When God keeps Fergie time.
We are now entering ‘last minute’ territory, at least judging by the headlines in this morning’s papers. The Times speaks for them all: Prepare for no deal, PM tells Britain. When you read this blog you may well know the outcome but here and now, on a dark, dismal Friday morning, it seems that the Brexit negotiations will finally hit the buffer on Sunday without any agreement. But you never know – is this a negotiating tactic as each party waits for the other to blink first? Certainly the history of EU negotiations over the decades shows that key decisions are often, even usually, made at the eleventh hour. We are talking here of ‘Fergie time,' scoring the match-winning goal even during the final minute. In fact, such timing is part of the Christian life. Some years back I found myself stuck in a difficult situation: a deadline was looming and there seemed no way out. I recall one of those key conversations you have in your life which the other person will almost have certainly forgotten but which has had a huge impact for me. I was chatting to our visiting youth evangelist, nothing special. And then he made a telling comment: “Of course, you know that God often works last minute.” The Holy Spirit promptly lit up his words. Again, without going into any detail, this particular deadline came and went, and then God acted. Not just last minute but later than the last minute, when all hope had gone. And then he moved very fast and very decisively. A whole new direction opened up. It is megachurch leader, David Jeremiah, who tell us that “God has stepped in at the last minute more than once in history (remember Moses at the Red Sea?)”. Certainly God does have a track record of acting in the last minute. The most memorable has to be when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. We read how God tells Abraham to travel some distance to offer his only son as a burnt offering. Over the three days of travel Abraham must have been trying to work out what on earth was happening. After all, hadn’t God promised to bless the nations through his offspring i.e. Isaac. In fact, we read in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:17-19) that the only way that Abraham could square this particular circle was by reasoning that God would raise his precious son from death. On arrival Abraham collects and arranges the wood for the sacrifice, even binding Isaac and laying him on the altar. The text spares us no details. And as he raises his knife, “the angel of the Lord calls out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham’!”(Genesis 22:11) STOP! Then God explains himself through his angel messenger, not least to the startled reader. “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12) Certainly as ‘last minutes’ go, this is cutting it very fine indeed. No wonder we remember Abraham as a person of remarkable faith, that was why God chose him. His faith in God's promises was to be his defining characteristic And that does seem to be a pattern of how God teaches us to trust him, taking us up to the wire – although he promises never to test us “beyond what you can bear.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There are so many stories of God providing at the last minute: when hope is abandoned, he does not abandon us. I’ve experienced quite a few in my time. The danger, of course, is that we begin to presume on the spiritual equivalent of the US cavalry galloping to our rescue. A good case in point is how God rescued Jerusalem when surrounded by the powerful cavalry of the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BC. This formidable army swept everything before them, including all the fortified cities of Judah. By any reckoning Jerusalem was doomed. However, Isaiah urges his king and people to keep on relying on their LORD God. “I will make (Sennacherib) want to return to his own country.” (2 Kings 19:7). And that is what happened. “The angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp.” (2 Kings 19:35). This, as you can imagine, had a huge effect on the people of Jerusalem to the extent that they began to presume on God's protection, irrespective of how they lived their lives. So when the same thing happened 130 years later, this time with the Babylonians doing the besieging, they waited for their last-minute rescue. Which never came. Jeremiah, for one, had warned them it wouldn’t happen this time. Even so the 70 years of their faraway exile proved a massive learning experience, not least that even then God in his faithfulness would not abandon his people. Against all the historical odds, brought them home. In all this we are called to trust in God’s timing and at the same time make careful preparation. Again to quote David Jeremiah; “Our job is to do our best, letting the Lord do the rest.” After all, we are on the winning side!