A powerful lesson we learn from the raising of Lazarus from the dead is that of divine delay. Jesus was temporarily living in “beyond Jordan [in] the place where John at first baptized” (John 10:40) when he heard that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. If we use the traditional sites for the Savior’s baptism and Bethany, the Savior was about 20 miles away from Lazarus. So, if he really wanted to, he could have made it to Bethany within 24 hours of hearing this news – but he didn’t. In fact, John points out that “When [Jesus] had heard therefore that [Lazarus] was sick, [Jesus] abode two days still in the same place where he was” (John 11:6). It’s not that Jesus couldn’t leave, he intentionally delayed.
By the time the Savior arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Before going to the tomb, Christ first visited with Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, both of whom said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21, 32). To Martha the Savior testified, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Although Martha, Mary, and the disciples knew that Christ could have healed Lazarus, did they realize that the Savior could raise him from the dead? To his disciples Christ said, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there [when Lazarus was sick], to the intent ye may believe” (John 11:15). Christ was about to show a purpose in his delay.
Just to be clear, I think what happened was that God did not answer Martha and Mary’s prayers in the way that Martha and Mary originally hoped. They were praying for a miracle – that Lazarus would be healed. But Jesus delayed, and they did not get the miracle they hoped for. They got a better one.
The Savior went to Lazarus’ tomb and “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ And he that was dead came forth” (John 11:43-44).
The result of the miracle was not only what they had originally hoped for (the life of their brother) but in addition other purposes of God had been fulfilled, including that “many of the Jews which…had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him” (John 11:45).
One principle I learn from this account is that sometimes God intentionally delays giving me what I want now, in order to give me something better. I see this in the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and I’ve seen it in my life as well. Let me share a personal example with you.
A Personal Story of Divine Delay
In 2010 I was working for the Seminaries and Institutes program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I worked half time teaching seminary and half time working on digital outreach at the church office building, including the seminary and institute websites, social media, and Mormon Messages for Youth. I enjoyed my administrative work at the church office building, but was feeling that I was about done with my time there. I had recently earned my PhD and really wanted to be teaching at BYU. Unfortunately, BYU was not hiring that year, due to a poor economy and resultant hiring freeze.
I heard through the grapevine that BYU was requesting a couple of Seminaries and Institutes employees to come teach at BYU on rotation for a year (this is a normal practice), and had specifically requested that I come. I was elated! But then I heard that an administrator told BYU that I could not come on rotation (I have never confirmed this rumor, but it is what I heard). I felt extremely frustrated that somebody was blocking what I really wanted to have happen. I prayed really hard that the door to BYU would open. But it did not.
At least, not for another year – divine delay was at work. I actually was hired at BYU, just 12 months later than I originally hoped. During that year I worked full time at the church office building and learned many incredible lessons. I made some lifelong friends and also had the opportunity to learn from observing senior church leaders in action. I was a part of several special projects, including some social media outreach, putting EFY music on the youth website, and narrating a video for youth about chastity. That one video has been viewed several hundred thousand times, and I’m especially happy about the Chinese translation! In short, the twelve months when I wasn’t where I originally wanted to be turned out to be twelve months of meaningful experiences that I treasure today.
I love the concept of divine delay – sometimes God intentionally delays giving me what I want now, in order to give me something better. I have seen the principle of divine delay, so evident in the healing of Lazarus, on numerous occasions in my life. Sometimes we do not get the miracle we hope for. We get a better one.
How have you seen the principle of divine delay in your life?