"At the appointed time."
It's a phrase that appears numerous times throughout the Old and New Testaments in various contexts. Yet, since it's a prepositional phrase, it's easy for us to gloss over it and concentrate on what actually happened upon the "appointed time."
However, in that natural and innocent process, we likely forget to realize that in these instances, the timing itself represents some measure of significance. After all, God uses time for His plans and purposes, even if we tend to take it for granted. "In the fullness of time" may have a poetic ring to it, and we assume to understand what it means, but it also holds some poweful theology in and of itself that may not be immediately apparent.
Because God is the God of order, doesn't it make sense that schedules matter to Him? He ordains that certain things take place at certain times - and not before, or even after! We say we know that intellectually, but don't we normally conduct our affairs as though we're the ones charting our own future?
We often forget that this world in which we live isn't for our benefit exclusively, but for His benefit - exclusively. True, we share in the benefits of His grace towards us, but we are the created, and He is the Creator. The freedoms we enjoy in Christ carry a responsibility, while God is not obligated to us for anything. It is through His providential care and sovereign grace that we can enjoy anything, or participate in any way in His Kingdom work here on Earth.
And that includes the plans we think we're making unilaterally. Or maybe with a group of people. And, hopefully, even in consultation with God.
Meanwhile, His timing remains in ultimate control over our universe. Sometimes, through the mysterious allowances of free will, we appear to have a certain level of control over the things we schedule and the activities in which we participate. I suspect these times are not so much to "liberate" us from the bondage of time and, as Charles Hummel says, the "tyranny of the urgent," since mostly, we have only ourselves to blame for the crushing demands we allow to commandeer our days. Instead, I think these vast stretches of "free time," if you will, are given to us by God so that we can demonstrate our reliance upon Him in the way we prayerfully seek His will for our lives and the way we spend the time He gives us. To the extent that we allow worldly preoccupations to clutter our schedules, whose fault is that?
According to the rich history of our world documented for us in God's Word, however, there are precise, fixed, definitive, ordained, "appointed" times in which God planned before His creation of our world to exercise specific events for and to each one of us. He placed Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden at a specific time. He provided miracles at specific times. Many things are recorded for us that appear to be the result of mankind's free will, but how many of those events really were? Conception and birth, for example, are two profound miracles that parents think they control, but are actually provisions of God's life-giving power. This is the main reason why believers in Christ so passionately advocate for the unborn. Life - and its timing - is not ours to deny.
Speaking of life, Christ's death, burial, and resurrection took place at the precise moment and time across history at which God ordained it to happen. Some have speculated about why God waited so long after the Garden of Eden, or why He didn't wait several thousand years after the point at which humankind began recording time as "anno domini." Yet this singular, pivotal event took place exactly when God decreed it would.
"For while we were still weak, at the right ('appointed') time Christ died for the ungodly." - Romans 5:6 ESV
I was reminded of all of this yesterday at church, but it wasn't from any of our ministers. After the third service, an usher who works the doorway I normally use each Sunday came over and chatted with me for a bit. We don't know each other well - we don't even know each other's names - but in a large church, it's understood that always being on a first-name basis is a bit unrealistic.
Still, despite our relative ignorance of who each of us are, our conversation managed to effortlessly branch out to a variety of topics. I learned he went to seminary, but ran out of money, and never graduated. He's now a carpenter, and the Lord has blessed him with a good career.
"I think a lot of it is professional courtesy," he joked, since Christ's vocation was carpentry as well.
Suddenly, he made a comment that echoed something my Mom had been discussing with me only last week. I've been particularly anxious about some unresolved situations in my life, and to have this brother in Christ who barely knew me affirm what a parent of mine had been encouraging me with really struck home to me.
"Think about all of the moments in Scripture when God waited until the appointed time," my new friend mused. "We're to wait on Him, and sometimes, His timing seems so wrong. But it never is, is it? He appoints the time, and whatever it is won't happen until then."
I can't tell you how much I needed to hear that. And how encouraged I was to hear that!
Church has become such a drag lately, I wasn't even intending on going at my usual time. I'm in the chancel choir, and we sing at the two later services, at 9:30 and 11:00am. But yesterday, I figured the 11:00am service would be enough. I didn't even set my bedside alarm Saturday night. Yet I got up, had breakfast, and finished my ablutions with enough time to get to the choir's rehearsal hall before the 9:30 service. That's quite a feat for me, even when I wake up on time. I figured the Lord might be telling me He wanted me at both services. So I went.
If I had just gone to the last service, I would have been sitting in the sanctuary, listening to the morning sermon, during the time I had my conversation with the carpenter. As it was, I sat through the sermon during the 9:30 hour, and was biding my time in one of our church's parlor areas before our organist played the last postlude for the day - a particular favorite of mine, Louis Vierne's "Carillon de Westminster."
Now, perhaps you'll think me foolish for supposing this, but I believe God got me out of bed, even though, in my "free will," I wasn't planning on doing so. He got me to the 9:30 service and had me in place for His messenger, the carpenter, to share with me this word of encouragement towards the end of the morning.
At the appointed time, wouldn't you say?
From one Carpenter, through another.
"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage , and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait , I say, on the LORD." - Psalm 27:14 (KJV)