are told we are going to have to wait for something we feel is our right, we can get testy.
To that end, let me share with you a heartening proverb which you have doubtless heard me quote many times; “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Prov. 13:12 -(KJV). We live in a world of “instant gratification”. It seems if technology can, it will increasingly deliver to us what we want, when we want it, in the quantity we demand. That is, in many ways, the American way; wanting more than we’ve ever had and wanting it NOW! Waiting for something which we dearly desire patiently or working for something over time is not in our nature. Past generations saved and scrimped and worked hard to buy that new house. Today, most do not even need to save a down payment. Once, you had to heat things on the stove taking several minutes. Today, we zap them in the microwave. We want instant (and virtually limitless) entertainment choices on our smart TV or other devices. We have become accustomed to instant communication around the globe which is a good thing but still speaks to our desire for the immediate. Financial observers indicate that relatively few in our society are prepared for retirement. Too many value the near-term purchases, vacations, and expenditures as being more alluring than long term investment that will, all things being equal, deliver financial security in the long term. We have sinful tendency to sacrifice the long term on the altar of the immediate. Nowhere is this more profoundly seen when we live for temporal things more than eternal things.
So, God, in his wisdom, determines that he will place certain things in our lives for which we must wait; hope that must be deferred. For example, wisdom is not had in a day. It takes long years of experience, tempering, learning, and contemplation to derive wisdom. Of course, wisdom does not come in a single dose. It is accrued over time. Some accrue it sooner and in more copious amounts than others. Still, wisdom is a process. Closer to home…grandchildren are that which must be deferred until one’s children are grown. Then, sometimes, even that hope is deferred due to circumstances. I wanted to be “Apa” a long time before I actually became an Apa. That hope was deferred. It is still deferred for some. But when it came…what a “tree of life” it was! Sometimes, even parenthood is a “hope deferred”. Think of Abraham and Sarah. Michal and I had to wait over 4 years to have our hope of having a child answered. But when it came…!
One of my favorite things, as many of you know, is college football in the fall. That might not happen this year, we don’t know yet. If it does not, I’ll have to wait at least until fall of 2021 to be able to enjoy that annual right of autumn. When is the next time we’ll be able to go into a public space without a face mask? When will we be able to go to a movie theater, a favorite restaurant, or a concert without pandemic like precautions? We just don’t know how things are going to evolve.
The biggest question, for me, is church. It is quite possible that the remainder of this year and into 2021 is going to be filled with “deferred hope” for all of us in some sense, especially as it pertains to our church dynamic. Many questions remain as to how our lives are going to look as a result of this pandemic. When we do get back to gathering again what will that be like? How long will we have to limit the number of people in the services? When will childrens’ ministries begin again? When will the nursery be open? When can I expect to preach to a full auditorium again? When will things get back to the pre-pandemic “normal”, if ever? I wish I had the answers to all these questions, but I don’t. I’ll just have to wait.
But there is purpose in the waiting. There is grace in delay. Anticipation grows as our hopes are deferred by another extension of the stay at home order or another family event that is waylaid. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then we are growing very fond of each other. I read an article recently on the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-19 and what affect it had on churches that had to close down. Most pastors feared the worst in terms of attendance, spiritual verve, and finances as a result of the shutdown. But pastor after pastor reported just the opposite. One church reported a 12% growth spurt in membership after the shutdown, all through baptism. Another church reported record giving. These are the kinds of things that God can do during the time when our hopes are being deferred.
But when it comes… it is a tree of life. My greatest “hope deferred” is the prospect of all of us spending eternity together and never having to be separated again. When that comes…it will indeed be a tree of life. We love you all so very much.