Oftentimes, when they matter most, God’s promises contradict the circumstances of life.
John Akpan was broke and busted, as the Americans say. His Masters degree in Marketing counted for nothing in a labour market flooded with people of equal or higher qualification and with hot-tap contacts. Once, he was lucky to land a job in retail company as a supervisor, but he lost it a year later in curious circumstances that almost landed him in jail.
The only son in a poor family of five, he had worked hard and sacrificed his comfort to attain that educational level with the hope of a good job to turn the fortunes of his family around. He was bent on doing that before starting his own family. But years after the decision, he could hardly feed himself well in the Lagos slum of Ajengule, where he was forced by circumstances to be a danfo (commercial bus) driver.
A bad boy, as he confessed, he had turned to God as an only option, but all he got through the still small voice, pastors and prophets he consulted was the refrain that he was “blessed and highly favoured.”
In sharp contradiction of Akpan’s circumstances all that left him all the more confused and vulnerable to the antics of the devil. In Lagos, crime, rituals and even some churches provide quick remedy in such situations. He had seen people go those ways to be rewarded with prosperity, but his church never encouraged that.
Deep inside him, Akpan believed God’s promises, but the waiting game in the face of alluring temptation and insults from friends and even his siblings was, according to him, “the most difficult thing to do.”
He said once when he had prayed and cried all night to God, he was replied with a simple question in the small still voice that made him look stupid. “You are waiting in the comfort of your home, yet you are complaining; where did Joseph do his own waiting?”
Promptly he got his Bible and read the Joseph story, he knew so well, again: God showed him a great future in a dream; but he was sold into slavery by his brothers; triumphed over the temptation of beauty of his master’s wife only to land in jail for years, where even a beneficiary of his gift of dream interpretation left him forgotten.
But in proof of the supremacy of God timing, Bible scholars say if Joseph had been released before Pharaoh’s dream about famine, he would have rushed back to his father he loved so much, and therefore couldn’t have been the powerful Prime Minister of Egypt.
A few weeks after Akpan was encouraged with the Joseph example, Ruth, his fiancée based in Calabar, came visiting with fire and fury. Akpan had to stop waiting endlessly for God and do something about his situation immediately or forget her. She said she had to move on. And she did.
Like the case of Akpan, God’s promises to broke, busted and worried people come in contradiction to their circumstances.
Advanced in old age, Abraham and Sarah were promised a son; Mary promised a son, named in advance, without having to sleep with a man. Sarah’s case was so hilarious she couldn’t help but laugh at God.
Years after Sarah, Gideon had a similar contradicting situation that left him wondering. I love that story: The people of Israel were under the authority of the Midianites, who seized their harvest. So Gideon was threshing out his livelihood in a winepress to avoid being noticed by the Midianites when an angel appeared to him. If he had threshed the wheat on the threshing floor, the Midianite oppressors were sure to confiscate much of it.
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valour,” the angel said.
Gideon was a coward threshing his wheat in secret so he must have looking around to confirm if the angel was real or he was talking to someone else. Still uncertain he was “the mighty man” he tested God to sure if the encounter was real. In the end, Gideon turned out to be the man to lead the Israelites to victory over the Midianites.
Those and many more examples show that as God said, He does not share His glory. He is all too powerful – the “I am that I am”, He does what He promises by Himself. He does not need help, and people who have tried to help Him fulfill His promises ended up complicating their situations, or got Him to hands off.
It does seem that God does what He wants to do through the empty-self of the beneficiaries. Although he may use people to fulfill His promises, they are forced to act out his script by circumstances.
Oftentimes, the answer to your prayers is in the promise He had made. And what He uses is the gift He had planted in you. Akpan knew long ago that he was gifted to be an artist, but he thought that was not a glamorous career. He ignored it. One Sunday, when his church needed a cartoonist for their weekly bulletin, he offered himself, and boom! His eyes opened to numerous opportunities. He is now a wealthy man who runs his own company.
He admits a lot happened during the waiting: he got closer to God, became humble, stronger and a more matured person.
“I was raw, but now I’m refined and polished,” he says. “The way I was, I was headed straight for he’ll fire.”
Compared to the experience of Akpan and Joseph, David’s was more complicated, and painful. Akpan had a prophecy; Joseph a dream: but David was anointed as King by the most powerful Man of God at that time. Yet for about 16 years, he was on the run in the bushes and caves for his life.
Our circumstances shake our belief in ourselves, reducing our self-worth and confidence, but God sees us the way He created us to be. When He looked at Gideon, he didn’t just see a coward hiding out, but Gideon as he would ultimately become.
The various examples reveal a process. God is a God of process and order. During the period between the promise and actualization, He prepares you to handle the blessing. And that is the tough time of going through the fire to be purified.
If He has said it (there are many false prophets so you have to be careful), He will do it! Your bit of the process is to kick in your faith in believe of the promise; stay obedient to Him while you wait, hold on.
Although you don’t see Him during the pain, He is there to keep you alive for your promise. It may take a while, but if He said it, He will do it!
Happy Sunday, Ma; Happy Sunday; Sir!