The Still Small Voice

The Power of Discernment: When the Timing is out


Chapter Six, Part Six


When the Timing is out

‘Do not look so sad, Lucy. We shall meet again soon.’
Please, Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘What do you call soon?’
‘I call all times soon,’ said Aslan, and instantly he was vanished away.

If there is one issue above all others that causes us problems when it comes to listening to the Lord, it is the mater of timing. Partly this is because the words God speaks to us often have a short, medium and long term application. This is a matter of multiple fulfillments and ‘layers.’

It is important to understand that it is perfectly possible to hear something correctly, but to be quite mistaken about when it is going to happen, or about what we should do about what we have heard. There is a time and a place for a word to be given, but often an entirely different one for it to be worked out in.

This is hardly surprising when you realize that God’s call comes from the heart of eternity. It links into our timescale with perfect precision in its final outworking, but it originates in an altogether different time sphere. In other words, just because we have received God’s leading does not mean that we should automatically expect it to come to pass there and then, any more than we should necessarily act on it there and then.

We hinted earlier that there is often a distinction between a call (which gets us thinking and preparing in a particular direction) and a commission – that is, the actual moment when we need to take action. Understanding this distinction will cause us to double-check sudden impulses, and save us from acting prematurely. More times than I can count I have said something like, ‘I feel we should go and visit x.’ Ros has agreed, but balanced my eagerness: ‘Sure. Tomorrow!’ The word was right: the timing simply needed adjusting!

We are great advocates of applying the old military adage, ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.’ It has saved us from numerous costly mistakes. When we first moved into a new house, we needed to replace the aged kitchen units. We saw some we liked in a local store, but felt a check against buying them.

Four months later, we saw the same units somewhere else, but this time with a 50% discount. ‘They’re the right ones,’ the Lord assured us: ‘Don’t buy them!’ Two months later, the Lord suddenly said, ‘Today’s the day. Buy them.’ For that day only it turned out that they were being promoted with a 60% reduction!.

When the Lord allows a prolonged delay between a call and its outworking, there is always a reason. If the call takes the form of a warning, the Lord often allows an extended period of time between announcing His sentence and actually carrying it out.

This is because He wants to give people the maximum chance possible to repent. Thus we find Jeremiah proclaiming with great urgency (and accuracy) that the Babylonians were coming, but all of forty years before they actually did so.

As we hinted in the last chapter, the Lord does not usually give us a once-and-forever set of guidance that will last us a lifetime. He may well want to fine-tune (or even supersede) the original pattern as events unfold. The principle is simple, even if the practice is challenging: ‘Guidance comes as and when we need it.’

How eagerly Mary and Joseph must have received the angel’s summons to return to Israel! At last their enforced status as refugees in Egypt was over! When they reached the border, however, they heard the disturbing news that Herod’s equally pathological son was now reigning in Jerusalem.

Just think how things might have ended had they decided that since God had called them to return they might as well press on to Bethlehem! They were wise enough to heed the Lord’s warning in the dream, and headed north instead, to Nazareth.

For Reflection and Prayer

Just as we need maturity to handle the matter of timing, so we also require discernment in the way we appropriate the promises of God. For obvious reasons, many may not have any immediate application in our own lives – and those that do may still be conditional on our continuing right response.

Lord, help us to welcome into our hearts
those promises that You are giving us,
and to trust You with the timing of their fulfillment,
for You often give hints today
that You intend to fulfill many years down the road.

9 C.S Lewis The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Harper Collins) pp. 178-9