“This won’t end well and it won’t take long.” That is the idol I’ve spent the past three years worshipping.
A doctor whispered those words in a sterile exam room after he diagnosed my wonderful mom with Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I grabbed on for dear life to those last four words: “It won't take long . . . ” The journey through dementia is a dark tunnel, but I was sure it would be a short tunnel, and I put my hope in that.
Now, several years in, the mom I adore is slipping away, and the journey is so much longer (and harder) than I ever could have anticipated at the moment of diagnosis. Humanly speaking, I cannot see the light at the end of this tunnel. And here in the dark I am learning a good hard lesson: I am a string in the bow of the Lord.
When the Tunnel Is Long
Our family took a trip to the beach this summer. The journey from our midwestern farm to the coast included a jaunt through a long underground tunnel. My four boys squealed with delight as we entered and the scenery went from bright and sunny to black as night. But about two-thirds of the way through, my littlest one started to worry, “How much longer, Momma?” he asked. At about that time, the tunnel's exit came into view like a circle of hope growing closer and larger, and soon we emerged to blue skies and reassuring sunshine.
Is there a parallel to your life?
- Did you enter marriage full of hope of lifelong love and intimacy, but instead you’ve experienced several “dark” years of pain and frustration, and you wonder when the light will shine on your relationship again?
- Do you still feel unsettled by the pandemic and wonder if you’ll ever see the light of normal again?
- Do you have a diagnosis of your own and wonder how long until your body will emerge from the tunnel of pain and sickness?
Are there how-longs in your heart today?
- How long until you receive something you’ve been praying for?
- How long until God gives relief?
- How long until your hurt heart is healed?
- How long until a relationship is restored?
- How long until you are free from a pattern of sin?
As you consider your how long, grab your Bible. Turn to Psalm 13. Listen carefully to verses 1–4.
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?
How long will my enemy dominate me?
Consider me and answer, LORD my God.
Restore brightness to my eyes;
otherwise, I will sleep in death.
My enemy will say, “I have triumphed over him,”
and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (emphasis mine)
These words were penned by David. They reveal a question every human heart is prone to ask: “How long?”.
Have you noticed that God rarely answers our “how long” question with information about time? I’ve never met a soul who knew exactly how many days, weeks, months, or years they had to wait for God to move. But through His Word and by His character, we can know the answer—just long enough.
I Am a String in the Bow of the Lord
Picture a big target. Envision red, concentric circles with a bullseye in the middle. When it comes to long-suffering, what is the target God has in mind?
Look at Isaiah 43:1–2,
Now this is what the LORD says—
the one who created you, Jacob,
and the one who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.”
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and the rivers will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
and the flame will not burn you.”
God is speaking to the nation of Israel here, describing a season of stretching.
“When you pass through the waters” . . . stretch.
When the rivers seem overwhelming . . . stretch.
“When you walk through the fire” . . . stretch.
God allowed the Isrealites’ stretching. God allows our stretching. Why? Don’t miss verse 7.
“Everyone who bears my name
and is created for my glory.
I have formed them; indeed, I have made them” (emphasis mine).
What’s the bullseye? God’s glory.
Why does God allow suffering and struggle? So He will get the glory. How long will it last? As long as necessary to make sure He alone gets the glory. Our human tendency is to think we rescued ourselves. We figured out the solution. We made something happen. We rallied our troops. In the stretching we often learn (or remember) our utter dependence on Him. He gets the glory because He alone is worthy.
Think again about your how long. Could you endure the stretching for the rest of your life to glorify Christ? Could you live without your how long longer if you saw it as a crown you were putting on Christ’s head?
You are a string in the bow of the Lord. He will pull you back exactly as long as is necessary—not one nanosecond longer—to hit the target. His target.
A Deeper Groaning
There’s a deeper groaning in the heart of every Christ follower. It goes beyond our longing to be free from temporary suffering. It’s the how long our hearts ask most. How long until Jesus returns for us? The whole earth is sighing as the bow of His redemptive timeline gets pulled further and further back, and there are moments when we feel like we’re going to snap as we wait. In those moments, God’s Words calls us to remember, I am a string in the bow of the Lord. God has the target in mind, and at the very best moment, He will release the armies of heaven and come for us. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. And we will see the Lord in all His glory. In every stretching moment we have hope that God is moving the bow. He is pulling back on creation. His target is the redemption of mankind for His glory.
Let’s circle back to Psalm 13. This time listen with new eyes, watching for the pivot point. Let David’s words become your true hope as you face a trial much longer than you want to.
“But I have trusted in your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.”
“I will sing to the Lord
because he has treated me generously.”
In other words, I am a string in the bow of the Lord.